Ventsislav Zankov on Sun, 9 Dec 2001 23:29:19 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Drumeva's_eye-aching_clickaholic_trip_into_Bulgarian_e-zines

       Elena Drumeva's eye-aching clickaholic trip into Bulgarian e-zines.
How deep the rabbit hole goes:deep.
      Incidental click. *bpm. Bits of their minds. Their: of shmir,
Kaladan, cu, xochipilli. Wanna meet the nicknames in person. Click through
intimate content...he lay in plaster, in shite, helpless for three
months...the sticky discovery of your own uselessness...your chained
sterile imagination...his heavy body slumped over me... Uneasy feeling I'm
late for class. Click.
      Blurred urban images. Zone for cyber culture...
being.john.ginevich... Clever. Play on words...the open source
person...Guilty feeling I'm late for class. Click-click.
      Read no story till the end. My attention is a picky customer. Feel
slightly cheated by a hot teaser and a bland dessert. Click-click-click.
      I think they are the best. They thought they had something to say to
the world and sat down and wrote it and uploaded it. I know about 17
people who feel they can make a great contribution to humanity if only
they could get themselves to sit in front of a computer and organize their
      These kids do it.
      I intensely wonder why. The returns seem to be a questionable amount
of glory and intellectual delight for all I can think of. Cash is not a
      I envy them.
      So that's how the e-zine story starts.
      I want to write about those street philosophers underground artists
virtual personas and their new medium of communication. I want to document
the snapshots of their cyber/urban reality for humanity.
      Run a search on "e-zine" in all Bulgarian search engines I know.
Matches found outnumber my boldest expectations. Click-click-click.
E-zines that do not look very certain exactly what they are doing online.
Shut them up. E-zines that breathe pixels and feed on flash 5.0.
      Copy-paste URL's in a folder for further reference. Contact the
authors. E-mail, ICQ, GSM, night trains. Cafes at Centralna Gara Sofia are
cold and slimy.
      Three weeks, tens of conversations and hundreds of clicks later.
I've met a 50-year-old lady, a journalist who doesn't leave his desk and
produces an A3-page of content in 40 minutes, a tableful of top managers
and administrators who talk about tits and TEC Maritsa Iztok equally
passionately, a wild-eyed madman of an artist, a young man whose online
activities prevented him from noting the fact that Parvanov won the
      I realize I don't want to be comprehensive. I have nothing to tell
you about an e-zine that feels like a newspaper, only it makes your eyes
go dry and red and cannot be consumed in the toilet. It serves the Varna
hardcore community, its author's graphomaniac fits, or women who are
interested in alternative medicine and the healing power of apples. It is
print gone online because it's a low-risk low-price venture. Offline
wouldn't hurt.
      This is a story about novel minds, novel ideas, novel forms of mass
communication. It is about some 20-year-old people who set their own
rules. Creators of reality, rather than consumers. I somehow feel more
confident about the future of this country.
      ThE charactEr sEt
      When the time comes to open the URL's folder and dig out the
webmasters' contact info, certain names pop up with remarkable frequency.
I start to smell something fishy.
       Smells of team spirit.
      "1997-1998, web design was the thing," miss jezabelle starts to
build the puzzle. "Everybody was making homepages. So I made myself a
homepage to put my t-shirt designs. esem stumbled upon it, sent me an
e-mail "that's very nice" and we kicked off an active communication. ivgin
is a schoolmate. georgivar is a classmate of ivgin, who got hooked up
because of ivgin. ivgin dug up Kaladan form somewhere:"
      The somewhere happens to be a chat channel where ivgin was trying to
attract attention to himself for lack of anything better to do. "I started
nagging, overwhelming the chat, line after line," ivgin recalls. "I
thought I could stupefy the lamers with my typing speed. Then Kaladan
picked up the challenge and we had an incredible first night together - we
chatted Faithless, Egoist magazine, lasagna:"
      ":Gradually we synchronized our standards and ideas of web design
and we are a very closed community, ten people at most," miss jezabelle
counts on her fingers.
      They even have common bookmarks:,,
      They sniff the web for fresh ideas, drop the author a message to the
effect they think he is quite great, investigate him and eventually suck
him in the circle. Or at least have him in mind for a joint venture or
      In alphabetical order: all_losers, esem, georgivar, ivgin, Justine,
Kaladan, miss jezabelle, pro_01, yopn.stelf and the crew -
everyone on the list knows at least three other from the list at least
virtually and is involved in more than one project.
