__marcelo (__marcelo) wrote,

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Fandom == Software for your Imagination

Riffing on jarodrussell's comics as software platform concept, I end up ranting on comics and technology.

ETA: In fact, I rant rather more than I had expected beforehand...

Unless you are a mid-sized customer like, say, the U.S. Gov., your chances of getting MS to fix something unless they want to? Nil. They have countless forms and telephones and whatever asking for your opinion and ideas, but, deep down, their model of the world is

1. Microsoft makes software.
2. The sheep -"customers" in PR parlance- can't.
3. They will pay for whatever we want to give them. And they will do it smiling, dammit. We are the goddam Microsoft!

Oh, and part of the standard anti-Open Source argument is, as always was, "What about customer support?" Which is exactly what many people have felt like screaming at big software companies for decades and decades. (PS: This is also what TV studios, editorials and music labels think. Ha. Fucking. Ha.)

But there is an option. It turns out that if a technology has enough internet-savvy users, and the users have a certain level of technological know-how, and if they have inherited a certain ethos of mutual help -either from Old Hackerdom, or from the K/S Fandom Days of Yore- then they don't need customer support. For 95% of the problems, they can help each other, thank you very much.

Besides undercutting a big part of the justification for the inflated prices for software -which, let us all remember, has near zero marginal cost- communities aren't the obedient script-spitting drones that customer support tends to be (unless you kick your problem up to the higher levels, where they are as cynical and smart as they get, but to get there you have to be pretty big and in pretty deep shit anyway). They won't cover or spin your fuck ups. They won't tell customers it's their fault if it isn't. Etc.

Linux exploded because, among other things, it could nurture a good -and then a big- community, big enough that most of the time I have better free support googling in the right places than asking customer support for enterprise products I (or a company I work for) has fully paid for.

LJ is like that, but a bit better, because it's somewhat more structured (it's also more fragmented, true, which is both good and bad).

They would want to live in a world of clueless users and costly replication.

And probably a pony, too.

They can't sell the stories and characters. Those are bits, dammit. BITS. INFORMATION. PLATONIC STUFF. It's not stones.

They can sell experiences, and brands, and objects. I buy comics because they are shiny objects, nice to read (although I prefer reading everything on a computer, I like how comics and old books smell (shutup I know it's weird)). I buy comics because -or rather when- I like going to the store, meeting people, chatting about stuff. I buy comics when form and content match and I think "*this* is art". Even if it's a huge run of a regular number of a monthly. It's not the rarity or special holographic cover or minus-infinity numbering or resale worth. I buy comics when I feel like "What the fuck. I am a comics buyer!," and it's a good feeling.

I also buy comics when Warren Ellis tells me to, a point I'll address later.

Aside: IP laws don't match technology, economics or mores any more. I don't expect you to deal, Mr. Media Companies. I expect you to DIE!

There's a lot of people using Windows/reading comics (relatively), and they are often a pissed-off lot (everything reboots too often, local issues induce terrible crossover problems, your favorite bits get overwritten by rogue stuff going on somewhere else in the system, etc), so fixing up things or filling up gaps can be very emotionally rewarding, and the byzantine complications under the hood appeal to certain kind of people (us).

But fuck, it can drive you crazy. Five inconsistent APIs for every single thing. Things that made sense back in the Ice Age constraining how things work *now*. "All-improved" new versions that seem to have been coded right *around* the old bugs.

Critical bugs that require patches that will then require *their* patches, too. All in the name of a compatibility that exists mostly as a fiction itself.

I want a more modular system, by which I mean, one in which every fucking character's life and storyline won't be wiped out because Word, I mean, Batman, has a psychotic episode. A big universe is like a well-hedged bet: it lets you tell stories/run applications that serve many users and functions at the same time.

Big crossovers are both diminishing return stunts and, as all privileged "kernel level" software, sources of bugs. Always.

Computers are universal information processing machines, dammit. I don't want a "word processing computer". A "x'ing computer" is not a computer, it's a toy. And a bad one; toys that don't have a computer inside -or are mathematically as rich as computers themselves- are kind of boring anyway.

But I digress. The point is: I want my fandom to support science fiction and politics, romance and angst, stories about families and stories about armies. Because I'm lazy and unfocused, so there's a lot of things I'm interested on, but I'd prefer it if I could play with them in the same platform.

Big crossovers that force-fed the same tone and basic storyline through an entire universe are the equivalent of computers that only run one application, because the software company thinks *that* application rocks.

(Oh, it's not as if software companies wouldn't just love that sort of crippled "computer"; every fucking DRM tech out there, as well as those dorky "Media Centers" and dumbed-down "smart phones", are attempt to go back to the Golden Age before crazy British gay mathematicians came up with those damn programmable computers and won WWII.)

One of the most awesome things about Open Source is that you have access (subject to time constraints) to the very people who make it, *and* a culture of openness about the creation process. I mean, it's not like Linus Torvalds answers every mail from everybody, but

a. You can try mailing him, or at least other Linux developers, with a reasonable expectation that they will at least look at it, and certainly will take it into account if it's relevant. Bug reports are always welcome, and ideas and code patches, once you've proved your skill, always looked for.

b. You can look at the Linux Kernel Mailing List (and other sublists) and get a pretty good idea, both historically and in real time, of both what happened and what *is* happening, and *why*.

You understand, and you can engage. You know what that creates?


Which is why Warren Ellis can sell a relative truckload of original work *and* raise an army of Holy Sluts with a single email. Granted, if you don't like his work, understanding and engagement won't do anything for you. But his relentless online presence and his willingness to discuss his creative process and professional life in all its warty, twisted glory, it's what turn fans of his work into fans of *him*. Sort of. At the very least, we know enough of him that we are willing to let go things we don't like on his work, because we know *why* he decided to put them there, and he has more than a few pages to convince people to buy something: he has been rambling about it for months before it has even hit the stores, so by then you are either killfilling his posts about that, or eager to buy it and a few copies to your heathen fellow fen.

Doesn't that sound like a marvelous thing, bottom line-wise? If I had a media company, I'd fire any creator who isn't rambling online two or three times a day.

Charles Stross is another example of a writer that just *gets* it.

Meanwhile, DC has forums and gives interviews with pre-packaged, pre-scheduled stuff. They have people with a lot of talent, but they keep them playing a boring DC Kabuki play, so we just can't *see* enough of what's going on.

We buy DC stuff despite DC, and the thing is, we can also get DC stuff without buying, so they should -perhaps- care a bit more about being loved, natch? I know how heartless this sounds, but it's late at night and I'm a bit tired of "it makes financial sense" being right when you downsize people, but not when people just copy your overpriced stuff instead of buying it.

You know what? These IP laws don't make financial sense to us sheep. Globalization, you know. The IT revolution.

Trying to legislate technology back into the '70s won't work, either. Ten years later, Japan, China or Sumatra will run the technology world, and things will be just the same.

For media and software companies, the grim meathook future is now: Make us care about you or die.
Tags: fandom, rant, technology
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