Thursday, January 19, 2012

Build a Better Shakespeare Site

I got a polite email the other day from one of those Shakespeare sites, one of the ones that puts up stuff about Shakespeare. The site wanted me to link to it, and offered a reciprocal link.

But I'm not interested, and I think the site needs to rethink its strategies. Here, then, are a couple of ideas I have about making a better Shakespeare site. (I have more that I'd be willing to sell to someone who's actually interested in doing a really good Shakespeare site, but these are free.)

A bit of an overview: The Shakespeare sites like this one are dot com sites, trying to join the Shakespeare industry to make some money, mostly, I'm guessing, by hosting ads on the site and getting revenue that way. They're also selling text access in the form of e-texts.

I'm happy for people to make money on Shakespeare. I make my living partly off Shakespeare, after all.

There are two audiences for this sort of site, the random person who has an interest in Shakespeare and looks something up, and the far greater population of high school and college students who are taking a Shakespeare class. That's the audience you really want to get.

But you won't get that audience from a link here because mostly the people who read here are other academics and adults who aren't all that interested in Shakespeare per se, but are interested in me as friends or because we've built some sort of relationship. Those folks aren't going to click through. Nor am I interested in being linked on your site, because students aren't going to find this blog particularly interesting or helpful.

How could a Shakespeare site use me to get a real audience? The site needs to convince me to 1) list it on my syllabus as a place that will be good for students, and (more important) 2) get other Shakespeare faculty to do the same. That will mean that our ed students will also suggest it to their eventual co-teachers and students. Not surprisingly, I actually know lots of people who teach Shakespeare, and if a site were really good, I'd tell them so. (I've adopted course texts based on advice in comments here, and on advice from faculty friends. Other faculty do the same. And I've recommended texts to other faculty folks, too.)

How do you get me to put a Shakespeare site on my syllabus or share it with other Shakespeare faculty?

1) Cite your sources. Remember when Wikipedia started and everyone said, well, sometimes it's good, but they need to tell us where they're getting the information? And then Wikipedia articles started citing sources. And lo, they're much better now.

Shakespeare instructors at all levels want their students to be aware that there are sources for the information they read on the net. Further, we want students to read information that uses sources the way we want students to use sources. That is, your site should be a model for using sources well because that would help students learn to acknowledge their sources. Please model good citation practices.

2) Part of citing sources is giving information about where you're getting your texts. Are you giving students a text edited in the 19th century? (That's been a fairly typical way of avoiding copyright issues.) Are you using F or Q as your source for Lear? And whichever you use, are you making sure that students know and can learn why you've chosen what you've chosen?

3) When you put up texts, give Act, scene, and line numbers. This is especially important for e-texts. I'm already tired of having students scroll through e-texts looking for a passage, and they haven't been around that long.

I've got other ideas, but a site that did those things well would be a site that I'd recommend to students and other faculty. I'm guessing fellow bloggers will have other suggestions for building a better Shakespeare site.

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