Surrendering to the Realities of the Internet

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has long excelled at communicating with fans. He’s the faithful author of a long running blog in which he has been very open with his fans. They have built a strong rapport and have a lot of communication going on there. He blogs often and an average post gets well over 100 comments.

Now he’s gone and reinvented as a combination archive and DIY Mashup site. The idea is that fans can replace the official punchline with their own and then vote on which “mashup” is best. In The New York Times Blog, Adams is quoted as saying:

“I’m surrendering myself to the realities of the Internet,” said Mr. Adams in an e-mail message. “People can already doctor strips. We’re just making it easier so people have more reason to visit the site.”

“And it’s fun,” he said. “This makes cartooning a competitive sport. It’s a game changer.”

Excellent as the idea is, and it is excellent indeed, the comments on the NYT post suggest that the site itself is causing problems for some users, especially those with slow connections. There’s also the minor fact that it’s not technically a mashup since it’s not really mashing different already-existing texts together.

And then there are those who think fans couldn’t possibly be as funny as The Author:

This is a terrible idea. It does nothing to make good comics, but is a great way to pander to fans. Some “media” (I guess “art” is too quaint and precious a term for our day and age) shouldn’t be a collaborative effort. All the old-school media types trying to be relevant by handing over the keys to their audience is a sad, desperate, and doomed attempt to stay relevant amidst the swirling currents of change. I don’t want to read a “Dilbert” that some John Stewart-worshiping chucklehead in my office dreamed up. I want to see what comes out of Scott Adams’ brain. I am hoping against hope that this faux-egalitarian, “interactive and conversational” trend will die a quick death as the Internet — and its audience — matures.

Of course the silliness of this perspective is that Scott Adams is still writing Dilbert. If one wants only official versions, they are still being produced, they are still being archived, they’re still there. Fans doing their own thing with support from The Author doesn’t preclude the author continuing to produce work that meets the standards of fans who don’t much want to write punchlines themselves.

And anyone who thinks fans can’t come up with good stuff on their own has been reading too much Andrew Keen and not paying enough attention. recognizes user creativity

Last April I noted that “several users have developed means of taking music-listening data from the site and generating all kinds of interesting things.” I linked to the front page of the stats group where a user was compiling and maintaining both a listing of these tools (visualizers, badges, mainstream and eclecticism calculations, etc) and a space for their developers and users to discuss them. I concluded that post by saying:

And let’s hear it for the fans who are creating these programs. If I ran, I’d be trying to get some of these things incorporated into the site instead of leaving it all to clever fans to run on their own.

Well, I suspect that the riproaring success that is Facebook Applications was more of an incentive than my exhortations, but just did this by creating Build — “Free tools built by the community to extend your experience.” Except for that little thing about a business model, the concept is much like FB Apps. If one looks more closely, however, most of what they have done is to take the work users C26000 did on the stats group page and MrSmithey did with tools, and given it an interface that looks more like a page.


I commend for recognizing and encouraging this kind of fan activity — it’s a great demonstration of how fan enthusiasm can benefit both fans and developers. I suspect that this will result in more stats geeks figuring out fun ways to play with the data.

At the same time, though, it’s a shift that walks that fine line between supporting and appropriating. I don’t think are guilty of exploiting here — they are not taking any credit for the tools and they are bringing them much broader notice. On the other hand, in contrast to, say, Facebook apps, there doesn’t seem to be any model to give back to the fan/developers other than “we think this is so cool we’re linking to it.” Now, for many that may be more than enough. When they’ve written some of these up in the blog, people have been deeply flattered by the official attention. But they will need to be mindful of the potential for such official recognition to make free labor start seeming more like work than play to those who do it.

The person who runs the stats group has expressed mixed feelings — he likes the official page but wonders whether it leaves a space for the group he’s been overseeing. The one response in his thread as of this writing is — YES, it gives us a place to discuss it. Which I find doubly interesting since does a much better job of things like incorporating fun tools than it does at supporting community discussion. But that’s a topic for another post.

I must suppress a giggle that the tool that appears in the upper left corner (ExtraStats) prominently features a beautiful colorful river graphic display of my own charts (its developer loved the visual effect of my obsessive listening habits almost as much as I love the graphic).

TIME offers some fanfic search stats

Bill Tancer of Hitwise has a brief article just up at TIME that has some interesting stats about fan fiction on the net. Hitwise tracks over 700 Books and Writing sites. gets 34.7% of visits to the ENTIRE category, making it first by the longshot, doing better than even (159th most popular of all websites they track):

Top 10 Internet Searches Containing “Fan Fiction” (12 weeks ending 8/25/07):

1. Harry Potter
2. Bonanza World
3. Adult
4. Gunsmoke
5. South of Nowhere
6. Clark and Chloe
7. Supernatural
8. Firefly
9. Triple H
10. CSI
Source: Hitwise

On adult content he adds:

Of the 40,491 sites in our Adult category, the site with the highest percentage of female visitors (64.3%) is (proceed at your risk).

Now can we stop pretending that fan fiction is a quirky tiny little corner of the net made up of weirdos? If that’s not mainstream, what is? I get a lot of hits on here just because I use the words “fanfic” or “fan fiction” sometimes.

And I don’t mind adult content, but the amount of searches that land on my site that also include words that describe criminal sexual activities is kind of disturbing. But hey, at least it’s fiction.

It’s the logos, baby

metalMetalAd is another example of fans using to make cool stuff based on their listening charts. This extension:

… will create an image displaying the logos of your top artists on your profile (if you don’t have a profile: create your own). Your top artist’s logo will be displayed on the top of the image, your 2nd top artist’s logo on the 2nd place and so on …

Note that not any artist’s logo will be displayed, only logos of Heavy, Death, Black, Thrash Metal artists, categories like Melodic Death Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Gothic Metal, Industrial Metal and so on (considering that those logos are stored on my server …).

Of course, metal bands have all the cool logos. I don’t think the bands I like even have logos. I feel so deprived. But not deprived enough to start listening to metal.

(via the ever-entertaining Listenerd)

McFLY 2015 has an official site

I’m a little late in reporting this. Ok, way late, but those of you yearning for the futuristic sneakers worn by Marty McFly in Back To The Future 2 will be pleased to hear that there’s an official website to help you get your wish.

mcfly site

As you may recall, this project previously included an official petition (which has been shut down) and an ad for the petition on YouTube. Now you can ‘preorder’ the size you want in anticipation of its release. A more concrete way to get word to Nike that these are potential real consumers they’re talking about.

Update: I’ve been pointed to the brand new official McFly 2015 Video.

When I first covered this story I naïvely thought I was touching on an obscure little corner of fandom, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from looking at what search terms and referring sites lead people to this one since I wrote about this project, it’s that sneaker fandom is HUGE.

Check out the ISS Forums to see what I mean:

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And in related news… Joy Division sneakers: Myth or Reality?

joy div sneakers

Really now, WHITE? What are they thinking?