The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media

Paul-Newell Reaves
MA, English
George Washington University, 2016
owner, co-editor,

Part 1.) the Broader Outlook at

Remember?— we used to surf the internet.  Course, that was almost a quarter-century ago.

Then?– blogging happened. Blogs: the internet graveyard.

Between posting Social Media, scanning through Social Media, even occasionally reading Social Media, and certainly, always, unendingly, checking for new Social Media, no one has much use for the rest of the internet, at all.  Now?— we scroll past the internet.

But at its dawn?— we would cruise. Cruising internet chatrooms I remember from 6th-grade, hoping for someone, or thing, that wasn’t pretending to be someone, or thing, that she, he, they or it, was not.  An anecdote: one character would cruise the chatrooms, posing as other than she, he, they, it was, only to reveal her, his, their identity with “I put on my wizard’s hat and robe and cast a level 6 spell on you.”  Cruise on.

We do not surf through the internet, we do not blog on the internet; we stream from the internet, we post to the internet, we download off the internet, we often regret after using the internet, we continue existing long past deletion in the dark-web under the internet.  !What marvelous prepositions our internet usage– across more than a quarter-century— employs!

On subject of internet grammar, here’s some internet punctuation: I hit a spacebar after typing a web address.  An example: .

[Dot]org : An organization.  [Dot]com : Commerce.  [Dot]net : You guessed rightly, a network.

At , we are proud of our [dot]net status— to such an extent that though I own , too, the [dot]com address only redirects to the [dot]net homepage.  We are a network: a network of authors, flash-fiction-eteers and poets– we employ contest judges and co-editors, we engage fan voters– a network, a network of all you lovers of literature.  We accept no donations, charge no submission fees, and refuse to add ads.  Perhaps such a code contributes to the sustainability of our continuing popularity, now 11 years deep.

When you Lovers of Literature surf through , you will catch minor tidal waves— Complex Fairy Tales features 20 stories by 16 authors, from California to Cuba, Washington, D.C to the Arab Emirates. And it resulted in 5,430 site-visits from 1,006 unique IP addresses during its 12 week publication run in 2016. Add to that the 3,566 visits since then to the coalition of those 23 sub-domains. You will surf curl after curl of our twice annual fiction contests— six of both, with the seventh now underway.  But beware, you Lovers of Literature, for you will also be plunged into the deepest trenches of Otherness which you barely imagined you could plummet: our Prisoner Narratives— with Jenean, “Kevin,” Rob and Sheriff Marty; our Disability Narratives— including Hacking Mobility: Able-bodied Prescripts of Mobile Games and How Gamers with Disabilities Cope, which deconstructs Pokémon Go; and our Homelessness Narratives— such as voice recordings of how Diana Paliotto “became known.”  This the code that keeps popular, 11 years deep.

So keep surfing through as,
next week,
The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website 
continues with:
Part 2.) Display and Design at 
only on— you guessed rightly, again— .

Part 2.) Display and Design at 

we’d like to welcome you.
you’re welcome.
We’d like to welcome you
Part 2.)
The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media

What differentiates display from design?

Design is commonly referred to as a theme, containing widgets, menus, and customizable appearances, or alternatively, uniquely programmed coding. The entirety of the site is its design. Display references the microcosmic layouts. How the content appears on each page, on each screen, that is its display.

As one must be fly towards the sight-impaired, allow me some textual descriptions of ‘s design and display.

Surrounded left and right with empty black, the body of is an ancient scroll– oxidized and crinkled, yellowed with age. Links are all a deep, bloody burgundy color. To site-left, our lengthy, comprehensive navigation panel. And in the upper left, smaller text reads “Welcome to defenestrationism reality.”

As for display, well: many lines appear at differing indentations, some lines cut shorter than others, as a Herbert poem visually appears. Paragraphs are often quite short– no more than two, three sentences, sometimes– though this length does vary for effect of impact. This is much like the well-crafted essays of Mark Twain.

