Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comic 741: Blogging About My Content Generation

I think there's a lot of debate over just what the point of this comic is. The Forums, certainly, are a mix of confusion and differing theories. My own theory is that it's making fun of people who claim to know how to work well with new media but are really full of BS.

As I read it, the character on stage is supposed to look stupid, and the guy in the audience is being sarcastic in both of his comments.

The fun part, as many people here and elsewhere are pointing out, is that xkcd has exactly this problem nowadays, to the point that many of us think this may be thinly-veiled self mockery. Except, of course, that Randall Munroe is incapable of self-criticism and mockery and can't really take mockery or criticism from others [I am not speaking of my own, of course, because mine is the toughest of love and the hardest to accept]. Most readers have already substituted "webcomic" for "blog" in the text, and noted that silly "relationship with readers" stuff (think "get out of my head, Randall!") is exactly what makes xkcd popular these days, because we all know the content is lame.

And hey, as long as we are talking about what a blog should do and how it should interact with its readers, this seems as good a time as any to say that I am really happy with the little community that this site has built up and I try to participate in it as much as I can, because I do think that makes it more fun to read and more fun to comment, for you guys and for me. I've been really slow with e-mails these days so if you wrote me one and I didn't respond, you should probably send it again because at some point I just give up and need reminders.

In other news, my review copy of the first Problem Sleuth book came in the mail yesterday! I will write a review in the next few days. First impressions: the story loses some of the fun when it goes to print (in terms of lost animations), but it's a lot easier to follow and read.


  1. yay for warm and fuzzy post :D

    Carl - maybe this comic is thinly-veiled mockery of your OWN blog?! OOH EDGY!

    I was dubious when I heard about the Problem Sleuth book, and am anxious to hear your recommendation (or lack thereof). The primary reason I liked Problem Sleuth was the animations; I'm not sure it will have the same frantic energy without them.

  2. Wednesday's comic: I feel like I've heard that joke somewhere else. But otherwise, it's not too bad. The alt-text is such a laboured attempt at "Gotta keep up the funny, what the folks are here for". Ugh.

    By xkcd standards though, the art is good - whatever about objectively good, yeah only so so, but I really like it. I'm a sucker for good use of negative space? But it's also tightly crafted and it manages to carry across an interesting atmosphere.

    This and the Tell-Tale Heart one, Randy is stepping up his art-game? Hope springs.
    But now start doing it with your writing too man.

  3. Jimbobbowilly (Max W Gore)May 18, 2010 at 9:17 PM

    Most recent:

    Who does those overly dramatic gasps? I can only think of the kids from Arthur- shit, nostalgia. Onto the alt-text...

    Fuck the alt-text. Don't people get the idea of historical fiction in the future? I can't see what's so terrifying about the alternative.

  4. I have to confess that I quite enjoy a lot of the jokes in XKCD. The last one about Daft Punk I thought was particularly good, and almost turned me back into a regular reader.

    But whenever I return to XCKD, it's not long before I'm reminded of EXACTLY why I just cannot respect the webcomic. This joke is a perfect example of why I have contempt for it.

    It's a lame 'straw man' joke. The XKCD creator has done this several times before. In essense, it boils down to, "I am going to make someone say something stupid so that I can say 'DUH' at them". It's basically an arrogant and unsophisticated way of shutting down another person's argument without giving them the opportunity to respond.

    An even worse example is the 'Idiocracy' strip, where the straw man is actually made to advocate eugenics. It's very easy to dismiss someone when you're making them talk about eugenics, don't you know. Putting words in another person's mouth is a sure way to win an argument.

    But what's so stupid about this particular strip is that the lecturer might very well be suggesting that the key to making a successful blog is to build a relationship with your readers THROUGH content generation. That to make your updates good so that people will want to read them IS to build a relationship with them.

    Or, the lecturer might think that since it's impossible to teach good update skills to a large mass of people (teachers in creative or professional writing tend to work better in small groups where everyone can be given individual attention), the next best thing he can do is to assume that the blogger already has good update skills, and to teach them other things they can do to promote their blog.

