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On the death of literary website Readerville

June 6, 2009 |  8:52 am

Bookishgrave

After nine years, the website Readerville has decided to call it quits. In my visits, which were admittedly occasional, I found it to have a good literary take on books and solid connections to the New York community of writers and readers.

Although I do not know editor Karen Templer at all, I do have an idea of what it took, in 2000, to build a website -- it took a lot. In the mid-90s, I learned HTML to create a tiny, two-issue webzine, using dial-up and compressing image files on a computer that had less power than your kid's iPod. Back then, I said that if someone made a software program that would let people put stuff -- writing, pictures, music files -- on the Internet, magazine-style, they'd be rich.

I was wrong. Because the people who made those software programs -- we call them blogging platforms -- (mostly) did it for free.

Now the barriers to entry are so much lower than they were in 2000 that it's probably best to say that there are no barriers. Anybody can set up a free Wordpress blog, share photos with Flickr, Tweet away without spending a dime.

Plus, someone who wants to put something on the Internet today doesn't need to know how to ftp to a server. But when Templer got started, understanding the technology was just as important as having an idea of what to do with the technology.

Readerville had clearly evolved since 2000; it used blogs to drive many of its content areas and it had an elegant design. But its large and somewhat fuzzy mandate was a little lost. Was it a weblog making recommendations about books (or film or technology), or was it a community of readers? It seemed to try to tie its blog comments into its message boards. That's where the community part comes in -- in a message board system, which in most cases feels a little, well, 1996. (Believe me, I realize I'm posting this on a blog that looks a little 2005).

As the technologies that drive the Internet have evolved, those enterprises that come in later have a head start. Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari are three sites with slightly different bells and whistles, but  similar mandates -- connecting people through books. Like Readerville tried to do -- but these sites have the advantage of both better coding and a more sophisticated perspective on social networking's best practices.

All of which is to say that what Readerville did was hard and that it accomplished much. Nine years is a long time to keep a website vital and engaged, and they get my thanks.

But chances are there will be one -- or two or 12 -- sites that will pick up where they've left off.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: marksdk via Flickr

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