4 Years, 4 Questions. An Epinions Diamond Dozen (Part 1)
Sep 16, 2003 (Updated Sep 19, 2003)
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line I'm ambivalent about a Hall of Fame, but of these Twelve I am sure.
A Walk in the Woods : Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (1999, Paperback, Reprint)
I don't rightly recall just what I was doing online the night of September 8th, 1999, but I can vividly remember the jolt of excited electricity that ran through my body when I pulled in a very odd email from one Andy D. out in California. He claimed to be a manager on a new web site that was launching that evening; claimed to have seen a short review I'd posted on amazon.com of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's "Painted From Memory" CD; claimed to be very interested in inviting me on over to post similar reviews (and even that very one with just enough changes to render the content just a bit different) to his new consumer product review site. I was skeptical, to say the very least, but after grilling and drilling him a while that night I felt him to be authentic and the whole concept to be thrilling. Besides...I could write whatever I wanted to write whenever I wanted to write it and people were actually going to pay me to do so. BLISS.
Many writers far more patient than I have documented The Good Old Days of Epinions.com. That's not my intention here, nor am I interested in rehashing it (much). I will say that way back then (November-December, 1999), just before the first of many, MANY changes in the writers' compensation package and the structure of the site itself, I earned about $800 in one month of writing reviews, mostly in the Books and Music categories. Food & Drink/Gourmet wasn't born until a few months after the launch when they began to add more categories. Many writers earned far more than I did -- of that I am sure. My total earnings to date are $4,007.76 but I've probably reached the redeemable $10 mark twice in the last two years.
Yeah, it was a rather small community and you got to know the most passionate and gifted writers in each category pretty damn fast if you spent any time on the site. And we all did, of course, to distraction, because of the sheer addictive nature of the entire experience. That's also been well-documented in various posts and message boards over the years. And the site grew and grew and the cyber-circle of amazing writers, fascinating new friends, and energy leaches/time suckers grew and grew right along with the member population in increasing numbers and exponential leaps and bounds. And the p!ssing matches and the war of words and the gaboon squads and turf wars and site glitches and management Judas kisses all kept pace too. But for a while, IT WAS FUN and IT WAS PROFITABLE. And I, along with many others, was PASSIONATE about it all. Been there, done that, got four t-shirts and the polar fleece jacket to show for it . And one day I finally managed to parlay my online amateur wine reviewing experiences into a personal essay that was published in The Wine Spectator's May of 2001 issue. I was floating high the day I received that email, I can promise you! I'm not sure exactly what I thought my affiliation with epinions.com was the start of, but I did sense it was the start of something BIG. Somehow, Somewhere, Someday.
I've not visited the site much at all over the last two years but for many annoying reasons that circled my head relentlessly like a West-Nile-infected mosquito I was acutely aware that Monday September 8th was the 4-Year Anniversary of Epinions. I felt irritatingly inspired to post something in commemoration. But what? What could I post of any real interest at this point? A write-off seemed way too much energy, and frankly, most of what I've been through over the last few years feels far too raw, intimate and vulnerable to detail in this specific venue.
The recent uprising on the site demanding a Hall of Fame category to honor contributors who helped build the site caught my attention. I pretty much blame (Helen) pogomom for this entire shebang as it was triggered by a paragraph in her essay on the subject:
"I don't know if any newbie types will come across either this editorial or the one I posted. If they do, they need to realize that we are not discussing members who occasionally contribute to the site. My focus is on those individuals that helped create the community that now exists. My personal feelings are that those members should come under consideration when their membership reaches their four year anniversary."