    We will never know, because some idiot in the audience is yelling ignorant things back at him while structuring the universe so that he cannot possibly reply.

    You know how some people try to recreate XKCD strips in real life? I'd LOVE to see someone recreate this one. Everyone else in the audience would be thinking "oh my god, why won't this idiot shut up?" instead of the "yeah, you stick it to the man" Randall is obviously so desperately wanting.

    Then, when the lecturer begins to intelligently dismiss what the 'lucid and justified' the speaker has interjected with, the speaker will block their ears and storm out, because he isn't ACTUALLY interested in creating a dialogue with the lecturer or hearing what he has to say, all he ever really wanted was a platform from which to try to appear clever in front of lots and lots of people.

    I'm sorry this post is so long. I've had very long feelings about XKCD for a long time. Every time I see someone wearing an XKCD shirt, I want to punch them for supporting this egomaniac.

  5. Could you change that to "dismiss the 'lucid and justified' comments the speaker has interjected with"? I didn't edit that very well.

  6. Today's comic...

    *randall references something to do with computers*
    *a pavlovian response is triggered in xkcds fanbase*
    *they say things like "This is the kind of stuff most people crave from Randall."*
    *I look for the nearest knife to cut myself with*

  7. This comic... is pretty stupid. For three reasons, mainly:

    1- It's nothing like a new observation. The subtle relationship between content and readership and how a blog/comic/site can be quite popular and successful despite its shitty content just because it has a faithful and rabid fandom are known at least since the word "blogosphere" has been uttered, probably before.

    2- But that would be okay, if Randall could make a good comic(or a panel, at least) about it. But this doesn't have a point besides... that. No twist, no original way of presenting the concept, nothing. Just that.

    3- The dialogue. Oh, snap, the dialogue! It's stupid. It's trite. It's unnatural! I can't believe, as you do, Carl, that the off-screen person is being sarcastic in both accounts. Why would he even mention content in the first place if he doesn't care about it, anyway? No, I believe Randall was going for a dialogue that would at least sound funny, but failed. Hard.

    And that's pretty much it for now. Next comic later, after I wake up.

    Mole out. Good night.

  8. Personally, this reminds of me of how Glenn Beck said in Forbes that anyone who actually believes what he says on his show is an idiot.

    The funny thing is, that it seems to be at the point where Randall can put basically anything out there and his fans will gobble it up, similar to Beck.

    It's an interesting gamble, full of arrogance. By making this comic, he basically saying to all his non-die hard fans that, "Screw you, the only people I really need is the fans that buy my merchandise, giving me revenue. I don't need fans who who aren't supporting me in some way."

    Ah, I can only hope that that is what it is.
    Mostly because it would really amuse me.

  9. Wednesday's comic make me chuckle, as did the alt-text. It went back to the root of just a simple geeky joke.

  10. This comic must cause a lot of cognitive dissonance for his fans.

    I assume they will resolve it by deepening their unconditional love for Randall rather than realizing how terrible it all really is.

    A brilliant move.

  11. I grinned at the 192.168/16 comic. Not outrageously funny, just a common trope re-cast using an unusual metaphor (computer-related, of course).

    I wish he didn't give away the punchline in the title text, and it didn't really keep me grinning, but it did make for a logical extension of the comic.

  12. I'm sad because I feel like I'm missing the joke for once because... I don't know what the IP address is supposed to mean :(

  13. The latest one's okay.

    It would have been interesting as a picto-blog entry, as there could be other examples of urban legends evolving with technology.

    Once again, the alt-text rams home the punchline in case you didn't get it, but otherwise it's worth a smile.

  14. Today's comic was decent and inoffensive. In a better world, this would be the absolute nadir of xkcd--something that's competently-executed but not particularly noteworthy.

    @Cam - Home networks automatically have 192.168.stuff for their own internal use. It's "The killer's call was coming from...INSIDE THE HOUSE!" but with IP addresses not telephone numbers.

    The alt-text is then equivalent to saying "What's really scary is that the killer was calling...ON A ROTARY-DIAL PHONE!"

