What I'm trying to do with the Revolt site

This was originally prepared in June 2000 for the Anti-Racism Campaign. I decided to put an edited version on Revolt as it may be of more general interest. Feedback welcome. Note as of 2001 the site changed its name to struggle to reflect its new domain name www.struggle.com
Once it was the dream of many radicals to open a bookshop/library, printing works and meeting space that they could use as a resource to promote the struggles they were interested in. It probably still is. Of course this would cost tens of thousands of pounds to open and thousands of pounds every year to maintain.

With the arrival of the internet and a little later the World Wide Web I saw an opportunity to do something like this for nothing (or at least very cheaply). Revolt is essentially a virtual library, meeting place and print works. The library is the site itself which now archives over 2,500 texts and images. Connected with the site are over a dozen mailing lists, some of these are the virtual equivalents of meeting places where people involved around an issue exchange information and make on line decisions. Others are more like virtual papers that circulate the latest news to interested people. The largest of these lists has over 300 people on it, the smallest only 8.

This idea of Revolt as an online radical space comparable to real world resource centres or radical bookshops also helps explain why individual campaigns/issues benefit from the wide range of material accessible via Revolt. If someone goes into a bookshop looking for information on anti-racism for instance there is a good chance they may also be interested in other 'progressive' issues like abortion rights or trade union organisation. So if they have a bit of time on their hands they may choose to browse from the immediate section they came in for to other sections as well.

To facilitate this all pages on Revolt link back to a central index that indexes all the material on Revolt (sometimes via other intermediary pages). The top of this index has a disclaimer in order to avoid people thinking all the material is produced by the same organisation using 'front groups'. See Appendix one for the text of this disclaimer. This page gets over 2,000 visits a month [all figues for May 2000] so being listed here could be worth this many visits although its more likely to be worth 2-400 depending on the issue.

What's new

I also provide a 'What's new' page for the entire site that every page links to. This lists the latest documents added to the site in the order that they were added. Along with this I run a 'What's new' mailing list. Whenever I do a site update (up to 4 times a month where sufficient material is available) the 'What's new' list is mailed with the titles of the new pages and instructions on how to access them. This means as soon as new material is added to your site the subscribers to the whats new list are told. The page itself gets over 800 visits a month so in months where new material is submitted this should be worth between 100 and 400 hits. This also helps insure that all new pages get listed with search engines (see below).

Real world

A final aspect of how having many homepages on the one site benefits them all is in terms of 'real world' promotion. I now frequently leaflet demonstrations and meeting with short flyers that list the major pages and mailing lists I run from Revolt. I also produce individual posters and flyers for the individual campaigns. It's hard to track the exact results of this but on a couple of occasions I've deliberately done a mass very specific leafleting the response to which I can track and this suggests that every 100 leaflets may generate up to 5 web visits and two new subscriptions to email lists. This was in leafleting 'interested' people (actually the May 2000 ANL march). Mass leafleting at the GPO with DARG suggests that 7,000 leaflets resulted in around 50 web visits and 10 new mailing list subscriptions.

More technical stuff

The above is all very non-technical advantages of the Revolt site that have real world analogies. However there are a number of features of the Revolt site and the flag (and tao) servers that give additional advantages unique to the internet.

The way most people find a page that they do not already know the location of is to use a search engine. There are literally hundreds of these on the internet. Almost all work by having a robot go to web pages that are registered with it and then indexing the text of the page using a variety of scoring techniques to decide how relevant a page is. When a user goes to a search engine and types in a search term, e.g. 'racism Ireland' then the engine gives them a listing of the pages in order of relevancy.

The reality is that no search engine index's more then 16% of the web and so the majority of pages cannot be found in this way. This is often due to no one having registered the page with the search engine in the first place. It may also be due to the engine deliberately excluding certain sites (at one time for instance some engines appeared to be not listing geocities sites - the largest provider of commercial 'free' sites). Also there is a delay between a site being submitted and indexed and that site then being listed when someone does a relevant search. This can be as long as six months. Finally while many people register one page from their site they don't manage to design the site in a way that means the search engines finds and registers all the other pages that are there.

