Building Literistic: Humans, Robots & Juvenile Capitalists

Sketches for our almost-finished website. Care of the amazing George Bletsis.

“Give the people what they want,” says misanthrope and juvenile capitalist Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, the overseer of News Corp, and one of the world’s most popular television networks, has made his enormous fortune manufacturing carcinogenic fast-food info-tainment for the largest possible audience. His work, or his network’s work, is, for whatever reason, what a great number of people want to watch when they get home from work. Literistic’s success is totally contingent on our ability to give our people what they want. How are we going to do this without being stupid, racist or worse?

We’re going to start by doing a lot of things by hand. Human curation is underrated and we’re going to be doing a lot of it at the beginning in order to make sure that Literistic is actually useful. The internet has made human curation (done well!) a rare and precious thing. It is always easier and less expensive to figure out a way to have a machine do your work for you (where were the machines when I suffered through that Milton class?), but this won’t work for us, especially at the beginning. Human curation done well requires that we have a crystal clear idea of who our subscribers are. Right now, we’re only going to include listings that are relevant to a young, ambitious writer. Maybe this writer is considering MFA programs or has just graduated with a BFA. Maybe they’ve published once or twice in a college journal or some other mid-range magazine. This is the type of person who we want to help.
LiteristicBut okay, yes, we are also going to use some modern technology to get a read on our subscribers. While our understanding of who Literistic is for is sufficient enough to justify the project, it’s still very vague. It’s one thing to think you know who you are curating for and another to actually know. We’ll be tracking the demographics of our subscribers using Google Analytics and Facebook. We’ll be measuring click-through rates to see if anyone is actually interested in what we’ve included. At some point, we may start automating much of the curation using highly-detailed forms — we could serve deadlines based on what each subscriber has specified. Right now, this approach seems slightly inappropriate, given the relatively small amount of people who are interested in publishing literary work in Canada, the United States and Britain. It’s also something that anyone who thinks critically about quality is justifiably skeptical of.

Literistic Spot

We’re also going to try to be hyper engaged with our subscribers. We’re going to try to tweet a lot (omghowamIgoingtodothisIhatetweeting) and to send a lot of emails. We’ll ask each subscriber for a list of publications, contests and awards and compare those lists with our own and with others. We’ll do this over and over again until we’ve identified the repeats and subtracted the outliers. We’ll do this until the list gets super good. Literistic should get better with age.

Finally, we’re going to talk to people and to provoke. We’re going to try to create a community around literary ambition that isn’t compromised by advertisements or sponsorships. Let’s hope it works! Sign up for Literistic.