Fall Update: Our Second Birthday

Misumena vatia. Family Thomisidae.

Misumena vatia. Family Thomisidae."Goldenrod crab spider", "flower (crab) spider." Found in North America. Image: James Lindsey. cc Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.

The Arachne webzine turns two this fall. As birthdays tend to be, it's been a time of introspection. On the occasion, we divulge some ongoing conversations which guide our forward trajectory as our thinking about digital publishing perpetually configures.

From the beginning, Arachne has always been about experimentation with the idea of website as object. You cannot lift a website from a shelf and put it in someone's hand. But like paper books, objecthood is emergent from the interdependent processes in which ideas are made and encountered. One of our central conversations is how webpage objects, within the website object, can enunciate the concepts conveyed in the submissions we publish. To indulge in abstraction; web design includes all of the choreographies that the website participates in, of which it is.

P2P

We are in the process of transitioning to make Arachne using only software created by communities who we can ethically stand behind. Zine-makers have long engaged with anti-capitalist modes of fabrication and of the sharing of ideas—whether photocopying or word-of-mouth transmission. Yet the politics of genre change as supporting technologies change. When the zine becomes the webzine it cannot evade the corporate ownership of the channels of communication online among all layers of complexity. It's a common catch 22 these days—radical groups organize and interact in proprietary, capital-driven spaces online. For instance, radical projects still use Gmail, Google Drive, and Docs, and corporate web hosting services like Bluehost and DigitalOcean, because these spaces are already so ubiquitous and adaptable.

We can push back and also recognize that our realization of lasting defiance is speculative. So, Arachne is moving completely off proprietary software. Our new suite will include more open-source software and other tools built by smaller communities. For example, as we write this message, we are using notion.so as a temporary transitional strategy instead of the normalized Google suite. We value a trajectory that keeps our editorial process independent of any specific platform. Then again, independence is a sort of co-dependence in the sense of community support involved in decentralization. As in, we got your back and you got ours.

For Arachne this means taking the plain-text road, but more importantly starting to build tiny tools and hack an existing real-time online collaborative text editor to fit the way we work: no login access, no "save in the cloud". Tailoring the organization our files to meet our specific needs. We move towards a more holistic p2p approach, to play with what p2p can be in a webzine format.

Sustainability

The working practices in the production process are as much part of websites as the public-facing interface and underlying code. Sustainability has become a priority for us. Over the years, we've observed too many projects that ask so much of contributors, but compensate with prestige rather than money. People can't pay their rent with prestige. Even in the best case, what's considered fair compensation in the arts is still dismal. The art industry favors people with a safety net who can take on bigger risk.

All this has us thinking about the relationship between sustainability and radical autonomy. That requires fighting another beast we can hardly behead alone; defining radicality in an online context. Notions of the "radical" often avoid the money question. But how does it fit?

Desperation is not a fashionable thing. We've swept word of financial precarity under the rug for fear it will change someone's opinion of us. Maintaining the illusion is the rub. It has always been our model to fairly compensate contributors. So in spite of our own shoestring circumstances we've worked in the hole. Yet we have come to believe that sustainability is tied to preventing burnout.

To get personal, as zines do; we need to figure out how to make this project sustainable. As we publish once, maybe twice a year, adopting a subscription model does not feel so much fitting for how we work and what we share. Donation really did not work out and we think this is also due to the fact that Arachne has been erratic. And we don't want to put ads on the webzine because this is so blatantly an allowance for the project to be distilled aesthetically and spiritually.

As we keep existing and grow (with no real interest in expanding though) we want to solve our need and move Arachne from a self-funded project to something else. This might take the form of publishing ebooks or epubs at a mom and pop scale. Much is TBD, but sustainability never leaves our minds.

Access Play

In Issue #4 we will be experimenting with adding things like sound, transcription, and captions. Access features should make the experience more interesting for everybody. It is never something we do out of obligation. No. It's another way to pay attention to and think in novel ways with care at the head of the table. Thinking about access is another way to build the house. We have to revisit the affordances of its infrastructure and assess the gaps in our recognition of the spectrum of labor processes involved to identify and support that labor.

The big picture is that as we progress, we are getting better at articulating the specificity of our approach. It's a work in becoming that includes all the intellectual material we support and the tools we use in production.

We appreciate your interest in Arachne over the years. Issue #4 is in the works.

André Fincato & Dorothy Howard

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