The Bioscope wonders

Dear readers,

I have a question for you. Whither the Bioscope?

Let me explain. This blog is coming to its fourth birthday, and it is doing quite well. It gets around 6-700 visitors per day and just passed the 600,000 visitor figure overall. According to the web monitoring site Alexa it is number 1,166,704 in the ranking list of world websites. It would be good to break the 1 million barrier, and what Alexa has to say about the site’s demographic suggests things are narrower that they might be (“Based on internet averages, is visited more frequently by users who are in the age range 45-54, have no children, are graduate school educated and browse this site from home”), but on the whole it’s not bad for a site devoted to silent film – and often to corners of silent film that don’t always hold obvious interest for the dedicated few who like silent films.

However, I’ve been wondering whether it’s time for a change. I don’t just know about silent films, but though I’ve set up several other web resources, none has worked quite as well as the Bioscope, and managing six (as I currently do, plus several ancillary sites) is impractical. I would rather focus on fewer resources, and do the work better.

But as I’ve thought about change, I’ve been wary of spoiling a modestly successful model. It’s always good policy to keep to a clear theme, and straying beyond silent films could weaken the site’s impact and let down the existing audience that the site gets. On the other hand, I find myself again and again highlighting web resources of value to research (a speciality of this site) and artificially limiting what I say about them to silent films. It should be possible to widen the site’s frame of reference while keeping to its principle of encouraging discovery.

I’m not proposing a blog that’s about my personal interests. That would be tedious. So I wouldn’t go on about politics or what film I saw last night (The King’s Speech – not bad, I guess). It would be about art, culture, social history and research, and I’m fairly sure 80% of it would remain about silent films, because that’s what I know and there’s a lot to said about them that doesn’t get said elsewhere. It would be mostly about film, because it’s a great medium. But it would reach beyond to film and its contexts, and that’s something that was in my mind when I first imagined what this site might be, only it turned into something else. It something to do with the original definition of ‘bioscope’ as “a view of life or survey of life“, as a motion picture camera might observe it.

If I were to do this, I would have to reorganise the site somewhat so that the silent film resources it has built up (Library, Festivals, Videos etc) remain available. In particular I would need to maintain the links down the right-hand column which I know get used as a reference source in themselves. I might have to stay my hand simply to avoid damaging what exists and is useful.

I’m torn. I feel the need to move on and avoid repeating myself (which I’ve started to do in places). At the same time I know the importance of a clear message and the danger of spoiling what works, reasonably well.

So I would welcome your advice. What do you think? I know it’s my blog and if I want to change tack and make it a site about tree-frogs then I’m completely at liberty to do so. But the site was created to be useful, and I want to continue to be useful. Your advice, please.

Respectfully yours


(The image at the head of this post comes from the title page of Granville Penn’s The Bioscope, or Dial of Life, published in 1812)

17 responses

  1. Dear Luke,

    Whatever you do, I will stay with you, but I truly loved this site and visit it daily. Like you, I have other interests, but for the Silents, this is the most entertaining, informative, and reliable site.

    Your sincerely,


  2. Hi Luke, I love the Bioscope, but trust your judgement about whatever you want to add. Do you have examples of other stuff that exemplifies the kind of additional material you might add?

  3. Good question. I’m not entirely sure yet. I’m interested in all manner of things that broadly come under social and cultural history. I’m not much interested in the arts for their own sake, but as they tell us something about people. That’s sort of the line I’ve tried to follow with silent film and the Bioscope. But I’m also keen to find a place for other areas where I think I can write with some degree of usefulness – on digital media, where television is going, new opportunities for research, how archives and libraries operate. And then stuff as wide apart as polar exploration, sport, memory studies, colour theory, the study of audiences, photography … It’s too much. Let’s bring it back to society and culture (with a strong silent film bias), emphasising discovery and things that will be useful to people.

  4. First time I’ve discovered this site. Silent cinema is a fascinating subject and one I’m keen to learn more on, so as long as you keep that element in the mix then I’m happy!

    Added link to your blog on my website –

  5. Dear Luke,

    I have been following the Bioscope for a couple of years now and can think of little to do to improve the quality of the site. It is what it purports to be, a learned online journal dedicated to old film. I find it educational, beautifully written and well illustrated.

    The only suggestion I can think of making is that better publicity might help you attain the desired goal of being in the top million sites. I see a list of blogs to the right, with whom you, I would imagine trade links. Might you make an open appeal to people to offer a link to this site?

    I shall continue to check in here on a daily basis; even if the occasional article that does not appeal to me appears, I have no doubt that each will offer some interest insight.

    Bob Lipton

  6. Luke: I’d be happy to follow you where you choose to go. I respect your taste and enjoy learning about your interests. I don’t see a problem with broadening the subjects you’ll cover. It will still be useful and informative.

    Joe Thompson

  7. More or less echoing the previous comments; it’s the only blog I see as being indispensible, and in a sense I would hate to see it change too much; however, if you’re beginning to feel a bit stale, or limited by its current scope, then you have to do what you feel the need to do; we’ll follow. It’s your blog; we don’t own it or you, we’re just exceedingly grateful for the gems you bring to us.

  8. I’m from Poland and I’m 24 (so out your statistic age range). I like to visit Your website from time to time. I’m finding it a great information base for silent cinema research. I wish it to remain as such, but I understand yhat its your personal blog and You have the need for change. I think that there is no big problem with broadening the site in any direction (especially not to far from the old cinema) – it is internet’s attribute that the reader can CHOOSE what to read and what to click. I can’t ensure You that I will read every entry of Your blog, but as far as it will be holding on old film I’ll be with You.

  9. I’m 32, from Mexico, and I have been visiting your site pretty much daily for the past two years. I agree that it’s your site and you’d probably do something interesting with any topic you chose, but on the other hand I think your blog is an invaluable voice for silent film promotion which will be missed as such. Your passion for the subject is palpable and I think vital to the conversation.

    In any case, if you do decide to change topics I think that the Bioscope should be kept separate as a standalone resource. Especially due to the fact that other types of content would muddle search queries.

  10. More food for thought, eloquently expressed. Thank you for your kind words, and thank you everyone for your comments. I’m close to making my decision.

  11. Pingback: The Bioscope decides « The Bioscope

  12. Mein Lieber Herr Luke:

    Don’t pay attention to Frau Alexia’s statistics, she is wrong when said: “Based on internet averages, is visited more frequently by users who are in the age range 45-54, have no children, are graduate school educated and browse this site from home”… what happened with 90-120 old german aristocrats, illiterate, with no children but a lot of fat und rich heiresses around that reads your modernen mail from a decadent Schloss??… modernen times are against aristocrats, certainly…

    Anyway, it will be a pleasure for this Herr Graf to read even your longhaired comments about… MEIN GOTT!!!… talkies!!.

  13. Whoops, I’m a bit late to comment, and it seems you’ve made the (correct in my opinion) decision already. I was just going to say that in general if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And Bioscope is certainly not broke. It’s not even slightly malfunctioning. It’s actually running perfectly. That engine doesn’t need messing with: leave it alone. (How long can I keep this car metaphor going?… that’s enough I feel). Luke, keep up the great work.

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