Due to the physical impossibility, the temporary character of the Net, this lecture does not aim at leading you into the depths of knowledge. Its aim is to shed light on that part of the Bulgarian Net that lays claim on dealing with culture and art. It can be considered a success if it can present a snapshot of the current state of the basic information units, the way their development is taking, as well as their prospects for the future.
I consider that on the Internet we are faced with a pyramidal structure built up of information units - the basic carriers of information. Millions of users pass daily through this information pyramid, each for their own concrete purpose. Like all systems with a pyramidal structure, the information pyramid has an entrance and an exit. At the basis of the pyramid lies the artistic background consisting of a multitude of small sites that each on their own don't have any significance for the development of the Net. The small sites are the smallest information units. On the second step, we find the specialized mini-portals, with a good base, design and team to realize them. I consider mini-portals to be one of the most effective means of getting information on the Net. On the third step are the Web rings, unifying mini-portals dealing with a common theme. On the next step, we find the portals, whose aim it is to comprehensively cover the development of a given part of human knowledge. Among these are informational, cultural, graphic and designer portals. The top of the pyramid is held by the super portals, which claim to offer information about all areas of human knowledge.
A tendency can be observed lately - that a large number of artists present themselves individually on the Internet by creating a personal Web site. These sites are the smallest building blocks of cultural information on the Internet. Unfortunately, I am forced to mention that these sites in their majority are unprofessionally made, with poor design and navigation, and their usefulness is low. The average hits per day on these sites is around 2-3 visitors per day, which in terms of the orders of magnitude typical of the Internet is not much. Such low hit rates leads to ineffective presentation of the artist in the Net, and the potential public is strictly limited.
Due to the enormous amount of this type of sites, the information on the Net is quite fragmented, and to access it requires thorough searching. And this searching takes time. Time that the average user is not prepared or does not wish to spend.
Just like in society at large, people on the Internet come together for creating sites aiming at analysis, ordering and distribution of information of a homogenous type. Consequently, sites appear that systematize and analyse in detail information in the field of music, cinema, literature, theater and the visual arts. This kind of massing of information helps the users to find quickly what they are looking for. We can call these sites mini-portals. Usually a mini-portal is maintained by 2-3 people, helped by many volunteers. Such sites make use of free hosting services and cannot rely on a good material basis. The financial return is incomplete, and a large part of the work is done out of pure enthusiasm. Perhaps enthusiasm is one of the factors that makes this type of site one of the most effective information units on the Net.
As I mentioned, mini-portals are thematically oriented in one given direction, towards one type of art. I must mention that usually, one type of art is covered by several mini-portals with similar structure and aims. Several mini-portals with similar structure, aims and content form a greater information unit - a Web ring.
The Bulgarian Web rings are comparatively weak and poor in terms of variety. They usually contain 3-10 sites. Usually one of the sites takes up a leading role in the Web ring, a phenomenon that is often reflects the fact that it has the support of some institution.
The sites in a Web ring constantly communicate among themselves, but are often in direct competition for hit rates, for authors or for the quality of their contents. Usually, the sites in a Web ring exchange advertizing banners among themselves and in this way help each other in terms of attracting visitors. Some mini-portals with a more developed structure are perfectly right in documenting all changes happening with the projects of the competition. This is done to make users' lives easier, reduces the chances of doubling the information as a whole. This type of documenting is based on outside hyper links <a href=http://site.org target=_blank> referring to contents on othe people's sites.
The three largest Web rings in Bulgaria are those for music, literature and electronic magazines.
The Web rings in Bulgarian art are young, and the portals taking part in them are rather new, having existed 2-3 years. The young age of these projects can also be explained by the recent boom of the Internet in Bulgaria. Despite their recent creation we can already witness tendencies in their development, links improving the development and exchange of information have been set up by now, and the time gone by has allowed their creators to accumulate experience.
A large part of the music Web ring consists of sites specialized in distributing techno music. I consider this to be completely normal, since it is specifically this type of music that has its roots in the Internet, and the Net itself has contributed to developing their style. In this Web ring life is full swing every day. This is where we find the strongest mini-portals. Strong both in terms of contents and technical implementation. The representatives of these projects influence directly the music world of the country, since they do not only inform about given events, but actively participate in the distribution of music and in organizing events.
A characteristic of this Web ring is that no single portal site rises above the others, no site has turned into a model to be copied and imitated. The variety in the information, the amount of the events and the limited resources have led the different mini-portals to specialize themselves. Part of them provide information about music events, another deals with the distribution and promotion of music, a third with presenting information about individual musicians.
