This rambling article started about half a year ago amidst the uprising of countless horrible web sites about gaming in general and MMORPG’s in particular, coupled with the tendency for established sites to steadily drop in quality as they pressed for continual updates without any real reason for doing so, turning from interesting articles about game development and mechanical flaws to rambling sentimentalist crap along the lines of a fifth grade English essay entitled What Community in [GAME X] Means to Me. The only possible explanations for this bizarre turn of events in my mind were (1) a desire to get more ad banner impressions, or (2) a psychotic need to update in order to validate their existences. As the inevitable collapse of the dot com economy has destroyed the possibilities of payoffs from motive (1), I now proceed from the assumption that they are all insane.

Of course, the shoddy nature of this halfassed and unfinished article would tend to prove that I am indeed one of these malcontents. I offer no defense to this as I really don’t give a rat’s ass. I just want some use out of the space this and other unfinished articles are taking up on my host’s RAID arrays.

NOTE from 9/19/2000:  I’ve been puttering around with this article for a few weeks now, its insane length conflicting with other little needs like sleep and food gathering.  After I completed and published "High (Level) Adventure" I took a look at my server’s bandwidth meter… about 6 gigs transferred on 9/18/2000.  This made me think of perhaps going to a network which would host the site for free, not complain about this absurd bandwidth for a personal hobby site, and maybe give me a check for 42 cents every month from ad banners.  It was then that I realized that I was in danger of thinking of myself as a "web celebrity."  Shame on me.  But it did convince me to start working on this again.

Long-Winded Introduction

When I first started this site up (according to the news page, it was in August ’98), it was from 2 motivations.  First, I had a boring job and found a way to kill time and look like I was being productive by editing HTML.  Second, I wanted a place to archive some stupid stories I had written about the game that put the first-person shooter back into the RPG, Ultima Online.  Eventually, for some odd reason, people started reading the crap I posted here (with the exception of the truly interesting stuff), and voila, I had a "web identity".

This is slightly different from an "internet identity", which I suppose can also be attained by spending every waking moment posting messages to usenet under some clever sobriquet; since the web is a more user-friendly version of information access than usenet, it is thus read by more people.  It is also a little more reliable; readers download directly from the host machine, instead of hoping their personal news server happens to get the article they were looking for. It’s also less temporary, as your host (hopefully) does not purge your older HTML because it’s running out of space, and so you don’t have to hope that someone happened to archive your clever missive somewhere, to be filed on a BBS no one will ever read.

Anyway, getting a hold of a "web identity" is an odd phenomenon.  You can, if you are lucky and your material is entertaining enough, get yourself an "audience" of readers who check your site, comment on what you post, and harass you via email.  With this "audience," you might find yourself thinking in terms of "web celebrity," depending on how many hits you happen to be getting.  You might also begin to think of yourself in terms of being a writer, which may or may not apply to you in the professional/competency sense, or a "comedian," or a "social commentator," or whatever sort of professional-sounding label you might think applies to your little hobby.  It is at this point that things get weird.

It works like this:  say you happen to have something to say, thought out or not, and decide that posting your tripe on a website is far easier and more rewarding than trying to publish a book or writing 575432726 letters to the editor.  This can be true:  more people probably search the web looking for "NAFTA" than browse through the "letters" column of their local newspaper, or in fact read a newspaper at all.  Any mook can get a copy of a WYSIWIG HTML editor, figure out how to use an FTP client, harass their local ISP for details on how to use their free web space, upload his stuff, and start spamming message boards which may or may not apply to his chosen topic in order to try and get readers.  You don’t have to pay for an ad or bribe a publicist who will take your money and say she’s going to do something for your benefit; your URL goes on your sig file, at the end of every forum post you make, bot-spammed over IRC, etc.  Within a very short period of time, a few people might go to your site at http://www.myisp.com/users/~yournamehere and read what you’ve posted.  Some of them might like it.  A few might say so.  And this is where the self-delusion of celebrity comes from.

