The following interview was conducted by Joseph Stella, in Los Angeles, California, for ICMTTP’s zine Typewriters on Screens. This interview first appeared in print on October 8, 2008, and was first posted online at syphmag.net on October 17th, 2008.
It is re-posted here in its original form, with some additional notes on behalf of our editors, and our friends at SM².
Our thanks to Joseph Stella for his generosity in allowing us to re-post this interview.
Interview with Nic Van Roon, editor of Syphilitic Mermaids Magazine, about the nerdier aspects of running an online magazine.
Syphmag (or SM², in abbreviated form) first caught my attention for their unique design, which can be seen at www.syphmag.net.
Nic, thanks for coming. Let’s get started on the geeky questions right away. What do you think about Web 2.0?
Geeky questions, alright. I think it’s fine. I prefer it to that time when you had to visit Geocities sites to find information; I prefer there being a blog or a wiki for everything, rather than a fan page.
The internet has become a reliable source.
I don’t know if it’s more accurate, but it’s more believable – and a lot less annoying.
You’ve accused yourself of falling behind the times, design-wise. Do you feel that the fact you haven’t conformed to Web 2.0 standards (for whatever reason) holds you back?
I don’t think our design is behind the times so much as our programming is. I think our design is fine for what we do, but right now it’s difficult, if not impossible, to read Syphgmag from an iPhone, and obviously this is a drawback for us, because we loose those readers who do read a lot of their internet content through their phones. And I imagine that the number of people who do this will be increasing. So yes, we are behind on our Web 2.0, and yes, in a way it’s holding us back.
Would you say you’re making a conscious decision to forgo that advanced programming in favour of aesthetic? Your site has gone through a few incarnations now, but the design has always been very stylized and unique.
No, I don’t think it’s been a conscious choice: SBK [interviewer's note: SM²'s web designer] and I have the desire to use whatever advanced programming is possible, and I know that we would if we had the time. We’re behind the learning curve, and I think we feel that it’s going to be a struggle, to catch up.
The truth is that we aren’t programmers, and as far as I know, no one has programmed the kind of software that we would need for what we do. Nothing that would satisfy us, anyhow. There was the possibility of putting SM² into some kind of preconceived format, so that we didn’t have to figure these things out ourselves…
The whole site in a blog?
Yeah, something like that. We could do that. We’ve talked about it, but, I’d hope, only in a joking manner. We don’t want to do that; that isn’t what we set out to do.
I see. So in that way, your aesthetic is taking priority.
In a way, yes. Some people do still read things online with a monitor – most people do. So, would we like readers to be able to access our content on the subway, or the lobby of the doctor’s office? Yes, of course we would. Are we panicking because they can’t? A little bit, but right now, okay, we’re using this basically antiquated style. It functions, but it annoys and embarrasses (web designer) SBK. Yet, obviously, we prefer this state of affairs to some kind of white background, multi-column blog.
Ah, the resentment surfaces.
I’d rather think of it as an only slightly biased observation…
It’s true though, every site looks the same right now.
I don’t know about that. I don’t go to a lot of new websites right now. I’ve seen some interesting things, sometimes with Flash, even – some examples where the designers use restraint, but managed to pull off something attractive that’s also original. Some band sites, e-zines, or artist portfolios… I haven’t come across anything that was too memorable in a while, but I imagine they’re still out there.
I know what you mean. It seems like now, I go to the few same news sites or blogs for news and entertainment, and to MySpace for bands, Facebook for events…
Exactly. So does that homogeny mean there’s less demand for a well designed – or, rather, interestingly designed – site? Probably. They can be inconvenient: they’re sometimes hard to update, and they can confuse or turn off new readers. We’re all in a hurry.
Is SM² inconvenient?
No. Yes. It could be. I’d hope that people find our design simple enough, especially the new design – though I think the old layout was fairly intuitive as well. We try to be innovative but straight forward. I know we’re not as easy to process as a standard blog, or say, a site like The New York Times, or Pitchfork Media; though they’re obviously trying to accomplish different goals than we are.
We do use a blog for our updates, though. We have a RSS feed available through
MySpace[see note]. That’s a priority for us right now, actually: to set up a better newsfeed system.
[Note: this new RSS feed is now up at http://imtrying.net/?feed=rss2]
Let’s get back to your criticisms of 2.0 for a minute.
I only have a few, so a minute sounds good.
Ha. What do you think: is convenience making the internet aesthetically sterile?
In a way, it’s made the internet bland, but as I said before, it’s an improvement on early HTML. It’s clean, it’s structured, it gets the job done. I completely agree that sites ought to prioritize universal usability. What we’d love to do is figure out a way to make the design of SM² both functional and original – assuming we’re original doing what we’re doing now, which I’m reluctant to believe. Other sites will probably get this right before we do: interesting design concepts, plus maximum, universal function. It’s probably happening already and I just haven’t come across it.
But you can say you thought of it first.
Dreamed of it first, maybe. Then again, no, definitely not. We’re amateurs at this.
For someone who’s managed to accomplish so much, it’s hard to believe you can be so diffident.
That’s an art in and of itself.
Will there be a way to view your old layout, in the future? The new one is great, but there’s a part of me that misses the old fridge, and the personalized pages.
You’d have to ask SBK, as that’s her jurisdiction. Though I think for the next while we may be too focused on moving forward to worry about the past.
[Note: Nic was correct. -via SBK]
What do you have planned for SM², design/programming wise?
We’re still putting all our old content onto our new layout. After that, we’ll want to fix all the bugs, and make everything more intuitive: links between pages, access to the news feeds, etc. Maximize accessibility and ease of function as best we can, and make it easier for readers to comment and contact us. After that, well. We have plans to make plans.
You’re my kind of man, Nic.
I’ll keep that between us.
Ladies and gentlemen, Nic Van Roon.