In the graveyard of good ideas, how does yours measure up to these?

You can now read your comics in the metaverse


Something for the Weekend? Here lie the bones of Good Ideas: child of impressionable managers, twin of floundering projects, much-beloved parent to scope creep. We will miss you. Not.

I have learnt to keep a poker face whenever I hear the words "I've got a great idea!" Unless they're spoken by Michael Caine, the expression ought to be banned in app team brainstorming sessions on the grounds that it incites violence. It does in me, anyway.

There are different levels of good idea, of course, each assigned their own space on the headstone in the graveyard of app development.

Great Idea (Level 1) is the Infantile Fantasy. Anyone can have an idea that looks good in the Saturday-morning cinema of their own head but without having the faintest notion of how to implement it. "Flying cars! Teleporters! Giant robots! Ray guns! Let's build a Death Star!" See, it's easy, isn't it? A child can do it.

Great Idea (Level 2) is the False Assumption. Familiar to anyone who has ever worked with a business analyst, this type of good idea is one based on ignorance, lack of common-sense, poor observation, and the slavish following of trends. "Energy-efficient cars are popular, so let's coat the windscreen in green paint."

Whenever you see something daft and you wonder how it ever got even close to production stage, you're looking at a Level 2.

Here's one I saw one recently: a humble box of supermarket porridge oats.

Photo of a box of porridge bought at a French supermarket

This is supposed to be porridge but looks a bit like wood shavings from a carpenter's floor

The porridge in that photo looks a bit odd, don't you think? Let us consult the instructions on the side of the box for preparing your hot, steaming breakfast…

Photo of a box of porridge bought at a French supermarket, showing the preparation instructions on the side

I knew I was doing it wrong: all that time wasted trying to heat it up

"Pour your cereal into a bowl, add cold milk." Ta-da! Your porridge is ready.

I can imagine what happened: someone at the French supermarket chain had the Great Idea (Level 2) of selling their own brand of porridge. The fact that nobody in France eats the stuff was evidently no obstacle to such a brilliant concept. They had heard of porridge, and that was good enough.

Possibly, one of the ideas team had even seen illustrations of porridge in their English lesson textbooks at school, featuring be-kilted, ruddy-faced individuals ritually eating their morning porridge from a cauldron in a 1930s farm kitchen before going outdoors to gather Scotch eggs, dig for fruit cake, pop another Christian into the wicker man, and milk the haggises.

Essentially, they assumed porridge was muesli minus the ingredients that have a flavor. Classic Level 2 mistake.

Great Idea (Level 3) is the Annapurna Fallacy, named after the notorious Nepalese mountain. This type of good idea looks jolly impressive at the start but is virtually impossible to scale up.

You will know an Annapurna app by the response you get from tech support when it inevitably starts going wrong. Tech support will be shouldered aside and replaced by an over-defensive marketing script written by the fool whose good idea it was in the first place.

The script can be summarized as: "Our app is perfect. It's your your fault."

Of all places I did not expect to hear this catchphrase, it was at the world's third-largest comics and illustration festival last week in Angoulême. I was accompanying a fellow journalist who was filing reports to a comics blog in the States. He had barely sat down with the developer of a popular comics-reading app platform (which shall remain nameless) for an off-the-record chat when he found himself crossing swords with the full might of Annapurna-esque marketing.

All he did was mention that its recent app update had triggered complaints from users. Told that the claims were exaggerated, he took out his iPad to demonstrate: covers not loading, screens failing to scroll, random crashes, and so on.

It's like when you visit a particularly slow website. The site probably looked great when demoed by the project manager in the company boardroom using dummy content but it didn't scale up well once it got stuffed with the real thing. Of course, nobody will admit this. If you use the contact form to send a message to let them know, you will receive a response listing the many ways in which it must be your fault.

"Ho ho," they smirked at my colleague. "You have an old iPad. Buy a new one."

No matter that the app's minimum spec given in the App Store assures downloaders that it is compatible with his device. No matter that he had been using the very same device to read the same content trouble-free right up until the day before the forced app update. It was his fault for not spending €700+ ($770+) on a tablet powerful enough to allow the new version of the app to continue showing him the comics he had previously been reading without a problem.

Slow website? Buy yourself a new computer! Stuck in a traffic jam? Buy a Maserati!

He was then told – and I kid you not – "You have too many comics." No doubt his mum has said this to him on occasion, too. But then she's not a company in the business of selling the digital comics to him in the first place.

In other words, it's your fault for being such a faithful, high-spending customer. If you didn't keep buying stuff from us, the app would work fine. You inconsiderate bastard.

Since he was looking unlikely to tweak an admission that any kind of technical problem exists, I eventually dragged Frost away from his potential Nixon so we could have a go with a Level 4 instead.

A Great Idea (Level 4) is known as an Armstrong-Osman. It's a clever-sounding idea that can be adequately implemented but no one knows why. It is, arguably, pointless.

The Level 4 in question was a virtual-reality rendition of the comics-reading experience in the metaverse. It was being demonstrated at the booth hosted by French comics app business Izneo.

If you thought comics fans were socially awkward before, just wait until you see them poring over a comic while wearing an Oculus. My comics journo colleague even took photos of some such idiot trying out the prototype.

Photo of Dabbsy wearing an Oculus VR headset at an exhibition stand

A cool dude wearing a VR headset. On his left, the author

I was reading a Lucky Luke album, honest. It appeared to me as a giant, 10-foot-high hardbound edition standing upright in the middle of a dusty frontier town in the Wild West. I had to zap the page corners with the laser pointer, like firing pistols I suppose, to turn them, and had to be restrained from nipping into the saloon for fear that I'd walk into a non-metaversic wall.

Comics in the metaverse, eh? Ha ha, what a pointless exercise! Sooooo Level 4!

Then it struck me.

Whether or not Meta/Facebook's own implementation of a metaverse is successful, metaverses are inevitable. People will begin spending more and more time in their favorite metaverse, just like they do currently on the web, social media, and in online gaming.

And if you are the kind of person to wallow around in the metaverse for most of the day, you're hardly likely to take off the headset to read a book. That's not to say metaverse users are illiterate: I'm saying they'd want to do their reading in the metaverse too. Izneo could be on to something here.

So daft as it first sounded, reading comics in the metaverse isn't necessarily going to end up in the graveyard of Good Ideas, if only because it doesn't sound like a particularly good idea in the first place. Maybe that's the sign of a truly great idea: one that comes across as quite obviously terrible until you think it through.

It's decided. This is how I plan to pitch concepts from now on. "Hey, listen up, guys! I've got a really BAD idea!"

You can write that on my headstone.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

Other stories you might like

  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022