A Birthday Present for Passions

Passions in Poetry celebrated its 15th birthday last week and, starting today, she’ll be strutting around in the brand new clothes she received as her principal birthday gift.

Passions in PoetryYep. The site gets a whole new look as she heads into her sixteenth year. I think you’re going to like it.

Of course netpoets.com has seen more than a few redesigns over the years. One of our biggest changes, for example, was when we went from a design optimized for a 640 pixel screen (anyone old enough to remember those?) up to a whopping big 800 pixel screen.

Ah, yes, the ever relentless march of progress. :)

The changes we’ve seen in the past, however, have always been relatively minor. If you look back at the main site early in 1999 and compare it to what you would have seen yesterday I think you’ll agree that the similarities far outweigh the differences. We’ve upgraded many, many times, but I’ve always been very careful to maintain our early identity. It worked incredibly well for a very long time and, frankly, I liked it.

Times, however, change. Even the most persistent of us (some would say most stubborn?) eventually find they, too, must change and adapt.

The new design for netpoets.com was driven by changing technologies, especially in terms of mobile devices. One out of every three people on the Internet today will be accessing a web page with either their mobile phone or a tablet, not the desktop or even the laptop of yesteryear. That’s across the board, across the entire Internet. Within the poetry world the percentage of people seeing us on a smartphone is even higher, usually pretty close to fifty percent.

The new design for Passions in Poetry offers us desktop people a little more screen real estate as we move from that old 800 pixel wide screen up to a bit more comfortable 1040 pixels. We could easily go bigger, of course. Early last year, the most popular screen resolution moved up to 1366 by 768 pixels and about twelve percent of you will have resolutions of 1920 by 1080 or higher. We need to be careful, however, not to let our line lengths become too long. Newspapers and many magazines use columns for a reason; it becomes increasingly tiring to read overly long lines of text. Research has indicated that about 60 characters per line is most comfortable for reading. Ergo, we don’t want to let our screens become TOO wide.

However, while the maximum size of a screen at netpoets.com is 1040 pixels wide, that number is no longer set in concrete. It is no longer fixed.

The new design will adjust itself to fit the size of your screen.

If you don’t have a screen that is at least 1040 pixels wide our web pages will now rearrange themselves as best they can to fit whatever screen real estate you have available. You can, if you’re on a desktop, change the size of your web browser right now to see it in action. (It won’t work with older versions of some browsers, especially Internet Explorer; those will be stuck at the max 1040 pixels. That’s okay, though, because none of those older browsers will be driving a smartphone or tablet.)

The new design is being pushed out today on “most” of our web site. You’ll see it on many of the main pages and all of the poetry pages. This News section will take a little longer, and a lot of the dynamic pages (for Voting or Sending a Poem to a Friend, for example) will also be phased in over the next week or two. The biggest gap is the Famous Poems section of our site, where over a thousand of the best classical poems throughout history will remain on the older design for probably another month. I sure hope Edgar Allan and Mr. Frost, two of my favorites, will forgive the delay.

Please note, my friends, that there’s a “Leave a comment” link immediately after this post. If you find something that doesn’t work right, or you just plain don’t like the new design, please take just a moment to let me know? Of course, if you DO like something . . . you can tell me about that, too. :-)

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Fifteen Years and Counting

On January 3, 1999, at about two o’clock in the morning, netpoets.com was born.

Zzzrrrp. Wrong. Rewind.

Okay, that particular date and time is when I officially registered the domain, netpoets.com, with Network Solutions. In truth, however, the web site that was soon to be hosted on the domain netpoets.com had already been in existence for several months.

From our first newsletter:

Less than three months ago, during the second week of November, 1998, I added a new subdirectory called /poetry to one of my existing web sites (at rcarnell.com). It was little more than a toy, a chance to try a few new web design techniques in a practical setting. I posted a score of poems on the site, some of my oldest work, and invited others to join me.

To my pleasant surprise, a few actually did. On December 5, I received our first poem, titled “Serenade of the Sirens,” from an obviously talented poet calling herself PoetDeVine. Two days later, I found two more poems in my mailbox, “Unforgotten Words” and “Just A Little Longer,” both by Maria Byrne. On December 11, Michael Anderson submitted his first poem to Passions, “Sleeping Beauty,” followed the next day by “The Miracle.”

Five poems in the space of a week seemed like a lot, especially when they were such extraordinary poems. Suddenly, there was a small tickle at the back of my mind, whispering suggestions that maybe – just maybe – there were other people out there that shared my passion for poetry. I half-heartedly spent all of fifteen minutes one night submitting Passion’s URL to a handful of search engine.

By the time Christmas arrived, we were receiving maybe five or six poems a day, along with about 80 visitors a day to read those wonderful works. Perhaps more importantly, I was also receiving some wonderful email and suggestions, ways we could make the site more useful and more extensive. One of those suggestions was to add a section for Classical Poetry. Ten days later, bleary-eyed and thinking in meter, I had winnowed the list of poems I just “had” to include down to 888 (seemed like a nice round number). I redesigned our graphics menus, adding several other suggested categories, and – on New Year’s Eve – started to upload well over 1,000 pages to the web server.

It crashed, unfortunately, before I was even half complete. And it did so again, and again, and again, and eventually it dawned on me this wasn’t going to work. The rcarnell.com web server simply could not handle the load. Coupling this with our increasing traffic at Passions and a few other factors, I decided that perhaps Passions in Poetry should become its own site, rather than the subdirectory of another.

