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Urbis: 'Creative Republic' shows potential, faces threat of 'Myspaceyness'

It's a great idea, but doesn't work when the user base seems to be about 16.


I have a background in creative writing, so I was very excited to hear that one of the presentations at last night's NY Tech Meetup would be a demonstration of a new kind of Web community for writers (and eventually artists, musicians, and filmmakers). Indeed, the first presentation was of Urbis, which is a new review community founded by local New Yorker Steve Spurgat. Meetup founder Scott Heiferman described Spurgat, with his background as a playwright, as "the most unlikely Internet entrepreneur."

Here's the central concept of Urbis, which according to Spurgat has 12,000 members signed up, 13 percent of them active. There are two kinds of people whom the site is designed for: "creative people, and people who need creative people." If you're a "creative person" (for now only a writer, though the site will eventually be expanded to visual arts and music), Urbis is a forum where you can submit your work for peer review. There are still plenty of features yet to be rolled out, so at this point it's pretty much strictly for feedback. But optimally, Spurgat hopes that publishers will be able to use Urbis to track down talent. So far, he says, two Urbis members have been published as a result of work that they posted for review.

There's even a cool little safeguard against the inevitable member who will submit loads of work for feedback but not provide feedback to others: a "credit system" in which Urbis users earn credits by reviewing and spend them by submitting. Submitting a long piece costs more than a short one, and reviewing a long piece earns you more in return.

Here's the problem. I signed up for an Urbis account and figured I'd see the kind of stuff that's in there. So I decided to check out a few pieces that I could review, only to find that a big portion of the recent submissions were high school love poetry written by 18-year-olds. It was, quite unfortunately, the sort of thing you'd come across on a MySpace profile. It could just be a reflection of early adopters that will ultimately prove inaccurate (it's a very new service, after all), but as I browsed through the submissions, I was pretty disappointed.

But I guess you have to dig a little deeper to find the next Faulkner.