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Australian Plants online

First Cuttings..an Editorial Rant!

Do you sometimes think that your computer knows more than it's letting on? Yes, I know that there's a lot of power there and that we only tap a fraction of it when we're at the keyboard. But I think there's something else going on....

I started worrying many years ago when a hitchhiker in the galaxy asked his computer about the meaning of life. I mean...what sort of answer is "42"? (just as well the Pentium chip wasn't invented then or it might have been 41.9999....!)

No! There's definitely a conspiracy here. The bloody things are multiplying and mutating! I bought my first computer about six years ago, a modest Amstrad portable with an 8086 chip and no hard disk. I had a look at the weekend and there's now three of the things in the house, each more powerful than the previous! Where did they come from? Has anyone ever done a survey of the number of PCs sold each year and compared it to the increase in the number of PCs in the community? I'll bet the latter is greater than the former.

How do they do it? You don't really think that computer viruses are a sick joke played on computer users by malevolent programmers do you? It's how the computers themselves pass on data and instructions.

So, you think I'm paranoid (or perhaps angling for a script assignment with "The X Files"). Well, we'll see! In the meantime I'm keeping an axe on the wall in the computer room. When the time comes, pulling out the power cord won't help. I'll be aiming straight for the CPU!

...and what does this have to do with Australian plants? Not a thing! But, hey, I'm the editor and this is my party and I'll write what I want to.

Everything about this first issue of Australian Plants online is experimental. From the logo at the top of the first page to the type and number of feature articles to the style of the presentation and to the information provided in the "Departments", everything is "on trial". Even the title! Even your self-appointed editor! Whether or not this publication continues depends on whether there is a demand for this type of publication. We don't expect it to take the world by storm (it's hardly a mainstream journal) but if it doesn't have a readership it doesn't have a purpose.

So what we need from you is feedback ...even if you have no intention of ever returning here, we'd like to know. Really!! And if you think there is a niche for a regular newsletter on Australian plants but you have some reservations about what you've seen in this first issue, please let us know and tell us where we have gone wrong.

What sort of feedback can you help with? Well, is the format as a World Wide Web document right? This is the most convenient from our point of view as we can mix text and graphics in a reasonably attractive format that is available to readers whenever they need it. But we could produce the newsletter as an email publication and send it out to subscribers when each issue is produced. This wouldn't be as aesthetically pleasing and graphics files would have to be sent separately. Realistically, an email publication would only be practical for a small readership, but we could produce it for those without WWW access.

Is the newsletter too long? Is it too short? Does it need more diagrams and/or pictures?

What about the content? We see the aim of the publication as presenting interesting and informative information on the cultivation, propagation, conservation and appreciation of the Australian flora. This means articles spanning both amateur and professional interests and may include research reports as well as experiences on growing Australian plants in gardens in different areas. Is this what you would want to see? What specific types of articles would you like to see? We also need to bear in mind that the Society operates a World Wide Web Page and this may be more suitable for certain types of information than a newsletter.

Finally, should the newsletter issue at fixed, regular intervals or should it be, more or less, continually changing? The idea of getting away from fixed intervals was raised by Christian Narkowicz of Tasmania (one of the reviewers of the first draft of the newsletter). Christian asked, "Need there be quarterly publication? Surely this is a hangover from "hard" publishing. With electronic publication it is possible to put up new articles as they arrive and delete articles after a specified period (at least from the prime index)." I can see advantages in both methods of publication but what do you think?

The articles for this first issue have been drawn from a number of the Society's paper-based publications. In addition to its main journal, the colour-illustrated "Australian Plants", each of the seven Regions produces a regular newsletter as do the 100 or so small District Groups and the 34 Study Groups. So it's apparent that there is a reasonable body of material that can be drawn on for this on-line newsletter. I don't see anything wrong with reproducing previously published material. After all, some of the big on-line magazines do just that and much of what has been printed before has probably only been seen by a small audience. In addition, one of the great charms of growing plants is that methods developed years ago by keen amateurs can be just as useful today despite the changes that have occurred in horticultural practices.

However, the eventual aim would be to rely more on contributions prepared specifically for this publication. If you think that you have something to say that would be of interest to an international audience, please consider preparing an article or a short note. We can't offer payment, so you will have to be satisfied with the thrill of seeing your work on the 'net. We may be able to assist with suitable photographs if that is a problem. Of course, we're also keen for graphic arts contributions; photographs, drawings, computer generated artwork, cartoons....whatever.

One difficulty we always face with our print newsletters is convincing people that their experiences are interesting enough to be published. I don't expect this to be any less of a problem "on line". People really are interested in what others are growing in other parts of the world; in hearing about places where Australian plants can be seen growing; in plant propagation experiences; in unusual forms of plants that you may have come across. So please don't be dissuaded from publishing your experiences because they are too "ordinary". They rarely are!

By the way...we're interested in "bad news" stories too! It's a sad fact that plants form many parts of the world can become menaces elsewhere and this applies no less to Australian plants than it does to the Privet, Lantana and Balloon Vine than infest native bushland in parts of Australia. So, if you want to tell us about the unwelcome Australians causing problems in your part of the world, there won't be censorship here. Maybe we can all learn from past mistakes.

Until next time....if there is a next time!

Good growing.

Brian Walters

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