Ultimately, though, exciting displays of text such as ours on are no more than an unexpected bonus. Even on high budget sites, which pay programers to code a unique design, there is very little variability in how textual content is displayed on the page. Images are the most manipulable part of most website displays– images can be wrapped with text, submerged under text, aligned to different sides, the center, or in-between, and generally bounced about. Videos, naturally, have an internal display based on their own content. But text comes in blocks.

A Herbert poem titled the Alter appears on– the home of Poetry Magazine, the oldest, most prestigious poetry journal in America. There, it has no indentations. The lines– visually indented since the early 17th century to resemble a physical alter– no longer do on . Though the organization does offer a “we strive to preserve the text formatting” disclaimer, this still is a misrepresentation in display.

Current fashion is for sleek, streamlined sites. A home page will offer a few articles on it and an expandable menu, usually with less than half-a-dozen options. However, no matter how beautiful or glossy, these minimalist designs can be better optimized to retain visitors and result in multiple hits with each visit.

On many of today’s sites there is only a single option to click– some glowing red button demanding attention. All other possibilities are under-emphasized. An anecdote: when insists on buyers joining AmazonPrime, the pop-up window opts-in with an enormous, fat button, while opting-out must be done through a thin thread of text. Minimalism I find rarely a terrible thing; however, it does not maximize traffic.

More options, as self-explanatory as possible, displayed as obviously as can be, this is how design on is optimized for retention and numerous hits.

More will be revealed, so
do not fail
to return next week, as
The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website 
continues with:
Part 3.) Content and Consistency
nowhere else but .

Part 3.) Content and
Consistency at

The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media

How in all virtual reality did our site receive over a-thousand-five-hundred visits in a single day, on December 25th in 2012? Consistency.

In January of 2012, I had early drafts of seven unpublished chapbooks. For over eleven months, published fresh content every day– one piece a day, every day. This knowing that there will be fresh material every time one visits brings people back. And then back again.

2012 was a time when Social Media had not yet its current dominance over our bandwidths. will never reach those levels again. Though we’re frequently hit hundreds of times in a day– most recently, October 1st, 3rd and 4th of 2019, four times that September– before then, August 19th, July 31st, and four times that June– we will never reach thousands, again. Hundreds of visits a day, though? How is that accomplished? I speculate it’s not because we have so much content, but, far more importantly, because this content appears on separate pages, resulting in another hit with each click. And, because all are easily accessible from every page, highly visible on our retro Navigation Panel, site-left. And because all of these links are self-explanatory. When you Lovers of Literature see “Prisoner Narratives,” you know exactly what you will find. Our FLASH SUITE Contest’s “2014 Finalists” page is the same, as is “ATLAS: vol. 2, Istanbul,” and equally so, “Halloween Nights’ Lyrics” under Multi-Media Content. As for “a Passionate Defense of the Existence of Unicorns“– you guessed rightly for a third time, it passionately defends the existence of unicorns. All of these are highly visible on our retro Navigation Panel, site-left of every page.

Our content has always been, and still remains, solid. Our collaborative publications– Complex Fairy Tales, and the flagship book of the site, the Art of Throwing People Out Windows— are wonderful, adventurous, surprising, and, above all else, oriented towards human differences. Our Disability Narratives are superlative. Our contest finalists are steady, and often outrageously outlandish.

My greatest disapointment for , it will never be a flawless, immaculately-groomed journal of literature. I may not edit it. Ethically, I may only request revision. For the bulk of our freshly published content remains in the fiction contests. They are contests. I may not ethically– or, perhaps, and only perhaps more importantly, may not contractually edit these stories. Unavoidably, advantage would be given.

I pound, I beg, I insist, I remind over and again that all submissions should be reread to edit over and over– and then over again and again. By damn, I give even the selected finalists two weeks for editing before their works are sent to our judging panel!

Anecdote: contest judge Glenn A. Bruce said this– aiming to induce chuckles, he admits– about one story in a past contest:

“Dear god, there are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to begin—typos, misspellings, grammatical nightmares. Too many topical references! Add to that the ‘intentional’ format, and it all feels like the writer is just trying too damn hard to be clever and ‘unique.'”

