The Spot

For those who aren't familar with The Spot, it was an online soap opera that ran for about two years on the web. It won Cool Site of the Year in 1995. It wsa closed down about a month ago because it couldn't attract enough advertising to justify its costs, but the old stories are still there. If you haven't seen it before, you should definitely check it out. In the meantime, I want to say a few words in memory of The Spot, and explain why I think The Spot was the single most original piece of fiction on the net, possibly the most original thing in any medium in a long while. Let's look at what made The Spot different from TV, novels, and other old media:

  1. The story was told in the first person. When's the last time you saw a TV show told in the first person? Even in cheesy detective stories that start out "It was adark and stormy night when she walked into my office..." almost everything takes place in the third person. The nature of the medium demands. The web does not.

  2. It was told in multiple first persons, written by different authors. That's rare, even in print. The relatively rare multi-author novels I'm aware of are told in series, not parallel. It was fascinating to see different takes on the same incident.

  3. It was real-time, or at least closer to it than any TV show I've ever seen. And not only was it told in real time. It was composed in real time. This lent it an authenticity, I've not seen in normal novels that are planned out and revised over the course of years, whether they take place over centuries or over a day.

  4. The Spot was hypertext. The reader could move back and forth through it, pick different paths, and it still made sense! I could read Michelle's Diary, or Jeff's. I could follow one person for a month, or everyone who wrote on a given day. I could move forward or backward or randomly through time, and the story still held together. This was true hypertext fiction, not just "words in a row" (William Gibson's term). None of that's possible on TV, and it's only vaguely possible in print.

The Spot made not have been great literature, and if you want to say you personally didn't enjoy it, that's fine. Certainly The Spot was not interesting enough to a broad enough audience to survive. But I don't see how anyone can argue that it was not original. Two years later it is still one of the most original things ever done on the Web. The Spot didn't always use the fanciest plug-ins or the latest Netscape tags, but it was a truly stunning use of the medium. I'm surprised more people haven't tried to imitate or learn from The Spot instead of churning out more tired imitations of TV and magazines, and perhaps tried to find and fix the holes in their business model; but as an industry we seem to be too easily distracted by flashy graphics and not pay enough attention to the content.

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Copyright 1997 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified July 9, 1997