Thursday, August 22, 2013

As my "Do Ask Do Tell III" book approaches, website "restructuring" and "presence simplification" looks likely

Recently (Aug. 20), I discussed the next “formal” book in my series, “Do Ask Do Tell III”, on the Books blog.  Once that book is formally “published”, it is likely I will do some “restructuring” of my web pages and sites.  I wanted to take a few minutes to lay out the work ahead.
     
But it’s useful to sketch out the history of my “presence” the past sixteen years.  It has changed a lot with the “winds of war and peace” so to speak.

After my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book came out in 1997, I immediately set up a website to provide supplementary materials. It was called “hppub.com”, as named after the business name for my self-publishing entity, “High Productivity Publishing”.  Despite the “smallness” of the business that hosted me, it turned out to be reliable for a long time, but had to be moved to a larger company, Verio, in the chaotic days of late 2001.  In the early days, I mirrored most of the postings on Hometown AOL, which eventually closed its service around 2008, as I recall.  AOL gave no reports or statistics. 
      
In late 1999, I opened a site called, naturally, “doaskdotell.com”, to promote the idea of a film based on the book.  To be honest, the early versions of this site were rather crude, but this was still rather early in the development of the web as we know it today.

The “hppub” site was built around the three books (and an extra set of core essays).  Originally, it comprised mostly running footnote files keyed to the chapters of the books.  Later sidebar topics were added.  About a year after my 1997 book came out, I did start making the text available in an “it’s free” mode (I call it “Reid-ing” now) – with the idea that people who did not want to pay or could not could still learn about the material and endure its influences.  Books sales were fair but OK with the first printing, but rather slow in later “print on demand” mode as the material got older and seemed overpriced (maybe Kindle can change that).  Around 2003, I started adding some more “conceptual” essays to the “doaskdotell” site, and these were less directly related to the books.  I sometimes called these essays "Editorials", which sounds pretentious now but didn't them; they tended to get unwieldy to maintain as time passed.  I also added screenplay treatments and drafts.
   
In 2005, I brought all the material from hppub over to “doaskdotell” to have one site. The traffic (and numbers) seemed to move over to it pretty quickly, and “hppub” was closed quickly.
   
I had also been experimenting with a “java starter” environment on a site called “johnwboushka.com” since late 2002.  I had wanted to set up a database of “opposing viewpoints” which had been outlined manually on “doaskdotell”.   The company operating it failed to continue supporting it, and in 2006 that site was closed, and replaced with a resume site by the same name, hosted by Network Solutions.

It would sound as if my original "hppub" and "doaskdotell" sites, with mostly text files n plain HTML, should have been the easiest to maintain forever.  Technically, I ran into a problem.  I wrote the content in Microsoft Word, and the 2002 version of Word had a serious bug in the way it generated hyperlinks within its XSL.  Files would become corrupted and turn everything into hyperlinks, and have to be fixed manually inside HTML code. Or hyperlinks would get "off course".  Later versions of Word seem to have fixed this, but in the future I would probably use a Web package (like Expression Web) to manage the text before export.  For a long time, I often edited "doaskdotell" directly through Front Page, which also got complicated, until Microsoft abandoned the whole concept of "Front Page Extensions".  But all these technical diversions complicated my web history, even when working with flat files.  Still, I had a big advantage in that my content loaded quickly.
       
In the meantime, I moved my experimentation with SQL over to Unix and set up another small site after my nickname, “billbousha.com”  I also placed a few conceptual essays there and started a “Technical-Legal Confluence” blog in Wordpress, with an arrangement where the Wordpress software is hosted in the space of the site, rather than used in free blogging mode.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 2006, I also started using “Blogger”.  I found it very easy to use, and by the end of 2006 I had created the sixteen blogs, which the visitor can navigate to very easily from my Blogger Profile (left side of the page).   These blogs have not been linked (yet) to other domain names, and are hosted free, which exposes them to certain “due process” risks, so to speak – which have not affected me but have sometimes affected other bloggers.   Depending on a “free service” may sound controversial, and it is; but a paid hosted service can fail suddenly, as I have found out at least twice.

With Blogger, I did implement Adsense; previously I had used Linkshare occasionally on my flat sites (curiously travel industry websites boycotted me, maybe afraid of political controversy).  The income wasn't that important.  There were certain advantages to being "commercial" as well as disadvantages.  Of course, during a period when I depended on retirement income and Social Security and was home with a very elderly mother, a little extra earned income was nice.  
    
