Funny Bones 

Think you're funny, eh?

Humor on the Internet takes many forms, not all of them humorous. From the typical, lowbrow “live camera in the bathroom” to the ever-present discourses on Microsoft—“Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church,” reads one fake press release—comedy is enjoying something of a renaissance on the ’Net these days.

In the past few months, great strides have been made in making the Internet’s World Wide Web a truly multimedia experience. Companies, competing against one another to control a potentially lucrative corner of the ’Net market, have stumbled upon a product with an awesome capability: live audio transmission. It’s called RealAudio.

RealAudio is basically an AM radio for the Internet. It reproduces, in tinny, static-distorted tones, any recording you pump into it. The result is a stream of ones and zeroes that, when quickly transmitted through a low-speed modem, can be enjoyed just like a radio broadcast. It’s low-quality but high-speed—and the Internet’s masses have already trekked to the RealAudio home page at http://www.realaudio.com/ millions of times to snag the software.

What does it have to do with comedy? Well, the development of this new technology is about to make Web comedy explode. And that’s where a local group of comics comes in, taking technology to the next level. Created by Nashville’s Wendell Blankenship, The Bones has hit the Web in full AM quality. It’s the first online comic strip in the world with an audio track.

The Bones are a ramshackle group of bony skeletons with sitcom-like lives. The strip itself is based around a series of skits that sound very much like old AM radio serials. These short performances were actually taped in front of a live studio audience—just like a sitcom—at Zanies comedy club in Nashville.

The procedure required to view the strips is very simple—and familiar to those of us who ran the filmstrip projectors in elementary school. One click starts the audio, and after a very familiar beep, another click starts a sequence of pictures by Nashville artist Robert White. The pictures pop up one after another, automatically, until the skit is done.

Blankenship hopes this never-tried-before combination of audio and pictures leads people to his strip out of curiosity—and he hopes the humor keeps them there. “We think it’ll be something that will draw [a crowd],” he says.

“It’s a new approach,” says Tim Moses of Telalink, the company that designed the site. “We hope it works out.”

Having seen the pictures and heard the words, I think the Bones has a good shot at being successful. And, unlike the toilet-cams and Microsoft tirades of old, this site actually funny. Check it out at http://www.thebones.com.

Bytes

♦ Prices keep dropping across the board in the local Internet arena, as two Nashville services have rolled out new rate cards. One company, Telalink, has dropped the price of its high-speed ISDN connections down to $25 per month—the same price as its lower-speed modem lines. Telalink says the reason for the drop is the widespread availability of ISDN service in Nashville and the recent drop in the price of ISDN computer interfaces. Those interfaces, which cost a hefty $400 mere months ago, can now be purchased for around $250.

Another company, the Edge, has increased the time limit on its “Gold” Internet access to 100 minutes per day. The account will still cost the same.

♦ Local law firm Boult, Cummings, Conners & Berry has pounced onto the World Wide Web. Billing itself as “one of the most technologically advanced law firms in the nation,” Boult, Cummings has set up shop with its own Web page, at http://www.bccb.com/. A list of practice capabilities and services is available, as well as the ability to send e-mail to any attorney in the office. BCCB also publishes periodic newsletters, and the text of these can be found here as well.

The firm promises eventually to upgrade its Web services to offer legal resources, news, and information for businesses. Already, the site is worth a visit—if only to see how well everything works.

♦ It made national headlines this past week, but you may not have known that two Vanderbilt professors were behind the recently released Internet demographics study. The study is perhaps the most accurate look at modern Internet use ever conducted.

Donna Hoffman and Tom Novak, who both teach at the Owen Graduate School of Management, were members of the study’s development team. The survey found that almost 11 percent of the U.S. and Canadian population ages 16 and over—nearly 18 million people—have used the Internet in the past three months. That number is several times larger than previous estimates.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic to come out of the survey: Users of the World Wide Web are surprisingly affluent. Twenty-five percent of all Web users have an average income of more than $80,000 per year. Already, businesses that sell items on the Internet are finding these customers can be a lucrative market. The study claims 11 percent of the Web’s users have purchased items via the ’Net.

Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at joel@moses.com.

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