the epic first post

It is the year 2013, or later. You have just navigated to the earliest post of Eli Dupree's wildly popular website, which has over 100,000 regular readers. Eli has released at least one full graphic novel here, as well as dozens of short stories, songs, games, and other cool things, and is currently in the midst of an even more massive project, which ze is hoping to finish within a month or two.

That's right, I'm talking to you – you, the reader. Usually, when someone writes “now”, or uses present-tense verbs, they mean the time at which they're speaking. But in this post, the present is the time when you're reading it, which I have just claimed is the year 2013 or later. People who write blogs usually talk to the other people from the present, and I'm going to go back to doing that with my second post, but I thought it would be fun to talk to you people from the future instead, just for once. Of course, I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but it's a lot more fun to just assume I'm right than to stick a phrase like “I'm guessing that” in front of everything.

First posts weren't a thing that I thought I liked writing, back when I wrote this post in the middle of 2011. Usually, when I started to get involved in a new thing, I would try to do it a little at a time, rather than make a big, flashy entrance. After all, people usually get more skilled, not less, over time, so how can a first post, or first performance, or first musical album, ever hope to live up to what will come after it? But a good challenge is always fun, so here, the challenge was this: Make a first post that is so awesome that it will still be awesome now that you've seen everything that comes after it.

Since part of the point of this website is to advance the cause of social justice, I did consider the idea of ignoring the issue of awesomeness for this post, and dedicating it to some specific cause instead. On the other hand, I didn't want the symbolic nature of a first post to imply that I was setting up one issue as more important than the other. I wouldn't have been able to consider anything thoroughly, because I would have felt obligated to make everything perfect and even-handed, which is impossible – exactly the issue that made me reluctant to write an epic first post originally. I did make a lot of posts about various social issues soon after this one, but this one was completely dedicated to awesomeness; I didn't even bother to advocate on my own behalf by explaining the gender-neutral pronoun I used in the first paragraph!

Instead, I decided to make a bunch of ambitious claims about my future success!

It's at least 2013

The first question I had to ask myself was this: Who are you? Who will be reading this post? And that led me to a very interesting series of conclusions.

First, the way this website is set up, it is easy to go back to the beginning and read the first post. And there was really only a very short window of opportunity for this post to have been displayed on the first page; therefore, it's almost certainly true that you've deliberately looked back to read it, rather than reading it at the time it was posted.

Second, a good website's readership tends to increase exponentially over time, as more people hear about it, post links to it, and so on. What this means is that there are always a lot more late joiners than early joiners. However, the number of posts I make in that time doesn't increase exponentially, so the late joiners won't have a much harder time reading all the way back to the first post, even ignoring the readers who deliberately jump back to the beginning. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that more late joiners will read this post than early joiners. And what that means is that, assuming I keep producing this website through, say, 2016, you are almost certainly arriving after 2013, regardless of how effectively I publicized it in 2011.

That raises some interesting issues. It means that I'm talking to the majority, while the people who read my posts within a few days are the minority. Most blog posts, by using present-tense verbs to refer to the writer's time, subtly privilege their present-day audience, by placing them in the present; they allow later readers to view the record of events, but do not directly address those readers. Or worse, the present tense refers only to the author's present, ignoring the readers entirely! When a person writes something, and another person reads it, there are two people involved; why should the language establish the time of one event, the writing, while ignoring the time of the other event, the reading, entirely? When I wrote the next few posts after this one, it was only linguistic convention that made me write for the minority of readers from the present, or the even smaller minority of myself. What justification did I have for mentally privileging the present-day minority over the silent majority of onlookers from the future? Or was the future truly so limited that it was right for me to have valued my influence on my present-day readers more highly?

Let's move on.

I have 100,000 readers

Okay, this one was a bit more of a gamble. I didn't actually know for sure that my website would become this popular. But when I made that gamble, the outcomes were skewed in my favor, for two reasons: First, if I was right, then lots of people would know I was right, while if I was wrong, relatively few people would know I was wrong. Second, if I was right, then it would be very impressive that I had accurately claimed such a large readership, while if I was wrong, it wouldn't have been that much of a disappointment, since it's such a high number I was aiming for in the first place. (True, if I've ended up with ten million readers by now, the 100,000 looks like a pittance, but I don't think you'll fault me for claiming only 100,000!) And by the same logic from the last section, if I ever have that many readers, then in the long run, most of the people who read this post will read it when my claims are true!

But that paragraph makes it sound like I wasn't actually that confident about my ability to acquire a large reader base. On the contrary, I definitely was! I had lots of reasons to believe that I would gain a wide following:

1) I went into this task with the specific intention of making my posts easy to read, engaging, and thought-provoking. I wanted this to be a website that all kinds of people could both enjoy and learn from. Thus, I had reason to hope that it would spread both among people who enjoyed reading it for its own sake, and also among people who were serious activists and liked the ideas it was expressing.

2) Remember that graphic novel I mentioned in the first paragraph? I released it one page at a time, in a serial format – i.e. as a webcomic. It's a well-known fact that publishing a webcomic with a regular update schedule brings readers back over and over again. And the e-mail notification system is also an effective way to keep up with the website without having to actively reload the page, for people who have e-mail addresses that they check regularly.

3) This should probably have been the first item on this list, because it's the most important: The stuff I do is really cool. That's why my website was able to spread so quickly by word of mouth (or word of blog, or word of instant message): Lots of people read it and wanted to tell their friends about it – people just like you! Sadly, doing really cool stuff isn't always enough to become popular. History, up to and including the present, is full of examples of marginalized people who did really cool things and weren't recognized for it. But in my case, my cool abilities combined favorably with my societal privileges to bring you a product that can hopefully work towards demolishing the very injustices that created this situation in the first place!

(Yeah, I was an optimist when I wrote this post. You'd better hope I still am.)

I've done lots of massive projects

I'm afraid I went for a bit of a cop-out on this one. Of course I'm working on a massive project... I'm always working on a massive project!

Writing this website was a massive project. Just before that, I finished up a semester of college by writing a novella (which I posted on this website later in 2011). Before I wrote the novella, I was working on writing my own music composition software, and in the middle of all that, I was acting in a full-length play. And a day or two after I wrote this post, I started working in earnest on my next massive project, where I wrote my own graphics editing software – the same software I went on to use to write the graphic novel I mentioned.

So, in short, I had this very clear knowledge: I would have been walking on treacherous ground if I had claimed that I wasn't working on a massive project right now.

So keep an eye on the website, whatever year you're viewing it in, because... you know that massive project I'm doing? I'm hoping to finish it within a month or two.

– Eli

Approximate readability: 10.56 (7104 characters, 1665 words, 70 sentences, 4.27 characters per word, 23.79 words per sentence)