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 Avatars and the Telecommunications Revolution

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
May 09, 2002
In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, author Neal Stephenson predicted a future in which our ideas about interpersonal communications would be redefined by the use of computers. Stephenson envisaged that face-to-face communication would become obsolete as people chose to interact through the use of digital representations of themselves known as "avatars". As our online emissaries, avatars would be able to do our bidding in the digital world, thus removing the need for us to travel to attend meetings ever again.

Ten years after the publication of Stephenson's seminal work, it appears that his prophecies are being realised. Stephenson's "Metaverse", a vast global computer network, has already been with us for many years in the form of the Internet. However, new software from Microsoft is set to revolutionise the way we communicate by finally bringing avatars out of the realms of science fiction and into our everyday lives.


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The much hyped communications revolution that was promised by the rise of the Internet has so far failed to materialise. While most users are still restricted to low-bandwidth dial-up Internet connections, inexpensive global communication using Voice Over IP technology remains an unattainable dream. Email and Instant Messaging have also failed to achieve mainstream acceptance, due to the inherent difficulty of conveying the subtle nuances of vocal intonation or body language in a purely text-based medium.

The world has been crying out for a means of Internet communication which is both immediate and capable of imparting emotions, while transcending the fundamental limitations imposed by the scarcity of bandwidth. Fortunately, we can rely on Microsoft to solve our pressing technological problems and their latest offering, Microsoft Comic Chat, is what we've all been waiting for.

Put simply, Microsoft Comic Chat is like instant messaging on steroids. Building upon the foundations of the popular MSN Messenger, Comic Chat manages to communicate the user's emotions and body language through a purely text-based protocol. Microsoft have achieved this impressive feat by using powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) software which actually understands the content of a user's message. The AI software then extracts the hidden nuances from the message and translates these into the facial expressions of an avatar. As the screenshot shows, Comic Chat manages to convey emotions in messages with unerring accuracy yet without requiring the huge amounts of bandwidth that are associated with traditional video conferencing. Although avatars are currently limited to cute but crudely-drawn comic characters, it is possible that future versions of the software may allow you to use digital photographs of your own face.

It is both simple and inexpensive to become a part of the Microsoft Comic Chat revolution. The first step is to download the freely available software from Microsoft (Note: Comic Chat is currently only available for computers running Microsoft's popular Windows operating system). When the software has installed, you need to logon to one of the many Comic Chat servers. Popular Microsoft Comic Chat servers include:

  • DALnet - an acronym for "DSL, ADSL and LAN Network", this server is specially optimised for those with high-bandwidth Internet connections.
  • EFnet - standing for "Electronic Faces Network", this is the oldest and most popular server. This server is a great place for newcomers to Comic Chat to get advice on how to make the most of their software.
  • Undernet - while DALnet is optimised for users with fast Internet connections, Undernet caters for those with slower dial-up links.
Once connected to a Microsoft Comic Chat server, you are free to subscribe to a forum that matches your own hobbies and interests. As with all new technologies, the early adopters are usually criminals or oversexed misfits. Sadly, this is no exception and the majority of forums currently cater for those who trade in stolen goods (including music, movies and software) or wish to indulge in the sort of filth that was previously confined to premium rate telephone sex lines. However, it is hoped that the increasing popularity of these servers may encourage forums to reflect a broader cross-section of interests, including handicrafts and philately.

Microsoft Comic Chat has the potential to change the ways in which we conduct our friendships and do business, and Microsoft ought to be commended for their tireless innovation. So why not join the telecommunications revolution and start Comic Chatting today?


This is so incredibly stupid, it's making my... (none / 0) (#10)
by tkatchev on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 02:10:16 PM PST
...temples hurt.

Sir, I ask you -- have you ever heard of that wonderful invention, the telephone?

It's been around for some time already. In fact, you may even have a friend or relative that owns one of these wonderful devices.

Well anyways.

