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August 24, 2003

The Web has an Answer

by John Clay, editor-in-chief

Bhag is growing with every year that passes. It used to be easy to take in the whole view of it from right up close. But as bhag branches out, limbs multiplying and reaching further toward sky, seeing the whole tree and following the lines of every branch becomes harder. Right now, following the unfolding limb of each artist's output requires jumping from yearly issue to yearly issue in archives. It is as if instead of viewing the whole branch from base to tip, you can view only snapshots of it—one segment at a time. Maybe you enjoyed paintings by Lukas Kandl in the 2003 issue. To look for more of his work, you would have to navigate to the visual art section in every yearly issue. Or maybe you enjoyed stories by Erika Purtell in 2003. Are there more stories? Or more complicated still, has she written something in life journal, or public journal, or philosophy as well? Finding the answer will require navigating to every text section in every yearly issue. Bhag is in its third year. With every year that passes, following the lines of an artist's work will become more labor intensive. We have a solution in mind.

It is very likely that as of January 2004, bhag will shift to a cumulative format instead of a year-by-year format. The cumulative format will mean that, while you still have to navigate through each of bhag's five sections to find out if an artist is posted there, you will no longer have to repeat the procedure in different yearly issues. There will be one "issue" only; it will contain everything from the very first posts to the very latest posts, no longer divided by year. The concept is that of a cumulative portfolio of each artist's work as accumulated in each of the five sections. All of an artist's paintings will be found under the visual art button. Everything a writer has published in literary art will be found under the literary art button, and so on for life journal or public journal or philosophy.

It is funny how unsettling a change like this can feel, even when it is a change from a problem to a solution. Valid questions arise: Why not keep the yearly issues and just implement a local search engine to locate an artist's farflung works throughout the site? That would help. But it would still mean jumping from year to year as you click the links to the artist's various works. The search engine would help surmount the barrier of yearly issues. But if the yearly issues are a barrier, then removing the barrier is even better than surmounting it.

Another question: If there are no longer yearly or periodic issues, is bhag still a magazine? And what is a magazine? A magazine, as a publication, is conventionally defined as a publication that is issued periodically, whether daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. Periodic publication is a necessity in the world of print. The type has to be set, mechanically or digitally, and the printing press has to run, generating a large or small volume of identical hard copies. Although special editions sometimes are printed outside the usual printing schedule, it is just not practical to print, say, an updated version of the morning's newspaper every few minutes with additional stories. Radio and television changed the landscape of publishing by offering, in sound and images rather than print, the possibility of a continuous feed of new content. The web offers a funny hybrid: The possibility of a continuous feed of new content as in radio and TV, but with the look of a printed page viewed on a monitor. Web transforms the question, What is a magazine? There is no point getting hung up on the mechanical concerns of people who own printing presses. If we think about the essence of what a magazine is--an organ of publication with a recognizable identity (of source, mission, and style), open to new content either continuously or periodically—then the answer is clear. Yes, bhag is and still will be a magazine even in its cumulative form.

The etymology of the word magazine lends further support. Word usage changes over time, and sometimes the historical source of a word can serve as a good anchor as we explore new usage. It is not that one wants to restrict a word to its earliest known meaning. Rather, even as we keep jamming and improvising, we keep in mind the old tune we're improvising on. Magazine derives from the Arabic word makhzan, meaning storehouse. In fact we still use the word to describe a storehouse of ammunition—the magazine of a gun, the magazine of a warship. The web opens up this older meaning in a new way, because the web allows a publication to combine seamlessly the storage function of print with the continuous feed function of radio and television. A web magazine offers the possibility of a continuously updated storehouse of information. Rather than hanging on to the print paradigm, bhag will be joining the new web paradigm of magazine publishing. The web is still growing and flourishing with new possibilities. That's why bhag is here.

© 2003 John Clay

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