      "You can group them according to which school they went to,"
yopn.stelf plays clever, "if you are so obsessed with classification."
      A web ring of people who get pissed off - by dull web design, a
spelling mistake in the undergrUOnd [corrected in due time], stupid nicks,
the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company.
      Cannot just let go. Cannot shrug their shoulders. They feel
personally responsible to do something about it.
      They get bugged and bug people. They rave and rant.
      They have a mission. It might be developing a cyber culture among
the Bulgarian population which still thinks Internet is mp3 and free porn.
It might be promoting alternative forms of art. It might be educating web
      Mostly they do it nights.
      They are active users of Coca-Cola, fast food, coffee and Saridon.
      They are yuppies. Target-oriented. All headed for somewhere. It
doesn't matter where. It is with determination and confidence. Get toxic
Friday and Saturday, still keep Monday in mind.
      "One thing is for sure," Kaladan dares a generalization, "we are
workaholics. We work 15 hours a day." And they cannot work on just one
      They share a chatter's past. Their nicks usually are a long story.
      They are Very Internet People (VIP). Copyright: esem: ":very often
they are Very Introvert People. They don't want you to love them, hate
them, annoy them, ingratiate them and occupy yourself with their persona.
The VIPs are only interested in what you think of their works, not of
them. If you are here to dig into my life and person, you are nothing but
an intruder. Fuck off."
      Around a pizza table, I have an eerie feeling physical
presence/appearance is absolutely irrelevant for them to communicate. I am
positive they perceive each other on a purely intellectual level.
      ThE rulEZ of the gamE
      "We are nothing else but an e-zine," July attempts to set the
parameters of an e-zine for me. "The ideology of the e-zine is that it is
free, you write whenever you feel like it, no deadlines to ca..." This is
where Carlos wildly interrupts to clear the issue - is
everything but an e-zine. "By definition an e-zine is updated once a month
or a week and comes in issues that have a topic and all the stuff that a
regular print magazine has." This is where he is made to shut up.
      "We don't care if somebody reads it or not," Zaro throws in. "If
somebody does read - great. The idea is to be able to publish ourselves
when something plagues us."
      [define users: whybulgaria gang: 30-something year old Bulgarian
success stories; professionals who insist their home address be Bulgaria;
if censored, would lead conversations comprised of prepositions and
auxiliary verbs; the only option for immigration seriously considered -
      A few Bulgarian e-ziners have a clear idea of what an e-zine is.
Those who do, do not exactly agree with each other. Some never intended
their site to be an e-zine. Some heard the word for the first time from
me. At one point of limit-pushing, ivgin, creator of *bpm, reached the
conclusion that a simple homepage, if updated with original material and
visited more than once is an e-zine.
      [define user: ivgin: can (and does) write a deep probing piece on
Makao cornflakes; generates suspense in one-line e-mails; tries to be good
and cheerful all the time; famous for a "permanent idiotic grin"]
      At another, much later point, I realize the utter futility and
irrelevance of trying to classify and establish criteria. Ideas are not to
be bothered with trivialities. The e-medium in Bulgaria is still too young
and spontaneous and self-searching to be formatted into definitions and
patterns. A few keywords - update, original writing, focus, community,
interaction - set the rough frame in case you need one.
      "An e-zine is typically born because people strongly want to share
their opinions on all kinds of issues," Justine Toms of New Media E-zine
makes it really simple. "If they can do that regularly and they do it on
the web, they become an e-zine,"
      [define user: Justine: impregnable corporate veneer; three MA's -
pedagogy, French literature, philosophy; the only medium she has not
explored: television; master of succinct business replies]
      What sets an e-zine apart from all other web formations is the
focus. "The most important thing is to have a unifying idea, a principle,"
explains Kaladan, who took over *bpm when it became clear ivgin was short
of time. "That's what will keep people coming back - the particular kind
of content they know they will get. Good design will keep them in those
five crucial seconds when the average user decides should he stay or
should he go. Good, narrowcasted content will keep them coming back."
      [define user: Kaladan: takes night shifts on *bpm except when his
girlfriend is in, in such a case, works by 11 p.m.; editorially
preoccupied with the right choice of words I am going to write that story
in; works undercover on two websites that fill some gap in the net, only
two people know he is the author]
      "If I have an e-zine on the sexual intercourse of turtles, I cannot
publish a story on the mechanism of a traffic light. Otherwise I become a
portal. It's that simple," HIT.BG's esem has a talent for sorting things
out in your head with one blow of a sentence.