I think I have created at least one new posting a day since mid-March 2008.  Blogs have an enormous advantage in aggregating similar postings automatically with labels (on the PC, but not in the mobile environment), a function of underlying SQL.  Splitting the material among a number of blogs offers some advantages of emphasis, and some disadvantages, since some postings can logically fit in more than one blog.  For example, most of my “TV movie” reviews go on my Movie Reviews blog, because the aggregations of films are more useful.  But I have also set aside the reviews of some films and television series for the “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom”.  The point of this blog was to separate out films which call attention to existential threats to our way of life, ranging from terrorism to severe natural disasters, including pandemics. But the decision to place a review there can be arbitrary.
   
Blogging, to a point, made it much easier to keep current with an enormous range of issues, which in my own architecture of thought, were ultimately connected, especially to underlying mega-problems of fairness and sustainability.  By 2007 or so, I had already found that maintaining “topical” or “editorial” essays (in flat HTML) on the “doaskdotell” site would become unmanageable. I already had two major tomes on gay marriage by 2005, but history would race faster than I could reasonably maintain them.  Blogging solved that.  Same with some other issues, like the military gay ban (or “don’t ask don’t tell”, which had gotten me started) and later filial responsibility laws.  Likewise, the issues around Internet censorship and later downstream liability kept shifting, with issues like CDA, COPA, SOPA-ProtectIP, CISPA, trademark dilution claims, copyright and patent trolling, DMCA Safe Harbor, and most recently a new threat to Section 230.  Blogging could handle this forever.

I had pretty good numbers on the blogs most of the time until late in 2012 (the best time was during the financial crisis at the end of 2008, and the Obama election).  Numbers have slowed partly because people do more surfing on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, and are more tied to “whitelisted” friends or followers (like listserver or forum members) than they were a few years ago.
    
I get new pressures to prove I can sell books, media in fixed and finite form, an idea that contradicts the process of journalism and continuous commentary.  I discussed this pressure Aug. 20 on the Books blog.  But I also would like to spend a lot more time on my music, novel manuscript, and be able to produce a film.  And I need to practice what I have preached in the way I interact with (and even value) other people.  So I don’t have time to continue this dispersed presence forever.  It’s a mathematical certainty that it will be finite.  I would like to simplify it so that other parties could work on it, before or after I am gone.  On some of the smaller blogs, many posts have tended to be just short commentaries on major news stories that are not always as directly relevant to "the Matrix" as was some earlier material, and some of them seem to recirculate older stuff.  It might be better just to have an inverted list of important news links, or even work it into Reddit.  (Just Twitter or Facebook isn't quite enough, since these posts get intermixed with my own wisecracks.)  
   
The original concept, of driving a web presence off of books, in the way of ongoing notes keyed back to the books, was successful for me originally back in 1998. I would like to return to that concept.  The core presence consist of the books, which the reader is asked to pay for if she can, but can still access.  The books will be accompanied by a few new conceptual (segmented) essays that outline the material functionally (along the areas of my own experience:  Sustainability, personal rights in terms of relationships (“gay equality” included), and freedom of personal expression and self-distribution.  There are running notes, in blog form, keyed to the books (and key essays), and an inverted list or “key file” makes it possible to access the postings (possibly using a tabulation technique) in subject sequence as well as reverse chronology in blogs.  The core blog is hosted with a domain name, and full professional support is available to me from an established ISP.  Therefore, the product is more “sustainable”, particularly if something “happens” to me or it I travel overseas for an extended period.

In such an environment, I would try to keep the three main media blogs (Movies, Books, Music-Drama) as they are now, but preferably hosted “professionally”.  I don’t know whether there could be a conversion to Wordpress, which some people like better – it appears it may be easier to host Wordpress “internally” with most ISP’s but that could have changed by the time I do this.  I would like the experience and the interface with pre-conversion materials as “seamless” for the visitor as possible, but just how to do this remains to be seen.

There is obviously a lot of old and redundant material on my sites.  Much of it may be marked as such, given a date and notation of whether it is current, and pointers to newer material.  I don’t like to just delete old files and leave a mess on the search engines.    

Did I become "just a blogger" in early 2006, after the blowup in my substitute teaching "subcareer" partly over my web and screenplay content?  Had I passed the point of no return?  I do think I've provided a valuable journal, an annotated history of almost "everything" related to personal autonomy in the past eight years.  But the strategy will have to become more focused. 



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