SunOS UNIX (task. umd. u mich. edu) PINE 3.91 FOLDER INDEX Folder: INBOX Message 8 of 149 + 1 Nov 1 To: David Latina + 2 Nov 9 To: guardian@tiama (3,729) any belinda carlisle fans + 3 Nov 15 To: guardian@tiama (9,808) Examining "Superhero" methods + 4 Nov 28 Elizabeth Ann Pot a (2,249) stipends + 5 Dec 1 To: guardian@grazz (33,440) Pete Coogan's Paper on Superheroes / Fa + 6 Dec 1 To: guardian@grazz (15,885) Pete Coogan's Paper on Fascism and su + 7 Dec 10 (1,094) Caroline K. Chubb - Automatic Reply + 8 Dec 14 To: guardian@grazz (22,644) NONFICTION: Superguy Research Paper + 9 Jan 16 To: guardian@grazz (2,953) All I need to know, I learned from RO + 10 Jan 19 To: guardian@grazz (7,638) Rules of Anime Physics + 11 Feb 17 Samuel Ly singer (3,724) more material + 12 Mar 15 Choksi Anuj (10,805) JAKE BAKER: Going for a Walk + 13 Mar 15 Choksi Anuj (13,734) JAKE BAKER: Gone Fishin' 14 Mar 28 Pawns Of The Admin (1,297) Ad Hoc Status + 15 Jul 7 John Adams (10,705) OUTPOST: Newbie help (fwd) UW PICO (tm) 2.5 File: file Modified Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let's get to it. ^L Technology Assessment: The Superguy Listserver By Chris Meadows MED 355: Cable TV and New Technology UW PICO (tm) 2.5 File: file Modified others. It has its problems as well as its advantages, its strengths as well as its weaknesses. The ways in which it uses technology for composition and distribution for the most part contribute to its success, though the areas of storage and information have room for improvement. However, this improvement may not be feasible. It remains to be seen exactly how long Superguy will continue to exist, but prospects would seem to be good for Superguy to continu for a long, long time to come.

Technology Assessment: The Superguy Listserver MED 355: Cable TV and New Technology November 7, 1994 In 1969, when the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created the small computer network that would eventually grow into the Internet, no one could have guessed what it would become. From its humble beginning as a tiny military research network known as ARPAnet, the Internet has increased in volume exponentially and is now growing at an estimated rate of 15% every month (Eng st & Dickson, Explorer Kit 23). Along with its size, the applications to which Internet lends itself have also grown. Formerly intended for sharing somewhat limited computer resources among researchers across the United States, the Internet is now a global communication network that supports thousands of Usenet discussion groups, Internet Relay Chat talk service, data retrieval systems such as World Wide Web ( ), Wide Area Information Search (WAIS), and Gopher, FTP file transfer protocol, Telnet remote access to computers, electronic mail that can reach hundreds of thousands of people, and many other functions.

Internet has grown from a small military network into a much larger commercial one. Many organizations and groups both large and small make extensive use of the Internet and associated services, for communication and other purposes. One of these organizations, and the focus of this technology assessment, is the Superguy Internet listserver. Superguy is a distribution network that was formed in 1987 to send out humorous collaborative superhero fiction to subscribers.

A similar distribution system for humorous science-fiction stories (known as SF Story) already existed, and Chris "Creeper" Wilcox felt it might be fun to create one based on superheroes (Burns, Superguy FAQ). The concept behind collaborative fiction such as Superguy is that each writer creates a set of characters and chronicles the adventures of those characters in a series of stories. These stories are all set in the same world, so that characters in a story being written by one author may notice and react to events that another author is describing. Sometimes two or more authors may work together on a story or on a series of stories, in what is termed a "crossover". Shortly after its beginning, Superguy began to attract authors and readers. With each new author, the Superguy universe grew and expanded.

Against all expectations, the Superguy listserv has lasted for over seven years and is still going strong. Says author Bill Dickson, "Considering the influx of new writers-we " re getting a couple every year-I would say that it could probably keep going for a good long time, but I wouldn't even hazard a guess how long" (personal interview). As an organization, Superguy consists of two subgroups-authors and readers-and a distribution network to bring the two together. The number of authors on the list has remained more or less stable over the last seven years. Many authors have come and gone, writing from one to several story installments and then disappearing. However, a core group of about a dozen authors is responsible for the majority of the writing, and many of these have been with the list from its inception.

There is actually no distinct chain of command among the Superguy authors. None of the writers has any real authority over any of the others, except where that writer's own characters are concerned. However, there are two distinct subgroups of authors, categorized by seniority. One subgroup, jokingly referred to as the "Old Farts", is made up of those writers who have been with the Superguy listserver for several years. Though they have no real authority over the newer authors, the opinions and advice of the Old Farts are valued because of their familiarity with Superguy history and traditions (Burns, Superguy FAQ). The other subgroup is made up of the newer writers-those who have started in the last couple of years.

