Evolve or Die
Written by 2Tall (formerly known as Alvin )
It is the year 2009. When I wake up in the morning, I turn on my laptop, I check my RSS reader for the latest headlines while I eat my bagel and drink my tea. I read my emails and maybe reply to a few. I chat with my relatives on the other side of the globe before I go to work, I may even do a quick video chat to see what that two-year-old nephew is up to. After breakfast, I take off and go to work with my Blackberry on, constantly bombarding my with emails to my four primary email addresses. My company instant messaging in the background is quick to remind me that I'm needed even when I'm not behind my desk in my office and my text messages pour in throughout the day. Throughout the day, email, browsing and computer work in general take up much of my time. Once lunchtime rolls along, I take out my Kindle and do some quick reading while checking out the latest releases to satisfy my need to relax with a bit of fiction here and there. I may use my phone to set my DVR to record a show I forgot to schedule and shoot off a few messages to friends and relatives while checking the latest updates on the social networking front. Once I get home after a fulfilling day at work, I watch some TV and get online with my PS3 to kill some time with just pure entertainment. I may then spend another few hours on my computer doing additional work with stuff I like to do (like writing). That concludes a typical day for me and I would bet that you see the same type of scenario on many other households. Compare the day above with yours. How comparable is it? How typical is it for you? Now, take the same day and compare it to your life ten or fifteen years ago. We land in the mid 90's, a time when the Internet was still in its infancy, where much of what we have today were still just concepts inside the mind of some poor college student who didn't have any idea that one day they would be filthy rich just because they came up with Google or YouTube. Our older relatives always tend to say that it was better in the good old days. Maybe it was, I don't know, but the way things are accelerating these days, ten to fifteen years ago can almost be considered the good old days. If they were not better they were definitely different, I think that's something we can all agree on. The bottom line is, our lives are remarkably different today than they were just fifteen years ago. Our society has evolved. We have gone from using the Internet for a few things here and there to building much of our lives around it. We get our mail, our entertainment, our social interactions all through the Internet. We're a society built around connectivity and dynamic interactions.
Now let us shift our attention to the scene. Fifteen years ago, in the mid 90's, the scene was a different animal than what it is today. It was an underground, anything-goes type of culture, and to some extent that's still true today. However, just like society around it, much of the scene has evolved, it has developed and moved on to take advantage of new technology. We went from swapping disks using mail to BBS's to FTP to P2P. Demos went from being made for disks to being made to be distributed by ZIP. Coding expanded from Assembler to Java and Flash. Demos on various platforms have appeared, moving away from the traditional platforms of the C64, Amiga and PC to platform independence, which in some cases means mobile phone/PDA demos, demos on game consoles and much more. Demos themselves changed as well, from being about pushing a platform to the limits to being entertainment. In short, the scene has evolved. Yet, I find that there are aspects of the scene that seem stuck in the high of yesteryears. Although there are other aspects of this that we can talk about, I'd like to focus on diskmags in particular. Diskmags have not changed significantly in the last fifteen years. With the exception of getting rid of the physical limitation of disks, diskmags are still about combining writing with a nice graphical presentation and suitable music, which is what I've always loved about diskmags. You get a bunch of articles, a good presentation and a nice tune to enjoy it all to. There used to be a good number of them back in the 90's. RAW, Generation, Upstream, Showtime, Eurocharts etc. all come to mind. They were all over the place and there was almost always something to read. These days, you're lucky to get an issue once a year, if that. Being tied up with real life myself a lot of the time, I can certainly understand that it takes a lot more these days to find the time to create productions. Just writing this article has been a process that has taken months, finally putting me up against a deadline where I had to just take the time and do it. There is work, a wife, a child or two and maybe commuting to work as well. For those of us that were active in the 90's, there's just not as much time anymore. However, I can't help but think that there must be a better way to do diskmags these days, a better way to deliver the experience we all came to expect. It seems that there must be a way that the concept of the diskmag can evolve and once again be the revolutionary medium it once was. My fear is that if diskmags don't innovate and evolve, they will become even more irrelevant than what they already are.
