User Friendly

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This article is about a popular webcomic titled User Friendly. For the term used generically, see Usability. For other uses, see User Friendly (disambiguation).
User Friendly
"Press any key"
Author(s) J. D. Frazer, a.k.a. "Illiad"
Website www.userfriendly.org
Current status / schedule On hiatus, repeats daily
Launch date November 17, 1997[1]
Genre(s) technology and geek humor

User Friendly is a daily webcomic about the staff of a small fictional Internet service provider, Columbia Internet. The strip's humor tends to be centered on technology jokes and geek humour.

Drawn and authored by J. D. Frazer, a.k.a. "Illiad", it has been running since November 17, 1997. Frazer is one of the few, and first, webcomic creators successful enough to make a living as an artist.[2][3] This is probably because it is one of the first webcomics, and was targeted at a specific, tech-related audience, which was already abundant on the Internet at that time.[4]

It is remarkable for having been updated daily from when it started in 1997[5] until June 2009 (most webcomics are updated only a few times a week), and for having all previous strips online in the archive.

When it is being updated there is a running storyline and sometimes several days' worth of comics are drawn in advance, but the Sunday comic is always drawn for immediate release and breaks from the regular storyline. The Sunday strip is based on current events and is in full color, unlike the regular daily strips.

Periodically, there will be "nag-strips" which are special strips drawn for promotional purposes. These strips appear for 20 to 30 seconds before jumping to the daily strip. The content of these strips is to ask for donations or introduce advertisers, often presented by the characters or a cameo by Illiad.

The strip went on hiatus from June 1, 2009[6] to August 2009 due to personal reasons.[7] In this period, previous strips were re-posted. A second hiatus lasted from December 1, 2009 until August 1, 2010, again due to personal reasons. New cartoons, supplied by the community as part of a competition, started to appear as of August 2, 2010.[8] From November 1, 2010 through November 21, 2010, Illiad published a special "Remembrance Day story arc", and stated that it is "vague and at this point random" what will happen to the strip afterwards, that "going daily again is highly unlikely", but that "there are still many stories that I want to tell through UF, over time".[9] Since then, previous strips are re-posted on a daily basis.

History[edit]

User Friendly started when J. D. Frazer, working as creative director for a Canadian ISP, started doodling a few cartoon jokes about his coworkers and boss. His boss encouraged him to post them online. Then people started emailing him, asking for more cartoons. Before that, he tried another comic, Dust Puppies, and sent it to six major syndicates, but was rejected by all.[3]

The cartoon has been running online since November 17, 1997.[10]

It is regarded as one of the first webcomics to achieve success, both financially and by popularity. It is also one of the few self-sufficient webcomics available, out of the thousands[11][12] available on the Internet. His revenues come from advertising, sponsorships, the printed O'Reilly books and merchandising.[2][3]

In late 1999, User Friendly and Sluggy Freelance swapped a character (A.J. and Torg).

J. D. Frazer made a cameo appearance in the webcomic Penny Arcade, on April 7, 1999.[13]

In 2000, the Waiting For Bob webcomic ran a series of comics where several of the characters visited Columbia Internet to have them design and host a website advertising their product, "Caf".

Since 2000, User Friendly is published in a variety of newspapers, including The National Post, one of Canada's leading national newspapers.[3][14]

Since 2001, several cartoon compilations have been published by O'Reilly Media. See User Friendly#Bibliography.

In late 2007, it was part of the exhibit Infinite Canvas: The Art of Webcomics in the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA).[15]

Main characters[edit]

A.J. Garrett[edit]

A.J., Illiad's alter ego,[16] represents "the creative guy" in the strip, maintaining and designing websites. As a web designer, he's uncomfortably crammed in that tiny crevice between the techies and the marketing people. This means he's not disliked by anyone, but they all look at him funny from time to time. A.J. is shy and sensitive, loves most computer games and nifty art, and has a big brother relationship with the Dust Puppy. A.J. is terrified of grues and attempts to avoid them.[17] He was released from the company on two separate occasions, but returned shortly thereafter.

In the strip, he and Miranda (another character) are now dating. They also have previously dated, but split up over a misunderstanding.

The Chief[edit]

The Chief is Columbia Internet's CEO. He is the leader for the techies and salespeople.

Illiad based the character on a former boss:

The Chief is based on my business mentor. He was the vice president that I reported to back in the day. The Chief, like my mentor, is tall (!) and thin and sports a bushy ring around a bald crown, plus a very thick moustache.