Here's a selection of the strongest sites of the Web ring:
... Z-Dimension was created in November 1999 as a non-commercial organization supporting and presenting young artists working in the field of the new high-tech art movements and electronic culture. From its inception Z-Dimension has worked on attracting a public that shares and supports the ideas of the organization. In November 2000 the community has taken the form of an Internet portal - an open database of Bulgarian subculture, maintained by its members. At present, the core of Z-Dimension consists of 4 DJs, 6 graphic/fashion designers, 5 musical artists and 1 Web designer/developer. By April 2001 the number of members has reached 360...
... Techno-BG has been conceived and created with a completely non-commercial orientation. This is an experiment aiming to compile in one place information that is useful to people oriented towards and dedicated to techno culture and the corresponding music.
The site is an attempt to give a chance to people who do not have their own means of distributing their works of music in any other way but electronically...
... TeknoBG aims at providing to those interested as complete information as possible about clubbing in Bulgaria, about every electronic music and dancing electronics event that those maintaining the site find information about. Of course the people behind TeknoBG cannot know about and correspondingly write about every single event, since the promoters do not always send information. Also, a non-negligible part of the electronic music events is happening illegally, without any advertizing, without flyers, without any wish to announce the event broadly...
The Bulgarian literature Web ring consists of three projects, which unlike the sites in the music Web ring are not specialized. All three sites are set up as virtual libraries and have set themselves the aim of distributing and preserving Bulgarian literature on the Net. Bulgarian and foreign classics are published daily, as well as the works of unpublished young authors. The character of the Web helps young authors to find their public without having to rely on substantial funding. The advantages of being presented in a mini-portal rather than on a personal site becomes apparent here. In this way the information is sorted, systematized, easily accessible, and the circle of readers is larger. The sites are maintained with a minimum of efforts leading to a maximum effectiveness. Since the access to the works in the virtual libraries is free of charge, these sites enjoy great popularity.
The high hit rates encourage many young authors who want to be published to join.
Here's the most important sites:
... The Virtual Library 'Slovoto' has defined its aim as publishing on the Internet all important works of Bulgarian literature. The pages are updated daily, until all more or less significant authors and works are presented, for which we rely on your help. Besides classical texts, you can also publish your own works absolutely free of charge!..
Has a large database of works of Bulgarian and international literature. A large team of volunteers is working on the site. The project is updated daily, and many new texts are added.
The site was founded on 30 August 1998 and was published until January 2001 under the name "Bodil". To date, it represents a combination of a virtual library and electronic magazine. Notwithstanding the small team maintaining it, the site offers an enviable amount of materials and texts.
I consider that the Virtual Library "Slovoto" is the most successful project in the Web ring, with its enormous database of works, its friendly design and the support of two important Bulgarian Internet institutions, the Internet company Orbitel and ABC Design & Communication.
In this segment of the arts there is no Web ring. This is due to the fact that the sites in this field are too young, and there is practically no communication between them. The classical visual arts like exhibitions, actions and installations are covered exhaustively by Cult.bg, while as a brilliant and perhaps the only site for net art I would like to present imagestories.com
The thematic separation is clear and complete, and the sites have no common ground in terms of contents. This leads to slowing down the formation of a Web ring for visual arts.
The situation with theater is similar to that in the visual arts. With the difference that there is no strong project dealing with theater. I would point to the Triumviratus Art Group (http://www.triumviratus.org) as the leader in the genre. The site has a good base of texts, commentaries and video.
A large part of the hits registered by the sites dealing with theater art falls to the cinema program on the server inet.bg . The program is complete, responsibly maintained and fulfills its function well. I consider that these three sites compensate the lack of a mini-portal, which could fulfill their functions all at once. Triumviratus Art Group presents critical articles, Casting (http://casting.hit.bg) presents data about artists, and the cinema program on inet.bg provides complete information about upcoming events.
I can boldly say that this situation will continue over the next year, and it's unlikely that a strong, independent agent will appear in the field of theater. In essence, all the sites dealing with theater are not updated regularly, are technically insufficient and poor in their contents.
There is no cinema Web ring, but there is no need for one. This is due to the existence of a server that combines in itself the entire strength and variety of a Web ring. This is the server netinfo.bg , whose cinema pages are the best in Bulgaria. It is maintained by 3 authors, has its own editor, search engine and a host of state-of-the-art extras. ΝεςΘντξ is the only site presenting the full cinema program, not only for Sofia but for the entire country. At present, an enormous database of movies is available, in which critical reviews by three authors can be found on every movie.
There are a host of small information sites, which play a negligible role in cinema cultural life.