I very much liked that story. Thought it quite clever, though not overly unique. I did vote for it as a finalist, after all. But chuckling most certainly occurred reading Glenn’s email, loud chuckling.

What is to be drawn from these details? The internet has never been known for flawless grammar or even passable verbal mechanics. To an unfortunate degree, this ensures more content, rather than better content– Blog syndrome, and we know where that leads: internet graveyard. But content does need to remain engaging enough to bring people back at least twice, while consistency will keep them coming back a dozen times, then, maybe, a hundred times, possibly even retain them for years.

That is all well known. But this much originality I can add to the discourse: a site maximized for multiple hits with every visit will sustain more traffic, as shows.

Numbers will next be addressed on the Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website, in Part 4.) Traffic and Capitalism. So keep surfing, Lovers of Literature, through .

Part 4.) Traffic and Capitalism at

the penultimate, and most actively tangent-pursuing, section of
The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media

Traffic? Viral? These are profoundly negative phenomena outside of internet usage. What about the internet makes popularity this negative?

Could it be lack of capital gains from this type of real estate? Anecdote: Travis Chambers of says that the top 5% of Youtube ads– with millions of views and thousands of shares– make several tens of thousands of dollars. 1% profit?– that’s not very much. That’s insect-sized profit. Microbe-sized profit. Virus-sized. makes no claims to virality. Millions of views?– that would overload our hosting, slow down the time for every page to load. We don’t want that.

We are not viral. But we do sustain our traffic.

After that popular X-mas day in 2012, we have mostly published weekly. And our peak in daily visits since then was almost 600 hits– occurring during Fan Voting for our inaugural fiction contest, the Summer of 2013– and then a few hits shy of 500– Summer of 2016– most recently 456 visits– September 2nd, 2019. These twice-annual contests are our key to obtaining new visitors at . Offering semi-pro cash prizes to winners and runners-up brings exponentially more submissions to our contests than to our unpaid posts in-between the contests. Though submitters not selected are unlikely to return, the sixteen finalists we do publish annually bring their own networks to the site– who become our targets for retention.

Fan Voting begins this retention process. For two weeks, the poll is open, until the day before winners are announced. Voters do not need to register or sign in– though that would give us their email, for almost all sites the most widely employed strategy for bringing visitors back– and they may vote as many times as they care to, unlimitedly. Almost 600 hits in one day of Fan Voting. However, yet another strategy for boosting traffic is employed. Every vote redirects from the poll to the What’s New publication scroll.

For fresh content appears on that publication scroll everyday of Fan Voting, our most compelling content of the coming season. Retention. No click necessary, you true Lovers of Literature need only scroll to the end of that publication. And there– of course– you will find several links: to our “books and bona-fides” homepage, more original content, and back to the top of “What’s New”.

But what if we start thinking abstractly. How does traffic, itself, start? What makes traffic happen? Let’s start with the phenomenon known as rubber-necking.

Paralleling road traffic to internet traffic, whenever one person spends a great deal of time in one place while everyone else is cruising by, those people cruising by slow down to look. This slows down everybody else, who then stop to look all the more, only to find out what they’ve been slowed down for. In theory– and as this parallelism swiftly breaks apart, in theory alone– it only takes one person to start some substantial traffic. This is clearly myth. Anecdote: I was noticing– I believe in the Summer contest of 2015– some unusual numbers during Fan Voting. My stats page would show 30-odd site hits for certain hours, while only registering one unique IP address in that hour.

Wait, I’ll break this down before explaining its significance– as some of you fantastic Lovers of Literature may not yet be hip to this internet-lingo-jive. Hits, visits, and page views mean number of clicks, which are then tallied by the statistics software hourly, daily, and then by any combination of days. Tallied in the same manner are unique IPs, or unique Internet Protocol addresses. These addresses are individual networks that are accessing the site– so, understand it as separately paid for internet bills. The 4G on your phone has a different IP address than your home internet. One way of thinking about unique IPs is as how many people are visiting the site. This, however, soon becomes very complicated. If a single server, network, or IP address plays host to an entire hotel, there could be 50 people all hitting us from the same address– or a-hundred-and-fifty. And digest this one, if I’m riding on a long-distance train, the IP address updates every certain number of miles, changes to several different networks. That item means a single visiter could register from– just guessing, now– fifteen or thirty IP addresses in a six-hour trip between D.C. and New York City.

