Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unbound: The year in webcomics


io_cover3While the rest of the world went to hell in a handbasket, webcomics did pretty well in 2009, in part because the medium provided alternatives to structures that were cracking because of the poor economy. One of the most important events of the year had nothing to do with webcomics directly but probably had a huge effect on the medium as a whole: In January, Diamond Comics Distributors raised its minimums, that is, the number of units a comic would have to sell in order for them to carry it. As Diamond has a near-monopoly on distribution to comics stores, the result is that many comics will be squeezed out of the market—and webcomics became a more attractive alternative, especially for creators who are just building a following or are marketing to a particular niche. It's hard to know how many creators turned to the web because of that—how do you measure a negative?—but James Turner’s Warlord of Io has been mentioned specifically as a comic that did not make Diamond’s minimums and wound up on comiXology’s iPhone app.

Speaking of which, one of the big trends of the year was the diversification of digital media. Publishers and creators started putting comics on the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android systems, as well as the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s e-book reader, the Nook. And just in time for Christmas, Sony unveiled its comics store for the PSP. We’re still waiting for the Apple tablet, though, which is rumored to be the killer app for digital comics—if it even exists.

IDW_Star_Trek_a_iPhoneOne of the first big successes was Star Trek: Countdown, produced by IDW Comics in collaboration with iVerse. Here’s IDW publisher Ted Adams saying the magic words in an interview with Heidi MacDonald for Publishers Weekly Comics Week:

"We will sell as many iTunes apps [of Countdown] as we will of as the print version," says Adams. "That's a lot of apps." The book—each issue is sold as an individual app—is regularly listed among the top 100 apps on iTunes and the first print issue of Star Trek: Countdown sold about 15,000 copies upon initial release, according to figures at the comics business site

For the first half of the year, every comic on the iPhone/iPod was a single app, which led to confusion and cluttered screens. During the summer, a new operating system allowed in-app buying, so a single app could become a portal to many comics. The first publisher to jump in with this was comiXology, which had already set up a website that integrated Previews solicitations, actual previews, and links to bricks-and-mortar stores. ComiXology’s comics reader/storefront was a big hit, and iVerse and Panelfly soon brought out similar products. Many comics publishers are covering their bets by releasing content on one or more of these platforms as well as on the web and in print.

Back on the big screen, the paradigm continued to shift and evolve. The webcomic site Girlamatic, which had put some of its comics behind a pay wall, relaunched as a free webcomics site, and publisher Joey Manley has similar plans for the rest of the sites in the Modern Tales family. Octopus Pie became one of several comics to shift from regular to irregular updates, when creator Meredith Gran decided it was more efficient to update when she finished a chapter rather than three times a week.



Viz, the powerhouse of manga publishers, also went the free-webcomic route in a big way this year, starting with Rin-ne, a new series from manga powerhouse Rumiko Takahashi (InuYasha, Ranma 1/2). In a move that may have been designed to pre-empt scanlators, Viz put each chapter of the new series online, for free, the same day it was released in Japan. They took the chapters down once the print edition was released, but they continue to put up new chapters weekly. Later in the year, Viz launched a second website, SigIKKI, which is an anthology of manga for older readers, with the idea that the more popular series from that site will eventually make it into print as well.

Digital Manga Publishing, which despite its name is primarily a print publisher, revamped its eManga webcomics site and recently added a new feature: Harlequin manga (Japanese adaptations of American Harlequin romances). Dark Horse published some of these a few years ago, and they didn't do well, but Digital's audience is probably closer to the sweet spot for that type of comic. Tokyopop also moved its global manga program online.


Despite being spread out across the entire internet, webcomickers did some community-building this year. At the end of March, webcomics folks from all over converged on Easthampton, Massachusetts, for New England Webcomics Weekend. Bobby Timony covered it well for Robot 6, and back at my old home, Digital Strips, Jason the Midnight Cartooner did a marathon set of interviews with fellow creators. In November, Least I Could Do creators Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza announced they were establishing a webcomic scholarship at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. And when swine flu (a.k.a. H1Nerd1) struck attendees at the Penny Arcade Expo, the organizers used their blog to list the flights that confirmed sufferers had taken and keep folks up to date on the spread of the disease.

