“Come, come, ye sons of arts, come, come away!
Come, come, ye sons of arts, come, come away!
Tune all your voices and instruments play
To celebrate, to celebrate this triumphant day!”
Words (possibly) by Nahum Tate,
used in a musical ode composed by Henry Purcell in April 1694,
in honour of the birthday of Queen Mary of England
Lo and behold. The unhushable have a new playground. As of April 8, 2016, all the world’s writers with a blogging itch – in addition to (in alphabetical order) Blogger, Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium, Tumbler, WordPress and myriad other places – can also publish on beBee, the made-in-Spain Affinity Network. Called – unsurprisingly – Publisher, the new functionality offers open tagging, an intuitive interface and, reportedly, an even more intuitive sharing algo. A triumphant day indeed.
And not a moment too soon, one might add. The story of crowd-sourcing content – an ancient saga in itself – has of late stalled, in what looks like a dry spell in collective creativity – a kind of a head writer’s writer’s block.
Twitter has reached the membership ceiling months ago; it appears that its arbitrary 140 characters for expressing every human thought just isn’t Everyman’s thing. Medium, the home of long-form writing (essay-length, to be precise) seems even more elitist, as it now woos brands and institutions, in search of monetization. LinkedIn’s own Publisher for a while looked the most democratic, but then has foregone the option to also crowd-source the curation of content written by its members. In the latest turn of events, it seems to be dropping the contributed content ball altogether (and on its own foot) as it juggles too many services (and visions) at the same time.
Many of the finest writers among the one+ million active contributors to LinkedIn’s Publisher, for many months now, have expended enormous energy and words, in vain. They set out to uncover, prove and protest LinkedIn’s increasingly hostile stance towards crowd-sourced content the platform had asked them to contribute, mere two years earlier. (Boy loses girl and for no good reason – poor plot indeed.)
In a rare display of wanton arrogance, LinkedIn management ignores their members’ concerns, ideas, requests. Karmically (i.e. by poetic justice) the platform duly crashes; it loses half its stock value, early this year. Accelerating its eventual self-induced irrelevance, many of its bloggers – its crème de la crème in fact – abandon it, in favour of Medium, WordPress, and now beBee, an alternative to LinkedIn, with a smoother sharing mechanism.
Fine. All that now has to happen is this: we have to sharpen our pencils once again, tune our voices and instruments again and conjure some content, yet again. But there’s more suspense in this saga than any keyboard-happy Social Media chronicler might report in The Verge, Business Insider or The Huff.
As if by magic, the writers have a perfectly clean slate. A new Etch-a-Sketch. Google’s index of beBee’s Publisher is still in cellophane. We haven’t broken this toy, haven’t muddied this turf, we’ve barely stepped onto this maiden shore. It’s a new world, ours to define from scratch.
(A brief look at the tools: large child-like font, heading and para styles, quotes, A/V embedding, hyperlinking, edge-to-edge images, tagging, autosave – it’s all there (euh, word count?). We can proceed – early adopters already did.)
But what will our story be, my friends?
What will we publish on beBee? More listiclism (ad nauseam)? More Life Hacking (as life-hackers get uncomfortable on fidgety Medium, will they swarm beBeeland and will we have to consume their industrial honey?) Will there be ghost-written fodder by absent influencers and click-bait favoured by A vs. B testing? More non-edited first-draft dictations? More truisms than truth? More “duh”s we could do without?
Will we all go ahead and just rehash everything we felt was unfairly neglected by LinkedIn Pulse (i.e. blended curation, jointly executed by a handful of editors and a substandard excuse for artificial intelligence)? Does our collective hero have low self-esteem and an insatiable need for self-promotion? Or could we for once take the road less travelled?
The storytelling story
This saga of ours starts in ancient times, with characters like mythical Homer and many other anonymous storytellers, who were often blind or unfit for physical labour and thus looked for other means of survival. These were people of heightened sensitivity, observers rather than decision-makers, wise man and women, the voice of conscience of their respective times. Their take, their rendition of events, customs and popular ideas were orally passed by generations. Their stories were recorded in reverence centuries later, for us to revel in and pass along to new generations of future readers.
The time gap between their content and ours is filled with attributable fiction, non-fiction and the mass media – the colourful world of publishing. From Gilgamesh to date, the content has always been one and the same – the human condition. Aside from the evolving distribution technology, what changes from publication to publication, from writer to writer, from text to text, are simply: the focus, the angle and the style. In other words, the topics, the publisher’s politics and the wording.
Both the choice of topic and the choice of wording (whether verse, prose, pathos, humour, dialogue, fact-checked phrases, corporate solemnity, sales speak, fluffy brand lore, mushy self-help and infinitely more possibilities) all this was – until now – subservient to the publishers’ politics. The publishers would carefully select topics and writers, in line with their beliefs.
As always, it’s all about the choices we make. Our choices define us. The writers’ choices and the publishers’ choices alike.
The Internet, the Web and the free-to-join digital content platforms are our first ever bias-free publishers. All our ideas can finally be genuinely free. That’s true freedom of thought, courtesy of a bunch of machines! (This is why LinkedIn’s unforced choice to artificially limit the promise of free expression it gave its members is so irritating. It feels like betrayal of individuals, of the writing cause and of our immortal collective ideals. And it’s equally demeaning to the their own machines.)
Back to our drawing boards
Dark cyan. Deep sky blue. Spanish orange (I kid you not!). These colours represent three vastly different digital publishing platforms. Their dissimilar audiences, etiquettes, communities of contributors, and their leaders’ distinct business strategies – all these now call for separate publishing strategies by individual writers.
The Superior Writer (to paraphrase the Book of Change) would not re-post each piece of his or her writing on all of these platforms, indiscriminately. He or she would take time and the trouble to serve their distinct audiences with stories tailor-made for each platform. For people who chose writing as a profession (as a colourful career parachute), identifying audiences should be second nature. So we can give them in writing exactly what they need.
You know what they say: what’s written on beBee, stays on beBee (and earns one points with Google, for not re-posting, in a reverse loyalty program).
Two is company, three’s a crowd. Whereas we used to perfectly innocently say “this post was previously published on …”, naming one publishing platform, it would look rather bad if we now said “this post was previously published here. And here…”. There’s at least one “here” too many. (Threesomes can work on occasion, but they invariably come with extra embarrassment).
I dare say this is what will ultimately help us distinguish true, life-long writers from opportunity writers, who simply promote their personal and/or professional brands via content creation – today’s channel of choice. (If I wanted a recommendation from a gourmet, I wouldn’t rely on the palate of those who order the soupe du jour.)
It is time to divest our writing capital and split it among available publishing funds, according to their mandates. Hedging may seem prudent at first glance, but it’s not a real strategy – it’s an evasion of it. Publishing less, but writing better, will yield the select few work bees valuable returns in the long run.
This post was previously published on beBee.
I made the photo and that was half the joy – these are some of my late husband’s artist’s coloured pencils.