      [define user: esem: emits a hacker vibe; smooth, fast and furious;
Halden Caulfield; elevator time to reach the 18th office floor appears to
be a serious waste for him; hard to catch his attention; has a
well-argumented theory for all minute things in life, like why you should
(not) take a turtle for a pet; has his MENSA certificate on his homepage,
IQ = 172]
      ThE big dEal
      An excerpt form Eric Raymond's "The Cathedral and the Bazaar."
Strike out "software" and "developer." Eric Raymond is someone with a
finger in the Open Source pie.
      "1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer's
personal itch.
      "Perhaps this should have been obvious (it's long been proverbial
that 'Necessity is the mother of invention') but too often software
developers spend their days grinding away for pay at programs they neither
need nor love. But not in the Linux world -- which may explain why the
average quality of software originated in the Linux community is so high."
      Scratching a personal itch:
      July, statement 1: "We have opinions. We want to express them. You
sit down and write because something bugs you too much. And it is so
incredibly cheap to express your opinion. We don't have to write. We just
write. Also, this is a good way to find people who think like you."
      July: statement 2: "Vanity is the word - everybody wants to see how
others judge his thoughts."
      ivgin, statement 1: "Sometimes I feel great urge to write things.
It's almost like the need to pee."
      ivgin, statement 2: "I guess glory is not totally out of the
question." [famous "idiotic grin"]
      Kaladan, elaboration on ivgin: "People start to write when they see
others write. It flatters the ego to see your name spelled in public."
      Kaladan, word of warning: "The fundamental thing is to do it just
because you like it. Don't set a goal. Don't think you are great."
      ABE, member of *bpm: "I got into *bpm because of my girlfriend and I
liked the people. They are different because they have something to say. I
wanted to see for myself if I could intrigue them. I actually still prefer
print mags. *bpm is just another channel of expression."
      esem, the Statement: "It starts with a desire to say something to
someone other than yourself. Or at least to say it out loud."
      If a tree falls down in a forest and nobody hears it, has it made a
      "So what's the big deal?" iMAGESTORIES' miss jezabelle clears her
throat for a long talk. "If I go past the art-for-art's-sake argument,
which is real, no doubt, I am a web designer, I want to see my things
      [define user: miss jezabelle: initiates ICQ-conversations with
inarticulate "psst" and "bjjt"s instead of a cliched "hi;" collects bits
of Internet gossip that prove false upon verification ;); buys magazines
that are meant to be looked at, reads only readers' letters in Vanity
      "You have minimal input, about 1000 times less than what you need to
start a print magazine. If it fails, you don't go broke or something. But
if it works, you become an institution. [twinkle in the eye] Actually you
become the boss of that institution. You are someone in the net. Then,
portfolio, CV, you know, it helps.
      "And when the site has built a name for itself, the users get
motivated [:))] - they have a good chance to build a name for themselves
or at least get noticed. iMAGESTORIES has a renome. People get on the
seventh heaven when their .jpg gets an iMAGESTORIES ID number. They strive
to get approved. They progress. That means we help someone develop. Slowly
we are becoming an institution.
      [behind the corner of the coffee cup] "The perspective of actually
influencing people, telling them that's cool, that's uncool is tempting."
      VEry IntErnEt PEoplE
      "Print out a *bpm essay," Kaladan says, "and it's no longer *bpm.
Take it with you in bed, it is not *bpm."
      Reading online is a whimsical affair. In comes an e-mail form your
brother in Australia. In comes a message on the ICQ. Switch your mind to
multi-window mode of operation. In comes another message on the ICQ. This
page is too slow to load. Open a new one in the meantime..."spot a link,
click, the next link, and the next one," georgivar picks it up. georgivar
is the only VIP who does not make a living out of the Internet. He
explores it systematically out of academic love for knowledge and says he
may know some things better than the professionals. "The web is for
dreamers. The online experience follows exactly the way the thoughts
ramble - you never know where you started and where you will end."
      [define user: georgivar: dark persona; uses ICQ to probe questions
like: Do you think insane people know they are insane? defines himself as
"freelance insane;" offline quiet to the point of invisibility; Bulgarian
spelled in latin letters disturbs him immensely]
      For all the above reasons, "take the text you wrote for an e-zine
and cut half of it, even if it is only 100 words," georgivar is not
kidding. "There is a strong possibility that it will get even better after
      Short sentences, standardized paragraphs, align left. Two screens is
the maximum length of a story. Otherwise the chance that anyone will read
it, drops to 10 per cent, according to some statistics esem found.