2009 was a good year for lively internet debates. In February, Valerie D’Orazio predicted that within the next two years, Big Media will buy up all the good webcomics and put them behind a pay wall. Several webcomics creators commented to her original post, basically saying “Big Media can’t afford us.” What emerged is that the top tier of webcomics creators seem to be doing very, very well, and there is a substantial group who are making all or most of their living from comics alone.

exploding_dog-300x188My column about the Zuda test—at the end of eight pages, do I know what the comic is about?—generated some lively conversations as well.

It was a bad year for editorial cartoonists, as economic factors led to a number of veteran cartoonists being shown the door. This got ugly in April, when webcomickers and newspaper folks got into a shouting match after Gary Brookins lost his job. And in the most recent issue of The Comics Journal (unfortunately, not available online at the moment), Ted Rall blasts the free-webcomics model, complaining that webcomics suck and they are ruining things for everyone else.

blog_juicesucksBut by far the most entertaining internet flame war was the one launched single-handedly by David Rees after he learned that Jamba Juice was ripping off his comic for their ads. Just keep clicking forward to read his escalating campaign against the purveyors of faux smoothies. Of course, Rees's comic, Get Your War On, is a clip-art comic, but that just makes the whole thing even more ironic.

If anything, Rees sums up the webcomics paradigm this year, which was to take a crappy situation, turn it into profit, and leave 'em laughing. Well played, sir.

And if adversity breeds creativity, 2010 should be an excellent year. Bring it on.

Unbound: The year in manga


At the outset, 2009 didn’t look like a promising year for manga. Tokyopop had split in two, laid off a third of its staff, and seemed to be tottering toward its grave; Broccoli had just given up the ghost; Vertical let its marketing manager go; and ADV couldn’t bring itself to publish Yotsuba&!, despite the fact that fans were climbing the walls for it. The economy had tanked, and the general feeling was that 2009 was going to be a bleak year.

And yet, here I am at the end of December, surrounded by so much good manga that I don’t know where to start.

yotsuba_6Tokypop rallied nicely and, despite losing some licenses, is bringing back series that everyone was convinced were heading to limbo. Yen Press rescued Yotsuba&! and republished the earlier volumes as well. Del Rey tested the waters with a variety of global titles (with more to come next year) and kept cranking out solid shoujo and shonen series from Japan. CMX kept up a steady stream of tween- and teen-friendly titles as well as the more mature suspense series Fire Investigator Nanase and Astral Project. Vertical was the darling of New York Anime Fest with their announcement that they had licensed the cute cat manga Chi’s Sweet Home and Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo; they kept fans busy in the meantime with a steady stream of new volumes of Black Jack.

And Viz! Viz outdid them all, launching series after series to enthusiastic response: Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto and 20th Century Boys; the foodie manga Oishinbo; the beautifully drawn Children of the Sea; the new Rumiko Takahashi series Rin-ne (released online simultaneously with the Japanese releases); Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chambers. You could go broke trying to keep up with Viz’s output, but if you did, you could console yourself with the free manga on their SigIKKI and Shonen Sunday websites.

While a few publishers responded to the grim economy by circling the wagons or just throwing up their hands, others took a more aggressive approach, licensing new series by established creators, putting marginal properties on the web, responding to fan feedback, and publishing manga that appeals to audiences beyond the traditional teenage readers.

Tokyopop, for instance, had a tough first half of the year. In January, bloggers started circulating lists of manga solicitations that had been cancelled from Diamond’s Previews catalogue. Then in August, Tokyopop revealed that Kodansha had cancelled a number of its licenses with them.

51PvL4wMhqLThat could have been the end of everything, but Tokyopop followed up almost immediately with the news that they would be bringing back a number of non-Kodansha series, including one of my favorites, Suppli. They hosted a series of “webinars,” interactive online conversations with fans, and they seem to have really listened to the feedback; one immediate effect was an improvement in their paper quality. They also ended the limbo for many of their global manga properties by putting them online.

Viz also got off to a bumpy start, with Diamond announcing in February that over 1,000 Viz titles were being de-listed from their catalog. This sounds ominous, but they were mostly older titles and finished series, and they were still available through other retail channels The company also did some “restructuring,” which was largely opaque to the outside world but did seem to involve layoffs. Later in the year, they folded Shojo Beat magazine, although the brand lives on as a book imprint.

