This article was originally published on webcomics.com in 2008.
I love technology. Whether it’s little gadgets like my iPod, or useful applications like Google Calendar, I love all the little tech innovations that make life easier and more fun. The first time I heard about webcomics, I was thrilled. Automated content management? Fantastic! Integration of multi-media elements into webcomics? All over it. Do I want an iPhone or a Kindle? Oh my god, yes. Can I afford them? Not remotely. But I want them nonetheless.
And yet, there are certainly technologies that just don’t excite me. My first response to the “blog” was a hearty “meh.” I haven’t a clue what the appeal of MySpace or LiveJournal is — more industry-oriented variants, like ComicSpace make a little more sense to me, but just barely. And I still have no idea why the hell my telephone needs to take photographs. It’s bad enough that people can call me and talk to me no matter where I am, now they can demand that I send them pictures too? No thanks.
Sometimes I change my mind. Blogging, for instance, has won me over. Once I started seeing professionally themed blogs, news blogs, political blogs, blogs that served an informal journalistic purpose, the idea finally clicked for me. I still ignore most of the blogs that appear under the webcomics I read, but I can see the value of blogs, even if I think there are far too many of them.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to reexamine three webcomics-related technologies that have garnered my thorough disinterest in the past. I will lay out here, for the record, my initial reactions, and the reasons why I’m resistant to them. I will then devote a solid month of active usage to each before reporting back on my experiences and whether or not I’ve been converted.
RSS Feed Distribution
I’ve twice tried to use RSS reader applications to manage my blog reading. (One was Awasu. I can’t remember what the other was.) In both cases, I added about a quarter of the blogs I read to the reader (the other three quarters didn’t offer feeds), then proceeded to follow those blogs in the reader for about two weeks. After that, I stopped using it, mainly because I forgot I even had it. With so few of the blogs I followed readable in that form, I wasn’t able to break the habit of going to my web browser for blog-reading purposes. And, in any case, I disliked having to open a whole other application just to do some extra web browsing, especially since I tend to do my web browsing on more than one computer.
Now, many folks have been singing the praises of RSS feeds as a convenient way of reading comics; Webcomics.com’s own editor, T Campbell described the technology to me as “almost indispensable.” After my uninspiring early encounters with the technology, though, I’m skeptical. I can certainly see the appeal of not having to check every individual webcomic I read. It’s a huge time suck. Which is why I’m a devoted user of Piperka.net — a lovely little service that monitors my webcomics for me, and automatically generates a list of all the sites that have updated since my last visit. And unlike RSS, it manages this without putting any onus on comics authors to add yet another annoying technical doohickey to their websites. This is great for the creator, since they don’t have to do any extra work to have their comic included, and great for me, since almost every comic I read is included, instead of just the ones with RSS feeds.
So what do I need RSS for? I haven’t the faintest idea. One thing I can say for certain, though—if any RSS reader is going to impress me, it has to be web-based. I’m already a multi-tasker; with four or five applications running on my computer at any given time, I certainly don’t need a sixth. And I need to be able to access it from any computer, without installing new software to each one. Fortunately, it looks like RSS readers have moved in that direction since I last tried them out, so maybe my impression really will be different this time around.
Comics for Portable Devices
I already hate using my cell phone for anything at all, up to and including talking on it, so I’m not going to bother trying to read comics on it. But I’m open to trying comics on my iPod. I’ve seen a little bit already — I did download a handful of Brain Fist strips while I was working on my Daniel Merlin Goodbrey article. And I thought Goodbrey made good use of the delivery mechanism, crafting comics that benefited from the odd screen size. But I’m reminded of a Jason Shiga comic that was once described to me — the pages were all laid out vertically in a box. Each page had tabs on it, and the tabs each had holes in them, that allowed the pages to be lifted out with a metal rod. The holes were lined up just right so that inserting the rod into a different series of holes resulted in your lifting out a different series of pages. Each combination of pages told a different story.
It’s a remarkable idea, and my understanding is that the execution was very effective and entertaining. I’d love to see Shiga’s comics contraption in person and spend some time playing with it. But if that was how all of the comics I read were distributed, it’d be pretty ridiculous. It’s just not well suited to anything that isn’t designed expressly for that purpose, and it’s not efficient even for the ones that are. I feel much the same about reading comics on portable devices. It’s nice for the crazy formalist experiments that bend the technology to their will. I don’t mind an occasional inconvenience for the sake of a unique comics experience. But it’s really not how I want to read Wonderella.
Still, I do like my iPod, and I do like finding new uses for it (I just bought my first few RiffTrax today), even if I don’t normally use the video features. And with ClickWheel having just announced a bunch of new features and a deal with 2000AD, now seems like a good time to give the technology a try.
Of the three technologies I’ll be looking at, downloadable comics is the one that I have the least initial opinion on, since I know the least about it. I did set up an account at Wowio a couple months ago, and downloaded a few comics. I read them, and the experience was fine. But I forgot to go back the next day to download more, and haven’t been back since. I just wasn’t that grabbed by it. I’ve never particularly liked reading any sort of document in PDF format, though it certainly has its advantages — the ability to print chief among them. I just wasn’t moved enough to go through the hassle of downloading and storing the files. But I wasn’t exactly turned off by the technology either—this really might be a case where I just need to get used to the new process before the advantages will really become clear to me. For now, let’s just call me “neutral” on the topic, and see what happens once I’ve immersed myself in it for a few weeks.
Start the Clock…
I’ve decided on RSS feeds as the subject of the first of my four-week technology stints. I’ve selected the reader I will use (Google Reader), and have started building my subscription list. For the duration of my trial period, I will use this reader as my primary means of staying up to date with my webcomics, relying on Piperka only for those series that don’t have RSS feeds. Check back next month for my full report.
NOTE: The incarnation of Webcomics.com for which this series was begun ceased publishing prior to the completion of the series. Only my report on RSS feeds was completed.