Does anybody else notice the heavy sexual symbolism of the telephone? I don't mean this in a Freudian sense, I mean that for a long time now the act of placing a phonecall has been a sort of virtual replacement for the sexual act.

Think of the cliche image of the girl on the bed waiting for a telephone call; also, the wonderful euphemisms, like: "can I have your phone number", "call me sometime", "I'll call you tonight", etc.

Peace and much love...

I vaguely recall (none / 0) (#11)
by Fon2d2 on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 02:41:54 PM PST
a roommate who had the practice of using extended long-distance phone calls as a replacement for the sexual act. Not that it was often or indescreet or that can even remember specifically which roommate or roommates it was. Just that I find something disturbing about telephone relationships sometimes. I think a lot of people have an unhealthy relationship with the telephone. My last semester of college one of my roommates had a live-in girlfriend (big mistake, never allow this to happen). She was always on the phone I think with family members but she never left the apartment, didn't seem to have any life, and didn't seem to have any friends. People that spend large amounts of time on the phone bother me. There's just something not right about it.

Sexual acts (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by because it isnt on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 06:22:45 PM PST
In Soho, placing a telephone call in a public phone booth *is* a sexual act - you have to pick off about 50 fat/gay/"pre-op" prostitutes' cards before you can get to the telephone. -- because it isn't

another hilarious post from adequacy,org (1.00 / 1) (#12)
by Anonymous Reader on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 04:35:24 PM PST
more quality hilarity from the best place on the internet for saterical misinformed shit. keep up the good work :p

P.S. i am running linux or as you say "Lunix" by that evil person linnnius tooorvoaldaes.

Don't worry AR (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by elby on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 10:56:21 AM PST
Since microsoft has been making this software for a few years, it's about time for Linux to "innovate" an exact copy of it. So, no need to feel angry, you'll have it soon enough.


Yes but... (none / 0) (#27)
by eMan on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 07:47:03 PM PST
... while the microsoft version is aimed towards healthy chatting about religion, family and philosophy, the hacked lunix version will enable comic avatars to perform lewd sexual acts and provocative hand gestures. With every innovation by Microsoft, the lunix subculture "discovers" yet another means of illegal subversion -- If avatars are the future, then I fear for the safety of our digital society.

Society sucks. (none / 0) (#28)
by The Mad Scientist on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 08:46:49 PM PST
Subversion is a legitimate (and often funny) way to cope.

Hmm... (none / 0) (#29)
by eMan on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 08:56:10 PM PST
Your evil Lunix operating system destroyed the link you tried to post. Here's the corrected version at not .com. Now go buy some Enterprise Edition MS product as penance.

Arrrgh - thanks! (none / 0) (#30)
by The Mad Scientist on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 09:06:18 PM PST
Sorry. It's 5:54 am here and according to original plans I am sleeping for third hour already.

Dear Elby Sir, (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by Martino Cortez PhD on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 10:30:36 PM PST
As you know, my departure to the Cayman Islands has left me without access to my high speed fiber optic backbone. While we are planning on laying new submarine cable to my remote mansion, during my departure, I was not able to read Adequacy.

As you know, this user "Anonymous Reader" seems to be quite the case for the so-called "Multiple Personality Disorder". I am wondering if anything has happened to treat this kind gentleman. Surely we cannot let Anonymous Reader continue with his hateful, vile, yet loving and kind vitriol.

Thank you for your answer to this inquery.

Dr Martino Cortez, PhD
CEO - Martin-Cortez Financial Corporation
Copyright 2002, Martino Cortez.

It's such a pity... (none / 0) (#13)
by budlite on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 06:16:38 PM PST
that you're an idiot.

It's also a pity... (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by iat on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 04:30:55 AM PST
...that you're incapable of nothing more than pathetic ad hominem attacks. Come back when you're able to string together a reasonable and coherent argument. - love it or leave it.

Well (1.00 / 1) (#18)
by budlite on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 05:09:27 AM PST
AD hominem attacks seem to be the norm around here, so I thought I'd try my hand.

