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Electronic Barn-Raising: Renewing the Bad Web

About the recent redesign of the Bad Subjects website.

We unveil a site redesign during a period of enormous political consequence. The Bush administration is being pulled ever-deeper into its self-made Iraq quagmire; the US economy is under corporate control and workers are paying the price; the election season is beginning to reveal the depth of anti-Bush sentiment; and the most popular media venue to address these issues is a comedy show. Can alternative online publishing rise to the occasion to provide substantive cultural and political analysis?

Bad Subjects has been publishing online since 1992, beginning in long-defunct gopherspace. Beginning with a group of graduate students in Berkeley’s English department, organized by Joe Sartelle and Annalee Newitz, Bad Subjects continued to expand its editorial collective. Some of the original community has taken other directions; some remains in the present collective, together with new editors. The original vision of creating a political and cultural journal that would foster an effective left is still our central purpose.

Re-invention is a continual necessity of electronic life (perhaps all life). Until 2004 we were using technology that had provided a steady platform for seven years, since our last re-design in 1997. Our production processes were constantly hindered, however, by a publishing workflow that relied on the technical expertise of a few editors. Consequently, the flow of editorial work into production was unnecessarily slow.

This new site design employs exclusively open-source technology for electronic publishing, which can be adapted through a range of extensions. Editors can work directly on the site with simple-to-learn tools; writers and artists can post new writings directly; readers can participate more actively by commenting on essays. Plones in many ways fit the democratic and anti-hierarchical ethos that Bad Subjects has fostered in the past through mailing lists, blog-like editorials, and letters to the editor (the Voices of the Collective series of articles).

We have some of the look-and-feel of the old Bad Subjects sites: the now-beloved logo remains. However, internal site capacities have increased greatly. The old site was created before the blog revolution; the new site will enable editors to write with immediacy. It is now a site that has been designed to draw in readers, link writers and readers to one another, and give us all electronic reading rooms through which to roam. This is a more intensely participatory website; it is more than an electronic periodical.

Approximately 6,000 readers visit Bad Subjects daily from nearly all countries. So we continue to develop our multilingualism, part of a commitment that began with the first ‘Bad Spanish’ issue in 2000. The new site contains a range of non-English essays in Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Korean, and other languages, and its technology welcomes readers in their native languages.

The re-invention involved in creating this new website involved the equivalent of an electronic barn-raising undertaken by Bad editors in the United States and Canada. Since the Bad archives have enormous accumulated depth, some parts of the site remain a work-in-progress. Electronic publishing is only one means to speak, though. This re-designed website is being inaugurated at the same time as Collective Action: A Bad Subjects Anthology is being published in the United States (the European edition is already in distribution) and as Bad editors join in a book tour.

Collaboration and voluntarism are powerful intellectual and political forces. In the original 1993 Bad Subjects Manifesto, we wrote that our political purpose was "to popularize a critical position from which people may challenge capitalism in both their thinking and their actions." To accomplish that collective goal, we are renewing the Bad community–and its means of production.