Thomas E. Bleier and Eric C. Steinert. Net.People: The Personalities and Passions Behind the Web Sites. Information Today, June, 2000. 0-910965-37-4
The authors obviously enjoyed the research involved in this book: meeting, chatting with, and interviewing, by e-mail, the creators of 50 well-received, well-established web sites.
The web sites could hardly be more different, celebrating beanie babies, comic books, B movies, wedding resources, unusual tourist attractions, celebrity grave sites, and the ravings of Minnesota Vikings fans, to name just a few. The web site creators are just as varied: some of them were computer junkies since the days of the Commodore 64, while others were near computer illiterates when they began their sites; some of them began their site to teach themselves html, some to indulge their obsessions, and others to find a new audience for their creative work.
For all their differences, their experiences with the web were remarkably similar. Most of them had no idea what they were getting into. They didn't realize what a sinkhole it could become for their time and energy.
They hadn't realized how much work it would take just to maintain the site, organize the files, add new features, clean out dead links, inspect new web sites and link them, and learn new tricks for design and navigation. Many of them were spending 40-80 hours a week on their web site while still working a full-time job.
Of course most of them also hadn't thought about the web site as a potential business, either, until they began looking for sources of revenue to fund it, or until they were approached by companies that wanted to advertise on their sites. Many of them found they could make a living with their web sites, but even those that didn't found that their work on the web made possible whole new careers, as web designers, consultants, writers, performers, etc.
Many of them thought their hobbies were kind of eccentric, and that there weren't that many people who shared their interests. They were astounded when they started getting thousands of visitors to their sites, and started trying to answer hundreds of e-mails every week.
All of them found that their original concept of their web site changed with the expressed interests of their audience, and that successful web sites were in fact collaborations between the users and the webmasters. They learned they had to update their content more frequently, add new topics, and add interactivity -- most of them had not understood that on the web, users want to talk back, or talk with fellow enthusiasts.
What truly astonished most of them is not only at the depth of the friendships they made by e-mail with visitors to their sites, but also at how their web sites became the locus of a community, people who found each other in th chat rooms or bulletin boards or listserves or discussion groups. Several of the webmasters were invited to the weddings of people who found their mates in these communities. One webmaster found his own fiance there.
The book maybe affected me more powerfully because as I read these stories, it was like watching my own story happening to a whole lot of other people, from getting in completely over my head, to learning new tricks, seeing new possibilities all the time of what the web made possible, making new friends, and gaining a whole new career as a writer.
But I think even people who are less involved with the net than I will at the very least pick up some new ideas they can apply to their own organization's web site. They should also come away with a far greater appreciation of the power and potential of the internet.
* * *
[Word.com presents] Gig: Americans Talk about Their Jobs at the Turn of the Millennium. Edited by John Bowe, Marisa Bowe and Sabin Streeter. Crown, 2000. 0-609-60588-7
This book does what Studs Terkel did in Working; it presents 126 people talking about their jobs -- how they trained for them or fell into them by accident, what they do all day, what they like and what they despise about the work. As in Terkel's book, the jobs vary immensely in salary, training and prestige -- a lawyer, an FBI agent and a bounty hunter; a general and a sailor; a Congressman and a lobbyist; a CEO and a temp; a gun store owner and a financial advisor; a dog trainer and a research biologist. But high-end workers are not necessarily more satisfied with their work than those who are barely getting by.
This book is a valuable corrective to those who tend to speak in sweeping abstract terms about what "the American people" believe and want, because the people here refuse to melt into any such abstract collective. Speaking in their unique voices, they present a picture of the extraordinary variety of jobs and points of view in America today. Where television shows us an extremely narrow range of professions, and even fewer blue collar jobs, this book opens our eyes to some of the other things we could become and why we might want to.
That's not the only thing that makes this book recommended reading for young people just beginning to think about possible jobs and careers. It's also a valuable corrective for the kids who want to take only the courses they think will get them their first accounting or marketing job.
Because what kids haven't thought about is, "What then?" "What if I hate it?" "What if the job changes?" What if I'm downsized out of it?" Many of the people in the book set out to do one thing and ended up doing something else altogether. Some became disillusioned with their jobs, or couldn't stand the corporate world, and deliberately changed course, turning something they loved -- dog training, organizing people, heavy metal music -- into a career. Others loved their careers and saw them change into something they hated, like the nurse in an understaffed system who had no time to take care of patients because she had to do the work of three people and make sure all the insurance paperwork was done.
It's kind of a proof of what we've been telling students, that all that "liberal arts stuff" they don't want to bother with can equip them with ideas and ways of thinking that can be far more helpful than the narrowly focused courses on skills and laws that are changing all the time.
You might consider buying a copy of this for your reference collection as well as circulating copies. It's fun to read, but the sense it gives of the day to day activities and stresses and pleasures of each job makes it a useful addition to any career collection.
* * *
Last week I mentioned the fascination Bill Bryson found in the astounding number of Americans injured every year by their bedding or their desk implements. Herewith, the end of that essay:
Interestingly, what had brought me to the Statistical Abstract in the first place was the wish to look up crime figures for the state of New Hampshire where I now live. I had heard it is one of the safest places in America, and indeed the Abstract bore that out. There were just four murders in the state in the last reporting year...
All that this means, of course, is that statistically, in New Hampshire I am far more likely to be hurt by my ceiling or underpants -- to cite just two potentially lethal examples -- than by a stranger, and frankly, I don't find that comforting at all.
Bill Bryson. "Well, Doctor, I Was Just Trying To Lie Down..." in I'm a Stranger Here Myself.
* * *
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.