Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Internet's Magician Playground

The one thing that we have learned over the course of the past semester is that in this day and age it is vital for any publication to maintain a Web presence.

Genii Magazine, the oldest magician magazine in the United States, has done just that by using a combination of both older Web tools (i.e, Bulletin Board System) and Web 2.0 tools (user-edited encyclopedias) to create a unique Web experience that will only continue to improve as the Internet gets more advanced.

One of the newer additions to the Genii site, and very Web 2.0 savvy, I must add, is the Magicpedia, "a version of Wikipedia for magicians...that has about 2000 pages of information on it," said Richard Kaufman, 50, the owner and editor of Genii which is based out of Washington D.C.

The Magicpedia allows any Web user to look up different magicians, tricks, and even magic history. Like Wikipedia, Magicpedia also gives users the privilege and ability to edit or create articles, so long as the user has a (free) Magicpedia account.

Genii's Web site also offers a massive magazine database called the Genii Archives. The archives are literally a PDF catalog of "every issue of Genii Magazine from 1936-1998," said Kaufman. "You do have to pay to get this," Kaufman added, and a six month subscription to the archives starts at $45.

"I use the Genii Archives all the time," said David Oliver, 42, a Boston based full-time magician and product reviewer for Genii Magazine. "As a reviewer I need to know what the history of various magic effects are, and I need to be able to go back and find out where things came from, where they're going, who did it first, who did it second, who stole what from whom, and I need to be able to put that in writing with the knowledge that I get from the Genii Archives," he said.

Unlike Magicpedia which allows access and even editing power to anyone, the archives are primarily for professional use. "The people who have subscriptions to the archives are fairly serious magicians," said Michael Patrick, 22, demonstrator at the world renowned Tannen's Magic Shop in New York City.

Both Magicpedia and the Genii Archives are progressive measures that Genii has taken to ensure a dominating Web presence. Magicpedia in particular embodies Web 2.0, as it is a site made up of user-submitted content and is totally user-driven. In contrast, Genii's main competitor, Magic Magazine, offers no interactive content on their site. Instead it provides links for purchasing subscriptions of the magazine and gives viewers a condensed version of the cover story.

Most magicians agree that although Magicpedia and the Genii Archives offer a good source of information, the majority of people visiting the Genii site are there to surf the Genii forum. The forum is an online magic community where magicians can go to discuss either the current issue of Genii or any magical topic with other professionals. The forum is so useful because anyone can start a discussion on what they're interested in and then get feedback from the entire Genii forum community, including the editor of Genii. "I post [on the forum] every day," said Kaufman.

"I think the forum is useful for both professionals and amateurs," said Oliver. "Professionals have a safe place to congregate where they know their ideas are looked at in a serious matter... the Genii forum has an attraction for people who know what they're talking about."

Although popular among many, not all in the magic community would agree that the Internet is the right place for the discussion of a trade and profession based on secrets.

"I'm not involved in main-stream conventional magic," said mentalist Jon Stetson, 49. "My bend is a little bit different, but I feel the Internet is the worst thing that ever happened to the art of magic."

Stetson said that having magic on the Internet offers novices and those with a passive magic interest an easy platform to make videos and deliver lectures as if they were seasoned professionals, something he staunchly disagrees with.

"I've only done a couple of lectures for the magic people of the world," Stetson said. "Basically, because I don't feel I'm qualified to teach, I've only been doing this for 45 years."

Whether one agrees with magic discussion being on the Web or not, there is no debate that having an open market of ideas on the forum can offer guidance and help.

"I've gotten a lot out of reading the posts on the forums," said Rob Balchunas, 21, a senior at Emerson College and part-time balloon-sculptor. "I've read a lot of posts on things to wear, the psychology on creating a show, and things related to constructing a show in general."

With Web sites constantly changing and updating, it is interesting to ponder what the future of the Genii Web site will look like.

"I personally don't think there should be instructional videos on the Web, perhaps a performance-only piece that goes with the tricks or routines that are taught in the magazine each month," said Oliver, "so you could click on a link and see a video presentation of what tricks are supposed to look like."

Balchunas agreed. "I definitely feel that video would enhance the Genii site," he said. "Maybe video interviews of some of the featured magicians from the magazine. I think the way the Net is going and the way digital video is going it would make a good addition to the Web site."

It seems that magicians and magic enthusiasts will be getting the video that they desire on the Genii Web site soon.

"It will have video on it," said Kaufman, "but the video will be generated by us."


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