The Chief bears a superficial resemblance to the Pointy-Haired Boss of Dilbert fame. However, Illiad says that The Chief was not inspired by the Dilbert character.[18] His personality is much different to the PHB, as well: he manages in the laissez-faire style, as opposed to the Marketing-based, micro-managing stance of the PHB. He has encouraged the office to standardise on Linux (much to Stef's chagrin).[19]

Dust Puppy[edit]

Born in a server from a combination of dust, lint and quantum events, the Dust Puppy looks similar to a ball of dust and lint, with eyes, feet and an occasional big toothy smile. He was briefly absent from the strip after accidentally being blown with compressed air while sleeping inside a dusty server.

Although the Dust Puppy is very innocent and unworldly, he plays a superb game of Quake. He also created an artificial intelligence named Erwin, with whom he has been known to do occasional song performances (or filks).

Dust Puppy is liked by most of the other characters, with the exceptions of Stef and the Dust Puppy's evil nemesis, the Crud Puppy.

First appearance December 3, 1997.[20]

Crud Puppy[edit]

Crud Puppy (Lord Ignatius Crud)[21] is the evil twin, born from the crud in Stef's keyboard; he is the nemesis of the Dust Puppy and sometimes takes the role of "bad guy" in the series. Examples include being the attorney/legal advisor of both Microsoft and then AOL, or controlling a "The Thing" suit in the Antarctic. He is most often seen in later strips in an Armani suit, usually sitting at the local bar with Cthuluhu. The Crud Puppy first appeared in the strip on February 24, 1998.[22]

Erwin[edit]

Erwin first appeared in the January 25, 1998 strip. Erwin is a highly advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) created overnight during experimentation in artificial intelligence by the Dust Puppy, who was feeling kind of bored. Erwin is written in COBOL[23] because Dust Puppy "lost a bet".[24] Erwin passes the Turing test with flying colours, and has a dry sense of humour. He is an expert on any subject that is covered on the World Wide Web, such as Elvis sightings and alien conspiracies. Erwin is rather self-centered, and he is fond of mischievous pranks.

Originally, Erwin occupied the classic "monitor and keyboard" type computer with an x86 computer architecture, but was later given such residences as an iMac, a Palm III, a Coleco Adam on Mir, a Furby, a nuclear weapon guidance system, an SGI O2, a Hewlett-Packard Calculator (with reverse Polish notation, which meant that Erwin talked like Yoda for weeks afterward), a Lego Mindstorms construction, a Tamagotchi, a Segway, an IBM PC 5150, a Timber Wolf-class BattleMech,[25] and an Internet equipped toilet (with Dust Puppy being the toilet brush), as a punishment for insulting Hastur.

Greg Flemming[edit]

Greg is in charge of Technical Support in the strip. In other words, he's the guy that customers whine to when something goes wrong, which drives him nuts. He blows off steam by playing visceral games and doing bad things to the salespeople. He's not a bad sort, but his grip on his sanity hovers somewhere between weak and non-existent, and he once worked for Microsoft Quality Assurance.

Mike Floyd[edit]

Mike is the System Administrator of the strip, and is responsible for the smooth running of the network at the office. He's bright but prone to fits of anxiety. His worst nightmare is being locked in a room with a sweaty Windows 95 programmer, and no hacking weapons in sight.[26] He loves hot ramen, straight out of a styrofoam cup.

Miranda Cornielle[edit]

Miranda's character is a trained systems technologist, an experienced UNIX sysadmin, and very, very female. Her technical abilities unnerve the other techs, but her obvious physical charms compel them to stare at her, except for Pitr, who is convinced she is evil. Although she has few character flaws, she does express sadistic tendencies, especially towards marketers and lusers. Miranda finds Dust Puppy adorable.

She and A.J. are now dating, although she was previously frustrated by his inability to express himself and his love for her. This comes after years of missed opportunities and misunderstandings, such as when A.J. poured his feelings into an email and Miranda mistook it for the ILOVEYOU email worm and deleted it unread.[27]

Pitr Dubovich[edit]

Pitr is the administrator of the Columbia Internet server, and a self-proclaimed Linux guru. He suddenly began to speak with a fake Slavic accent as part of his program to "Become an Evil Genius." He has almost succeeded in taking over the planet several times. His sworn enemy is Sid, who seems to outdo him at every turn. Pitr's achievements include: making the world's (second) strongest coffee, merging Coca-Cola, Pepsi into Pitr-Cola and making Columbia Internet millions with a nuclear weapon purchased from Russia, and the infamous Vigor text editor. He briefly worked for Google, nearly succeeding in world domination, but was released from there and returned to Columbia Internet.

