Terminal Weasels

photo: rivoli cafe, metro in rain

Heavy rain, low-light blurs, on the Rue de Rivoli.

Squashed Like a Bug

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 15. November 1999:- The actual charter members of the Café Metropole Club are being very good. When the week's 'Club' session is over, we don't hang around long gabbing - we go out on the Quai du Louvre and gab on the way to our various métro stations.

Then I return to the magazine's editorial office and try to reconstruct the meeting, so that all of the 'virtual' charter members will know, nearly immediately, what happened.

It is very good for me to get out of my smoke-filled hideaway and talk to real people. I am not a recluse by nature, butphoto: round pool, tuileries the nature of the job of doing the magazine requires that I spend several whole days a week putting an issue together by myself.

Friday afternoon in the Tuileries Gardens.

By creating the 'Club,' I have not only forced myself out of my cave, but I actually spend 120 minutes listening and talking - and taking some sort of notes.

On other Metropole 'reporting' tours I often talk to people too. But, it isn't usually for very long. They are busy; time presses, for all of us.

All of 'Metropole Paris' is online. When I do a search for a particular word or name, the gizmo that does it has to put all of the magazine's text into temporary memory, in order to look through it quickly. When it does this it also gives a rough page-count. This number has gone over 1700 pages.

Metropole also has a Web-based search feature for you to use and it works about same - except that it doesn't count the number of pages. Every once in a while, its 'cache' memory has to be 'flushed.' After the server-lady Linda Thalman does this, she writes to me to say the thing contains a million words.

I'm not sure if this is the contents of the 'flush' or represents the total number of words left over after the 'flush.' Whichever it is, it is a big number.

Judging from new readers' letters, people often first 'find' Metropole by tossing a 'keyword' intophoto: cour napoleon, louvre any of several Web search engines. The Web's 'find' turns up the word and then I get another email asking about Utrillo, or the dates for Retromobile 2000.

The 'blue' Louvre.

Regardless of the number of words already contained in Metropole, I reckon it needs about another two million before the magazine can be considered a true database for Parisian subjects. At the rate I'm going now, this may take another eight years.

All well and good, but I didn't start out to build a database. It is merely a by-product - a valuable one.

Recent circumstances induced me to move into Paris and this proximity puts it on my doorstep. It is taking a bit of time to get used to this - the fact that I can drop what I'm doing, go out for a café, and 'find' a story.

A friend can call up and say 'Let's have lunch,' and I can accept because I don't have to calculate for a three-hour round trip to the city and back. I get other stories this way.

If you are in the right place at the right time and you have your senses tuned to capture stories, then you get them.

Huge, powerful, deep-pockets Web sites are only now becoming aware that to retain regular - browsers, readers - canned stuff from the old line 'wire' services, or canned stuff from the new line 'Web-news' services - is not good enough. Not if every other huge, powerful, deep-pocket Web site has the same stuff.

This is the essential difference between - browsers, readers - and, say, consumers of software. Readers want new stuff. The story of the minute, the hour, the day.

I always figured that Paris, in one way or another, is a 'story of the day' in one way or another - to somebody. With the Web, this turns into somebody, somewhere.

Notice I didn't write 'story of the minute or hour?' The outfits that do this tend to be the same ones that do the 'canned' stuff. They have the resources to deal with a volume of material; and they end up selling it to a volume of customers. For peanuts. A volume's worth of 'peanuts.'

So I think it is time, my friends, to slide away a bit from merely filling up Metropole with words for its database, and go out and get some stories.


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