Anyrate, ignoring the possibility of an entire hotel surfing through in the same hour, my anecdote means that one person– undoubtably an author, or one of the finalist’s mom– was voting for themself almost thirty times an hour. But if we’re getting 300-600 hits each day of fan voting, was this person actually spending ten hours a day voting more than every two minutes? No. Eye-strain and Tendonitis– not worth it for a cash prize of 75 bucks.

Believing that one person can cause the significant traffic at our level is poor reality checking

But let’s continue this road-to-internet traffic parallel along a more productive path. How about Rush Hour traffic? What causes this type of traffic? From Boston to D.C. , from Mexico City to Bogota, Moscow to Chongquin, and from YouTube to , two elements cause Rush Hour: multitudes moving at the same time, and multitudes moving in the same direction.

When publishes weekly, we always post on a Sunday, and usually around 3 p.m. But within this dependability, the hourly highs of our weekly traffic consistently occur Mondays from 2 p.m. Eastern Standard lasting well into night, and Fridays 10 a.m. Eastern till noon or so. Western Hemisphere workdays. Multitudes moving at the same time.

Now, what can be drawn from this microcosm of when applied to Global Capitalism? Boredom, the chief impetus for surfing the internet– real surfing, not Social Media monitoring, as this is non-stop– among Western Hemisphere workers is highest just after the beginning of the work week, and, more briefly, a short time before it’s end. Now, how can this conclusion be applied for humanity’s advantage? Once the work is underway, there is a substantial pause in motivation, before continuing the work throughout the rest of the week. And as an end to the work nears, this motivation briefly slows, then reinvigorates to finish the work. Doubt not, I profess no aim to increase productivity, better motivate workers, or minimize internet surfing in the workplace. I do own the website these workers are wasting time on. Those aims are the opposite of my ambition.

Entirely the opposite, my aim is to advantage humanity.

Free-time, the other primordial currency of 3rd-stage Capitalism, is invariably wasted– well, with exceptions like you Lovers of Literature cultivating your tastes at — wasted buying things you don’t need, contracting wrinkles on an overly crowded beach, or primping to impress your makeup mirror. is the only major internet site that won’t waste time with anything other than opinions. Learning, Arts, Drama– to a lesser degree Sports– Literature beyond the crop of the month, and Music still relevant decades after release, any online form that widens the scope of your temporal and frontal lobes, these are truly not wastes of free-time. But this free-time not wasted rarely equates to monetary gain for its creators. Short of “the Heart is a Lonely Hunter” being selected by the Opera Book Club and “Juno” nominated for Best Picture, worthwhile pursuits for free-time are not overly profitable. People simply prefer to spend their capital reading about Outer Space or socialites in prison– and nothing is wrong with that, nothing. Nothing is wrong with wasting free-time, whether buying things you don’t need, contracting wrinkles, primping, or reading guilty pleasure trash– it’s your time, and it’s free. And as to wasting money– well, it’s only money.

But the other cause of Rush Hour traffic?– multitudes moving in the same direction? An analytic figure and a human-to-human question both prove illuminating: my “Top Referring Domains” statistics, and asking “how did you hear of us?” when we confirm receiving a submission. Between open and close of the reading period for this last Summer’s contest, 278 visits were referred– or linked to us– from sites I know to announce contests and calls for submissions. And, in asking our submitters human-to-human, only occasionally will she, he, or they say “a friend,” or even “internet search.” The vast majority reply, “Duotrope,” “Freedom Through Writing,” “Linda’s Comps and Calls,” or similarly. I attribute daily spikes in traffic during our reading period to announcements from these lists. Multitudes moving the same direction.

Finally, internet gridlock. In utter sincerity, gridlock is what Capitalism wants– and it is a good thing. Capitalism thrives most vibrantly in two environments: developing markets, and large populations. United States and China have the populations, and largely for that reason are the twin powerhouses of global Capitalism; India and Ethiopia are the two of the most rapidly developing– top places where the powerhouses are investing.