On the other hand, Viz has been heading off in some unexpected new directions. In February, at New York Comic-Con, they unveiled a slate of manga that was largely aimed at older, more sophisticated readers, from Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters to Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster, and all year they kept up a steady stream of high-quality titles. In April, they announced that they would be publishing Rumiko Takahashi’s new series Rin-ne online, posting each chapter the same week it was published in Japan and thus putting them one step ahead of the scanlators. They also launched two online manga sites, Shonen Sunday and SigIKKI, and they expanded their children’s manga line, VizKids. And they sped up their releases of the top-selling series Naruto and One Piece, which probably added some cash to the coffers.

Yen Press, a publisher that knows a winner when they see one, published new editions of the first five volumes of Yotsuba&! in addition to bringing out the new ones; Yen’s new translations, which are more literal than ADVs, have caused some discussion, but that just keeps people talking. They also brought out an omnibus edition of Azumanga Daioh, by the same creator, for good measure. Their manga adaptation of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride novels has been a commercial success, with both volumes making it on to the New York Times “graphic books” best-seller list, and they have followed with announcements of manga based on the Twilight, Clique, and Gossip Girls novels.

9780345514394Del Rey published its Wolverine and X-Men manga to mixed reviews, and at New York Anime Fest they announced a new approach to their manga based on the animated cartoons Ben 10 and Bakugan; rather than screen-caps of existing stories, they will be doing original stories based on the series, with an interesting array of artists and writers: Peter David, Dan Hipp, and the team of Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir. Their manga adaptations of the Avatar movie and its prequel also look promising. And like other publishers, they continue to rely on established Japanese creators, with new series in the offing by Ema Toyama (Pixie Pop) and Natsumi Ando (Kitchen Princess) among others. And their fall releases included the second volume of Nina Matsumoto's much-acclaimed Yokaiden and the award-winning Moyasimon.

Digital Manga relaunched its eManga online manga site and also tried a new tack: allowing fans to push up publication of some books by pre-ordering. Digital continued to publish a solid line of yaoi manga under several imprints throughout the year, and, like the other publishers, diversified a bit with its license of the classic shoujo manga Itazura na Kiss and its online-only editions of Harlequin manga.

Aurora, which publishes a variety of different types of manga under its own name, plus yaoi manga under the Deux imprint and Teen Love stories under the LuvLuv name, had a big sale in March and has offered manga at bargain-basement prices several times since then. An Aurora employee admitted that the company was in danger of going out of business, but it managed to make it through the year, although it doesn't seem to have released any new manga since Cigarette Kisses in September.

Pioneer manga and anime publisher Central Park Media had been comatose for some time, and they finally made it official in April by filing for bankruptcy. Erica Friedman wrote a nice eulogy for them at Anime Vice.

519ZF686F4LThere were some other interesting stories this year. We bid farewell to a number of long-runnng manga series, including Fruits Basket, After School Nightmare, Parasyte, Emma, and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster.

The New York Times launched its graphic books best-seller list in March, and the first edition elicited a round of WTF? from around the blogosphere, as it consisted of eight volumes of Naruto and one each of MPD-Psycho and Eden, two books with rather narrow followings.

Manga collector Christopher Handley pled guilty to possession of child pornography, a case that caused extensive debate online. The question raised by the case was whether manga that depicts children having sex should be illegal, despite the fact that the images are completely imaginary—no children were exploited in creating them. Just before the plea, ComiPress published a lengthy article (images may be disturbing) by lawyer Lawrence Stanley arguing that such images should not be criminal. Neil Gaiman and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund also came to Handley's defense.

Dragon Ball was pulled from an elementary-school library because of some sexual content in the first volume. The book shouldn’t have been there to begin with (it’s rated 13+), but thanks to the grandstanding of a local politician, copies were removed from all the local school libraries and the public library as well.

The results of the Third Morning International Manga Competition were released, and the judges had some sharp commentary, refusing to award a third prize because the gap in quality was so great between the top two and everyone else. And they changed the name of the competition to the Morning International Comics Competition, because they were tired of looking at the usual stereotyped array of subjects—schoolgirls, ninjas, etc.

