Blog Post

Reconceptualizing a Digital Feminist Platform

Reconceptualizing a Digital Feminist Platform

Sophia and Ann are co-Editors-in-Chief of bluestockings magazine, a multimedia feminist publication based on Brown’s campus.  For our final project, we decided to re-design our online platform, bluestockingsmag.com.  Bluestockings was founded in 2012 and released its first print publication in December of that year.  The blog has been active since November 2012 and for the past year has published new content nearly daily.  

 

The current, live bluestockings blog

 

 

Bluestockings’ mission is to provide a platform for visual and written work related to issues and experiences of gender, sexuality, race, class, ability and other identities and, more broadly, to create a community, both at Brown and dispersed around the globe, of individuals and organizations invested in engaging with contemporary feminism and identity related issues through a feminist lens.

 

 

Before the start of this semester, bluestockings management staff was discussing a blog redesign, but the designer we were interested in working with did not have the time to take on the project.  We value having the option to publish vastly more voices and pieces on the blog than we can in print, and it is important to us to invest in making the blog representative of the work that it was doing within our publishing platforms.  It is, after all, the way that most readers and writers interact with bluestockings — the blog has over a thousand views on an average day.



We wanted to make changes to the platform to bring it more in line with the goals of the publication and our mission statement.  The blog is currently fairly conservative and traditional in its presentation. There is a slideshow at the top of the page with most recent posts, and a single column of chronologically organized posts underneath that.  On the home page there are also links to different category sections in a top menu bar, a sidebar with descriptions of bluestockings and its mission, a tag cloud, etc. While it certainly presents itself as an editorial platform, but there is nothing innovative or particularly engaging about it.



Our project, then, was to make specific and intentional changes that would bring the blog more in line with the vision of the publication as a whole, paying particular attention to the way that content and authors are showcased on the site.



Choosing and Prioritizing Changes

As bluestockings management, we often have conversations around questions of medium specificity, materiality, and the affordances and constraints of different media.  We are drawn to the ideas of collage, bricolage, patchwork, layering, overlap, and amalgamation as creative and artistic practices which specifically inform and are informed by our feminist politics.



With these motivations in mind, our first concern was to address the way that posts appear on the front page of the blog.  We wanted to move away from the clean minimalist aesthetic that predominates most online publishing spaces.  While we want to create an interface that highlights and foregrounds our content, we do not believe that that necessarily means that words have to appear on blank white pages in blocky San Serif fonts.  Instead of having a white background we hand-made a collage, which we scanned into Illustrator and patchworked together as a new background for our blog.  This collage brings in the trace of the human in the digital space, as something hand-made, which retains the traces of that material history.  

 



Another way we hope to make the people behind the blog more visible is by highlighting authors and having their names appear on the first page of the blog, along with the title and featured image of the post, and not only at the bottom of the post once it has been clicked and read. Without these contributors, having a digital platform would be meaningless, and we want that blog’s interface to reflect that.



Our current blog displays posts in a chronological timeline, moving from the most recent to older posts as you scroll down the page.  We wanted to make a menu giving users the option of organizing posts by “Latest,” “Popular,” and “Random,”  in order to build into the interface not only standard ways of displaying content, as most recent or most viewed, but also to open up the potential for unintended connections to be produced, for the accidental and contingent to produce new and unplanned bridges between pieces.

 

 

We also cleaned up the sidebar, putting most of the menu items in the dropdown main menu, replacing the categories menu with the simple “Home,” “About,” and “Print Archives.”  We did these to minimize the amount of distracting text on the page—‘interactive’ shouldn’t mean having an overwhelming amount of things to click—to focus on the content. We want to give the words a space to produce impact, not overwhelm them with less essential material.  

