Thursday, December 23, 2010

Link roundup

1. I hated Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic game, but the game lead to the creation of something far more interesting:

When we created the initial fake-brochure site, we thought it'd be a fantastic laugh if the fictional shipbuilders had their own intranet. If you filled in the form on the brochure site (specifying your name, email address and favourite species of frog) we followed the occasional mail about the game. Then, one day, folks got a mail from the intranet admin, "Chris Stevedave", giving folks the link to the intranet and the current password, which was hurriedly followed by a second mail apologising for the accidental mail leakage and urging customers not to click the link, then a third email noting that Chris Stevedave had been demoted to Bilge Emptier Third-Class. It worked fantastically (so fantastically that some people really did send the emails back, reassuring us that they hadn't looked at the site) everyone poured into the Starlight Lines intranet.

The idea was to present a read-only Senior Management forum in which you'd see some of the key backstory characters getting on each others' nerves. But we figured there should probably be a writeable forum for the lower-level employees, so I spent half a day hacking up a stupidly basic forum system and forgot all about it.

Six months after the site launch, I happened to peek at the employee forum and there were ten thousand posts in there.

A brief aside: Working for Douglas Adams, you get exposed to a huge variety of Hitchhiker's fans. Somehow, these fans think that Douglas's humour is a rarely-enjoyed thing, only appreciated by a specifically-tilted mind, and so in meeting other fans they will find a kinship. It's bollocks, of course; Douglas's humour has very wide appeal and these people tend to have surprisingly little in common with each other. But the effect at the TDV end was that any online community we created with Douglas's name attached was instantly flooded with fans looking for their kinds of people and their kinds of silliness.

But what happened inside the Starlight Lines employee forum was even stranger than that. Because it was buried one password and six clicks into the site, only a few dedicated people found it, and found each other. And once they were there, they started roleplaying Starlight Lines, and didn't stop evolving a long and bizarre narrative for the next thirteen years. When TDV died I moved the forum to my own hosting; every so often one of the players will poke me because something's broken, and I'll eventually fix it and they can carry on with their adventures. It's been thirteen years of hosting an accidental community. It's somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.

2. "The government has created a speculative bubble in the alpaca breeding industry." "Twenty-five years ago, there were 150 alpacas in America. Now, there are 150,000."

3. Thomas Barnett on the major challenges facing China:
Not content with recently surpassing the U. S. as the world's biggest CO2 emitter, China just snuck past America this year as the world's biggest energy consumer, too. Naturally, this was interpreted throughout the West as yet another sign of China's world-shaping dominance instead of what it truly represents: China's skyrocketing resource dependence on the most unstable regions in the world.
*Buy Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution at Amazon.