Tor.com, the new all-singing all-dancing Web 2.0 site from Tor Books, launched at the weekend. Previously announced on Making Light some months ago (although the timelines have slipped a bit), that post made me feel favourably towards the site before it launched because a post with jokes about Vernor Vinge, underpants, and fanzines feels aimed directly at me.
Now the launch is upon us, what is the site actually about? We have some free short fiction, currently featuring two stories by some guys named Scalzi and Stross who might be famous authors or something. They’re not the most exciting short fiction authors to me, although I will read the new Laundry story, but they seem like good, solid, big-name choices to launch the site, and hopefully future offerings will highlight some excellent but less well-known names.
There are art galleries, featuring lots of pretty pictures by lots of artists. More information would be nice, because I know some of the images are book covers but can’t remember which, but my main use for this website will be when trying to decide who to vote for in the Best Artist Hugo.
And the final section is community, which encompasses a number of things: general user-started forum threads, front-page blog posts by a number of bloggers, and some rudimentary social networking functions. The social networking parts are probably closer to something like Metafilter than Facebook: you can add a brief bio, upload some pictures, see threads you commented in, and follow other users. Some really useful features, like custom RSS feeds to follow only your friends, are not in place yet, and I am having difficulty finding a link to display all posts by a particular poster, but it’s early days yet.
The key bits of content, for me, are the front-page bloggers. It’s an impressive line-up so far, covering wide-ranging areas of(to quote Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s introductory post), “the great conversation that is the subculture of SF—that river of talk, in person and in print, that has surrounded and informed science fiction and fantasy (and “the universe,” and “related subjects”) since SF fans began cranking out fanzines and organizing meetups in the early 1930s”. Jonathan McCalmont is less impressed so far, calling the site “a place of limited opportunity and cowardly commercialism”, but it seems to me that even if Tor.com is a commercial site funded by a publisher, it’s coming from a desire on the part of the site creators to be part of a larger conversation, to interact with the community, and if that happens to be good publicity for Tor and their books so much the better. I’m not convinced that yet another site is necessary, that it’s filling a niche which would exist if they hadn’t made the site to fill it, or that it wouldn’t have been more relevant and central to the conversation if it launched a couple of years ago, but I’m hopeful that Tor.com will be the site I hoped io9 was going to be.