It is uncertain at what point a newer author becomes an Old Fart. There are few qualifications necessary to become a Superguy author. Anyone who wishes to may submit a story at any time. It is recommended, however, that would-be authors read enough of the Superguy archives to understand how best to write in the setting before they begin (Burns). The Superguy listserver presently has over 120 subscribed readers (Olson, personal correspondence). The list of addresses includes individuals from many nations around the world, including Australia, Canada, China, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Additionally, there are an unknown number of other readers worldwide who read Superguy via its Usenet echo, bit. listserv. superguy. Superguy's primary means of distribution is through its Internet electronic mail listserver, whose address is. A listserver's function is to distribute electronic mail to all the addresses on its subscriber list. Thus, when a writer sends a story to the Superguy listserver, that story is then automatically sent to all those readers and other authors who are subscribers. Anyone who wishes to may subscribe to the Superguy listserver. The primary purpose of the Superguy organization is to distribute stories from the writers to the readers.

This serves the double purpose of providing the writers with a ready audience and providing the readers with free, entertaining stories. In theory, Superguy is similar to printed media in some of these respects. Its episodic format lends itself especially to a comparison to comic books. However, unlike most comic books, Superguy is a free publication. Readers do not have to pay to receive it (except for their normal Internet service providers' fees), nor are the writers paid for writing it.

Furthermore, authors of printed media typically cannot receive the kind of instant reader response that is possible through the Internet. However, Superguy does operate under some constraints. In order to go through the listserver, all Superguy stories must be in ASCII text format, which means they cannot contain special formatting characters (such as underlining or italics) or illustrations. In addition, the stories must be written and sent in episodic format, as complete stories are far too large for email distribution. This episodic format can lead to confusion if a sufficient length of time passes between episodes. In order to function, Superguy requires three things.

First, a method of distribution for its stories. This need is served by the Superguy Internet listserver, which is currently in its third incarnation. Without a way to get the stories from their authors to the readers, Superguy would not be able to fulfil its purpose. Second, Superguy needs to maintain the number of readers ith as, while at the same time continuing attract new ones.

Fortunately, it has had a rather successful track record in this area, having over 120 known subscribers. If not for the readers, then Superguy would have no reason for existing. Third, Superguy must have some means of drawing in new writers, as well as keeping the ones it has. Each new writer brings a unique perspective to the Superguy universe, and without enough authors to write the stories, Superguy could stagnate and die. While the readers are the ones for whom the stories are written, it is the authors who keep Superguy going. The Superguy listserver is an outgrowth of the Internet, and as such is a very technological entity.

The use of this technology begins with the creative process. Because the stories will be distributed over a computer network, it is necessary to use a computer to write the stories themselves. Typically, Superguy stories are composed on a personal computer or mainframe word processor and then uploaded to the Internet. Computers are arguably the most efficient tool for writing.

Using a word processor allows an amount of flexibility in editing that is far beyond the traditional pen and paper or typewriter methods of writing, enabling correcting or altering what is being written with far less effort than doing the same for typed or written material. Using computers in this fashion has typically worked quite well for Superguy. As soon as the story installment has been written, the next step is to send it to the readers on the list. This is done by using electronic mail, or email, to send it to the Superguy listserver. Through the listserver, the story is emailed to subscribers around the world, arriving in their electronic mailboxes usually within minutes. As soon as the mail has been received, subscribers will use their email programs to read the story.

They then have the option of using electronic mail to reply to it, providing the author with comments and suggestions concerning his story. Other than the main Superguy listserver, there are two other, smaller electronic mail listserver, called Superpen and Superchat, that are used for communication among the authors. This communication typically includes the discussion of upcoming storylines, plotting, technical matters, and other administrative business having to do with writing Superguy stories. Unlike Superguy, which is a public listserver, Superpen and Superchat are private, limited to the authors only (though Superchat will be opened to all readers who wish to subscribe as soon as its administrator decides that it is ready). The electronic mail systems Superguy uses have thus far worked quite well and efficiently. Using email, it is possible to send a message rapidly, effectively, to one person or to many people, and be reasonably certain that they will receive it.

This swift form of communication allows for much greater productivity, both in planning stories and in sending them out. Printed media is excruciatingly slow in comparison. Another means of distribution for Superguy, beyond the listserv, is Netnews, also known as Usenet News. Netnews stores items on a remote site rather than in the user's own directory, which allows the reader to take a look at this material without risk of having his electronic mail queue fill up with it.

The Superguy listserv is echoed to a Usenet newsgroup, bit. listserv. superguy. This means that all of the stories which are sent through Superguy also become available on this newsgroup. This increases the listserv's potential audience by allowing people who cannot or do not wish to subscribe to the listserver to read Superguy via netnews. However, the newsgroup bit. listserv. superguy has a relatively small circulation-that is, it is not widely available. Therefore, in the hope of attracting more readers, selected Superguy stories are reposted to the newsgroup rec. arts. comics. creative. This newsgroup, like the Superguy listserv, exists for the purpose of distributing humorous superhero fiction.

