Swans 10th Anniversary
by Milo Clark
(Swans - May 8, 2006)
There is no money to be made here. No banners, no IPO's, no egos. Only a desire for quality on a daily basis, from a flock of swans and its future contributors.
With those words, webcast on May 1, 1996, Gilles (and Jan, never forget Jan) launched Swans.com. Indeed, in the last ten years no money has been made, no IPO's launched . . . egos? Well, that has to be a matter for others to judge.
I remain blessed to be part of the Swans flock.
The Webzine, as I and others call Swans, may be bogged and buried under avalanches of blogs today, but ten years ago, Swans was a leader and a standout in its field. Swans is still a standout in whatever genre it may be included. Readership, as measured by the arcane standards applied to Websites, moves ahead and upward. However, still underwhelming when compared to mega-hit sites. I guess we would have to name Swans.com as niche media. Definitely new media settling into a comfortable slot, filling a need.
I don't exactly remember how we met now more than ten years ago. I recall trips from Berkeley to Menlo Park where Jan and Gilles then lived. Their house was in a borderland of Menlo Park, difficult to find, off the edge of maps. An older structure, later to be much worked on by Gilles and Frank Wycoff, with a big yard being resurrected from years of neglect. Dog, cats, chickens, all very pleasant to my taste.
We would sit outside mostly. Jan ran back and forth bringing out samples of her gourmet skills. We talked about mice and men and places and politics and perspectives. At that time, Gilles was working as a computer consultant with a large non-profit. Jan was already a stalwart of a pioneering drug innovator working on searches for breakthrough remedies to confront bedeviling diseases.
At the start, there were five. Frank Wycoff lived nearby. A French acquaintance of Gilles showed up sporadically and quickly dropped out. Frank too soon relocated to upstate New York (brrrr!), but he remains a stalwart friend occasionally coming west to help Gilles with reroofing, repainting, renovating, and kicking a beer or two.
The early archives reveal that the writing chores were primarily carried by Jan, Gilles, and me, with Frank throwing in his insights now and then. Mostly, as starters, I shared some works done in other contexts as yet unpublished. I notice that the Adam Smith is on Our Side commentary is from 1996. Gilles tells me this piece has remained popular. I revised it later.
When published in this ten-year rendition, this commentary on early Swans days will be number 183 or 184 that I have written for the site. Subjects for my pieces have roamed throughout a broad ranges of topics and reflected -- keep reflecting -- my eclectic interests and concerns.
Mostly, I hold to Gregory Bateson's admonitions to look for differences that make a difference and for patterns that connect. As well as I can, I believe that the best way not to play a game is not to play. Also, I feel better when I sense I am grokking my context.
Over time, Swans has gradually attracted a flock of writers, some renowned, others coming off the wall and over the transom. There have been comings and goings among the flock. I have bounced out for a couple of periods as some bee got in my bonnet, then bounced back in again. I have learned to be more tolerant of Gilles's Gallic ire. Jan does an excellent job of keeping Swans on an even keel when Gilles is on a tear.
Swans is beyond habit and into compulsion or, perhaps, obsession. With rare exceptions now, Swans is my only venue. I like that.
Writing for Swans, being included in Jan's and Gilles's creation, is very rewarding in many ways. It is good to have a venue with an accepting heart. I get occasional feedback from what I call "Swans scanners" who may, on occasion, show that they have actually read a piece of mine.
With the 2004 judicial coup d'état, I came unglued and lapsed into rave, rant, rage, and roar at George W. Bush, et al. I am struggling presently to let that go. There are other, also pressing, matters that merit attention and comment. There are?
Gilles struggles with the quandary of making enough through donations to cover Swans direct expenses. A wish yet to be consummated. I handle my guilt by sending regular commentaries. For several years now, Jan has brought in the work-a-day money and Gilles devotes full time (and then some) to Swans.
I notice the continuing improvements and embellishments Gilles creates. The Swans archives are a major achievement -- there is no other Web publication that, too my knowledge, matches Swans archives. Gilles has steadfastly avoided the bells, whistles, and mostly annoying gimmicks of the so-called alternative Websites. His printerly format distinguishes Swans.
The move North to Boonville from Menlo Park, California, in 2004 has not been easy. Jan now works in San Francisco, maintains an apartment there, and is a weekender at Boonville. Gilles keeps plugging in.
Swans is a computer-driven production, a compulsion for Gilles, and an overlap for Jan. My admiration grows.
Swans is important! Notice the exclamation mark.
Need I say more?
Starting its eleventh year of free publication, Swans is rich in friends, but poor in cash. If you've enjoyed being a Swans reader, please help us out with aThank you.