The Web isn't only about connecting the global village.
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November 13, 1996|
To be sure, there's no shortage of earnest attempts to bring to the Internet the kind of contemporary literature found in small-press quarterlies. Perhaps the most ambitious such attempt has been undertaken by Web Del Sol, a site billing itself as no less than the "Locus of Literary Art on the WWW." It may not be an idle boast: the site is a rich one that features writing by accomplished contemporary authors -- such as Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Robert Olen Butler and Bollingen Prize-winning poet David Ignatow -- as well as links to highlighted fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews on other literary sites.
On one level Web Del Sol is simply a directory of high-quality literary journals that now offer at least part of their current issues on the Web. What distinguishes Web Del Sol, however, is the fact that it is the host site for several of its featured journals. Not satisfied with the selection of serious literary publications available on the Web, Michael Neff, Web Del Sol's founder, has started building sites for print journals that have an interest in going digital. The result thus far is a significant, if tentative, step into cyberspace by such publications as AGNI, Conjunctions, The Literary Review, The Prose Poem, and ZYZZYVA. There are other well established print journals on the Web, of course, including The Paris Review, Grand Street, Ploughshares, and the Mississippi Review's celebrated Web edition, and you'll find links to many of them from Web Del Sol. But the site focuses unapologetically on the journals it hosts. The Web Del Sol home page highlights "Featured Writers" who appear in these journals, giving each author a promotional page that includes a bio, predictable blurbs on new and upcoming books, and (less predictably) generous selections from current and previous work. Most recently the site has become an Internet resource for writers and students, with a newly launched Literary SourcePlex section that provides links to writers' workshops, newsgroups, and a newsletter, as well as a customized search engine.
Promising as all this is, Web Del Sol does have one major problem. It has to do with knowing where to stop with the flashy gimmicks and bells and whistles that adorn so many amateur Web pages. Web Del Sol assaults its visitors with pure coding overkill -- frames and pop-up windows that are a nuisance rather than a help; cute animation that gets old very quickly; flashing neon buttons; backgrounds, borders, and baffling icons that leave a reader crying out for the simplicity of words on a page. Worst of all are the MIDI audio files that launch automatically each time various pages are accessed and serve up cheesy, programmed Casio jazz or classical music. You'd think anyone with an interest in contemporary literature would rather hear some of these fine writers reading their work, but strangely there is not a single sample of an author's voice. Unfortunately, Web Del Sol illustrates how interface design and a misuse of the medium can detract from rather than enhance the content that is, presumably, a site's raison d'être.
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.