9059new_storyimage0102753_fullJunko Mizuno drew a Spider-Man story for Strange Tales. No, really!

Crayon Shin-chan creator Yoshito Usui died, apparently in a fall from a cliff while hiking

Astro-Boy Magazine launched on the iPhone/iPod Touch

The ero-manga anthology Comics AG folded.

Finally, the non-story of the year was Kodansha’s entry into publishing manga directly in the U.S., which had been rumored since mid-2008. They finally announced the formation of Kodansha Comics in October, but the only books they have published so far are reissues of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, and they don’t seem to have much of an infrastructure yet. I couldn’t even find a website. But 2009 was full of surprises, and maybe Kodansha will surprise me in 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Meaning of Open


12/21/2009 03:17:00 PM
Last week I sent an email to Googlers about the meaning of "open" as it relates to the Internet, Google, and our users. In the spirit of openness, I thought it would be appropriate to share these thoughts with those outside of Google as well.

At Google we believe that open systems win. They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses. Many companies will claim roughly the same thing since they know that declaring themselves to be open is both good for their brand and completely without risk. After all, in our industry there is no clear definition of what open really means. It is a Rashomon-like term: highly subjective and vitally important.

The topic of open seems to be coming up a lot lately at Google. I've been in meetings where we're discussing a product and someone says something to the effect that we should be more open. Then a debate ensues which reveals that even though most everyone in the room believes in open we don't necessarily agree on what it means in practice.

This is happening often enough for me to conclude that we need to lay out our definition of open in clear terms that we can all understand and support. What follows is that definition based on my experiences at Google and the input of several colleagues. We run the company and make our product decisions based on these principles, so I encourage you to carefully read, review, and debate them. Then own them and try to incorporate them into your work. This is a complex subject and if there is debate (and I'm sure there will be) it should be in the open! Please feel free to comment.

There are two components to our definition of open: open technology and open information. Open technology includes open source, meaning we release and actively support code that helps grow the Internet, and open standards, meaning we adhere to accepted standards and, if none exist, work to create standards that improve the entire Internet (and not just benefit Google). Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information. These are the things we should be doing. In many cases we aren't there, but I hope that with this note we can start working to close the gap between reality and aspiration.

If we can embody a consistent commitment to open — which I believe we can — then we have a big opportunity to lead by example and encourage other companies and industries to adopt the same commitment. If they do, the world will be a better place.

Open systems win
To understand our position in more detail, it helps to start with the assertion that open systems win. This is counter-intuitive to the traditionally trained MBA who is taught to generate a sustainable competitive advantage by creating a closed system, making it popular, then milking it through the product life cycle. The conventional wisdom goes that companies should lock in customers to lock out competitors. There are different tactical approaches — razor companies make the razor cheap and the blades expensive, while the old IBM made the mainframes expensive and the software ... expensive too. Either way, a well-managed closed system can deliver plenty of profits. They can also deliver well-designed products in the short run — the iPod and iPhone being the obvious examples — but eventually innovation in a closed system tends towards being incremental at best (is a four blade razor really that much better than a three blade one?) because the whole point is to preserve the status quo. Complacency is the hallmark of any closed system. If you don't have to work that hard to keep your customers, you won't.

Open systems are just the opposite. They are competitive and far more dynamic. In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn't derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products. The successful company in an open system is both a fast innovator and a thought leader; the brand value of thought leadership attracts customers and then fast innovation keeps them. This isn't easy — far from it — but fast companies have nothing to fear, and when they are successful they can generate great shareholder value.

Open systems have the potential to spawn industries. They harness the intellect of the general population and spur businesses to compete, innovate, and win based on the merits of their products and not just the brilliance of their business tactics. The race to map the human genome is one example.

In the book Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams explain how in the mid-1990s private firms were discovering and patenting large amounts of DNA sequence data and then assuming control over who could access that information and at what price. Having so much of the genome under private ownership raised costs and made drug discovery far less efficient. Then, in 1995, Merck Pharmaceuticals and the Gene Sequencing Center at Washington University changed the game by creating a new, open initiative called the Merck Gene Index. Within three years they had published over 800,000 gene sequences into the public domain, and soon other collaborative projects followed suit. This in an industry where early stage R&D was traditionally pursued individually in closed labs, so Merck's open approach not only changed the culture of the entire field but also accelerated the pace of biomedical research and drug development. It gave researchers everywhere unrestricted access to an open resource of genetic information.

