Friday, December 3, 2010

Web Presence Theory: Create an Online Context for Discovery

Free-form Friday

The common wisdom among writers, agents, and editors is that you need to have a web presence. The problem, of course, with common wisdom is that it bundles up and glosses over a number of assumptions.

I'm not saying I think the common wisdom is wrong. Rather, I was never satisfied that I understood what a writer's web presence was supposed to accomplish in concrete terms. Yes, we talk around notions like building an audience and establishing a reputation. But what does that really mean? Or, more to the point, how can you know if you're doing it well.

Then I found an answer in an essay by Brian O'Leary at Magellan Media called, "Context First." Brian said:
"When content scarcity was the norm, we could live with a minimum of context.  In a limited market, our editors became skilled in making decisions about what would be published.  Now, in an era of abundance, editors have inherited a new and fundamentally different role: figuring out how “what is published” will be discovered."
The fundamental problem of the Internet is managing abundance. When a quick search returns hundreds of thousands of results, how do you make sense of any of it? How do you select what is meaningful out of all the background noise?

Meaning depends on context.

As I read Brian's essay, I had an epiphany: building a web presence is about creating context; it's how your book will be discovered. This isn't about search engine optimization or other ways of gaming the system. The context (which comes from Latin and literally means "with the text) that matters is the web of relationships, associations, and references that lead ultimately back to your book.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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