User-generated content as it should have been?

I was informed this week that my story Satisfaction, originally published in AntipodeanSF 236 (March 2018), had been selected for publication in an anthology We, Robots due to be published by Head of Zeus in January 2020. By coincidence, I also submitted a new story to AntipodeanSF itself recently and was in the midst of updating my bio and preparing a reading for the radio show when I received the news about We, Robots. The new story isn’t due to appear until issue 258 (March 2020) but now seems as good a time as any to say something about the site.

For me, sites like AntipodeanSF are what user-generated content was supposed to be back in the 1990s (and AntipodeanSF did itself begin publishing in the late 1990s). We built our own web sites using hand-coded HTML or editors like HotDog, and anyone who wished could access them using their web browsers. We might have had quiet fantasies about our sites drawing hordes of followers and/or becoming the definitive resource on whatever their topic might have been, but on sober reflection we just had a good time doing it and I have a lot of good memories of little-known sites like the Internet Oracle, Half-Bakery, and the Dull Men’s Club.

I wrote a little while ago that the fate of user-generated content might be a topic for another blog, but there is at least one aspect of it relevant to this blog: how we might continue to develop and create when we no longer perform work as it is presently understood. AntipodeanSF neither pays its contributors nor charges its readers, and as far as I know is more or less unknown outside the science fiction community. But it nonetheless provides a platform through which members of its community can build something that satisfies their desire create and experience the creations of others. Nuke, the editor of AntipodeanSF, even sounds like he lives an idyllic lifestyle on the New South Wales mid-north coast, not unlike what I might like to do when I don’t need work (though I live on the south coast and have never met Nuke).

All of the sites mentioned above still exist, and probably many more of this kind besides, but they seem to have been more or less erased from public discourse in favour of walled gardens like Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps whether you publish your stories and opinions on Facebook, YouTube or AntipodeanSF is neither here nor there in terms of giving you an opportunity to express yourself, though there’s plenty of argument about who might be the real beneficiaries of “user-generated content” when the users provide the content and the eyeballs while the gardens collect the money. I myself never joined the well-known sites in part because I was satisfied with the way we did things in the 1990s and saw no benefit in switching to a walled garden. Others might say in doing so I’ve cut myself from the action but the point here is that I don’t need the action because I’ve got what I want in AntipodeanSF and its like.

I don’t suppose it’s reasonable to expect mainstream news services to run stories about what happens on obscure web sites servicing obscure communities (though once upon a time magazines did run reviews of such sites); no one outside AntipodeanSF, for example, really cares what might be “trending” on AntipodeanSF. Then again, one of the other reasons I have little interest in so-called social media is that I don’t care very much about the posts and videos that the same new services breathlessly report to have “gone viral”. Perhaps reading a news article from the Dull Men’s Club every now and again would give social media fans an idea of how tedious they appear to people outside their walled gardens.

I’d probably rather be in Nuke’s position than Mark Zuckerberg’s, and not just because Nuke hasn’t been called into any congressional hearings as far as I know. No doubt an internet composed entirely of home-brewed hobby sites would have its own problems (like, would science fiction fans ever come into contact with, say, romance fans at the next domain over?). But, most importantly for this blog, it’s a practical and tested vision for what we might do after work.

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