NOTE:  For the purposes of this rambling essay, the term "web author" applies to someone who might run a cheesy web site about games, contribute to a larger network like Crossroads or Stratics or Lum’s, someone who might post really frequently to message boards, etc., and thus is somewhat "known" with his internet circle.  A "web celebrity" is someone who (mistakenly) believes that the fact that people like what he writes endows him with the knowledge of good and evil, etc., and that his stuff may actually be worthwhile in a grander scale than it actually is.  A "real author" would be a published author, professional commentor, etc., who is published in some medium besides the internet, requiring the backing of a publisher and, hopefully, paid for his work.

"Web" versus "Real" Authors

Being a "web author" differs from being a "real author" in a number of important ways:

  • A "web author" doesn’t need to convince a publisher that his stuff is worth publishing.  While this does circumvent the bullshit surrounding book, music, and film publishing houses (damn clueless leeches that they often are), it also means that nobody passes the web guy’s stuff around and evaluates it for merit or factual accuracy before inflicting it on the public.  So, while it’s true that a lot of otherwise unknown talents can be appreciated by an audience without being hamstrung by a publishing company, it also means that a web site does not have to adhere to any standards of truthfulness or quality.  Since most readers are unwilling to check out the veracity of stories themselves, a lot of false crap gets published.  Since most people educated in America are semi-literate at best, nobody notices that the web guy can’t spell.
  • A "web author" can stay largely anonymous, partially due to the anonymity inherent in the web, and partially because not enough people really care about him to the degree where people start looking for interviews.  Thus the "web author" avoids the scrutiny that "real authros" go through.  On one hand, this is a valuable boon for the author with something worthwhile to say who would not otherwise be read due to age, poverty, lack of bureaucratic acumen, etc.  On the other, the web guy can more or less safely assume he is less accountable for his work than a "real author", since a "real author" runs the risk of losing his job, his privacy, and his reputation under his real name instead of a goofy handle.
  • A "web author" typically does not get paid by his audience, unless you are a porn star having sex with a dog on a membership XXX site, or you glean 4 cents a month from pathetic ad banners, or you are a ripoff artist.  There are exceptions, like Anand Lal Shimpi, but they have actually produced enough quality material that their number of ad banner impressions might be able to pay them a little something greater than the value of food stamps, and thus fall outside the range of self-deluded "web celebrity" discussed here.

So basically, the only qualification for being a "web author" (aside from internet access and the ability to use an editor) is that you be interesting or entertaining to a small group of people, at least to the point that they will keep giving you hits.  In some sense, this is enough to qualify the person as a writer… certainly there have been "real authors" with no more qualifications that this going for them.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a "web author."  The problem happens when you cross the line into "web celebrity."

"Web Celebrity"

The "web celebrity" goes past the point of enjoying the fact that his little snippets are enjoyed (or at least read) by people besides his immediate circle of friends.  He starts to believe that his existence on the web is somehow directly tied to his readers’ quality of life, and his continued writing is necessary for his audience’s well-being.  This takes root in the mind and before too long, the web guy begins entertaining disturbing thoughts like…

"If people like my web page, I must know the difference between right and wrong."

"Any crap I put out there is golden, worthwhile stuff."

"I have the right and the responsibility to lead the people against the (person/cause/thingy I don’t like or understand)."

and the worst…

"I have to update a lot or else I may lose my readers, and what will they do then, my poor lost children?"

I call the "need to update" the worst of the bunch because while the others can be annoying, they are more or less inconsequential and will at worst lead to the eventual dismantling of the self-styled Apache Web Server monarch’s empire.  The compulsion to update for a web celebrity, while somewhat parallel to the real author’s ability to write something decent on schedule in time for the morning press, leads to a bunch of boring tripe spewed out in the hopes of keeping those hits going, as people hit their bookmark day in and day out to see what the web guy posted.  This leads to stress for the "web celebrity", who is now working under a self-imposed production schedule for which he is probably not compensated, leading to a declining quality of material which, before it alienates his readers entirely and causes him to shut down his web site (or at least remove the depressing hit counter), will inflict slipshod and crappy material on the audience.

