Many authors might feel unprepared for publishing on the Web. Literary journalists already crossing the genres of literature and journalism, now are being asked to become programmers. In Hamlet on the Holodek, Janet Murray envisions a new kind of storyteller, “one that is half hacker, half bard. She cites that each identity represents its own version of creativity and meaning. Those with creative aspects in both the literary and technical can find opportunities abounding on the Web, but that does not disqualify the less computer literate. There are tools available to assist in development of Web spaces and there are also numerous consultants and experts that can aid in design and development. I do feel, however, that it is critical that the space be controlled by and reflect the author’s vision.
Access to the Internet has been growing steadily since 1995, as hardware becomes cheaper, connections are faster, and software becomes more efficient. Approximately 101 million adults now use the Internet, according to a study by the Strategis Group While there is still the issue of the digital divide, those without the resources to own their own computer, obstacles to access continue to be explored. New technologies are being researched and our future might include news kiosks in public places or small digital devices that will allow us to download entire novels or libraries of novels. Currently, the demographics of the Internet skew toward a more wealthy, educated demographic, but recent studies by the Georgia Tech Graphic, Visualization, and Usability Center indicate that in 1998 the general demographics of the Web’s user population moved closer to the characteristics of the general population for the first time. In using the example of the propagation of television, it is not difficult to imagine a world in which everyone has access to the Internet one day.
The greatest benefits of the Web to writers are in its ease of publishing. With very limited investment (most Internet Service Providers offer Web Space with their basic accounts), it is quick and easy to develop a site that is accessible for everyone with Internet access to read. Getting them to your site is another story. Search engines can help drive traffic to your site, but the influx of Web content has provided a glut of information that can seem unmanageable. A writer will be challenged to provide his content to a site where potential readers already exist. The good news, however, is that once a writer finds a home at a Web publication, there are fewer constraints on space than in print. The number of places online that are friendly to literary journalism will only continue to outpace that of print publications.
Another challenge is in how readers use the Internet to read. Online journalism has shied away from including lengthy pieces on a screen that would require much scrolling on the part of the user. User attention is understood to be shorter in an online environment. The Web is in a stage of infancy now, or what Murray calls “incunabula,” referencing the name given to materials produced during the first 50 years after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. New concepts and designs are in various stages of experimentation. Creative structures are already being developed on the Web to support lengthy pieces.