Sid Dabster[edit]

Sid is the oldest of the geeks and very knowledgeable. His advanced age gives him the upper hand against Pitr, whom he has outdone on several occasions, including in a coffee brewing competition and in a round of Jeopardy! that he hacked in his own favor. Unlike Pitr, he has no ambitions for world domination per se, but he is a friend of Hastur and Cthulhu (based on the H. P. Lovecraft Mythos characters). He was hired in September 2000 and he had formerly worked for Hewlett-Packard, with ten years' experience [28] It is his habit, unlike the other techs, to dress to a somewhat professional degree; when he first came to work, Smiling Man, the head accountant, expressed shock at the fact that Sid was wearing his usual blue business suit.[29] He is also a fan of old technology, having grown up in the age of TECO, PDP-6es, the original VT100, FORTRAN, IBM 3270 and the IBM 5150; one could, except for the decent taste in clothing, categorise him as a Real Programmer. He was once a cannabis smoker,[30] as contrasted with the rest of the technological staff, who prefer caffeine (Greg in the form of cola, Miranda in the form of espresso). This had the unfortunate effect of causing lung cancer and he was treated by an oncologist.[31] He has since recovered from the cancer and was told he has another 20 years or so to live.

Pearl Dabster[edit]

Sid Dabster's beautiful daughter. The character appeared for the first time in the strip of Aug. 30, 2001.[32] Pearl is often seen getting the better of the boys. She is the antagonist of Miranda, and occasionally the object of Pitr's affections, much to the chagrin of Sid. Some people (both in strip and in the real world) wrongly assume that the character was named after the scripting language PERL. While this may be the true intention of the author, in the script timeline, is shown to be an error based on wordplay.[33]

Smiling Man[edit]

The Smiling Man is the company comptroller. He is in charge of accounts, finances and expenditures. He smiles all day, for no reason. This in itself is enough to terrify most normal human beings (even via phone). However, the Dust Puppy, the "Evilphish", a delirious Stef, and a consultant in a purple suit have managed to get him to stop smiling first. His favourite wallpaper is a large, complex, and utterly meaningless spreadsheet.

Stef Murky[edit]

Stef is the strip's Corporate Sales Manager. He runs most of the marketing efforts within the firm, often selling things before they exist. He is a stereotypical marketer, with an enormous ego and a condescending attitude toward the techies; they detest him and frequently retaliate with pranks. He sucks at Quake, even once managing to die at the startup screen in Quake III Arena;[34] in addition, he manages to die by falling into lava in any game that contains it, including games where it is normally impossible to step in said lava.[35] Although he admires Microsoft and frequently defends their marketing tactics, infuriating the techies, he has a real problem with Microsoft salesmen, probably because they make much more money than he does. His attitude towards women is decidedly chauvinist; he lusts after Miranda who will not have anything to do with him. Stef is definitely gormless as demonstrated on January 14, 2005.[36]

Information on other characters and first appearance links to comics can be found at List of User Friendly characters.

The April Fools Prank[edit]

In 1999[37] Frazer perpetrated an April Fools Joke on the community, involving subtle online mentions of a "big company" talking to him about the cartoon and then removing the entire site on April 1, leaving only a message stating that it was discontinued indefinitely.[38] Some felt that the joke went too far, however.[39] In future years, the April 1st cartoon referenced back to the disruption that was caused.[40][41]

A recollection of the events from one of the perpetrators was posted on Reddit in 2000.[42]

Link of the day (LOTD)[edit]

Every day a link suggested by the community is posted to the main page. The sites selected are usually not well known and mainly non-commercial.

LOTD is no longer active.

Iambe Intimate & Interactive[edit]

Iambe Intimate & Interactive[43] was a weekly editorial written under the pseudonym "Iambe", talking on various topics and soliciting feedback and involvement from the User Friendly community. The topics ranged from personal to geeky, and commonly using tongue in cheek references to things like "the PPP, Porridge Procurement Person".[44]

Iambe, Intimate & Interactive is no longer active.

Bibliography[edit]

Several cartoon compilations have been published:

Recurring themes[edit]

  • Tech-support jokes
  • The computer game NetHack and its Amulet of Yendor
  • The computer game Quake, often focusing on Stef's complete inability to play it
  • On-and-off romance between A.J. and Miranda
  • Illiad, the web comic writer, sometimes puts in a cameo appearance, often in the "nag-strips." He is usually represented as a guy with a paper bag over his head and two-eye holes poked through the bag.
  • Rivalry between Sid and Pitr for being the smartest genius.
  • Pitr's quest to be an evil genius and take over the world.
  • Erwin's transfer between various corporeal machine embodiments for his artificial intelligence.
  • The RIAA, MPAA, Microsoft, SCO Group, and other targets of geek ire.
  • The disconnect between Stef's marketspeak and the geek lingo of the rest of the cast
  • Llamas
  • Butter

Plagiarism[edit]

In February 2009, Mike Masnick wrote on technology news site Techdirt that users of the website MetaFilter had discovered that Frazer had been copying their comments and using them as punchlines in his UserFriendly comics.[45] Later Frazer accepted full responsibility on his site, writing "over the last couple of years I've infringed on the expression of ideas of some (who I think are) clever people. Plagiarized. My hypocrisy seems to know no bounds."[46] He apologized to his readers and the original authors of the jokes, and said "I'll be modifying the cartoons in question. No, it won't happen again."

