Introducing Chartaville: home for refugee essays, balanced diet for researchers
A couple of years ago, during my second year as an undergraduate, an idea crossed my mind: to create a website that basically houses what we refer to in Nigeria as assignments. Why? I realised that there was oftentimes great difficulty in getting related, online materials for things discussed in classes and used as subjects of homework. This is true especially for topics specific to Nigeria. I thought: what if those who were given similar tasks before us had published their works on the internet for us to look through and build on, how easy would life be. I then resolved to come up with a way for us to leave our works for the benefit of those coming after us, or our contemporaries in other fields and institutions. Voila! Thus was born Essays NG (www.essaysng.com).
As students, we have several online platforms to share our poems, stories, memoirs and even selfies. But I could think of none — widely used — that offered to publish academic write-ups of short or medium lengths. Essays NG offered this opportunity for free. It was founded on the strong belief that the sweat that goes into writing great academic articles can yield more fruits other than good grades. The website could help stamp your intellectual footprint on the internet. It could help serve as an archive of your intellectual products. And it could help others up the ladder of academic progress and intellectual fortification. Besides, reading books of history has taught me that ground-breaking scientific inventions are not birthed in a day, or even one generation or century. They often take place as a result of scientists reading the works of others who have come before them, adding one detail here, removing another there, and ending up with a crucial piece of information or technology.
I had used Microsoft Word to create something that was intended as a logo. I used the same application for other graphic designs related to the website. No doubt, they turned out poorly — but I used them anyway. I was a one-man army. Perhaps, I still am. I kept trying out new plugins for the site, launched using WordPress. There was one that enabled users to download published essays as pdf files, and another that shared posts directly on the growing Facebook page.
Out of passion for the project, I decided to offer incentives to those who submit for publication. The deal was to give ₦1000 for every 7 quality essays submitted. Perhaps, at the time, this was not very sustainable; but I did not get a lot of positive responses. I remember paying two persons, three at most.
It was the first time I tried my hands on buying a domain, hosting and designing a website — and the only time till recent time. Needless to say, the site looked so poor — even to the 2014 edition of me. I was not satisfied. It could look much better — and should too. Gradually, I became less and less interested — till the hosting with iPage got expired and I never bothered to renew.
Essays NG was toeing the path of yet another white-elephant project — and, for me, the length of the list was already embarrassing. Like Leonardo Da Vinci, I was abandoning my masterpieces before their completion and my wonderful ideas before their chance at manifestation. But one or two reminders nudged me back in line. Particularly, I cannot forget that from Usman Abiola, with whom I discussed the idea in June, 2017. Heart-melting testimonials had also come from people who came across the website through Google, especially law students who benefited from my compilation of legal cases and Latin maxims relevant to law. If people find this little project useful, I thought, what right do I have to deprive them of it?
And so for a while, I turned ideas in my head of how to stage a comeback, of what name to use, of when to start, of how to get the website running, of what amendments to make, of how to perform better, and of how not to fail again. The hardest part was not raising money to secure the domain and host the website, but deciding on a brand. I must have considered close to, if not more than, 50 options. The problem was confounded by the fact that, in this era, all the great domain names on the internet are either in use or hoarded by people waiting for someone like me — only richer — to make them an irresistible offer.
I started to understand why the URL addresses of many dailies in Nigeria aren’t straightforward. Namely: www.thenationonlineng.net, www.vanguardngr.com, www.punchng.com, www.tribuneonlineng.com among others.
Unless you have no problem using such extensions as dot ng, dot com dot ng or dot co, I’m afraid it’s all booked. There are those whose job is to figure out what people may be desperate to buy years from now and to kidnap those ideas till a ransom is agreed on. www.papers.com, www.paperrs.com, www.essays.com, www.perusable.com, www.perusabl.com, www.papery.com, www.crowducate.com, www.crowdlight.com, www.foregoing.com; what did I not try? Some are even more bizarre and creative, yet someone not only thought of it, but thought it good enough an investment.
I must thank Habeeb Kolade for his patience with me during this phase, and for his various, quality suggestions. Eventually, I came up with and settled for www.chartaville.com, which I consider sufficiently brief and classy. The idea was birthed from an intercourse of two others: smallville and chartamhouse (suggested by Habeeb — but which we abandoned for its striking similarity with the British Chatham House). Chartaville is a neologism coined from two Latin terms: charta and ville. Together, they mean a village (or farmland) of papers. Now, this is a bit ironic since that village is exclusively situated on the internet — but equally ironic, I suppose, is Computer Village (Ikeja, Lagos), the largest marketplace for computers in Nigeria.
During my frantic search for an agreeable name, I checked out www.essays.com.ng in passing. Of course, I would never consider using this today; but it was top on my list back in 2014. Unfortunately for me then, it was already in use — for editing jobs and archiving project materials. Today, that website is no more. And I am sure the same story goes for thousands upon thousands of other blogs and websites. Great ideas, many of them; but impatient executors.
Chartaville, I hope will not suffer the same fate. I shall be patient. It will blossom. And, with the help of Chartavillers (yes, that’s a word too) and well-wishers, we can enrich research all over the world one charta at a time.