Unlike Superguy, however, it has no single setting and no email counterpart. Because there are many more non-Superguy stories posted here than Superguy stories, it is uncertain how effective this is for bringing in new readers. Over the last seven years of writing, Superguy has built up a huge history, inclusive of around 30 megabytes' worth of stories. All this back-story can be quite confusing to new readers. For this reason, Superguy's complete archives have been made available for transfer through the information retrieval protocols known as Gopher and FTP. Gopher, so called because it allows one to "go fer" files, is a program developed by the University of Minnesota to allow searching for and obtaining information through a system of menus.

The information is downloaded to local memory and displayed on the user's screen. Gopher features a search protocol known as Veronica. FTP, which stands for File Transfer Protocol, is another method of obtaining information. However, this information is downloaded directly to the user's disk rather than being displayed on the user's screen, and so can be examined later. FTP's search protocol is called Archie and is not as user-friendly as Veronica. Superguy's archives are stored at a site in Norway, addressed gopher. dhhalden. no for Gopher access, or ferris. dhhalden. no for FTP.

The files are arranged in "digest" form, in chronologically-sorted groups of five to ten story installments each, and index files are located in the same directory. Also in this directory is the History of the Superguy Altiverse, a synopsize d version of Superguy's history to date, and a directory containing Superguy "Trade Ether-Backs" (TEBs), collections of episodes that, together, make up an entire story. These TEBs can be quite useful for readers who wish to understand how Superguy works. Another Superguy reference source is the Superguy HomePage on the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is an information storage medium that allows the display, on some computers, of different fonts of text and graphic images. In some respects it is similar to Gopher, except that it is not limited to displaying menus.

Certain words in the document are highlighted, and selecting them with the cursor will lead to other documents. The Superguy Home Page contains primarily reference material pertaining to stories in the Superguy universe. Included are profiles of some of the major heroes and villains, authors, and series, as well as the Superguy Frequently-Asked Questions List (FAQ for short), which is intended to respond to any questions new readers might have about the Superguy listserv; the History of the Superguy Altiverse file; and links to the archives on Gopher and to the bit. listserv. superguy newsgroup. This material also includes pictures (which some computers are not capable of displaying). The Home Page is good technological innovation for those people who are able to use it, but the necessary tools to gain access to the World Wide Web are not present on all sites, and some users do not even know what the World Wide Web is.

The availability of these archives and reference materials enables new readers to learn the history of Superguy up to the present day, and get a feel for the setting and the characters. It is a valuable resource, except that the means in which the files are stored makes referring to them somewhat difficult. The files are not sorted except chronologically, meaning that all the different stories are mixed in together, in the order in which they were sent out. Even with the indexing which is included on the site, picking out individual episodes can be time-consuming.

Possible ways to fix this problem might include converting the Superguy archives to a format compatible with, for inclusion on the Superguy Home Page. However, this is actually impractical, for such conversion requires a great deal of time and effort, and to convert 30 megabytes of text files is a next-to-impossible task. Even converting a few storylines would be too great of a task to be attempted lightly. Another solution might be to collect more storylines into trade ether-backs. TEBs contain complete stories and eliminate much of the time involved in searching through the index files. By making it easier for new readers to read these stories, it becomes more likely that those readers will be interested enough to become regular Superguy subscribers.

This seems like a more feasible idea, but whether it will actually happen is uncertain; many of the authors do not seem to have the time or inclination to put trade ether-backs together. Another problem with Superguy is that the Frequently-Asked Questions list is distributed only twice per year, and is not currently available from any source save the Home Page. This limited availability tends to defeat the purpose of a Frequently-Asked Questions list, which is to provide answers to questions that frequently come up and thus prevent those questions from being asked of people on the Superguy list. These questions can hardly be answered by an absent FAQ. An obvious solution would be to post the FAQ lists more than twice per year. However, this is not actually feasible, due to the size of the FAQs.

Because of their comprehensive nature, they are rather large and unwieldy. To post them more often would be to put an unnecessary strain on net resources. Another, better possibility would be to create a mini-FAQ containing pertinent details about Superguy and information on where to find the FAQ, and send that out more frequently. If the FAQ were made available via FTP or Gopher, this would also increase the ease with which people could obtain it. This would be a somewhat more practical solution to that problem.

A final Internet resource used by Superguy authors is Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Internet Relay Chat allows Internet users to "talk" directly with other Internet users, one on one or in a discussion with twenty people or more, by typing commands into a keyboard. The ability to communicate within seconds is quite valuable for plotting and coordinating storylines in which two or more authors collaborate. Its only real disadvantage is that messages are sometimes prone to being delayed for several minutes or cut off entirely. In addition, there is no guarantee that any particular individual will be on IRC at a given time.

Despite these shortcomings, Internet Relay Chat works exceedingly well for the purpose to which Superguy authors put it-story plotting, discussion, or idle chatting among friends. IRC helps authors make more efficient use of their time. The Superguy listserver is an organization like many others. It remains to be seen exactly how long Superguy will continue to exist, but prospects would seem to be good for Superguy to continue for a long, long time to come.