Reading xkcd #1190: Time
Randall Munroe on xkcd’s blag:
On Friday, xkcd #1190—Time—came to an end.
But what’s “Time”? What’s xkcd? Why an ebook?
xkcd is a “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”. Sounds funny? Well, it is; at least for some of us.
Usually, comics on xkcd are quite simple, one panel or one simple page. OK, that’s not completely true: from the early Science (It works, bitches.) to sudo make me a sandwich, from compiling and regexp to Little Bobby Tables, they are a bit strange.
But then they got stranger. Dream Girl (available in 3D!) was about a dream, with a date (in the future) and a location. That day people went to that place. Hundreds of people, full of xkcd’s memorabilia. And after a silly joke on a Chess Photo, people started playing chess on roller coasters. For real. And after a song about Discovery Channel, people sang it. Even famous people.
BTW, if you are worried about not understanding everything, don’t worry, nobody can, and there’s always explain xkcd.
What about #1190: Time? It started on 25 March 2013, with a simple, yet mysterious, image. But after 30 minutes, the image changed. Just a bit. And after another 30 minutes, it changed again. After a few days, it started to change every hour. Until 29 July, 3099 images later.
During those months, people continued to check that page. They started to talk about it. First in a forum thread, now 1328 pages long; then in a dedicated wiki, filled with 1263 pages… Theories, “vocabulary, songs, inside jokes, and even a religion or two”.
They collected the images and some made archives and browsing or reading interfaces.
Most of these interfaces are dynamic, sort of movies, where the pages become frames. For example, xkcd Time – at your own pace: most of the frames change every tenth of a second, except the “special frames” (the ones containing dialogue) that are paused for two seconds. You can configure these parameters, you can vote the special pages and you can move among the pages manually.
While I love and respect the work behind these tools, I don’t like them. “Time” is not a movie. It’s not a simple book, either. It’s something new, we don’t have a word or a definition for it. Yet. But it’s a comic book more than a video. I know because I’ve made an ebook out of it, and I’ve read it; I pressed “next page” 3099 times, and I know that the pace, the rhythm, is not constant: it’s personal, and it’s not programmable, not even by a crowd. It’s the rhythm of someone reading it.
Call them pages, panels, frames. It does not matter. What matters is that you should control its speed. What matters is that Time is a work, now completed, that stands on its own. You can (and should) read it. What matters is that it’s not possible to read it on a physical book, and right now the best way is on a simple device, an ebook reader, a tablet, any iPad; fullscreen, somewhere comfortable.
So, I made one. And you can read it.
Not much, a dangerous wget followed by a zip command… Thanks to Randall Munroe, the OTA, and all the people following and contributing to xkcd!