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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Sleeping with the enemy/fishes.

Right, lay of the land time. One of the tasks assigned to me was to evaluate the playing field of online literary magazines/blogs/whathaveyous. Over the next few days, I am going to be evaluating a number of creative writing online spaces (yes, I'm going to call them spaces like some kind of TV-based interior decorator, despite this having no practical corollary to the laws of physics as we currently define them*

The first on the roster is Goldsmiths University online repository for MA student work: Goldfish

First Test: Navigation.
In case you're wondering, academic readership, the internet term, is EPIC FAIL. I entered the site at and set myself the task of finding 'Goldfish.' It took me about 5 minutes of hopping in and out of course profiles and then scrolling (scrolling!down the MA Creative Writing page to a link that describes itself thusly:

Further information:
Goldfish on-line journal - work from students currently enrolled on the programme.

Okay, so we're already in the presence of an institution that's clearly only comfortable with positing their journal as a web extension of print. And as 'Further Infomation' no less, like it's a ratty offcut of the prospectus. Nothing is touted, there's no distinguishing or branded graphic and the redundant use of 'on-line' with its little hyphen intact, is so antiquated as to be almost adorable. This is an institution that has a Flickr, a twitter account and a Facebook page. The building blocks are there, but you almost palpably feel the exasperated throwing up of hands, the need, the desire to treat all of this as much like traditional media as possible.

Look & Feel
I have a particular horror of faceless and amputee cover art in mainstream literary fiction.

But for its sole piece of banner artwork, Goldfish is going for the classic Picoult foot

Signifiers: Literary, vaguely sensual, commercial, feminine, in the proud tradition of Richard & Judy BOGOF bestsellers.

Goldfish itself is embedded into the overall classic 3-column design, plenty of white space, neutral, inobtrusive colour scheme. It's programmed largely in Java We are, in theory anyway, all about the words. A nice sans-serif makes reading easy - I had no trouble on my Mac at all.

Tech stuff for dummies (aka, stuff even *I* know)
A quick glance at the code tells us SEO optimisation is minimal (shoddy h-tags, no page titles &etc.) - it speaks volumes that I can type in "goldsmiths creative writing journal" into google and not get a direct hit. Brand name recognition is non-existent so I'd really have to know specifically what I was looking for in order to locate it.
Verdict: We are not at home to Mr Google.

Editorial Policy
Appears to be 'you takes-a the course, you gets a published.' Which is fine - this is a MA showcase after all.

Nature of the work
Divided into categories: Poetry, Life Writing, Short Fiction & Novel Excerpts

Is it specific to the web?

Nope. It's a straight cutnpaste job from the page to the screen. The poetry is all aligned left in the centre column, making it look rather anemic on screen. Poetry is notoriously hard to present effectively on screen, as here, more than most novels, the space between the words requires attention and precision. This means coding by hand, a luxury that a small publication like Goldfish could conceivably afford, but is maybe more of a worry for the larger publishing houses. Salt isn't going to sweat it (cuz seriously, check out their site, which is alive to the possibilities of the web and its a publisher small enough to give each book its fullest loving attention) but, say, Faber & Faber might.

With fiction, life writing and the novel extracts alike, there's no attempt to exploit image, audio, social networking, commenting (or even your garden variety commenatary - one of the pitfalls of sites like this is that although they sit neatly within their university's branding, they can no conceivable creative or aesthetic identity of their own. There's no editorial hand here and it really blands up the joint in a way that feels like a missed opportunity. The work, as with all MAs who are forced to excerpt is variable in quality but there's some strong interesting stuff here and there, and it deserved a better shake of things. Or a shake at all.

Any attempt to monetize?
Bless you. Nope, it's bare bones all the way, they're clearly not even interested in the casual browser finding this site, much less selling something off the back of it. I've contacted a few participants to find out if I'm wrong, if the website did generate any conversations or subsequent work off them. We shall see. Students have been given Biographies that are hidden in little drop-downs, accessible with a click. They usually contain the standard 50 word bio, and occasionally an e-mail address, and even less occasionally a blog (ding-ding-ding!) or a myspace

From what I can gather from the prospectus, Goldfish is the only published outlet for the Goldsmiths students. Like most MA anthologies, print or not, Goldfish is run by the postgraduate students on the course and appears to have been funded at least in part by the Goldsmith Annual Fund if the dedication at the base of the site is anything to go by. So we're dealing more with a tippy-toe in the e-waters, a charitable enterprise rather than an entrepreneurial attempt. An e-book, however rudimentary would've been a useful attempt at indirect monetisation, particularly as literary agents are so wedded to their smart phones. Yup, although this was clearly a classroom-based project with a huge editorial team (12 people!) all promoting their own work and with all the problems inherent in that setup, some bolder experimentation in formal presentation would not have gone amiss, even if the work is broadly traditional in tone.

Next up: Writers' Hub (Birbeck University)

*Hello my name is Rebecca Wigmore. Over the next three years, I am going to redefine the laws of physics. You will know my name.