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Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 3, 2000
(Issue 1844, The Digital Life)

It was Harry Polkinhorn, director of the SDSU Press, whom I first heard describe the Internet as being more revolutionary than Gutenberg's Press during a class on critical writing and literary theory I took from him in grad school about 12 years ago. He made us engage in online discussions on a Vax computer (forcing us to learn VaxNotes in order to navigate the system ... I've yet to forgive him for that).

Harry pointed out that the Internet (the Web didn't yet exist) changed the very nature of human communication in several ways. First, it was already creating its own shorthand and jargon; people writing e-mail to each other rarely are as formal as in traditional letters, and online writing tends to be shorter simply because the physical act of reading from a computer terminal is not as easy on the eyes as reading from paper.

More importantly, the Internet (and now the Web) radically reduce the cost of publishing. Starting up a traditional magazine costs tens of thousands of dollars at minimum just for printing and mailing or distribution costs. Publishing online is considerably less expensive.

Finally, with the advent of multimedia in the years since Polkinhorn first planted this idea in my head, the form of communication itself is changing. The computer allows information to be shared in more forms than is true in the printed form – or even in broadcast media.

It is a new media, and one that is still developing.

Project Gutenberg

This is an interesting starting point for exploring how the Web is changing the face of communications. Nothing high-tech or multimedia here, but it is a neat application of the Web's low-cost distribution network.

Project Gutenburg makes available for free most of the classic non-copyrighted books – authors such as William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Donan Doyle, Lewis Carroll, Dante, Aristotle, Willa Cather, Mark Twain, and hundreds more.

Reading Plato as a plain-text document on your computer may not be the most pleasurable experience on earth – certainly not like reading a nice, leatherbound edition in your armchair by the fire – but for doing research or finding a quote, it's pretty darn handy.


Blather is representative of the new breed of online media. Much like the old underground press of the '60s and '80s (was there an underground press in the '70s?), the politics tend to be a bit high-strung, the language crude, the graphics decidedly low-tech.

Still, Blather is living proof of Polkinhorn's assertion that the 'Net would open up publishing to ever more voices.

Dog-O-matic Kiosk

Dog-O-matic is your traditional self-published literary mag, only online instead of a cheaply Xeroxed pamphlet stacked near the entrance of the local coffee shop. There is poetry and essays, photography and painting.

Dirty Linen

This is a neat little folk music magazine out of Baltimore. In years gone by, Dirty Linen would have been available – and even known – only to those who hung out in nightclubs or music stores in Baltimore. Invent the Web, and, voila, instant global distribution.


This online 'zine is a nice example of what the future likely holds. It might be a bit slow for those with 56k modems, but once loaded it is slick and animated and what a magazine ought to be online.

Digital Film Festival

This is another top-notch site of the future. This site is built around the new medium of digital cinema, and features short clips from various online films.