What I refer to is the factual errors in your post, I don't care whether they're deliberate or not, I'm going to correct them anyway.

First, Comic Chat is based on IRC. It's just an IRC client that is designed to appeal to the dumbest computer users. It's not even that good.

Second, your list of IRC networks. No one networks is optimised for particular classes of internet user (dial-up, broadband, leased-line and what have you). In fact, the only thing DALnet seems to be good for is testing the netsplit handling in an IRC client.

Latest offering? (none / 0) (#15)
by poltroon on Thu May 9th, 2002 at 08:08:05 PM PST
Comic Chat originated more than six years ago...

Congratulations Microsoft! (none / 0) (#16)
by Anonymous Reader on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 02:04:52 AM PST
Once again, Microsoft is leading the way in innovative new computing technology! Just as Microsoft gave us Clippy, the beloved Office Assistant who revolutionized the "Office Suite" of computer sofware, paving the way for the productivity boom of the 1990's, so Microsoft Comic Chat will undoubtedly be the "Killer App" that makes internet message chatting accessible to the mainstream. I'm sure this will be the beginning of a new cycle of high economic growth, once again led by Microsoft, the company that is able to "Think Different" about computer software!

I hate clippy (none / 0) (#32)
by Anonymous Reader on Wed May 15th, 2002 at 03:53:36 AM PST
i dont like clippy, it is part of microsoft's plot to make our minds turn into anti-technology cabbages ( for some its to late )

I hate to break it to you, but (none / 0) (#21)
by gohomeandshoveit on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 03:57:27 PM PST
you completely misunderstand the implications of this "comic chat" application. This altogether daemonic program is going to be the ruin of human society as we know it.

As we all know, our society is made up of a majority of lesser-educated people who use Windows-running computers. This program, like most Microsoft products, appeal to the masses of people with no common sense, a.k.a. "the mass market."

These people will buy up this product and its inevitable updates in wheelbarrows, and they will have fun tweaking their own personal "image" with each update, and then talking to each other incessantly, using it as a substitute for real life. Microsoft will be taking full advantage of this, and will come out with a multitude of virtual reality products to keep people glued to this program, oblivious of the outside world.

Once that is accoplished, the Macintosh, Linux, Unix, and other rival computer users who didn't buy into it in the first place, will all be rounded up and shot. The Microsoft users, blissfully ignorant of this due to their unnatural absorption into this program and their fun little computer spaces and heaven knows what other virtual reality shit Microsoft shoves down their throats, will revere the heads of the company as gods.

We must stop this daemonic application in its tracks before Microsoft controls the planet. This is just what the authors Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, and most likely this Neal Stepehenson guy tried to educate us about, so we could save ourselves from this horrible future of Bill Gates worship and Microsoft domination.

Sinners repent! The end is near!

ROTFLMAO (none / 0) (#22)
by TheMooseMan on Fri May 10th, 2002 at 04:09:32 PM PST
Ahh, thanks, I needed a good laugh..
You can (not) ignore things in parentheses.

Slashnet (none / 0) (#24)
by egg troll on Sat May 11th, 2002 at 12:40:55 PM PST
I hate to nitpick an otherwise excellent article but you left out the most important server of all: Slashnet. Microsoft plans to have this network be the backbone of its <I>Comic Chat</I> network. Although currently in beta, I managed to sneak a visit on to it. With over 98% of Slashnet clients being Windows users, the future seems very bright for Microsoft's innovative plans for Slashnet!!

Posting for the love of the baby Jesus....

Thank you, iat... (none / 0) (#25)
by Anonymous Reader on Sat May 11th, 2002 at 02:22:44 PM PST
for turning into even more of a Microsoft PR organ than it already is...

Comic Chat Sex (none / 0) (#26)
by Anonymous Reader on Sun May 12th, 2002 at 08:40:04 AM PST
My friend and I often, when we're feeling randy and playful, start MSC up to have a go at each other with some of their lurid avatars.

It truely is an amazing piece of software.

But don't take my word for it, try it yourself.


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