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Into The Skid

So I’ve been going around and around on launching a new newsletter email list.

An email newsletter was one of the first things I got going, back in the Nineties, once I got a real handle on the internet and an idea of where it’d be going and what would be useful.  90% of my internet operations were predicated on the fact that I didn’t want to spend months on end and thousands of pounds touring American conventions, which was, back then, the standard way to “build an audience.”  I figured a newsletter, in the style then called “announcements-only,” as opposed to the usual email list where everyone subscribed could post, would be a good idea.

It went through two names – FROM THE DESK OF and BAD SIGNAL – and several providers, spending the longest at the server so kindly volunteered by the Flirble people.  For various reasons, I shut it down on 1 January 2010, concluding… christ, 12 or 13 years?  A hell of a long time, anyway, spent writing emails that, at the list’s height, were read by some 10,000 people.  Remember when moblogging was a word?  I was doing that with FTDO before that was a word.

2010 was always going to be a low-key year for me.  2008 was stressful as all hell, and 2009 burned me the fuck out.  2011 is, in a lot of ways, about me getting back up to speed, with a whole slate of weird new projects ahead of me.

By the time I closed Bad Signal, Ariana and the sainted Cait Hurley had done some surgery on the list.  There were around 5500 live accounts left, and stats suggested that very few of those ever clicked on a link in a Signal.  So few, in fact, that even the fact that the same links were often crossposted to the burgeoning Twitter didn’t completely account for it.  Basically, the Signal had been around for so long, and presumably had rotted so deeply into the slimy seabed of the attention economy, that really no-one was reading it any more.  They just liked seeing it there, like some familiar old statue, or that funny homeless person on the corner who’ll shit himself on cue for the price of a pack of Rizlas.

Why would you even want an email newsletter today?  It’s old tech.  This blog gets read by anywhere between fifteen and twenty thousand people a day.  There are 3000 people on the “official” Warren Ellis faceybook page, and my agent’s found another 12K people on other Warren Ellis pages on that service.  I’m followed by 400,000 accounts on Twitter – though I betcha half of those are bots waiting to sell me sex pills.

And yet nothing is as direct as email.  Nothing says more about the things that are important and interesting to you as what you allow to filter through into your inbox.

Something Amanda Palmer said to me –  and I can’t think of anyone else I know with a more evolved, broad and all-encompassing audience communication system than Amanda – stuck with me, some months ago, and I’ve quoted it a few times since.  In talking about how to deal with these hyper-engaged levels of micro-fame we have, she talked about “turning into the skid” – embracing it, rather than trying to compartmentalise or hand-off or schedule it.

Bad Signal had to die.  It was old and tired and didn’t work anymore.  But here’s a thing:

Blog structure has stopped working so well.  This was the drive behind the recently-discussed Gawker redesign: the big, new-content posts get pushed down the page by the churn of amusing but less-meaty “look at this” posts, linkblogs, even music postings.  Very active blogs are now in the business of having to curate their own content.  BoingBoing hit this too, and it can’t all be solved by clever design.  Sometimes I have to choose not to blog the idle thought (that nonetheless doesn’t fit usefully into 140 characters) or the piece of music that’s nice, but maybe not nice enough to add to the page churn (I’ll often post those at the facebook page instead).  Or this place would be getting twenty new posts a day.  And things would get lost.  Probably do get lost.  I do, however, value the attention-economy part of this site, and wouldn’t give it up.

This, in a moment when more contact with the audience, not less, is probably a good thing.  Not least because the amount of information thrown at us is increasing daily – and also, I suspect, we also daily become more selective about the amount of information we let through.

(This doesn’t mean I’m bringing comments back here.  The comments system always gets colonised by arseholes and crazies.)

(And I’d wrap this thought up neatly, but internet and SMS have been shut off in Egypt, apparently following AP screening footage of a protestor being shot, and I want to follow this.)

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