Here are some common scenarios leading to this pathetic state…

  • The web guy starts a page which is read largely by his online friends, who pat him on the back about it.  Feeling the need to inflict his material on others, the web guy starts spamming message boards of more well-established sites that relate somehow to his chosen topic(s), the more acceptable version of electronic spam advertising.  No matter how horrible his material may be, the fact that a vast majority of people online at any given time are idiots means that he will get some sort of an "audience," which leads to inflated feelings of self-importance… and the need to update more to make his legend grow.
  • The web guy notes with no small degree of envy the "success" of other web guys and figures, "I can do THAT!"  In a flash of non-inspiration, he whips up a site on some horrible free host somewhere which is directly derivative of the sites he has observed, either emulating them terribly or deriding them.  This last case, the "web site which is about how bad other web sites are," may be the saddest case of all, as the web guy himself has not only failed to grasp the truth that his own ramblings are totally insignificant, but more importantly, they are totally dependent on other equally insignificant sites.  In either case, sadly proceed as in the first case above.
  • The web guy is "hired" (term used loosely, as generally there is no money involved) by a larger site as an updater.  After posting numerous screenshots of the day, counting up the votes in electronic polls, and generally acting like he knows what he is doing on his host site’s forums, the web guy starts to believe that he is no mere CGI script peon; nay, he is an authority on the subject at hand, and all corollary subjects thereof.  His updates begin to get less comprehensible and more bizarre, as the hunger to impress upon his countless admiring readers exactly what he thinks about topics he can barely understand.  These strange forays into delusion become more and more frequent as he seeks to exploit the Big Lie theory on his readers and himself by posting nonstop, hoping that repetition is the key to enlightnment, like a budget version of chanting where your mantra is something totally stupid you dreamed up.
  • The web guy lacks even the tiny bit of wherewithal required to set up his own page, and so seeks fame and fortune via message forums.  Before long, he becomes enraptured by the phenomenon of communicating with other people on a board, which may be more satisfactory for the web guy than his poor aborted attempts at communicating in real life.  With the hard-earned authority one gets from posting 300 messages a day, the web guy begins to start more and more threads, becomes more and more confident about his ability to vomit forth pearls of wisdom for the masses, and begins to post with an alrming frequency indicative of someone who has finally found "his home," a place from which to enlighten the hordes who obviously visit the forum for the sole reason of attaining enlightenment from web guy.

The end result is the same in almost all of the above cases:  lots and lots and lots of completely puerile and useless reading material which is, at best, ignored and, at worst, read, believed, and emulated.  Typical material that gets shit out on a regular basis by self-styled web guys everywhere include:

  • Totally uninteresting introspective mumblings about how an existing game should be redesigned so that the web guy’s vision of a perfect world can be realized, with no consideration for the drawbacks of his proposed changes, or even a working conceptual model.
  • Repetetive happy good time touchy feely snippets which, to the web guy’s surprise, attract flames and derision from those who have the quaint idea that an "information superhighway" would be best used for the sharing of information.
  • Boring rants about how much phenomenon X sucks with little to no corroboration or reasoning beyond "I don’t like it (GAME COMPANY) FIX THIS NOW!"
  • Dimwitted and misinformed attacks on targets which are seldom identified properly, let alone analyzed.
  • Unending attempts to be "witty," which is sort of an Elizabethan-era version of being "clever" without any actual intelligence requirement, leading to appreciation by other attention-starved idiots who also think they are witty.

Sometimes a "web celebrity’s" material is so blatantly awful that not even the majority of buffoons who browse the web looking for useless information can look at it in a complimentary fashion.  This seldom deters the web guy from his course; it typically (and unfortunately) often has the opposite effect.  A web guy who get almost nothing but negative feedback can use it to fuel his grandiose self-delusions in a number of ways:

  • He can pretend people are just mad because his stuff is sooooo insightful and sooooo controversial.  I’m breaking ground here!  (cf. Moron Attack!)
  • He can actually convince himself that he wants the hatemail, as any attention is good attention.  He may also enjoy being beaten by family members and abused by drunken sex partners, if he manages to get that far. (Example:  Bones (not the comics Bones), a pathetic and offensive kid who has been kicked from countless web hosts, now probably mercifully dead.)
  • He can post complimentary messages to himself under assumed names.  This only works until someone checks the IP address and publicly humiliates him.  (cf. GotMilk?)

If the reader thinks that I am lumping all "web personalities" into this hazily unflattering category called "web celebrities," I am not.  Just the vast majority of them.  So how does a "web guy" avoid these pitfalls?  He avoids becoming a "web celebrity."  This is easier than it might first appear.