  15. I get the feeling the...idea (don't really want to say joke) is something like this:

    Speaker talks about building relationship.

    Audience member thinks this is pointless, only content is important.

    Speaker says he's coming to content later.

    Audience member is then hooked, which is supposed to have proved the speakers point about relationships.

  16. Dan (the new guy!)May 19, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    I actually liked the new comic (192.168/16 one), though that is one comic which could have done without the mouse over text... I have no idea why I bother checking the mouseover text anymore, as a comic should be great without it (there's the print comic reader inside of me :D).

    But at any rate, it was a pretty nice comic :D, what with putting a twist on an old campfire story! (mind you, it's not really as plausible as the caller id story, but just the thought of a killer sneaking into someone's house and plugging in their laptop into the person's home network to torment the person before they harmed them... well, that thought made me chuckle inside from a sheer semantics point of view! ... though with wireless rotuers that wouldn't quite work as well...)

    you know what... this comic is good just the way it is!, let us (me) not over analyze it! :D

    - Dan (the new guy!)

  17. 742 is way too obscure. I know that Randall's audience is computer programmers, etc. But know a lot about computers and I still had to read the alt-text. I would have gotten a joke though, so that tells you how annoyingly convoluted the punchline is. The basic concept is OK, but it's failed by its geeky, obfuscatory execution.

  18. Re: the new comic: I don't know a lot about IP addresses but was able to get the joke from the context. Maybe I would have found it funnier if I knew IP addresses better. Which is really the whole point of xkcd anyway-- these jokes are funny ("funny") because they are tailored to one's geek subculture.

    The best thing about this comic is the lighting on the storyteller. Like the Poe/Daft Punk strip, Randall deserves kudos for going above and beyond the standard stick figure laziness.

  19. @Leonard - a joke would be easy to criticise though, since when you trace an ip you're never going to get that result. Cause, y'know, it's your own computer.

    I liked 742. It was short, sweet, and I found it quite funny. Had he used 10/24 or 172.16/16, it'd be a bit more obscure and you'd need to be more in that field, but 192.168/16 is common enough now, with home networks, that a lot of geeks will get it. There wasn't any needless extra crap, the alt-text was ok, all in all it was a fairly decent comic in what's been a fairly decent string over the last couple weeks. And not a graph in sight! :D

  20. I have a question: how many of you did get the joke the first time you read it?

  21. I'm pretty sure JC has the right take on 741, which just makes it a crappy attempt at humour.

    As for 742, anyone with any experience of computer networking in, say, the last thirty years will have heard plenty of variants on this one by now. Aside from "my hobby" strips, the regular attempts to make humour using some tired Unix pun that could have been lifted from Slashdot ten years ago are my least favourite regular occurrences.

    - Chris

  22. I'd like to preface this comment with a couple simple statements. I usually like xkcd. Sometimes it does in fact suck, and this blog is very good at catching those. Sometimes this blog takes an excessive tack, but not always.

    To the people mentioning "cognitive dissonance among fans" or the "straw man joke" hypothesis: What? Seriously? The 'humor' (and yes, I do think it's pretty weak) here is that the lecturer has "proved" his point by establishing a rapport with a member of his audience. The dialogue doesn't seem that unnatural to me, and if the presenter likes to do things very informally with a moderated amount of audience participation, I could see it happening IRL. Not terribly likely, but certainly not impossible.

    I took every statement at face-value as honest and earnest, and it made sense to me. Call me a cuttlefish if you like, but a *great deal* of the criticism on this particular comic sounds more like rabid cynicism than it does flaw-analyzing.

    Also, question: if one does substitute "webcomic" where "blog" is in the comic...doesn't that obviate the very purpose of THIS blog? Namely, if we take this to be the case, we're saying that Munroe has established a relationship with his readers, which is more important than producing mint-quality strips three days a week ("make your updates good so that people will want to read them"). If so, then isn't it illogical to accept this position (relationship-formation is the definition of 'success') while simultaneously criticizing him for *having* a successful relationship *without* content that seems to 'justify' it?

    TL;DR: I agree with Chris C and JC, and think that 741 was just a crappy attempt at humor, not some kind of crazy deep sarcastic-ironist attempt at self-/audience-criticism.