Because I've been using the net since the early 1990's and putting up web pages since 1996 I've worked out how to best solve most of these problems. I've also worked out how to set up individual pages so they will score highly in a search. There is no point being listed number 104 when someone does a search as most users never look beyond the first 10 search results. In general you'll find that doing a search for the campaign name and including Ireland (if it is a general title) will return the campaigns web page in the number one position in just about any search engine. As importantly doing a search for words associated with the name should also return a number one position or at least a listing in the top ten. For example a search on 'racism Ireland' carried out at the start of June gave the following listings

Search engine	Position listed
Metacrawler	1st
Excite	1st
Infoseek, 	1st
Direct Hit	1st
Altavista	1st
Google	1st
WebCrawler	2nd

The value of this in terms of attracting everyone from journalists to pupils doing school projects should be obvious. And although putting up a web page is relatively easy getting people to visit it is not - big companies spend millions of pounds on this. The net is full of ads for companies who promise that they will get you high listings on search engines in exchange for cash. So one 'invisible' advantage of Revolt is I manage to get pages listed at or near the top of search engines.

Another thing that is obviously relevant here is a sites long term stability. A new site or one that moves starts off with no search engine listings at all. Creating these takes work (and some skill) but even so it takes several months before they start to function and bring in traffic. So it's essential that you can be confident that URL for the site will continue to work in one year, two years and ten years. It's all too common that a good web page gets lost because the server it is on goes down or because a commercial server goes out of business or changes the sort of business it wants.

A final thing worth briefly mentioning is the use of subject index pages. This is where I have created an page designed to lure people onto the site by listing all the texts that fall into an area that I think people may be searching for. In terms of the campaigns section of Revolt the most important such page is my 'Irish labour History' page which lists articles on Labour History from SIPTU Fightback, WSM, 1913 Commemoration Committee and various individuals. This currently gets nearly 1,000 visits a month. As time allows I plan to construct more of these sort of general indexes in order to increase traffic further.

Where Revolt lives

Anyone who regularly uses the web will be familiar with clicking on a promising link only to get a message back that the server is too busy and to try again later. Or sometimes the message is that the server is unavailable normally because the computer carrying it has crashed or has been switched off. Revolt is hosted on flag.blackened.net which in the three years it has been up has almost never crashed and because it has a fast connection to a central part of the internet I've never got a 'too busy' message. In short it is fast and reliable, not all servers are.



Recently so that individual campaigns can have URL's that relate to what they are about I have been using the commercial go.to service. This gives a URL of the form go.to/NAME.NAME that brings people to the relevant revolt page in return for either an annual payment of $18 or putting up an ad as the person goes to the page. Now they also provides an email address that will automatically forward mail to a given account (ask me for details). Finally one major advantage of using these URL's on printed material is that if you log onto the go.to site you can find out exactly how many uses of that URL there have been over the previous week.

Does it all work

The above is mostly theory. I think the figures for the number of people visiting the pages speak for themselves. Overall the Revolt site received 165,000 page visits in May of 2000 (or nearly 300,000 hits) from at least 35,000 people. These would be respectable figures for any big Irish commercial site.

Promotion suggestions

Include your URL on all Press Releases, Leaflets and posters. Each visit you generate may led to people subscribing to a related mailing list and thus becoming a semi permanent contact.

Make sure that the person laying out material sends it to me ASAP as I also circulate material to a number of mailing lists if it still counts as 'News'. This directly reaches a couple of thousand people

Write to related campaigns with web pages and ask them to put up a link to your page

Try and get your URL published in the various magazines and newsletters put out by unions, NGO's etc.

Appendix 1

Text of disclaimer on the Revolt index page

Revolt is a collection of web pages put up on a voluntary basis for a variety of Irish struggles the web maintainer is connected to and for Irish and international anarchist groups. It is not intended to imply any relationship between any of the organisations whom I have provided space for on this page (outside of the fact that by putting up pages for them I obviously consider them worth supporting).

Other articles by Andrew N. Flood