Now translate these factors into internet use. When are there large populations developing new ways to access the internet? New gadgets for millions on the same day, or on the same eight days? Twelve-hundred visits on one X-mas day. Nothing spells out Capitalism with an upper-case C like gift-giving Religious Holidays.

Speaking of gifts– and here’s a tangent that’s closer to utterly adjacent– how about the greatest gifts humanity has received from itself since fire: .

Sue Gardner, former executive director of the Wikipedia foundation, expressed the organization’s mission in the following way:

“Wikipedia’s job is to bring the sum total of all human knowledge to everyone around the world in their own language.”

Advantage?– humanity.

So, surf through one last time, you Lovers of Literature, for this Autumn’s final publication,
the conclusion to
The Art of Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media
as we address the undeniable opposite of macro-Capitalism
Sustainability not only at

Conclusion: What Does Sustainability Mean not only at

the final episode of
Sustaining a Still Popular Website in an Age of Social Media

What does internet sustainability mean? What is required to sustain an internet site? For one’s site to simply remain existing, above the dark-web underground?

I identify four necessary components to internet sustainability: first, hosting– the server, which can be thought of as the hardware any site perches upon. Then, secondly, retaining the unique URL– the written address appearing in the bar up top your screen. However, both these could be achieved with a free blog account. Third of all, some amount of content, something appearing in the body of the site, either pre-existing or scheduled fresh material. And, fourthly, a site staff to update the systems, perhaps monitor comments, and to post that new material if you have it.

At , we employed an entirely volunteer site staff for six-and-a-half years– including our first two years at a different URL. This included design and development, monitoring and content posting, all submitters, and without adds or donations.

The Summer of 2013 was when we first offered prizes for our two annual fiction contests– $75 for each Grand Prize, and $60, total, for runners-up. In the second round of our contests, in 2014, we began compensating our Judging panel. Then we occasionally would commission work for publication on-site. All this brings in an annual budget under $600. I’ll absorb that to advantage humanity until I turn blue, and at least a few years after that.

If retention of readership is the goal– not marketing or income, not publishing the next best seller, or chasing some moment of briefest fame– sustainability becomes equally the goal. Short of the demise of the entire internet, the four components just mentioned can be achieved with two things: an annual budget ranging from less than $75 to less than $150– though, again, with a blog account this can be free. And– far more importantly– future generations of site staff interested in continuing the project.

But are such attempts at sustainability themselves sustainable on the widest scope imaginable?– 400 years?– 700 years? 2,179? 200,000? Will last as long as Shakespeare has dominated, as long as Dante has inspired, or the Dead Sea Scrolls have survived? As long as Humanity itself so far has? I believe it will.

Physically, there is no reason the internet will not exist long after our Sun has exploded and become a floating ember. We can always make more plastic– though we can never get rid of it.

Technologically, we have all we need to sustain some form of the internet as long as Earth supports life, but only that long. Unless we find some way off her.

In a Marxist sense, as long as there is 3rd stage Capitalism, there will be the internet. If another economic system manifests itself– and regression to Tribalism due to climate depletion does not seem unlikely– we would find out then what happens to the internet.

But I do believe our internet will sustain.

For I believe deeply in what Faulkner said, accepting his Nobel Prize.

“Man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance”

He said that in 1949, at the up-ticking of the Cold War, in the throws of the nuclear arms race. Say what you will about Environmental catastrophe, nothing would destroy the internet as thoroughly as a Plutonium explosion.

Sites with aspirations similar to our’s still remain on the internet: check . We don’t want your money; our overhead is minimal. We don’t need your shares; we bring in our own traffic. We don’t care about your likes, retweets, or up-votes in any other form or forum; we have– at least I have– plenty of confidence in our quality without your approval. We don’t even want your email addresses; if you enjoy what only we have, you’ll come back without our insistence.

All we want?– to stay right here. Sustainability.

Then you’ll always have a place to come back to.

Don’t forget to join us for our 2020 FLASH SUITE Contest
Bonafides/ home

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