So I mused and obsessed upon it, as I am most wont to do, in the presence of the nature muses on a long walk with Leah and it finally dawned on me. There is a small group of writers that I met on this site who still stand out in my consciousness as extraordinary people, in many senses of the term "extraordinary". Just downright INTERESTING people, in MY opinion, perception and definition of interesting. The very personal reasons for my very personal interest in each of them are many and varied and shall remain personally my own for the purposes of this post. But I will share that some intrigued me for their glaringly obvious pathology and some for their seemingly blatant normalcy. But each ultimately proved to be a fascinating, complex, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, broad brush stroke of a Soul spanning all points on the Human Psyche Spectrum. Each one embodied for me, through their words both on and off the site, what a beloved spiritual mentor terms: "range". Range! I am painfully bored by simple-minded herd people (which becomes even more achingly obvious to me the older I get as they seem to be spawning and breeding to extreme excess and literally have me surrounded.) But as demonstrated below, no one could ever, would ever, toss these fascinating thinkers and deep feelers into the herd melting pot. I quickly selected my very own 12 Epinions Diamonds.
These are not necessarily the site's most prolific writers, nor the most popular. They are certainly not necessarily those with whom I became close and constant friends. Names in that category would include kimmiko and sweetpaulie, but I first met those two on eBay and dragged them both with me onto Epinions, so they hold their own category leads, if you will. With one absolutely fabulous notable exception (Smile for Oprah, Sweetie Darling! http://www.studiobotanika.com/cover.jpg), I've been totally out of touch with most of these people for the last two years.
I emailed each of The 12 Diamonds four questions that I would love to ask each of them at this point in our lives. I promised to post their answers, uncensored and unedited, and for those who didn't feel led to respond, I promised to list their names nevertheless. A few did not respond at all, and one of those is definitely a dead email address issue. I would like to keep the invitation open to them in the hopes that they will see this post and share their responses in the comment section. (And that goes for you, too. If you feel inspired by this theme, I hope you'll add your thoughts to the comment thread.)
1) How has epinions.com blessed you? (If at all)
2) How has epinions.com cursed you? (If at all)
3) How has epinions.com expanded and inspired you as a writer and all-around creative artist? (If at all) Where can we view your newest work?
4) How has epinions.com contracted, deflated, and depressed you? (If at all)
DISCLAIMER: I am incredibly rusty at this after not writing daily for so very long so I will state up-front that I am giving my obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, highly-critical writer self full permission to forget about perfect grammar, composition and punctuation -- but just this once. Additionally, since I'm still on the lime green iMac and the responses were all received in Outlook email, there is some translation garble. While I've tried to clean it up without screwing up the writer's text, I'm certain that I've failed. Those are my errors, not theirs. But I really want to get this posted to the site and I know myself all too well. If I fuss over it too much the energy will drain right out of the whole concept and nothing will come of it delivering yet another aborted epinions post. The responses that graced my in-box over the last week are just too wonderful for that sh!t, so let's keep the focus on the theme and intention, I say. Cut me a lot of compositional slack, please, and understand that I'm too lazy to learn to do all that fancy schmancy hot linking to the various urls that follow.
To again quote (ie, lay blame upon) pogomom's words: "Epinions has already lost more talent and passion than they will ever know." Let's drink to that sentiment, shall we?
Here are the responses in the order in which they were (pretty much) received from some of the most brilliant gemstones this site has had the honor of hosting, however brief their stay. There are a few with whom I'd like to share a five-course, five-bottle of wine, gourmet dinner (on their tab, of course). There are a couple with whom I'd like to share a sparsely-populated Greek isle for a week. And there might be one or two I'd like to share a room in Las Vegas and a most decadent and hedonistic Lost Weekend with. (Yeah, SLOW...YOU Baby!)
Empty your bladder, grab your adult beverage of choice, let the phone go to voice mail. Sit back and savor the exquisite clarity and color of my own Diamond Dozen.
How has epinions.com blessed you? (If at all):
It might sound trite, but epinions was a part of my life when some very important, very major events
transpired. Life changing events have a way of hiding their true meaning until you're ready for them. In my case the meaning of certain events hid for well
over a year, giving just enough time to break down a huge amount of ego and an even larger bit of hubris. A small group of people I met on this site became,
for an all too brief period, friends. When you see what you thought was your purpose on this plain slowly ebb and be replaced by another, friends become the
only things that matter.
How has epinions.com cursed you? (If at all):
Simply, it affirmed that I might have something worth saying about things I believe I know something
about. I said I lost a lot of ego and hubris. In my case there is plenty left over and epinions fed that to an extent.
