Several months ago, I received a curiously Pyrrhic compliment from a certain friend of the site. “Your trouble is you look too finished,” she said, “too realized.”
I certainly don’t think of Culture Ramp as looking all that fully realized—the partial redesign I’m rolling out today was intended to fix some major gaps that have been bugging me for some time—but I understood the gist. Look too much like you know what you’re doing, and people will assume you don’t need any help. Maybe that danger is compounded when you have a fairly precise sense of what it is you’re building toward.
Culture Ramp grew out of a personal blog I wrote at odd intervals over several years. When I transitioned to the new domain and more rigorous format, it was with the intention of taking a particular approach to culture and building it into a full-fledged web magazine.
While my writing continues to be the backbone of our editorial calendar, it has been my goal from the start to eventually concede more and more of the schedule to other writers. As those voices broaden the scope and interest of the writing, I plan to turn my attention toward editorial duties. The hope is that, in the pursuit of producing top-caliber work, the magazine will eventually transform itself into a bona fide professional concern—meaning, in simplest terms, that everyone involved will get fairly paid for their trouble.
Currently, you find us in the slog phase of that plan. It’s been an eventful year for the site, with more high points than I had any right to expect, but it remains a slog. It is a great deal of work, done mostly on top of a 40 hour work week. Apart from gratification and kind words, we receive no compensation. The goals I outlined above remain far from certain. It is, at times, hugely discouraging.
So the latest round of changes to the site come with an added subtext, and because it’s one I don’t want our readers to miss, allow me to make it explicit: Yes, Culture Ramp needs your help.
That’s a message I’ve been sitting on ever since receiving the aforementioned compliment, in no small part because I know that the best way to receive help is to make it easy for people to give. To that end, several of the features of the new redesign were included not only to make the site more useful for our readers, but also to give those readers more opportunities to help us.
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One of the most visible emblems of that principle is the new social sharing bar that now attends every article on the site. It’s a homely convention no matter how much you prettify it, but one I’m hoping it will encourage our readers to share what they’ve read on Culture Ramp. There were, however, some concessions I was not willing to make. The sharing tools provided by some social sites depend on scripts and proprietary protocols for their functionality. Testing with some slowed page load times significantly. Others worked by scraping the site more often than I was comfortable inviting. To that end, I’ve constructed the sidebar using only HTML protocols, which are far less intrusive for both the site and its readers. Hopefully, that won’t discourage anyone from liberally sharing links to the site.
The fact of the matter is that we want to be read, not only because higher traffic will eventually mean more potential to one day pay for what we’re doing, but also because we cannot be part of the greater cultural conversation otherwise. If something you’ve read on Culture Ramp has given you food for thought, pass it on. That’s one way you can help.
Another recent addition is a page detailing our submission guidelines. While I’ve long intended to draw more voices and talents to the site, this is the first time I’ve issued a general call for pitches. We have, in fact, been lucky enough to attract an audience of talented writers and thinkers. It would be stupid of us not to offer them at least the opportunity of lending their talents to the site. If you have a way with words and a story that fits our mission, that’s another way you can help—by writing for Culture Ramp.
Though it’s not yet apparent from a casual look at the site, the new redesign also includes a space reserved for advertising. I’m still working on the exact system that will be used to serve those ads, so we’re still some time off from the first ads appearing on the site. That is, however, the current plan for eventually paying for the work that goes into producing the site.
Chances are, some of you will regard that as bad news. It’s not a decision I came to lightly, and a number of colleagues I talked with were firm in their opinion that the Web makes ad-supported publishing a dubious prospect at best. They may be right, but I have yet to see another prospect that’s any less dubious. Many of the popular alternatives strike me as especially unpredictable. A celebrity blogger like Andrew Sullivan may be able to crowd-fund a year of The Dish in one fell swoop, but let’s not forget that the audience and cachet that allowed him to do so was built over a period of twelve years, not including stints at print magazines prior to that. Through much of that period, The Dish was supported by publishers like The Atlantic and The Daily Beast, both of which survive on the strength of advertising. Good luck and God speed to the Andrew Sullivans of the world, but few of us are in the enviable position to make crowd-funding viable on anything like the same level.
At the same time, it’s my suspicion that the sorry state of advertising online is due as much to abusive practices that grew out of the Wild West era of innovation as they are to anything inherent in the medium. Curb those abusive practices, and it may still be possible to salvage a viable economic model from our general disaffection with the practice. That’s a theme I intend to develop in greater depth once I have a fuller sense of how to implement better advertising practices. Suffice it to say, for now, that Culture Ramp will not start displaying ads until I feel confident that it can be done responsibly, balancing the goals of advertisers, the needs of the site, and the good of its readers.
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There are other revisions that will hopefully make navigating Culture Ramp easier. We’ve long had a sidebar for related articles, but it’s never been particularly functional. The code has now been rewritten to provide narrower results. Department names have undergone a revision that, while less evocative, is hopefully more comprehensible. The layout works a bit harder to organize things dynamically and intuitively.
Perhaps the most important of those functional changes is one you’re unlikely to notice unless you visit the site on more than one device. “Responsive design” is a trendy term, already losing its luster. In essence, it means designing for accessibility in an era where displays vary widely. That’s important because, as our analytics show, as many as a third of our readers at any given time are viewing the site from mobile devices. Many of those mobile readers are leaving in relatively short order. The bottom-line, as I saw it, was that people who might have appreciated one or another of the pieces published on the site were being driven away by a mismatch between the site and the viewport from which they accessed it. The new design scales more intuitively across devices, so that the site is far more readable on smartphones and tablets than it has been in the past.
The last way you can help is by sending us feedback, either through email or our Twitter feed. Let us know what works, what doesn’t, what could work better and how. This is the third iteration of the site’s design since it’s launch last July, and I fully expect it to continue refining it, so don’t hold back.
Last, but by no means least, I want to issue a general thank you to all of those who have helped Culture Ramp get to where it is now. That includes the writers who have already contributed articles—you’ve helped not only to expand the scope and variety of the site, but also by giving me extra time to handle the redesign. It also include a number of stalwart supporters who have taken every opportunity to spread the word about the work we’re doing here. In doing so, you have not only extended the reach of what’s written here, but also provided regular encouragement, often precisely when I’m ready to give up. Thanks also to the other editors, writers and publishers who have been incredibly generous with advice and encouragement—especially that certain friend of the site whose compliment came laden with the warning that a measure of success can be dangerous.