Reading Webcomics: Full Circle 😠

By | Wednesday, July 08, 2020 1 comment
When I first discovered webcomics in the late '90s, I had two "problems" with them. First, I wasn't finding any that I particularly enjoyed. That's not a slag on any creators working back then or what they were creating, I just had trouble finding webcomics that struck my particular interests at that time. At least as far as being interested enough to try to continue reading long-term. Which actually leads to the second problem I had: reading them long-term.

At the time, the only real option most webcomics had was... well, you had to just go to their site every day. (Or week, or whatever their update schedule was.) This was a problem because few webcomics even had their own domain names at that point -- they'd be hosted on GeoCities or other similar free hosting services, which meant they had long, arcane URLs. And while those could be bookmarked, you would have to return to the same browser on the same computer in order to use those bookmarks. You couldn't "carry" the bookmarks from your home computer to your work computer or the ones at the library. Furthermore, few (if any) webcomics had gotten to the now-standard practice of putting the latest comic on their home page. So once you got to the site, you had to remember which installment was the last one you read and click through to the one after that.

All of that was certainly doable -- and there were indeed some work-arounds to make that whole process a little easier -- but that was still a fair amount of effort if you weren't particularly excited about any of the webcomics you found in the first place! Think if you had to jump through all those hoops just to read, say, Beetle Bailey. Do you really like Beetle Bailey that much to go through that on a daily basis?

When I came back to webcomics around 2003, there had been a couple significant improvements that had been made. First, webcomics were starting to regularly get their own domains, making them easier to remember. Second, they also got the message that putting the latest installment on the home page was generally a good practice. Third -- and most importantly for me -- was that many of them had begun adopting RSS. This allowed a single reader application to get notified whenever the comic had updated and, depending on how it was configured, even deliver the comic itself! I could now go to a single location to read whichever webcomics I wanted, and I was even told which installments I had/hadn't read!

iGoogleI was reading so much that I spent a fair amount of time studying and developing an "optimal" (for me) setup for reading all my favorite comics. I had several blog posts back in the day talking about various aspects of this, but my "final" version was using the iGoogle portal with Google Reader embedded in one of the tabs, and several gadgets that I custom-coded myself. That was a really enjoyable setup for me.

But then Google Reader was shut down in 2013, and iGoogle was killed only a few months later. There have been alternatives to both since then, but I've never come across anything as smooth and integrateable as those two platforms. I've got The Old Reader that can pull in and display RSS feeds from comics pretty well, but there's nothing available for some of those other comics that don't have RSS feeds. And NetVibes is a serviceable portal platform, but they don't have a way to integrate my Old Reader setup into it. Further, neither work well on a phone, nor do they have apps available. (There is a third-party app that somehow bootleg-pulls-in your Old Reader account, but it's definitely not supported by The Old Reader, and the interface is a bit clunky.)

So what do I do now?

I sit down at my computer in the morning, and I type in the URLs of the webcomics I want to read. Just like I had to do back in the late '90s. And necessarily because I have to remember to do that every morning I want to read some webcomics, I'm not currently reading nearly as many I used to. I think I stopped counting how many webcomics I was reading when my title list in The Old Reader got north of 300. But now, I check two websites regularly. Two. And then there's about a dozen or so more that I read through more sporadically -- mainly through following the creators on social media and happening across one of their "I just updated the comic" notices every week or three. But then I have to go back and figure out where I left off, and all that. It's a decidedly less-than-ideal system.

How annoying is it that, for as many advancements as have been made in webcomics, and for as many more cool, well-done webcomics there are out there now, there's still not a good system for just sitting down and reading them?
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Curtis said...

Plenty of good RSS readers out there. I use Feedly on my iPad, but I think there’s a browser interface too. Every so often I think about looking at other RSS reader options (to see what the neighbors’ grass looks like, you know) and then I remember how many webcomics I read...