  23. I had the same thought as Leonard regarding 127 dot whatever, but anon 1:59 raises a good point: the self-reference IP would be more of a psychological "the madman is me" situation, which isn't funny but could be kind of scary if it was done correctly -- which is to say, not in xkcd.

    As it stands, I think it's an acceptable representation of Randall and the 80% of his readers who really really like him. Now, if there was one guy just rollin' his eyes (except nobody in xkcd has eyes so he'd have to be saying "sheesh" or something) then that would be the rest of us.

  24. 742 makes me rage. Many companies use the 192.168/16 address space and the other private address spaces on their corporate networks, fully routeable, often chopped up & spread across the world. I.E. 192.168.1/24 might be an office in Australia, 192.168.14/24 might be in New York, 192.168.233/24 might be in Siberia, etc. Maybe we're specifically discussing someone in a residential environment, but do we suddenly live in a world without VPN? If you're VPN'd to your company to work from home, you're liable to end up talking to 192.168 addresses on the other side of the planet.

    Randall strikes me as someone who has just learned of the existence of NAT after getting flamed for posting his private home LAN IP on some web forum. If he'd actually ever had a real job in IT, he'd realize how stupid he is.

  25. Good morning, peoples! I'm ina a pretty good humor, because, heck, this is a good comic! Yay!

    742 is really a good one. Of course you must know something about IP addresses and home network configuration to get the joke, but I think that's not bad, considering this is xkcd, the comic famous for being nerdy, right?

    And, see, the writing was nicely done. No PPD, no unnatural dialogue... it's just there. Very nice!

    And the art is pretty effective, too. Inifnitely better than THAT other campfire story based comic released a while ago, no? Sure it is, and the way he's done the lighting here is awesome.

    Now this makes me happy, but is potentially sad. Randall has raised his standard once again, and no doubt he will fail to maintain it later. But heck, I'm optimistic. Let's hope for more good strips in the future, eh?

    Mole out. Have a nice day!

  26. Seriously anon @ 6:05? Yes people work at companies with worldwide address spaces and some of those people VPN into them... but 99% of people with a home network have exactly that - a HOME network. The joke makes sense and isn't a terribly terribly wrong reference.

  27. I fail to see how the latest comic is anywhere near decent.

    Yes, in fact you do have to know more than a little about IP addresses in order to get the joke, and once you get it, it's merely a very old trope revisited... WITH COMPUTERS!!! *fap*! *fap*! *fap*! *cum*! RANDALL GOOMH!

    It's a braindead, moronic non-joke, the kind of thing you'd hear as a humourous remark in a lecture from that nerdy, pathetic teacher who's TERRIBLY unfunny but tries really, really hard to please his students but fails miserably, and whose students only laugh at him out of *pity*, but even then not too much pity because he's not a very good teacher at all.

  28. i got the joke. *yawn*

  29. "Yes, in fact you do have to know more than a little about IP addresses in order to get the joke"

    No you don't. I know next to nothing about IP addresses. I got the joke. It's actually very, very obvious just by the context.

    You can say you don't like the comic, but let's not pretend it's all that hard to figure out what the joke is.

  30. Carl, did you seriously make a reference to an old xkcd comic in your title?


  31. Yeah today's strip could, maybe, possibly, almost be a little good. Perhaps. It just needs some buildup.

    Maybe I'd lose my nerd cred to say I did not initially understand the joke, (though I'm pretty sure I would only care about something like "nerd cred" if I was a Randall fan) but even when I did, I shrugged. It's just like yesterday's - it's almost a panel taken out of a larger strip. No buildup. No backstory. I've always thought of jokes like they explained a magic trick in the Prestige - it has an exposition, a description of the setting (the pledge), an interesting wrinkle to that situation that is not immediately explainable (the turn), and then the resolution, where the cause of the foil is revealed (the prestige). xkcd just seems lately like a bunch of turns with no pledge or prestige, and that's it. Even when randall is doing prestige-turn-pledge, at least he has the three parts.