      The VIPs celebrate the web as a communication medium.
      A most obvious implementation of the idea, [Zet_Mag] is part of a
larger project, Ctrl_Z, that exploits Internet to the extreme - online
radio, online television, e-zine, mailing lists. Offline communication is
supplementary. Fulltime offline [Zet_maG] is out of the concept.
      "Internet allows for a piece of writing or art to be in a constant
state of flux," says Ctrl_Z founder Ventsi Zankov. "It is forever
unfinished. It develops and improves as the users react to it. You don't
have that dynamic in print."
      [define user: Ventsi Zankov: artist; a.k.a Ventsi the Mad or Bloody
Ventsi because of his art projects which take place in slaughter houses or
in the snow, naked; in control; macho; first topic he brings up is his
hound; once published an interview with himself, nobody smelled anything
      "We cannot go offline," miss jezabelle adds her argument. "Print
media are much more limited, purely technically, if you wish. I imagine
iMAGESTORIES can go offline when print magazines are top quality, all
digitalized. When they are no longer mainstream and to buy a book would be
super snobbish. As it is now to buy a vinyl record. Then I would want to
launch iMAGESTORIES offline."
       "We [at] are people who can get published in
whichever magazine we wish, I think this should be pretty clear," Carlos
gets slightly irritated that I fail to get the point. [Yes, sir. Egoist
and New Rhythm at your fingertips. Yes, sir.] "We are online because it is
much easier, requires less time. And above all it makes us independent."
      The $-factoR
      Freedom requires either a long line of zeroes after the $-sign or a
plain $0. E-zine freedom of expression is a softer version of Tyler
Durden's "It's only after you've lost everything that you are free to do
      "When you don't have to worry about circulation figures, breaking
even, that kind of shit, it gives you a peculiar sense of freedom," grins
pro_01, who was a persona non-grata in chat rooms for too-free a behavior
with regard to lamers. "I pay my hosting fee, which is nothing like a
rip-off, and I get totally independent. It is kind of stupid, but when you
are online you are not real for the world, no one can say 'what do you
think you are doing, man, you've got 10,000 subscribers...'"
      [define user: pro_01: derives pleasure from harassing "agents" when
he thinks they deserve it, i.e. quite often; keeps a female rabbit for a
pet, because cats and dogs are too standard and too dumb, says he is in
love with her; "pissed off" is a state he reaches with no effort at all
for all kinds of reasons]
      The wet mop in the face of the no-profit e-zine ideology is the fact
that offline life does not come for free.
      "Yes, it is an absolute high to do things for free. But there comes
a time when you have to eat a chicken soup," esem puts two sober feet on
the ground.
      "When you are 13, 14, 15 you don't know a lot of things but you have
all the enthusiasm in the world and you don't have to worry about making a
living. Then you turn 18," he tells me his own story. "You migrate to a
city that doesn't know you and the priorities shift. Even if you had a
fantastic e-zine, you cannot afford the time to maintain it. There are two
types of stimuli - material and non-material. You need both. That's it."
      The No Money Making Machine vs. The Money Making Machine.
      Round 1.
      ivgin: "I cannot explain it, but I know it is very wrong to make
money out of *bpm. Think of it as painting for yourself and painting to
sell. Should we start to make profit out of this, it will be a thoroughly
different endeavor."
      Carlos: "When I write a movie review, I don't have to think whether
the distributor company pays and will they withdraw
advertising if I write their summer hit is the most boring film I ever
      all_loosers: "Things start in pure gusto and enthusiasm, but they
don't survive that way. I can prove it. I froze Panopticon because I did
not have financing. If I have to be honest, I did not want anyone to
finance it.
      [define user: all_losers: philosophy man; abuses :((( emoticons;
most passionate proponent of the idea of e-zine marketing, sales and
profit; yet claims he does not try to play big nasty Mr. Common Sense;
marketing manager of, who introduced the first paid e-mail service
in Bulgaria]
      Kaladan: "*bpm will not die, because people will not stop writing. I
guarantee. People want to write. True, we had a two-month period with not
a single update, and then I suddenly got three essays in two days."
      all_loosers: "Internet gobbles a lot of money - the bigger and more
popular a site is, the bigger the expenses - traffic, servers,
maintenance. To develop your site, you need cash. If only to pay for a
community tool like a forum."
      Kaladan: "I admit that we use the resources of the firms we work for
to develop *bpm."