How has epinions.com expanded and inspired you as a writer and all-around creative artist? (If at all) Where can we view your newest work?:
As I began to walk a new path I started taking a different view of where I should expend creative capital. Just about a year ago I became aware of a new project aimed at serving the GLBT community in my hometown, Out & About Nashville, a monthly newspaper designed to be just that. A newspaper that reports on the news and business of our community. I now work with them as a business, political and editorial writer. PDF versions of back issues are available on-line at www.outandaboutnashville.com. You can also request a free subscription, mailed in a discreet package, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage all to subscribe. You can never read enough. Comments, story ideas and praise may be sent to email@example.com. Criticism may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How has epinions.com contracted, deflated, and depressed you? (If at all):
It would be easy to wax rhapsodic about unrealized dreams and undelivered promises, but the truth is we all make our own future. Every step along the path is valuable for its own sake. If your dream is just to pound out as many epinions as possible, then the site has held up its end of the bargain. If you want to expand your writing abilities, then where else can you get so much feedback for so little effort. Besides, I do so enjoy meeting new people ;~
How has epinions.com blessed you? (If at all)
The first time Epinions blessed me was in the form of an eRoyaltiesTM check for $46.76. The second time was for $11.31. The Law of Increasing Morons and Dwindling Returns kicked in and I jumped ship before I could cash in a third time.
Those early days of Epinions were heady times, though. I had just escaped from a promising, mind-numbingly tedious career on Wall Street. I painted my kitchen orange and yellow; I learned to cook instead of ordering out; I got back into photography and gardening. Epinions seemed like just the right place for me to flex my creative writing skills and share my vast knowledge of interior decorating and other meaningless minutiae. I thought, "I can help people make better informed buying decisions! I can make a real difference in people's lives!" Sucker. I thought I could make some cash.
And that's just what thousands of other high school creative writing class dropouts thought, too. Before you could say "for shizzle my nizzle," the site was swarming with health and beauty "experts," doling out excruciatingly detailed advice on sanitary napkins and such. After much thought and very little income share, I had to ask myself, do we really need better consumer buying advice for incontinence pads? Is it necessary to compare and contrast three different lice treatment kits before delousing? I think not.
That wee, small reality check, combined with the fact that I don't play well with others, lead to my premature ejection from Epinions. The gag reflex kicked in. I took my toys to a new sandbox, populated by shiny, happy, non-coma inducing people who didn't need buying advice on "O, The Oprah Magazine."
I do feel blessed, if I can use that vaguely religious term without fear of the ceiling collapsing on me, to have met some rather unique people during my brief stint as a "writer." Most of them were morons (if you're reading this, yes it's YOU!) but one or two caught my fancy. Over the past few years, I've developed a friendship with someone I met on Epinions that I cherish very much. It started out innocently enough (read and rate my review and if you're lucky I'll put you on my Web of Trust kind of thing) and ended up transcending the world of consumer buying advice (thank Prada!). I would write more, but you'll just have to wait for the book to come out (it's Oprah's Book O' the Month selection for March 2006). Besides, as Supreme Ruling Diva of All Things Fabulous, she already knows she rocks.
How has epinions.com cursed you? (If at all)
Only gypsies and old Italian grandmothers can properly curse. Although the ratio of bigots to idiots is disproportionately high on Epinions, I never thought of it as a curse. More like a fact of life. It's like saying there's a lot of cows in Wyoming.
In all, I escaped rather unscathed from the whole Epinions experience. Mostly I look back and wonder, "What was I thinking?!" Perhaps because I'm a bitter New Yorker, I saw through the read and rate bullsh!t pretty quickly, and soon tired of the playing nice bit. Being censored didn't help much either. What fun is that? Besides, the reading and rating circle jerk was really cutting into my drinking time, and that is never a good thing, Martha Stewart!
How has epinions.com expanded and inspired you as a writer and all-around creative artist? (If at all)
I now know the proper usage of e.g. and i.e.
I can come up with fabulously inventive email subject lines (e.g., "Musings of the Dorkling-Nerd" and "Cathart Away, Cave Canyon Dingo" are some recent favorites).
