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.

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