There are many electronic publications in Bulgaria, but I have focused on the underground. We find here representatives of the contemporary international cyberculture, both more classical e-zines and e-zines that are completely about virtual communities. The Web ring is clearly formed, the links between the sites are active, and they are strongly influenced by each other. The publications are clearly specialized, and again no single leader can be pointed out. The banner system between them is active, and they range from works and news to articles. The most interesting projects of the Web ring are:
... A group of 8 young people, four pairs of male and female faces or 4 by 4 Bulgarians in a party mood (hey, don't that sound like dudes and babes), without planning it, without knowing each other and perhaps through the irony of fate, have created their own conspirational plot called "briefly and clearly" Any Given Thursday Social Club. ...
... We've reached our aim - we've created an image of the future, a virtual pallette of galleries, animations, electronic music, a site combining in itself the qualities of a community which by the will of fate is outgrowing the ideas of its generation...
... Many, many thanks, but dear Reader of our e-zine, we ARE NOT INTERESTED IN POLITICS, we have not tried to fix our countries economy, although we'd be happy if that would happen. We have only one aim, to get you to free your thinking from the conservative inepsies they've beaten into our heads for thousands of years, to "work" for ourselves, and if God will, one day this will change things on a global level and fix also our economy. But if we don't first take out the beam from our own eye, how will we deal with the jungle around us...
this project is a place in which all are welcome. There's a place for everyone who wishes to say something that is worth being said in a fitting way. If you wish to propose a topic for discussion or to reply to existing topics, please feel free. The project also includes an IRC oriented towards helpful information, aimed at giving concise answers to the more frequently asked questions in the IRC space
Phreedom Magazine started as a Bulgarian e-zine with hack/crack content in 1997. Today our goals are to seek and distribute the most useful information in the fields of hacking, programming, network and systems administration, and open source tools...
The role of Cult.bg as a server for art and culture cannot be described in any definite way. Like every large project, we set ourselves different goals. To a smaller or larger extent the goals define our functions. The main functions of the site are as follows:
Mediating between the specialized Web rings and the public at large. Cult.bg communicates with most of the thematic projects and presents their most significant achievements. In this way it helps the work of many people to be noticed, and on the other hand helps the users to easily find the information they are looking for.
Uploading critical materials. Cult.bg uploads materials in the spheres of the visual arts, cinema, music, net art, etc. We have a good base, and our collaborators are leading Bulgarian art theorists. We accompany every article with rich visual material which is unique and cannot be found anywhere else.
Informing. We offer unique information in the form of announcements of cultural events, information about competitions and festivals. The information we provide is addressed not only to the public, but also to the artists themselves, who can always keep informed within a minimum of time.
Supporting Internet projects. Cult.bg provides free hosting, which we can be proud of since it is one of the best free hosting services in Bulgaria. This is made possible by the Internet company Orbitel. Cult.bg supports artists by setting up their sites at symbolic prices.
A Virtual Gallery has been created, which presents complete compositions in full. I consider that this is very valuable, since in this way citizens of other towns may follow events happening in the capital, and the other way around. Besides this, exhibitions can be viewed at all times and will not be deleted. In this way, a virtual museum is created, which archives Bulgarian cultural life in in the sphere of the visual arts.
Database of links. At present our database contains links to more than 3000 sites and projects dealing with visual arts. The information is systematically ordered and frequently presents the appearance of new information sites into Bulgarian Internet life. For the best and most significant projects we upload articles describing in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the project.
Register. The register is an enormous database which offers factual information about a great number of Bulgarian artists, groups and cultural organizations. We provide the inclusion into the register as a service that is free of charge and open to all.
English version. At present we are the only cultural project in Bulgaria that offers the information in both English and Bulgarian. The articles are translated by expert philologists, and the translations take up much of the time resources of the team as a whole. With the English version of the site we aim at promoting Bulgarian art outside the borders of Bulgaria, and in this way help the artists themselves as well.
I consider that the model for creating and maintaining a site of this kind is rather successful. Already we are witnessing an increase in the hit rates and in its influence in society. I consider that we have built up a stable base that offers conditions for further development in the following directions:
Connections to other media. Cult.bg maintains an active collaboration with all leading Bulgarian portals, a collaboration which consists in their publishing materials of ours, exchange of information and visitors. In this way our influence has incredibly increased. We can work on collaborations with already established institutions like the Bulgarian National Radio, the Bulgarian National Television, and the Bulgaria Telegraph Agency. We need to create a model that functions to a large extent automatically. In order to attain this goal, we are at the moment working on building up a selective mailing list and a news center. These two additions will increase the contacts between Cult.bg and society.
Further developing the section on theater and dance, trying to compensate in this way the vacuum created by the lack of a thematic mini-portal. At the moment we are working hard on creating an information database and on finding volunteers to work together with us.
Translated from Bulgarian by Alain Kessi