There’s a series of recent posts (1, 2, 3, 4) up at Ron Silliman’s blog where he analyzes a recent study (by Simmons B. Buntin of terrain.org) of how people read and write poetry online. This is of interest even to those uninterested in poetry: Silliman is doing some very careful work in scrutinizing how and why people read online. In doing so, he’s touching on a number of things we’re interested in here, not least the roles of reputation, legitimization, and distribution in electronic reading and writing.
The study Silliman’s looking at was mostly answered by those who write as well as read poetry, so there’s a certain amount of bias in the responses he’s looking at. But this selective skew provides a useful look at cutting edge attitudes. While respondents read a wide variety on online poetry and criticism, word of mouth remains a primary method of finding new things to read: social interaction seems to be critical. Of particular interest is the different roles he sees assigned to print and online publication: most respondents found no difference in quality between print and online work, although there was the perception that online work took more risks and was generally more experimental (there seem to be broader extremes in online publication).
What do people like about publishing online? First (by a wide margin) the accessibility that it affords; second, the possibility of real-time interaction. Cost comes in third: it’s interesting that again the perception of the need for social interaction shows itself. It’s also interesting (and not tremendously surprising) that the efforts on which the most money has been spent (Poetry, which recently received an enormous bequest, has sunk $100 million into their website) don’t seem to be the most influential – blogs and forums, which are more interaction-based, come out ahead.
What doesn’t work about online publishing? The look & feel of online work, as well as poorly-designed websites, was the most frequent complaint. The ephemerality of the web is another issue: many websites seem to disappear as soon as they spring up, and Silliman suggests the need for archiving online work is a problem that needs to be resolved. A number of respondents complained about devices, arguing that it’s not as pleasant to read on a screen than on a page – which Silliman, who’s done a fair amount of reading on a Palm Pilot, qualifies by arguing that this seems to be more a software problem than a hardware problem.