How to Not Be a Pathetic Web Celebrity

STEP ONE:  CONTENT IS THE REASON YOU GET A SITE
You get a site because you want a place to stick your fiction, opinions, pictures of your pets, whatever.  By making sure you actually have something to present before getting a place to present it, you avoid the pitfalls of "web site because it will make you seem more important," "web site because party X has a website and you want to be just like them," and the pathetic "web site because you dislike party X’s web site."  Plus, nothing is more pathetic than someone who spams message boards with things like, "Hi, I have a cool new web page up, there’s nothing there yet but please keep checking back!"  Note that this does not apply to people who are coerced to make a web site as a mandate of some petty bureaucrat at school who believes that the ability to change a text font in FrontPage somehow qualifies as an academic triumph.

STEP TWO:  YOU UPDATE YOUR SITE WHEN YOU HAVE CONTENT
If you feel you have something new and interesting to present and it would be apropos for your site, then put it up there.  If you don’t, don’t update.  Nothing leads to shitty content faster than a compulsion to update on some sort of imaginary schedule, or because someone with the audacity to do so emails you demanding that you update for his benefit.  If someone writes you a check for $200 on the condition that you update, fine.  But unless this happens to you more frequently than it does to me, your site is by and large personal, beholden to no one but you, and ultimately your responsibility.  Why would you want to be responsible for shitty content?

STEP THREE:  BEING ON THE WEB MAKES YOU A RESPECTED AUTHORITY AT NOTHING
The fact that you run a website means that you have figured out how to upload HTML documents to a host.  If you are a web celebrity of message boards, you haven’t even figured that out. In addition to being considered an asshole license by a vast majority of the online public, the anonymity afforded by the internet means that regardless of what you say or imply, as far as everyone is concerned you are just another schmoe like them.  Unless you actually have some sort of outside coroboration as to your qualifications (as in, "Hi, this is Jackie Chan, welcome to my site where I will tell you how to break every bone in your body and be funny doing it"), you are not suddenly an expert on the subject of your page.  Of course, people can and do fool plenty of morons into thinking just that, but the 2-3% of the web audience that thinks judges you on the quality of your work, supporting evidence and analyses you present, and how well you present it.  If you ignorantly blather on about things you cannot back up, you will get called on it and be known as an idiot.  If you persist in defending your position without credibility, you will be known as an idiot and a dick.

STEP FOUR:  REPEAT STEPS TWO AND THREE A LOT

Hastily Thrown Together Conclusion so I Can Update

The web is a veritable wellspring of ideas and information, and most of it is utterly useless.  For the rare person who entertains the quaint idea that the web is a resource from which one can extract well-written and interesting material, the process of said extraction requires careful sifting of crap in order to get at the good stuff.  Since the early days when information starting moving out of the BBS servers and onto idiot-safe point and click GUI browsers, the amount of useless flotsam concealing the tiny percentage of data which is actually useful, accurate, or at least entertaining has grown disproportionately large, making the job of the researching surfer more exasperating by several orders of magnitude.

I tend to categorize myself as one of these poor beleagured souls, forced to wade through 235 search engine results which are hopelessly awful when I try to find anything out about anything at all.  If you have one of these horrible sites which does nothing but clog the net with tripe, you are part of my personal hell.  I hold you personally responsible for forcing my poor unsuspecting computer to display pages of animated GIF’s, pop up banner ads for Hypermart, and inaudible theme music using the General MIDI set to conceal the fact that your page has all the decent information about the given topic I might get out of a third grader who had been locked in a blackout cell since he was weaned and kept on a steady diet of Butterfinger candy bars and morphine.

The whole point of this article should be obvious even to the cursory reader, but if somehow you still don’t quite get it, here it is in a few simple lines, relieving you of the onus of actually reading stuff:

  • If you want to start a web page and have nothing to say, DON’T.
  • If you have a web page and feel the need to update even though you have nothing to say, DON’T.
  • If you have any complaints about this article and feel it is unjust to your little heavenly corner of Geocities where you wax philosophically about nothing, DON’T.  Send all complaints here.

Thank you for your time, and keep the web safe for me.

 

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