Although launched and hosted by the independent publishing house Canongate, Meet at the Gate is not a typical publisher's website. Yes you can search the Canongate catalogue and find out more about the excellent and diverse array of books and writers we publish, but Meet at the Gate has much broader and bigger ambitions. It's about the creation of a cultural hub, one that is totally independent in its spirit and content, a place with a particular focus on books, film, music and websites that will help guide you to the most interesting stuff around.
Not only does Canongate Publishing's blog invite the public (including the publishing industry) to contribute posts (called gateposts), but it selects blogs of note to feature every once in a while. (This I discovered via Stephen Mitchelmore at UK blog This Space, featured last week. )
Not only that, it's the front page of the whole establishment, the first hit for Canongate on Google and the publisher's public face is integrated quite well into a social network site.* Haven't seen anything else like this yet; I will have to get out a bit more, I think. A search turned up this article by Hannah Davies in The BookSeller (thanks to Book Addicts for the link), which will be my starting point for further forays. Davies notes that Canongate's site was in beta in September and due to be launched, so I would say this is still very new.
The Canongate site could do with some more navigation aids either on top or to the side. It seems to have been designed by someone who thinks most blogs are messy affairs, however most of (er, most of) our mess has some purpose or other. Because of the lean design, presently the search box on the Gateposts page of Meet At The Gate can only help you find things you already know are there, unless they're the latest or greatest posts, of course.
Keep your eyes peeled and you'll be able to browse topics and contributors from the side menu on the front page (though sadly you cannot find the posts on featured blogs easily). See, our categorised archives exist for a reason...and there could be a reason why there's no room for them here, also.
There appear to be dribs of more innovative technology drabbed here and there through the site - a Twitter feed of news and some MySpace and Facebook addresses are mentioned, but only from one page.
Otherwise it's an interesting experiment and I am reasonably impressed by their efforts to bring writers, publishers and the public together in a social network.** A fair bit of thought has gone into this, and given the prestige of bloggers in the UK (most of the prominent bloggers were sent Sony E-readers to trial in September), it would want to be pretty to attract their attention.
Now I'm off to read Maria Hyland's post - whoo hoo. Hope I can comment....nope, I am too shy. Never mind how she feels about Helen Garner being nominated for a prize alongside her - I can't even put fingers to keyboard when I have the chance to talk to MJH. I must have some favourite writers after all, and this is the test I will apply in future.
Also she's published by Text, Canongate's partners down under. So I am left wondering if the arrangement's so very different from providing a few choice sentences for a cover blurb. While not as gratingly obvious as the author blogs at Faber, some of which seem to be simply webpages put up on Blogger under industry pressure, this is a funny state of affairs. Do the authors volunteer for this activity? How does this work exactly?
(The blog of the month at Faber for November, that of Richard T. Kelly, author of a bio of Sean Penn and other works, is worthy of a post on its own on author blogging. He's doing quite a nice job with whatever it is that he thinks he's doing there. The labelling is a tad gratuitous, but he seems to like, and 'get,' blogging, which is more than can be said for the blog I found there in October, which has discreetly disappeared from the site.)
There are also snippets from Canongate's 'archives', which I assume doesn't always include sniffy correspondence like this. I am going to follow the Gate site for a bit and see what else turns up, and I will keep you informed of any progress I make.
*see Andrea's comment and ensuing discussion below for a finer distinction between social networks and the use of social media in commercial websites.
** and again.