Category Archives: Troy’s Rants

Why Black Owned Websites Fail

A few days ago a friend came across an article in, WhereItzAt Magazine. In the magazine was an article, “In defense of Black Bookstores,” which addressed the loss of Black bookstores and why it matters.  This is an issue I’ve covered extensively.  Indeed, I have published a directory of Black owned bookstores for as long as I have run this site.  My current coverage of Black owned bookstores is probably the most extensive coverage available on the web today.  So it goes without saying that I applaud WhereItzAt Magazine’s coverage of this important issue.

My friend took a photo of the article (shown below) and shared it with me, because this website was mentioned, in the last paragraph, as a resource where one my find a list of Black owned bookstores.

Of course I was interested in sharing this article, but I decided to look for an online version which would make it possible for others to more easily read.  I found the article, but noticed that the online version did not mention AALBC.com at all?!

This just struck me as simply dumb.  Why would the website not mention, and link to an, online resource  to help readers discover the remaining Black owned bookstores–the very thing they are purporting to support?  They were obviously aware of the resource; why would they decide to exclude it on the online version of their article?

I still shared the article, because the subject is important.  In fact, I even added WhereItzAt Magazine. to my listing of Black owned magazines (even though I have not yet verified that they are still in print).  I also added their website to my Huria Search engine which allows people to search Black owned websites exclusively.

Now, while I’m using WhereItzAt Magazine as an example they are the norm–and this is our biggest problem. Stated plainly, Black websites do not link to each other.

To illustrate this point, lets run a Huria Search on “aalbc.”  Again Huria Search’s only goal is to elevate Black websites by making their content easier to find.  In fact, the websites I own, including AALBC.com, are not included in the hundreds of sites that are indexed in Huria Search.

If you examine, the top results you will see that most are two years older or more.  There are none from the largest Black websites.  The one search result from a top Black website was Black Enterprise Magazine, where they credited AALBC.com for an image that they copied from my website.  Even here Black Enterprise they did not actually link back to the the AALBC.com page where they grabbed the image (looking at the page today, Black Enterprise even removed that reference).

You’ll also see from that query that there are 13,000 results.  Which may give you the impression that there are many links back to AALBC.com—and there, but they tend to be older links.  The problem I’m describing is relatively new.

When the web first started Black-owned websites were very likely to link to other sites. We all recognized that by helping visitors discover other interesting websites, that added value to our own websites.  In fact, before search, this was the primary way we discovered other Black websites.  This is why I continue to link to other websites and may be the reason I’ve been able to keep this website viable for 18 years

What changed?

Well some webmasters have been convinced that linking to other websites hurts their website: Some feel linking to other websites encourages people to leave their website. Others feel by linking to a potentially lower “quality” websites, hurts their website in terms of search engine optimization (SEO).  Of course there is the problem of the site they link to removing the page in the future, creating a broken link on their website, which is bad for SEO and the experience of their visitors.

But all of these reasons can be addressed—particularly by webmasters interested in the health and vibrancy of the Black web.  Relying on social media, or search, to elevate our sites and make them discoverable, is simply not working.

To compound this problem, when webmasters started linking to other websites, they began linking aggressively to social media websites. The result is that collectively we are uplifting social media and marginalizing our own websites.

This problem is further exacerbated by Google (who handles the majority of searches), whose search algorithm looks at our behavior, of linking to social media and not linking to Black websites, and makes the reasonable conclusion to elevate social media over Black websites in search engine results.

All of this has had disastrous results on the ability of websites to generate traffic and survive.  As a result, the web is far less rich—particularly as it relates to content generated by and for Black people.  We have lost some terrific website and potentially great ones are discouraged from even starting because of the difficulty of attracting visitors.

If you have read this far, I suspect this article has resonated with you.  If so, there is something you can do: Take every opportunity you have to link to another website.  You don’t need to have a website or blog to do this.  You can link to and share links to websites from your social media sites—a hyperlink to a website is much better for a website, than tagging or liking that website on a social media platform.  If you read an article which has a place for comments, and feel another website offers a related resource, link to that website in the article’s comments section.

Of course if you appreciated this article share it by linking to it or using the social media icons shown.

Footnote:
Immediately after publishing this article, I connected with the publisher of WhereItzAt Magazine; not only will they update their “In defense of Black Bookstores,” article to add a link to our bookstore database.  They have also expressed an interest in collaborating.

I’m pleased WhereItzAt Magazine received the article as intended.  I also look forward to working with them in a more constructive, and mutually beneficial, fashion.  As a result, you the reader, will be much better served.

Our Future is Cyberspace

Black Issues Book Review Nov-Dec 1999 cover“Outsiders” have often dictated the trends of African American Culture, sometimes doing the job themselves, sometimes using what authors John A. Williams called “surrogates.”  Both W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington accused each other of being manipulated by outsiders.

With the introduction of cyberspace, younger writers have the ability to reach audiences unheard of during the sixties when African American writers produced broadsides and saddle-stitched chapbooks.  As access to cyberspace becomes less expensive, more voices will be heard and this period, the most prolific in the history of African American Literature, will rise to worldwide prominence, no longer having to obey the tastes of the outsiders in power or the dictates of the establishment-manufactured Talented Tenth.
Ishmael Reed (Black Issues Book Review; November-December 1999)

During the period Ishmael Reed wrote this I would have agreed with him.  A year earlier, I’d started AALBC.com with just that belief in mind.  But I was naive, and today I strongly disagree with the statement.  I wonder if Ishmael disagrees with it now too.  I will reach out to him, and see if he is willing to share his thoughts here.  He is active on Facebook so…

“Cyberspace,” or the World Wide Web, as it is more commonly known today, has actually made it easier for “Outsiders” to dictate the trends of African American Culture. Nothing has changed indeed it has gotten much worse for us.