The last couple of months, I've thought a bit about this from time to time and I've seen a few comments here and there online as well about this topic. What I've noticed is that something needs to change but the question is how because changing the format of the diskmags not only changes how the content is published but it also potentially changes the code, the visuals and the audio. The question we have to ask ourselves then is what the real point of a diskmag is. Is the point of a diskmag to collect the creative genius of the scene and share that with everyone or is it to emphasize content? Is the important thing of a diskmag the code, the presentation and the music or is it the articles? Diskmags are still about articles and writing but what is being written makes a difference. Back in the RAW/Generation era, diskmags seemed to be a lot more about news and articles could easily be tied into the news. Diskmags contained information about coder X leaving group Y for group Z. There were articles about this and that and much opinion. There were coding tutorials, party reports and interviews. Some of these aspects of a diskmag I think are still relevant. Tutorials, articles, reports, interviews etc. but news are harder to make relevant these days. Just take this mag, Hugi, as an example. Released in 2010, it's over a year since the last issue in late 2008. Any news one would collect would be irrelevant by time of release and frankly, many party reports may be outdated by now and articles written about a typical subject may not be as relevant anymore. My point is this: for diskmags to be relevant in today's world and for outsiders to become more interested in the scene as a whole, diskmags need to keep up with the times. They need to be relevant. After all, I'd rather read a party report about the latest Assembly the day or week after the party than six months later. It shouldn't take longer to make a diskmag than it does to “make” a baby from conception to birth.
What's the solution then? It's time to say goodbye to the diskmag style we've been clinging to and look at the current state of technology and see what we can do for the future. With news traveling around the world at an amazing pace, let's take advantage of what's out there and make diskmags revolutionary once again, just as they were in their early years. There are a number of options and I think honestly, to keep up with what's going on in the world today it needs to be some sort of web based solution. From there, the imagination is the limit. Use existing CMS technology or code a unique one. The important thing is that content must become the primary focus and it must be relevant. With web based solutions, regular columns and blogs written by sceners and tutorials, party reports and all those things you typically find in a diskmag but much more fresh. News can also be refreshed in the sense that it's actually up to date and reflects what has happened in the last few days and weeks, not months.
Obviously, all of this is easy for me to say. The only scene activity I can claim for my own for the last decade are a few articles here and there for Hugi. I know it's easy for me to say what needs to be done and what needs to happen when I'm just as busy as many of you. However, I can tell you this: for someone like myself that used to be very involved and drifted away due to demands of regular life, I would find it all much easier to be involved if I can find my news, articles, interviews etc. already populated in my RSS reader. I'd be more involved, I'd be more likely to at least try to do something when I can than just be one of the old farts (in relative terms) on the sidelines wondering why the heck your old team isn't doing anything.
I recognize that what you've read so far is by no means revolutionary and I can under no circumstances claim credit for the idea of this article but I think it's something that more and more of you are starting to recognize to be true. Although there are in fact many sites out there right now that provide plenty of community functionality, such as pouet.net, bitfellas.org, scene.org, including RSS feeds, we can do more. Maybe all it takes is for some reputable institution with the scene, like Hugi itself, to jump in a revitalize how diskmags are done and we can all work towards a new era of of scene greatness. Ultimately, we can evolve... or we can die.
Reaction by Magic:
Anno domini 2010 diskmags play another role than in the old days like for example without Internet. Diskmags can go behind the news which is already out there published on websites and blogs. Of course a diskmag can have some articles based on news which isn't already known. And diskmags can offer a great visual and audio experience. Much more than an average blog or website can offer. Making a diskmag today costs a lot of free time. The scene has grown older. Sceners have a lot of other priorities. We can't release a diskmag for example every two months. Honestly I have had thoughts in the past to release an article directly online when it's finished. Why wait a long time, with the risk of having to update the article, until the diskmag is finished? The answer is simple. We just like to make a diskmag and we have the patience to make one. Websites and blogs come and go. But a diskmag is stored for ever. It's a 'timestamp' of a period long forgotten after many, many years. Just read some Amiga diskmag (like Zine or Raw) from 20 years ago. And you know what I mean. ;) To conclude I will end with what Adok/Hugi wrote in his editorial of this issue of Hugi: "A diskmag is like a surprise packet: You never know what's inside before you open it."