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, bioscopic.wordpress.com 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.
(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)