Market forces drive us to conform to the dictates of the “Outsiders” referred to by Reed. The most popular “Black” websites are not owned by Black people.  The ones that are owned by Black folks take their marching orders from the white owned sites they minick, in an attempt to attract visitors.  Anyone who has been online for 5 minutes knows about the-celebrity-scandal-click-bait content that drives our most popular, so called, Black sites.

Sure there may be more Black writers with the potential to reach more people, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard, unless of course they are cosigned by one of the massive sites run by “outsiders”; which then of course requires conforming to their dictates.

Despite all of this virtually free access to the web and numerous tools to publish content, we do not drive the narrative, rather the “outsiders” created narrative drives us.  Anyone attempting to do something other than what the “outsiders” have prescribed will fail or struggle miserably.

I often read old magazines for a historical perspective.  I subscribed to Black Issues Book Review (BIBR) for it’s entire run.  The issue from where I transcribed Ishmael’s quote was brilliant.  I’m unaware of any other magazine that comes close to producing the content  Black Issues Book Review did during it’s prime.  Both the magazine and the associated website are long gone.

Part of the problem is the we simply do not work in our own self interest.  Sure there are some great exceptions, but not enough to really make a difference.  When I was a corporate employee, this was not apparent to me, but the minute I became a business owner it became very obvious. It is very sad.

For example, I would listen to Black writers give Black Issue Book Review, a lot of grief for not paying them enough, or fast enough, for the articles they wrote.  Of course if you say you are going to pay someone, you need to pay them.  But I also observed some of these very same writers proudly write for the Huffington Post for free!  Just the idea of having a HuffPost byline was enough compensation. There was never as much pride in having a BIBR byline.

Today we have fewer websites dedicated to Black books.  One would think there would be an uproar, but media, like a BIBR, who would report on this problem, no longer exists.  I’d image the general public has no idea a problem even exists.  Even saying there are few Black book websites, would not mean much absent a historical context.  Meanwhile, the “outsider” has sold us on the idea popularity on their platforms is the only meaningful measure of success.

Sites like AALBC.com who are inclined to report on this issue, an issue that does not conform to the “dictated the trend,” defined by the “outsiders,” have to fight to be heard. Trust me; it is a fight. Social media is pay to play, and search results skew away from Black independent websites.  But most importantly, our people will not sacrifice to support, no invest, in our own platforms.  Paying a bit more or clicking away from a massive social media site is apparently too much of a sacrifice for us to make, to control our own narrative.

Black websites certainly don’t matter to the massive corporations who control the World Wide Web, but based upon our behavior they don’t matter to us either.

Our future may be cyberspace, but that future looks pretty bleak.  I hope to tell a very different story in 15 years.

Spike’s New Film is Bad, Kickstarter Funding is Worse

AALBC.com’s movie critic, Kam Williams, is my friend.  He is one of the most easy going guys I know.  He has reviewed thousands of films over the course of his career, and has been writing for AALBC.com for over a decade.  His film reviews are rarely harshly critical. Indeed, he usually finds something good to say about most films, and is more than fair when critiquing Black independent films.

However, Kam’s review of Spike Lee’s latest film, Da Blood of Jesus, was the most scathing review that I can recall him ever writing.  The review was so unfavorable, were it not for my years of experience with Kam, I may not have published it.

…a boring vampire adventure that’s severely lacking in terms of tension, thrills, premise, storyline, special f/x, plausibility, production value, editing and character development… 

What makes this film’s effort doubly disappointing is that nearly $1.5 million dollars was raised, via Kickstarter, to fund this film.   When I originally learned about Spike using Kickstarter, to fund the production of this film, I did not like the idea. Someone with Spike’s resources shouldn’t use Kickstarter; his campaign would draw attention and potential funding away from smaller indie filmmakers, who could benefit more from the crowdfunding platform, without the competition from a wealthy celebrity.

Kickstarter, who made a lot of money from Spike’s massive campaign, explained how Spike’s campaign actually helps other filmmakers, “Spike Lee brought three decades of fans to Kickstarter when he launched his project.”  Kickstarter implied, but was careful not to state, that Spike’s backers would also back other filmmakers.  Kickstarter has all the data, to tell what actually happened.  They could very easily run a report to tell us how many people, that were new Kickstarter, whose first contribution was to Spike’s movie project, and who subsequently went on to contribute to small indie film project.  I suspect these figures were not reported as it would not support the narrative Kickstarter has created.

kickstarterBut is the real kicker; if this film makes any money, all the profits goes directly to Spike.  If the film loses money, which this one very likely will, all of the risk goes to the contributors.  Meanwhile, Kickstarter receives 5%, off the top, no matter what happens!

The entire risk reward model has been turned completely on its head.

I appreciate there are people who are completely satisfied contributing $5,000 to this project, in return for a signed poster.  But they deserved more—at the very least a decent movie.  The best hustle in the world is the one in which the mark is completely unaware they have been scammed.

The web’s most successful websites, rather than liberating the masses, is really just making it easier for the rich to get richer.  The real trick, however, is that this is happening right before our eyes, and many of us of think we are benefiting from the situation.