The Internet is a strange place. Never before has it been possible being ignored on such a global scale. Hype normally does not change that too much. I have had my small share of hype in the past. Not the Gangnam Style kind, much smaller, but still I would call it hype.
The first time something like that happened to me was shortly after I have finished university, when an (apparently) important Dutch blog wrote about one of my projects and linked to my site. Sure enough, the server that hosted this site went down and availability was quite shaky for a couple of days. Looking at the statistics I realized that over the course of a weekend something like 40.000 visitors from the Netherlands still managed to see the work on my site. Wow! I thought that was it. I finally had my breakthrough as an artist. I was happy and waited for all the feedback that was certain to come. How much feedback did I end up getting? None. Not a single email. Why? Because when was the last time you have seen something on the Internet and you did not just repost it, but rather you contacted the person who created the original material to tell him or her how awesome you find what you have seen? See, I don’t do that either.
After telling my girlfriend about that, at the time, she felt sad and started to actually tell people, if she found something interesting the had done online. The feedback she received for that was very nice, but I think she stopped doing that soon after. It is just nothing most people normally do.
Now once or twice a year, the server my site is running on struggles to keep up with the amount of traffic it gets. Mostly that has to do either with my work on the Stasi or my project on snipers. And mostly it is because some site writes about something someone else has written about my work. That is another strange thing – attention on the Internet is mostly layer upon layer of copies. Most people do not bother asking to use material, others do. Sometimes I have my fun moment answering some of these requests, when someone wants material based on copies of copies of copies. Most people do not even bother asking a single question, but rather take everything just as it is.
I get it somehow. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of an editor of a website that has to keep pace with all the other sites around. You couldn’t possibly come up with the amount of original material necessary to fill your site. So copying it is.
Dealing with these things, I learn a lot and I am quite grateful for that. For instance earlier this year I found out that a huge US site was using an article from a smaller blog about my sniper project. Seeing that I thought: “that is odd, when did I give permission to sharing the content in this way?”. Turns out, I did not. Interesting about this was the fact that this site boasts with the clicks their articles get. According to their site, over the past twelve months they did run the same article (which was not theirs in the first place) four times. The first three times the article was clicked on 500.000 times each. The last time, this number went all the way up to 3.5 million. That was at least until I forced them to pull the plug. The interesting thing was that I did not really notice the first three times. Even though they had a link to my website, the amount of traffic this generated was quite low. Every couple of days I check the traffic on my server and that is normally how I notice that someone is linking to my site. The last time was the thing that gave them away. Maybe twenty thousand viewers this time actually clicked this link. That was something I did notice.
Twenty thousand out of 3.5 million, that is nothing. Especially, once you take into consideration that actually no one does anything to you besides spending three or four minutes on your site. Nevertheless, I receive quite many requests for material by huge sites that ask for free stuff, since “attention” is the currency they are going to pay me in. I don’t know if any one of them actually believes this bullshit. I am afraid some actually do.
Normally these blips of hype come unexpected. Someone writes something or copies something – and there is the peak of traffic on my site. And still, the whole thing can be tempting, I have gone through this quite a few times by now, but deep inside of me I am always strangely hopeful. In a way I feel like an old fisherman, who tries to keep his vessel in working condition, just in case he has to go through a storm. So I keep my site up to date. Check from time to time if the links are still working. If it would be a boat, it would get fresh layers of paint once in a while. And then storms come and go. And they leave hardly any trace behind. Can be frustrating.
I found myself in the fisherman-mood over the last few days. I realized some new projects and wanted to send out a newsletter – that is different from the storms above, since that creates just a fraction of the traffic. But still, the website needed, if not fresh paint, so some polishing. And today I was briefly interviewed by two very big sites, who are going to feature my new sniper images early next week. For once that is a storm I see coming and once again this strange feeling of hope sets in. But one has to learn to fight that, since the weekend after, everything should be over and things should return to being ignored entirely by the whole world.
PS – I still think that the Internet is important as a way for people to access ones work and I like having a website. It is a general problem that art almost never gets the amount of attention the artist would like for it to get. A normal opening of a small gallery show here in Berlin might draw fifty to a hundred people and if you are lucky you are having a nice time. Still the amount of real feedback could be somewhat compared to what you get online. So the Internet makes things accessible to other groups of people, but I guess we might have to agree on the one thing, that most people don’t give shit about most of the stuff they are encountering. It just becomes more obvious once you are working in the creative field.