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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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.
© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.