      Zaro: "The only two possibilities that dies are
a/because it cannot finance itself and b/because we get lazy. You can
forget about a/. The expenses are not worth even mentioning. Forget about
b/ too. We may get lazy, especially during our summer vacation, but then
something will happen in this country that will enrage us and we will
simply have to write."
      Round 2.
      ivgin: "I feel it is goddamn important for me to do something that
is not for money, because all the rest of the time I do things for money.
I would feel totally commercialized and corporate otherwise."
      all_losers: "All cool things that have survived, have survived
because they got commercial. Coca-Cola was just a fresh idea in the
beginning. At a certain point I realized the market is actually a place
for the really good ideas to assert themselves. And survive, most
      esem: "For a free e-zine you need people who have a stable income,
but not from a full-time job, because it takes time. Ideally, it is
parent-provided. If you have to choose between a free e-zine that gives
you great pleasure and a tedious fulltime job with a $3000 salary, which
one do you choose?"
      yopn.stelf: "Phreedom magazine has a problem, because the authors
got completely commercialized. And also because people do not send
materials. They only criticize. I don't know how you make them write."
      [define user: yopn.stelf: destroys cockroaches in his bathroom by
pouring spirits over them and igniting a lighter; typically found in the
eye of the hurricane; switches from "business" mode to "I got high" mode
in a split second]
      esem: "Kaladan motivates people. Obviously that's what he has
studied [:)] It is a mystery how he gathered that number of people. I
humbly bow before his abilities. Kaladan is simply not normal with how
good he is."
      Kaladan: "You have to remember what everyone wrote, so that you
maintain good relations and they keep writing. How you motivate them? Talk
to them, know them, build a community. Put a "post an article" form to
make it really easy to submit a piece."
      esem: "There are two types of stimuli - material and non-material.
You need both."
      all_losers: "If the people who do it, get money for it, they
wouldn't do it at night. It wouldn't cost them their free time, which is a
major quit factor."
      Justine: "The e-zines die at a certain point, because enthusiasm is
not enough. You cannot do it till the end of your life if you do not get
      Ventsi: I am on the verge of freezing [Zet_Mag] There are no e-zine
people in Bulgaria - they won't do anything if they don't get paid. We
lack idealism.
      miss jezabelle: "More and more I explore the idea of the commercial.
I think we all start to think in that direction. I want to get paid for
doing things that I like doing."
      esem: "jezabelle has a potential for 200 e-zines. But she doesn't
invest it in e-zines. That's the problem with free e-zines - if you have
quality authors, there inevitably comes a time when somebody notices them
and offers to pay them for what they do. They leave.
      "It either has to be self-maintainable, meaning that the update
takes literally minutes, or you have a team of writers whom you can rely
on for quality content on a regular basis. The latter is close to
impossible to achieve."
      FacE control
      E-zines are free, whether it is a conscious choice or not. They
pamper your creative impulses and supportively provide a "post an article"
form. They want your stories, images, thoughts, ideas. Kaladan has a
user-friendly rule: if it is the first essay you submit, it will go up, so
that you don't go down and walk out. They depend on you for their
      Yet there is another rule: No one will read stupid stories. You
cannot afford to waste your readers' time.
      The e-zines my not compete for your five leva. But they compete for
your most precious resource - time.
      "You have to prick the users' eyes, provoke them," esem reveals the
tactics. "Otherwise they are not coming back. You need to have a face. An
ID. Personality. That's why you need face control. You filter. Because you
write for an audience."
      This is where you spell quality with a capital Q. "It is the kind of
competition you have in the kindergarten," miss jezabelle laughs. "Who
will build a better Lego house?"
      This is where your freedom of expression hits the very subjective
requirements of someone called Kaladan, esem or miss jezabelle.
      "Do I edit? I edit, oh yes, I do." This is where esem gets bitter.
"The Bulgarian web space does not have too many people who can generate
quality content. Especially for free.
      "The truth is that the able people, the creative people, those who
can leave a mark are already on their own tracks," esem gets more bitter.
"It is a dead season now. We have to wait for the next generation of
talent. But while the kids grow up with Misho Shamara and cheap stinking
alcohol, there will not be quality e-zines. That's it. The people are not
here. What can we do?
      E.g.: yopn.stelf and four friends, some of them outside Bulgaria,
are about to launch an e-zine that has no equivalent in any Bulgarian
media. An all-positive e-zine about the things that make sense. They'll
call it "Reactor."



      contact elena drumeva <>

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