I can make up a product review on something I've never seen, much less owned or used, faster than Jason Blair can make up a byline.
Epinions did come along during a period of creative rebirth for me. I picked up nature photography again, which became a tremendous creative outlet. From those photographs I began creating the artwork which is now the basis for my online gallery. I also discovered wine right around that time. Actually I think it all stems from the wine, but I digress.
Where can we view your newest work?
How has epinions.com contracted, deflated, and depressed you? (If at all)
Well, other than the fact that Epinions has alienated me from all mankind, I'm doing fine.
It is wonderful to hear from you. I hope all is well! Alas the timing could not be worse. I am leaving for Australia with my brother tomorow morning! I will be gone until the 23rd, after which time I would be happy to contribute and chat at greater length.
Love & hugs,
How has Epinions.com blessed you?
Overall, life has blessed me with luck of all sorts. I count those blessings mostly in my family and friends. When theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the term "global village" he was thinking what the Internet has fully realized. Until they find a way to instantly transport folks from point to point on this planet, the net will serve as our virtual teleportation device. As such, Epinions has created a village that could not have existed before the net. It has created a community in which I can roam and discover new folks I never would have met outside my own relatively provincial real-world existence. Not all those folks have been worthy of much of my time. But many have. And those few gems have made Epinions worthwhile. Considering Epinions and its spawning of the chat rooms and listservers and other net-based forums, I've met and made acquaintances and with a few I've engaged in a relationship. Those relationships have been based solely on the merit of those person's words. As someone who, at least at one time, was considered athletic and who based so much of his relationships with others mostly on action, it's a significant paradigm shift for me. Still, the power of the word can't be denied and some folks around Epinions know their way around a paragraph. In the Epinions eWorld, I've laughed, sighed, clapped with joy and was saddened by accounts whose writers told with a powerful mastery of the written word. Some have experiences with which I relate. Some have experiences I can never even have imagined. I've sat in awe at my monitor at some mighty awesome wordsmithing. A man or woman who can wield a keyboard thusly deserves exploration. And in some of those, I've discovered kinship and, yes, even friendship. It is in those rare and precious moments of bonding that Epinions has blessed me.
How has Epinions.com cursed you?
As with many, in the early days I was immersed hook, line, sinker, and pole into the realm of the site. The premise and execution of the site was addictive. Hooked to the point I may have neglected more important issues. Passing months and the reality of reality cured the addiction. While I've seen others who seemed to have fallen hopelessly into the well of Epinions and some of those who seemed to have reveled in their own antagonistic contests with other Eps members, I'm glad I'm naturally averse to such situations.
How has Epinions.com expanded and inspired you as a writer and all-around creative artist (if at all). Where can we view your newest work?
Don't know if I've been expanded at all. I've certainly been inspired - inspired by the genius I've seen in other's work. I've a long, long way to go before I can be considered a writer or, gasp, an artist. My newest work
is in the form of some schedules for some naval ships that don't involve words, writing, nor art. And it takes up to 14 hours per day doing that. And most of it is locked away. So the way I spend my work-a-day time doesn't
support an artist's life. My hair color is my own and not a single tattoo or body piercing. Perhaps that job at Starbucks would be a better alternative.
How has Epinions.com contracted, deflated, and depressed you? (If at all)
Simply, it hasn't. I don't have time to let much get me down. And I certainly wouldn't let a Web site get the best of me. If Epinions ever got to be the hassle it seems to be to other folks, I'd pack up and leave. Surely the potential for harm in the Epinions community lurks in many dark corners. I said it was a village, not a party with friends. But the worthiness of some folks makes it worthwhile. Those who snipe from the shadows or pick fights in the open can be ignored. It's the Internet, not my home street. In real life, I choose my battles; on the net, I can hit the delete key.
(Unbeknownst to me, my first submission was too long for the Eps system and I got all sorts of nonsense grief for my html effots making this one pain in the rear to even post! But I finally figured it out and have had to break my piece into two parts and delete many bolded and italicized words. Sorry I couldn't do this in 100 words or less. Sheeesh....Leah)