Computer Arts

Online upstarts

Anyone can launch an online magazine these days, says Jason Arber, but if you want to dip your toe into web-based publishing, be sure to keep it original.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that as the editor-in-chief of Pixelsurgeon, an established and modestly successful online arts and culture magazine, I wouldn't have a problem with other, so-called, online magazines. Well, you'd be wrong.

I don't have a problem with online magazines per se. Indeed, there are a great many fantastic rags published online - Raster or Head, for example. But I do have an issue with the superfluity of me-too sites purporting to be magazines, which are, in fact, unimaginative, vacuous exercises in jumping up and down shouting 'Visit me!'

Unless you live in China or Burma, or some other regime that represses freedom of speech online, the web is a fairly democratic place. You can build a website and do whatever you like with it - rant about George Bush, whisper about crashed UFOs from Rendlesham Forest hidden away by the Government, create an image gallery of your cat wearing a succession of amusing outfits.

But if I see one more email telling me about issue one of the latest online design magazine, I shall be calling for a benign dictatorship, with me at its head, so that these upstarts can be chased down and fed to a pack of hungry dogs. It's easy to spot the online magazines that will eventually become dog food if I have things my way. Their arrival is usually heralded by an email that lands in my inbox gushing: "We're launching a new online magazine called [insert witty name here]. The theme will be 'transvestites in space' and we are looking for creative contributions..."

Then, several weeks or months later, another email follows: "We have just launched issue one of [insert witty name here]. The theme is 'transvestites in space' with creative contributions from..." The email then reels off a long list of people all under the impression that appearing in [insert witty name here] will lead to offers of work and, if they're lucky, worldwide recognition.

In reality, this just won't happen. Why? Because there are simply too many lazy, unimaginative online magazines. My inbox is jammed full of them, threatening to supplant spam as the number one email plague. There are more pedestrian online design magazines than there are bytes in a terabyte. It's a tidal wave of blandness.

One of the best things about the internet is that it celebrates individuality and uniqueness, but it can also cruelly expose the humdrum, routine, by the numbers, trite and hackneyed.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be inspired to create an online magazine, only that you should take the time to make it different, to ensure that it's more interesting than the competition. And themed magazines - especially those that use that annoying Flash page-turn trick - are not the way forward.

Unleash the dogs
In the traditional, analogue world of printed magazines, harsh financial realities make competition fierce and editors have learned the hard way that their prized readers demand unique content that distinguishes them from their competitors.

In the digital world, however, where running a website can be as cheap - if not cheaper - than enjoying an infrequent pint at the local, these pressures do not exist. And while on the one hand this allows sites of unarguable genius and interest to quickly propagate, the down side is the wash of unoriginal sites hanging on their coat tails.

So, who's with me? Let's hunt down the swine choking the web with their lackadaisical, themed periodicals and their 'I'm just like a real magazine' Flash page turns, and unleash the dogs!

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