O'Reilly Media and Manning Publications have published material by Frazer. The book published by Manning contains a cartoon[47] that Frazer has since removed from the website. The online comics have been updated to quote and credit the source of the punchlines. A thorough search of the archives was also conducted by User Friendly fans to ensure that none of the other punchlines have been plagiarized[citation needed].

References[edit]

  1. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (1997-11-17), "Cartoon with Strip Comments", UserFriendly .
  2. ^ a b Xerexes, Xaviar (January 2007). "Biggie Panda: Old Skool Webcomics". COMIXtalk. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  3. ^ a b c d Coleman, Chris (2/09/2001). "An Interview With Illiad". ONLamp. Retrieved 2008-07-05.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ Zabel, Joseph ‘Joe’; et al. (September 30, 2005). "The Artistic History of Webcomics: A Webcomics Examiner Roundtable". The Webcomics Examiner. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  5. ^ State of the (Web)Cartoonist: J.D. "Illiad" (essay about User Friendly), Web snark, May 2008 .
  6. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2009-06-01), User Friendly .
  7. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’, "June & July", User Friendly (re-runs) .
  8. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2010-08-02), User Friendly .
  9. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’, "Remembrance Day Story Arc & Other Matters", User Friendly .
  10. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (1997-11-17), "Strip Comments", UserFriendly .
  11. ^ The History of Web Comics, Comic book bin .
  12. ^ 20 of the Best Web Comics, Mashable, 2009-03-03 .
  13. ^ "Illiad: Not Funny", Penny Arcade! .
  14. ^ User Friendly (catalog), O'Reilly, ISBN 9781565926738 .
  15. ^ "Webcomics show at MoCCA", The Beat (Blog Archive), Publisher’s weekly, 2007-09-05 .
  16. ^ Frazer, J. D. (March 2002). User Friendly v1.0. Plan Nine Publishing. p. 67. ISBN 1-929462-39-5. 
  17. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2002-10-17), "Strip Comments", UserFriendly .
  18. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2006-07-18), "Strip Comments",   Missing or empty |title= (help).
  19. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (1998-10-08), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  20. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (1997-12-03), "Dust Puppy's first appearance", User Friendly (cartoon) 
  21. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (Sep 15, 2005), "Nag strip", User Friendly .
  22. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (1998-04-05), "Anatomy of a Crud Puppy", User Friendly (cartoon) .
  23. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2000-10-18), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  24. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2000-10-19), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  25. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2001-10-04), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  26. ^ Character Gallery – Mike
  27. ^ Cartoon for May 11, 2000
  28. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2000-09-26), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  29. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2000-09-27), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  30. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2001-05-07), User friendly (cartoon) .
  31. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2009-10-14), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  32. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2001-08-30), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  33. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2001-08-31), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  34. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (March 17, 2000), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  35. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (October 14, 2006), User Friendly (cartoon) .
  36. ^ Frazer, JD ‘Illiad’ (2005-01-14), "Strip Comments", User Friendly (UserFriendly) .
  37. ^ Comic for April 1, 1998, http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=19980401
  38. ^ Linux Today Article, http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/1999040100310NW
  39. ^ Linux Today Article, http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/1999040100410NW
  40. ^ April 1, 2000 Cartoon, http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20000401
  41. ^ April 1, 2004 Cartoon, http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20040401
  42. ^ Reddit.com AskReddit comment post, http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/bk829/what_is_your_best_april_fools_prankthat_went/c0n7mf4
  43. ^ Iambe Intimate & Interactive site page, http://www.userfriendly.org/community/iambe/
  44. ^ February 20, 2006 entry, http://www.userfriendly.org/community/iambe/daily.html
  45. ^ Social Pressure Can Solve The 'Copying' Problem Even Without Copyright, Techdirt, 2009-02-23 .
  46. ^ Frazer, JD 'Illiad', "Beyond the pale & an apology", User Friendly .
  47. ^ Frazer, JD 'Illiad' (July 17, 2007), "Comic", User Friendly .

External links[edit]