  32. Review copy? As in, "provided by publisher for the sole purpose of reviewing"?

    have sex with me carl

  33. "No you don't. I know next to nothing about IP addresses. I got the joke. It's actually very, very obvious just by the context."

    In that case, you were actually bright enough to deduce the crux of the joke, but that doesn't mean everybody will do the same.

    In fact, I misinterpretted the joke at first, because I always associated the "192.168/16" and similar blocks as "invalid addresses" and their use in NAT is something I only remembered from college classes, so I got it as "huh, so the killer's IP is invalid and that's because he's a ghost, or something?". Either way, the effect of the joke is pretty much unchanged: it's "hurr hurr, things become instantly awesome when you put COMPUTERS in them!".

  34. For this one I think the joke is supposed to be that by including "content generation" in his lecture, the guy is building a good relationship with his audience and thereby proving his point about the key to successful blogging/speaking?
    I don't know, it seemed obvious when I read it and only now am I realizing how little sense that makes.

  35. I love how every once in a while, a comic like 742 comes along, not being great, but really not being that terrible either. It's a good tell which users here are acctually sincere in their criticism, and which are just being idiots :)

  36. Here's the thing: The fact that it's only every once in a while that a comic comes along that is "not really that terrible" is, itself, an indictment of xkcd.

  37. "It's a good tell which users here are acctually sincere in their criticism, and which are just being idiots"


    "Whomever agrees with me is cool, whomever disagrees is an idiot".

  38. no its actually pretty terrible.

    its LOL NORMAL STORY WITH COMPUTER REFERENCE THROWN IN and the fans snort it up like cocaine.

    just because you thought it was ok doesn't mean it is.

    but it is terrible because I think it is. I'm an authority.

  39. Yeah uh Fernie, before everyone gets into a huge shitstorm about this I'm just gonna say that at least in America "the call was coming from inside the house" is such a huge cliche that it was pretty obvious even if you know squat about computers, so I'm guessing you didn't get it because of a cultural barrier.

  40. 742 reminded me a lot of the one where the kid's scary story is that he was born after 9/11 (xkcd's search function sucks and I don't feel like digging through the archives to figure out which one it is). I seriously doubt that any children would be scared by this story, unless they are gasping sarcastically. Actually, I think it works better that way, and that they are actually saying "gasp", it is not a sound effect. "Gasp! Uncle Randy, you sure are good at telling scary stories! I's sooooo scared right now." [rolleyes]

  41. 742 made me happy. Not because it was a great joke, or because I got it immediately and massaged my nerd ego... but because it reminded me of when xkcd was good, when the art looked like it took some effort despite the stick figure style, when jokes most people wouldn't get were included without obvious explanation, when there was one interpretation and it was somewhat humorous. It's a step in the right direction, from the point of view of someone who *used to* really enjoy the comic, and I'm satisfied with any movement towards perfection, even if we never get there.

  42. Okay, you don't have to do this, but I was really high when I watched The Prestige and I'm really drunk now. So could someone please reiterate the different steps of the archetypal magic trick for me? The info is probably available somewhere else and if so ignore. But if you feel like helping a brotha out please do so.

  43. @4.25: you're rather cynical. Character 1 thinks that it's a scary story to tell, so why shouldn't Character 2 and Character 3? Randall doesn't genuinely think it's scary, he presents the entire situation as a joke - here is a common campfire story but, as someone put it above here, with computers.

    (I did glean the joke from context, but then I read TV Tropes a lot, so.)

  44. I have heard this joke before. It is not that funny.

  45. I was so sure I've seen this art before and looked xkcd through.

    I did not find this, but found that:

  46. xkcd doesn't recycle images, but it's no secret that randall as a set of scenes he likes to use over and over again (e.g. person sitting in front of computer, person speaking to an audience, two people standing and talking). Most of his jokes are just people talking, it's not very dynamic.

  47. Ugh, that 'Lincoln-Douglas' one (#639) makes me wanna throw up. I hate when Randall ventures outside of his comfort zone (i.e., into music/history/I dunno whatever/etcetera)

  48. Full ack @ David Thomsen