The domain registration for netpoets.com is dated January 3, 1999, but it was over a week after that before I invited our first guests – our resident poets, of course – to tour the new site. By that time, traffic on the old site had risen to new levels and we were being visited by about 200 people every day. On January 13, I redirected all the menu options at the old site to point to the new one.

rcarnell site Jan 1999 180x150 thumbInterestingly, the Wayback Machine has an archived copy of the poetry site as it existed on rcarnell.com circa January 1999.

Those traffic levels, of which I was so proud at the time, were just a quiet whisper of what was to come.

We would finish up that first year, 1999, with just shy of two million unique visitors (1,959,148). The following year, 2000, we would top out at over ten million. And the numbers just kept rising and rising for most of ten years. Indeed, during that decade of incredible growth for us, Quantcast (which it to the Internet what the Nielsen Ratings are to television) ranked netpoets.com in the top 4000 busiest web sites in the world. There were times, especially around holidays like Valentine’s Day, when I struggled just to keep the web server from crashing because more than 25,000 people were all reading our poetry at the same time.

The official birthday for netpoets.com remains January 3, making this site a smidgeon over fifteen years old. In Internet years, that’s a lifetime. By way of comparison, yahoo.com was registered just four years earlier, on January 18, 1995.

We’re just this side of ancient history.

Passions in Poetry?

The name of this web site has become something of a conundrum for me. Originally, as a subdirectory off my personal site, it was dubbed Passions in Poetry. Officially, that’s still its name and you’ll find many references to us as Passions (even though a soap opera later came along and tried to usurp that moniker). I honestly don’t remember why, fifteen years ago, I chose netpoets.com as our domain rather than something more closely resembling the name Passions in Poetry. Availability no doubt played a part, of course, and I suspect even back then I was leaning towards short and easy-to-type domains. I still do.

As often as not, you’ll likely hear me and others refer to netpoets.com as the main site. That’s because Passions has spawned a few children of her own over the years, principally our forums at piptalk.com (can you guess what pip stands for?) and a curation site at 100-poems.com, where we periodically publish the poems with the most votes.

Voices on the Web poetry anthologyIn early 2000, when we decided to publish our first anthology of poetry, I registered netpoets as a DBA business name in Michigan so I could open an account at my bank for book sales. That seemed more appropriate for a checking account than Passions in Poetry and a whole less confusing than main site.

If you do a Google or Bing search for netpoets you’ll quickly surmise that THEY consider that our name. I guess that should make it official?

Shakespeare, of course, would tell us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and, whether you think of us as netpoets, Passions, or simply the main site, I think our fifteenth birthday is a truly remarkable milestone in a medium that changes, quite literally, every minute of every day.

We have endured for 5,845 of those days. We have played host to thousands of poets and well over 200 MILLION visitors. We have, I think, withstood the test of time.

Happy birthday to us. :)

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The Importance of Email

Kimberly Kirberger, coauthor of the popular Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series of books, is an old friend of Passions in Poetry.

Kim had already published two of our authors (Best Friends Forever by Angie Belanger and Company by Tina K) when one of her people contacted me because he couldn’t get in touch with another author they were interested in publishing.

Lia Fail was the author’s pen name and the email address we had on file for her was no longer valid. Everything Kirberger’s representative, Mitch, sent to the address bounced back with an error message. I knew Lia was a member in our poetry forum, so I posted a message over there hoping to get her attention. Unfortunately, there was no response from her.

On the Trail of Lia Fail

I had two pieces of information Mitch didn’t have: Lia Fail’s real name and the IP address she used to submit her poetry. I couldn’t share those without the author’s permission, of course, but I could use them, I hoped, to track her down.

I managed to trace Lia’s IP address to a big city on the East Coast, but could find no listing for her (real) name. I then hit the search engines, searching for clues, and got lucky. I found her old email address listed as a contact for a male at a NY school and guessed, just maybe, that might be her husband. And there WAS a listing for that name. Quite a few of them, in fact. While not quite as common a name as John Smith, the name wasn’t exactly rare either.

It took a few phone calls to finally find her, but the excitement in her voice was well worth the effort. Her family had recently moved and she didn’t even have an Internet connection yet. With her permission, I passed along her real name and phone number to Mitch.

The poem, The Final Act was eventually published in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Tough Stuff under her real name, Lisa Teller. At Lisa’s direction, I also changed her pen name on netpoets.com to her real name. Passions in Poetry got a very nice compliment in the book, too. Kim told the whole world that Passions in Poetry was “a constant source for amazing poetry.” You and I already knew that, of course, but it’s still nice to hear.

I love happy endings. :)

Unfortunately, not all endings can be happy. Last week I received an email from Jennie Baldree, an editor with Macmillan South Africa. Jennie was trying to contact the author of “What I’ve Learned” because they wanted to use the poem in a new textbook they’re publishing.

Being published by a highly reputable publisher is an exciting prospect for most of us. It’s even better when the publisher comes knocking on your door.

Unfortunately, I had to tell Jennie I wasn’t going to be able to help her. Amy, the author of the poem, didn’t have a valid email address on file with me. The one she gave us when her poem was first submitted no longer worked. What information I originally had on file for the author was years old and not nearly enough to track her down.

Amy missed a great opportunity.

Don’t Miss YOUR Great Opportunity

If you have a poem published at netpoets.com, PLEASE take just a moment to stay in touch with us. Email me today, right now, with a current email address. We never publish your address on the Web, but we do use it to allow our visitors to write to you; it’s then entirely up to you whether you wish to respond. I’m guessing if that visitor happens to be a book publisher you might just like to hear from them?

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