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Let's Get This Straight
By Scott Rosenberg
How AOL won a round of the quarterly-report numbers game

A giant sucking sound
By Scott Rosenberg
Suck,the Web's "longest-running daily column," bellyflops into print.

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T A B L E__T A L K

Addicted to Myst? Driven to dristraction by Riven? Come to Table Talk's Digital Culture area and talk about computer gaming's most popular obsessions.

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Riven rapt
How Myst and its new sequel won our hearts and minds. By Laura Miller

Reality Check
Scott Rosenberg on why digital-economy revolutionaries need to sober up

Will the Net spawn intelligent life?
Andrew Leonard on George Dyson's "Darwin Among the Machines"

Sliced off by the cutting edge
Second of two excerpts from Ellen Ullman's "Close to the Machine"

Elegance and entropy
Ellen Ullman talks with Scott Rosenberg about what makes programmers tick

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The Web's "longest-running daily column" takes a paperback leap for bratty immortality -- and succeeds in killing off a few more trees

BY SCOTT ROSENBERG | On a good day, Suck -- the Web site whose symbols have always been a fish, a barrel and a smoking gun -- fastens its attention on some fishy pop-cult phenomenon and pulls its popgun trigger. Coherent arguments may be elusive, points of view murky, transitions inscrutable; but metaphors can build up a hypnotic momentum of their own if a writer sloshes them around long enough -- and by the time the dead fish has risen to the surface and started to stink, we've safely clicked away.

On a great day at Suck, though, the metaphors' queasy-making Brownian motion turns into something more orderly. The words magically assemble themselves into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into observations, observations into arguments -- and, darn it, before you know it the writer has actually said something.

There have been some good days and some great days in the two years plus that Suck has cranked out its daily commentaries. Everyone knows that two years on the Web is the equivalent of many lifetimes for higher life forms. Suck has grown older, more respectable and more restless; where are the barrels of yesteryear?

From its start as a labor of love by two Hotwired geeks, Carl Steadman and Joey Anuff, Suck was fierce, funny and mostly justified in its rants against the corporate media, the advertising biz and the technology industry, even as its writers' heads twitched with nervous reminders that, yeah, we're no better, we're only in it for a buck -- we suck, too. The Web always seemed the perfect platform for Suck's brand of shotgun satire. But apparently, pressure to bust loose from browser-window prison has been building at Suck for some time. Anuff talked with drooling relish about plans for print ("Suck's gotta be a juggernaut ... it's gotta hit every possible media outlet") in a Wired magazine profile that dates back over a year now.

It turns out, though, that "Suck: Worst-case Scenarios in Media, Culture, Advertising, and the Internet" (new from Wired Books -- the publishing house formerly known as Hardwired) can be called a book only by giving it the generous benefit of any number of doubts. It's more like a 150-page greatest-hits collection -- one where the stoned recording engineer fell asleep at the board, muddying the sound and blurring the catchiest hooks.

Suck's best hook all along -- its most original contribution to Web culture -- has been the style of hypertext link it pioneered. Suck's writers use links not as informational resources or aids to site navigation but as a rhetorical device, a kind of subtextual shorthand. A link from a Suck article, far from illustrating a point, more often than not undercuts it. A Suck link's highlight is often a warning: Irony Ahead -- do not take these words at face value. Feed's Steven Johnson analyzes it in his new book, "Interface Culture," as a kind of associative slang: "They buried their links mid-sentence, like riddles, like clues. You had to trek out after them to make the sentence cohere."

Sometimes Suck's hypertextual cross-referencing can get positively baroque in its self-referentiality, at a depth that most readers would be happy never to plumb. In the Suck book, you'll find Ana Marie Cox's "Wiping the Slate Clean," marking the debut of Michael Kinsley's online magazine with some swipes at the "would-be Web toughs dog-piling on the new kid on the block." Borrowing the phrase "snottiness on autopilot" from a jab at Suck I'd written here in Salon, Cox turns it back on Salon, linking the words instead to Gary Kamiya's "chain saw" critique of Slate.

OK, so Suck has always had something of a Salon fixation -- but is this level of link-artistry communicating anything outside of the narrowest circles of Bay Area Web journalism? Critiquing the practice of posting hot-lists, one Anuff column jibes, "Each new iteration looked less like information evolution and more like the Talmud on Miracle Gro." "Talmudic" is a good word for the kind of devotion that decoding Suck's links can demand.

The Suck book doesn't make the mistake of trying to duplicate its trademark narrow-column, boldface text-snake design in print. The book does gamely try to mimic Suck's link-style on the page by connecting underlined words to Web addresses and marginal commentary -- and it's, well, a nice try. So the first thing to know about Suck's tome is that this is a rare instance of writing that actually loses something in the transition from screen to page. You can read the fully linked Suck online for free -- or pay $17.95 for the privilege of missing out on the prose's most distinctive quality. It's a new concept: value-subtracted repurposing.

N E X T_P A G E | Firing some more projectiles at the Web's own St. Sebastians


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