 

 

Our vision of the redesign also included making more space for non-written content. Currently the majority of the content on the blog is text, often embedded with images and sometimes with videos. In our print magazine we have an art section, and the fact that this isn’t yet represented on the blog reflects a perpetuation of a hierarchy of written over visual expression. We also want the blog to feature an audio player that could either have a playlist of music, making a visit to the blog a more immersive experience and also providing an opportunity to highlight underrepresented artists, or showcase audio content from interviews. bluestockings staff conduct a good amount of interviews, which have in the past always been transcribed, but offering them as podcasts presents a different way of engaging with the material.



What does it mean for a digital space to be feminist?

With this project, we wanted to think through how a print publication and an online platform can be in conversation with one another and how to recognize and address the strengths and weaknesses of each platform respectively. That is, what are the differences between ‘virtual’ and ‘material’ when it comes the presentation of written text? How does the status of the written word on a digital platform like a blog change in the translation from print?  What does it mean for pieces which were intended for the relatively static and stable print platform to be translated to another interface? What are the digital possibilities that we are ignoring by primarily utilizing the blog as a space for writing? What can a blog do to execute the bluestockings mission that the print magazine can’t?



But we also wanted to consider and take into account the limitations of or specific ideological conflicts with our mission produced by digital platforms. Especially since we maintain our dedication to producing new content daily.  How can we trouble the neoliberal logics which drive the constant production of new content on the digital?



In terms of the amount of content we can publish online versus in print, we were thinking about how we can design the interface of our digital platform represent a unity (bluestockings) within difference (the many contributors and editors who work on the magazine)?  How can we represent the diverse positions and opinions of our staff and writers while maintaining the unity of the bluestockings name?



Thus the audience of this project is bluestockings editorial staff and writers, who we hope to highlight more, but also our readers. We envision the redesigned bluestockings blog as a more interactive and engaging space that is not so narrowly defined by a linear conception of time (blog posts are arranged chronologically in a single column) or categories (such as ‘culture,’ ‘politics,’ etc at the top), but rather a place for exploration. And finally, we want to make bluestockings friendly and accessible to readers who are not familiar with the publication, and who might be encountering for the first time the topics that we cover. Particularly due to the stigma that unfortunately still surrounds feminism, we hope that this will be an online space that people of all levels of familiarity with feminist issues will want to return to.



Disruptions and Interventions

Our project is necessary and relevant in the current moment of the move away from print and towards websites and blogs for the publication and spread of written works. For example, bluestockings must consider the increasing amount of people who will visit the blog on a tablet or other mobile device. While responsive design was outside of our limitations for this specific project, our vision is to recognize the blog for what it is—an online platform—and play to the strengths of what it could be by increasing its accessibility and interactiveness.



We hope that the blog will become a space in which new and old content encounters one another.  We think that just because a piece was posted months (or even years) ago, that does not mean that it is no longer relevant, or cannot contribute to conversations that are happening now.  This emphasis on moving forward and constantly creating new news is an imperative of competitive neoliberal capitalism.  So, while we will continue to post new content daily, since we stand behind the writers and voices on our platform and believe that they contribute necessary positions to a conversation about contemporary feminism, we want to be less beholden to the chronological presentation format, especially the single column. By reorganizing content into multiple columns, with various algorithms for their organization, we allow for time to recede in importance, to be subsumed instead in such classifications as “Random,” and “Popular.”

 



The move away from a single column also disrupts the underlying logic that all pieces come from a single source and represent a single unified voice or position.  Instead, multiple columns represent immediately the conversations happening between pieces, and the multiple positions represented on the blog.  Another way to highlight the multivocality of the bluestockings conversation is by highlighting author’s names and bios, and attributing the editors of pieces.



This raises another vital question for bluestockings: Who ‘is’ bluestockings? How do we represent a diverse community of writers, artists, and editors under a single name?  There is no single person who represents bluestockings. We think of bluestockings as an umbrella term, bringing together many different positions and opinions.  However, we are aware of and want to make sure that, within the unity and standardization of bluestockings’ platforms, we are not imposing a single voice on pieces.  The medium of a blog allows us to productively bring together difference, a potential which we feel has not yet been fully explored.  By giving writers’ voices more space to stand together with their singular works, and by giving editors more autonomy to curate content, we hope to more accurately represent the multivocality of bluestockings’ community.



