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As the Web Turns: Serial sites on the Internet

September 26, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT

From CNN Interactive Writer Liza Hogan

(CNN) -- If Charles Dickens were alive today, it's a safe bet he'd be a fan of the Web. Where else could he publish his novels in installments for a worldwide audience?

It was only a matter of time before would-be romance novelists and mystery writers embraced the Internet as a vehicle for story telling. Unfortunately, not all of these writers are Dickenses waiting to be discovered, though some are quite good. Here is a sampling of what the Web has to offer in the way of serial sites.

front page - The Last Best Thing

The Last Best Thing

A few on-line newspapers are using the Web to revive the old tradition of serial novels. The San Jose Mercury News leads the way with " The Last Best Thing," the tale of cyber-mogul J.P. McCorwin and his virtual empire. Written by Pat Dillon and illustrated by Reid Brown, the story follows McCorwin and his wily employees at his start-up Silicon Valley company.

Unlike many serial sites, this one is very well written with clever allusions to real-life happenings in the cyber community and hilarious portrayals of its characters. In the first chapter for example, marketing director Brad Roth, a former Microsoft employee claims to be one who thought of using the Rolling Stones' song "Start Me Up" to launch Windows 95.

The Mercury News adds a twist by allowing users to join the company as a virtual employee, using company e-mail to exchange office gossip and vent about co-workers.

front page - Virtual Dorm

Virtual Dorm

If it's reality you're after, try Virtual Dorm. It stands out as one of the few episodic Web sites with a story line based on real people. Sort of like MTV's Real World, Virtual Dorm follows the day-to-day lives of seven Gen-Xers.

The participants, ages 16 to 34, are paid by the site's sponsor, T@p Online, to open their dorm rooms and homes to the world via digital cameras. They also file occasional journals and answer e-mail from V-Dorm voyeurs.

For even closer communication with the participants, users are invited to use CU-SeeMe software and a digital camera to establish a two-way link with the participants. And if you're really into the project, you can apply to be a V-Dormer yourself.

Sometimes the Virtual Dorm can foray into the mundane, like Derrick's thoughts on getting a new credit card. The fact that the characters are real people adds an element of intrigue to the project but also disproves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

front page - The Spot

The Spot

No list of episodic Web sites would be complete without a mention of The Spot. This is as close as it gets to a TV soap opera on the Web. Started in June 1995, the Spot chronicles the lives of nine beautiful people and the "Cyberian" husky who share a Victorian beach house somewhere in Southern California.

Each of the nine characters file weekly "diaries" telling of their latest liaisons and conflicts with their house mates and other regular characters. Users can send e-mail to the characters advising them on their love lives and warning them of possible problems since, in theory, the characters cannot read each other's diary entries.

The site has a lot of extras including QuickTime movies, Real Audio sound files, photo albums and trading cards featuring vital and not-so-vital statistics about each character. If you're just tuning in, you can catch up on the intrigue by reading monthly synopses of the plot. Spot fans can also post their biographies on the site and talk about plot developments on the Spot's BBS.

The House@

This cyber-soap is part of a multimedia experimental art project in conjunction with the annual Artrage festival in Perth, Australia. The weekly comic strip follows the adventures of Darren Ratuss as he travels through cyberspace.

While the story line can be hard to follow and slow to download at times, the presentation is novel. The strip, which is now up to episode 14, can be viewed as a series of captioned images or in Shockwave format for faster pace.

front page - Tangled Web

Tangled Web

Those who want their cyber soap delivered daily straight to their desktop can subscribe to Tip World's Tangled Web. This is stereotypical soap opera writing at its best, or worst depending on your perspective. Here's a sample of the prose:

"Tabitha," Benjamin choked out. "There's something I have to tell you before we go any further." He squeezed Tabitha's hands, his eyes staring intently into hers.

"No, wait," Tabitha interrupted. She looked away from Benjamin at the powerful white stallion making its way around the track. The sun went behind the clouds and the breeze seemed colder than before. "Ben," she said softly, "I want out."

Unlike other Web serials, there is no way to rewind the plot here. You just have to start reading and catch on.

Site requirements


More Serial Sites:

  • Club Mode
  • Cracks in the Web, a weekly espionage thriller
  • The East Village
  • S.F. Blend
  • The Pulse, an on-line drama from Ralph Lauren Fragrances
  • 101 Hollywood Boulevard
  • 475 Madison Avenue
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