Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

Man, I used to have a lot more free time.

Four years ago, at this exact moment, I made my first post to a long-forgotten Web site called GrapeJam. It was the inevitable (and inevitably unsuccessful) follow-up to another long-forgotten Web site called The Spot. Self-labeled a "sit.com" -- in what has to be the worst pun in the history of Man -- GrapeJam was ostensibly about the lives and loves of a reconstituted college comedy troupe, the Grapes.

What it was actually about was landing everybody involved jobs in television.

On the surface, the biggest problem that GrapeJam faced was the fact nobody within six or seven miles of the production was even remotely funny. You can label yourself a comedy troupe all you want -- comedy troupe, comedy troupe, comedy troupe! -- but eventually your audience is going to expect some actual comedy. The bastards.

A little deeper, GrapeJam faced a much more complicated issue, involving the nature of interactive story-telling. Meaning, of course, me.

GrapeJam fancied itself a television show, only temporarily stuck on the Web. The message boards and e-mail addresses always seemed like afterthoughts, sad little stabs at community-building, to give the "viewers" something to do until the next "episode" appeared. That attitude -- and the heads that contained it -- just begged to be messed with.

I didn't post to GrapeJam as myself -- I'm not quite that pathetic -- but as "Bernie Larkin," a former college pal and an abandoned member of the group. Bernie was an embittered, overweight, sad-sack computer programmer -- I didn't say he wasn't based on me -- who galoomphed onto the scene and started doing everything he could to plant a wrench in the works.

The people behind GrapeJam didn't have any idea who the hell I was or where the hell I had come from. They handled the appearance of an unexpected "character" on their "show" with all the aplomb of the Queen Mother faced with an angry biker gang: a curt dismissal followed by a refusal to accept the fact that I existed.

But everybody else bought Bernie completely, and was having a great time. Nobody was sure if I was actually part of the script or not and people began rooting for the Grapes to re-admit me. I got fan mail. There was a week or so there when I suspect Bernie could have just walked off with the whole thing, started his own site and taken a goodly portion of the community with him.

Which is the great thing about the Web, if you ask me, and why "shows" based on an exclusionary metaphor will never, ever work. Television studios have enormous, burly guards out front, to keep people from wandering onto the set and claiming to be part of the cast. Jumping the wall will likely get you shot.

But the Web invites participation, and the line between the front of a server and back is awfully fuzzy. Who's to say that someone is actually involved in a project or not? On the Internet, nobody knows you're a crasher. If anyone with a computer and a little rambunctiousness can start mucking with tightly organized systems -- Amazon, Epinions, doubly so for peer-to-peer networks -- then anything that expects less than total participation is just asking to be screwed with.

Which just sound like a hell of a lot of fun, doesn't it?

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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