Failures as Possibilities

As we worked on this project, we found that we had extremely limited options for customization on Wordpress.com (our current hosting platform), and soon realized we needed to transition to using Wordpress.org in order to be able to make most of the changes we envisioned.

 

 

We tried and were unable to install Wordpress.org ourselves, and instead found ourselves navigating a hosting site, ASmallOrange.com (which still involved a substantial amount of assumed background experience and comfort with web design). Because neither of us have this prerequisite knoweldge, even once we gained access to a redesign site on Wordpress.org hosted through ASmallOrange.com, it was an intense learning curve in terms of being able to successfully make intended changes the code, identify obstacles, fix errors, etc.

 


Due to our limited experience with web design and time constraints, we were not able to fulfill the following goals, but have plans for bluestockings to continue working with a more experienced web designer who can finish this project in the near future:



  • Find a way to showcase art, possibly through some kind of slideshow at the top, in order to resist the hierarchy of written over visual expression

  • Create a menu that would allow content to be organized by popular/latest/random rather than organizing posts in a linear way; these choices facilitate different modes of engaging with our content, and different experiences of the content, in terms of timeliness, or by the unexpected juxtapositions created by the “random.”

  • More prominently display author’s names on posts without making authors through the wordpress blog.  Although it makes sense to have author pages for regular contributors, we do have a lot of one-time submissions.  It would also be hard / impossible at this point to go back and retroactively make contributors page authors, but this is something that is worth considering for in the future.

  • Have each post (the image, title and excerpt) turn blue when the user hovers over it; this will make the experience of navigating the site more interactive and present posts as more cohesive than they would be when only the title is hyperlinked.

  • Increase the visibility of our other social media pages

  • Embed an audio player to allow for

    • Interviews in audio (rather than transcribed) format to offer different ways to engage with the material other than reading! This also allows for multitasking for people who are unable to or have difficulty sitting and/or reading for extended amounts of time

    • Music for a more immersive experience and to highlight underrepresented artists (eg queer rap/hip-hop artists)

 

Reflections and Recommendations

What was surprising is that we did not learn or need to learn as much CSS as we thought we would.



We learned that wordpress.com is not the same as wordpress.org, what the differences are, and more broadly, that familiarity with the specific platform one is working with is key and gaining that familiarity can be more immediately efficient than trying to learn ‘everything’ form the ground up (though this would certainly be necssary if we were to continue with this project).  



We would advise people doing this project to know early what the affordances of their platform are so that they can figure out if they can complete the project they propose—to be specific, we thought that a wordpress.com site had the affordances of wordpress.org, which meant that we were expecting to be able to do more than we could and had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get to a reasonable starting place to do the rest of the work we intended.  



We also learned a lot about the specific steps that one needs to go through to get a website off the ground and onto the internet!  Doing it ourselves was a lot harder (obviously) than just choosing a few things in wordpress.com and going with it.  However, the payoff then is the amount of control that we’re able to have over the specifics of the site (as long as we can figure out how to make a code for what we want to have happen!).  But, more concretely, the process of going from a standard all-in-one platform, to a site that we had to figure out how and where to host, whose servers to use, how to transfer our domain name, the process of making a subdomain, etc.  All of these really small steps, we not only learned need to be done but also how to do (mostly)!


Ultimately, while we were not able to complete all the steps that would have transitioned the current, live blog to our vision as represented in our mock-ups, we have created both a plan and the space for someone more familiar with CSS, Wordpress and/or web design to finish what we started. Having visual aids as well as a thorough outline of our goals and the platform on which to realize those goals already established and paid for means that we have taken the crucial first steps in reconceptualizing and redesigning bluestockings.

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