This business of politics By William Bowles

20 May 2004

I’n’I started life rather informally when I started writing articles for Information Clearing House in March 2003. Then, due to an initial financial donation from a reader of my essays on ICH, I was able to start up this Website in August 2003. The rest as they say, is history.

Now, with over 3000 files online and over a 100,000 visitors a month who read around 1600 pages a day, the site has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. I’n’I is #64 on Yahoo’s list of most referred to sites (according to an email I received this week), so I must be doing something right.

But success brings with it a downside. A growing Website resembles a treadmill, once on it it’s difficult to get off. Readers come to expect a level of ‘service’ measured in the number of new (and hopefully useful) essays and information sources made available to visitors. Once established, visitors expect the same and improving level of quality – and quite rightly so.

However, this puts an increasing burden on what is a one-person operation, namely me. Writing a regular column and coping with an increasing workload of additional content has a limit. Something has to give or – and this is where my plans for the future of the Website come into the picture – the site needs to be taken onto another level.

However, taking the site onto another level is quite a step forward as it requires the development of a more sophisticated ‘back-end’ to the site, database driven with all the essential tools to make it far easier and quicker for me and hopefully other writers to add content. This is the plan, but to do it and do it right will require not only funding that is beyond my personal ability to provide but perhaps even more importantly, I’n’I needs to start involving its readers and on a number of levels: through content, financial support, technical expertise and creative input that it currently doesn’t have.

I have been involved in online journalism (amongst other media/communications related pursuits) since around 1983 and even with the emergence of the Web, I believe that for the Left and for progressive people generally, it is still in its infancy. And the issue is becoming ever more critical as the media and communications industry ownership is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.

And perhaps even more importantly, as the crisis of capital grows ever more sharp and its elite ever more desperate, the need for reliable and challenging sources of information gets to be more important with every passing day.

And whilst I don’t want to fly (entirely) off at a tangent, the issue of what I’n’I is all about is important because it’s not only about supplying relevant news and current affairs analysis on the burning issues of the day, it is also about investigating solutions to the problems that confront all of us. This means theory as well as practice and as many readers have pointed out to me, one of I’n’I’s strengths has been the importance of history as a teacher – lest we forget, perhaps better phrased as – we need to remember what has been lost to us.

Ideally, I want to see I’n’I merge theory and practice that is, as comrade Karl put it, ‘observing the world is one thing, but changing it, takes it onto another level’. Well that’s not exactly what he said but I hope you get the point.

It was put to me the other day (in fact yesterday) that the Left suffers from a crisis of confidence, an ironic observation given the dire straights of the imperium but it is nevertheless a fact that we have failed to rise to the occasion presented to us, to provide a viable alternative to the madness that grips the capitalist world and threatens to overwhelm us all.

One of the lasting impressions I’ve gained from the feedback I get, is that there is a large and growing audience of people who feel much as I do and who want to see things change and change for the better. And this is a readership that is truly global in scope even if at present, it is still largely from the rich corner of the world.

There is much I, and a tiny but tenacious band of fellow travellers want to do with I’n’I that I will sketch out here. I’n’I has pretensions to become a real global resource that touches and draws on all cultures, but in order to do this, there are a number of basic resources it will need:

1. Make it truly global, that is, acquire contributors and content from four major geographical areas: Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe;

2. Cover three major themes for each of these areas:
a) Politics/Current Affairs and Economics
b) Science/Technology/Environment
c) Culture

I also want to see I’n’I as a ‘clearing house’ for ideas with the online essays leading to deeper and more thorough-going investigations of the issues we present here. This means establishing external relations with other content suppliers, something I’m actively pursuing. This will be a kind of referral service that for those interested in pursuing a particular story or idea further, would enable access to a range of related resources.

All well and good but actions speak louder than words. Translating the vision into reality will take skills, time and money. Hence, I want to put before you the options as I see it.

Implore, plead, beg, cajole, threaten, bribe, blackmail for more financial support from readers in order to take I’n’I onto the next level.

Technical and creative support such as software, software development that will enable the creation of the next level. Currently, I develop the site on my 1999 Apple Powerbook G3 and faithful machine that it’s been in my travels, it needs to be upgraded at some point. The site is created manual fashion using GoLive although I have acquired Dreamweaver MX but have yet to make the switchover.

I am also looking around for possible funding from other sources such as foundations, so anyone who has information that might lead me in the right direction, please let me know.

Other options are to start making a subscription service that might for example give free but limited access to content and for a monthly, half-yearly or yearly subscription, full access to all the content. This is not a path I’m keen on pursuing yet the longer term goal is to make I’n’I self-sustaining by one means or another. And how many people would be willing to pay for I’n’I is an unknown.

Given the large number of visitors we have, there is a potential for revenue streams from other sources, such as Amazon via the book reviews and also the possibility of advertising revenue. However, on the one hand, revenue generated online will I doubt ever be a major sustainer of the project and on the other, there are issues surrounding advertising that raise problems of maintaining independence. In addition there are what are called ‘affiliate programmes’, basically revenue streams generated from referrals to third-party sites.

The point is, as only one person, there is only so much I can do, there are only so many hours in the day and already, my writing is suffering simply because I’m snowed under with the day-to-day updating of content. And even were I to find a volunteer or better still pay someone to do some of the work, I would still need a content management system to facilitate it.

But clearly, the current set-up has all but reached its limits. Having spent the last ten months almost entirely devoted to the development of the site, I’m not likely to call it a day quite yet. The next step is up to you and whether you’d like to see I’n’I make that leap and your input, ideas and suggestions would be much appreciated.

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