Another way to look at the difference between open and closed systems is that open systems allow innovation at all levels — from the operating system to the application layer — not just at the top. This means that one company doesn't have to depend on another's benevolence to ship a product. If the GNU C compiler that I'm using has a bug, I can fix it since the compiler is open source. I don't have to file a bug report and hope for a timely response.

So if you are trying to grow an entire industry as broadly as possible, open systems trump closed. And that is exactly what we are trying to do with the Internet. Our commitment to open systems is not altruistic. Rather it's good business, since an open Internet creates a steady stream of innovations that attracts users and usage and grows the entire industry. Hal Varian has an equation in his book Information Rules that applies here:

Reward = (Total value added to the industry) * (Our share of industry value)

All other things being equal, a 10 percent increase in share or a 10 percent increase in industry value should lead to the same outcome. But in our industry a 10 percent increase in industry value will yield a much bigger reward because it will stimulate economies of scale across the entire industry, increasing productivity and reducing costs for all competitors. As long as we contribute a steady stream of great products we will prosper along with the entire ecosystem. We may get a smaller piece, but it will come from a bigger pie.

In other words, Google's future depends on the Internet staying an open system, and our advocacy of open will grow the web for everyone - including Google.

Open Technology
The definition of open starts with the technologies upon which the Internet was founded: open standards and open source software.

Open Standards
Networks have always depended on standards to flourish. When railroad tracks were first being laid across the U.S. in the early 19th century, there were seven different standards for track width. The network didn't flourish and expand west until the different railway companies agreed upon a standard width of 4' 8.5". (In this case the standards war was an actual war: Southern railroads were forced to convert over 11,000 miles of track to the new standard after the Confederacy lost to the Union in the Civil War.)

So there was some precedent in 1974 when Vint Cerf and his colleagues proposed using an open standard (which became TCP/IP) to connect the several computer networks that had emerged around the U.S. They didn't know exactly how many networks were out there so the "Internet" — a term Vint coined — had to be open. Any network could connect using TCP/IP, and now, as a result of that decision, there are about 681 million hosts on the Internet.

Today, we base our developer products on open standards because interoperability is a critical element of user choice. What does this mean for Google Product Managers and Engineers? Simple: whenever possible, use existing open standards. If you are venturing into an area where open standards don't exist, create them. If existing standards aren't as good as they should be, work to improve them and make those improvements as simple and well documented as you can. Our top priorities should always be users and the industry at large and not just the good of Google, and you should work with standards committees to make our changes part of the accepted specification.

We have a good history of doing this. In the formative years of the Google Data Protocol (our standard API protocol, which is based on XML/Atom), we worked as part of the IETF Atom Protocol Working Group to shape the Atom specification. There's also our recent work with the W3C to create a standard geolocation API that will make it easy for developers to build browser-based, location-sensitive applications. This standard helps everyone, not just us, and will lead to users having access to many more compelling apps from thousands of developers.

Open Source
Most of those apps will be built on open source software, a phenomenon responsible for the web's explosive growth in the past 15 years. There is a historic precedent here: while the term "open source" was coined in the late 1990s, the concept of sharing valuable information to catalyze an industry existed long before the Internet. In the early 1900s, the U.S. automobile industry instituted a cross-licensing agreement whereby patents were shared openly and freely amongst manufacturers. Prior to this agreement, the owners of the patent for the two-cycle gasoline engine had effectively bottled up the industry.

Today's open source goes far beyond the "patent pooling" of the early auto manufacturers, and has led to the development of the sophisticated software components — Linux, Apache, SSH, and others — upon which Google is built. In fact, we use tens of millions of lines of open source code to run our products. We also give back: we are the largest open source contributor in the world, contributing over 800 projects that total over 20 million lines of code to open source, with four projects (Chrome, Android, Chrome OS, and Google Web Toolkit) of over a million lines of code each. We have teams that work to support Mozilla and Apache, and an open source project hosting service ( that hosts over 250,000 projects. These activities not only ensure that others can help us build the best products, they also mean that others can use our software as a base for their own products if we fail to innovate adequately.

When we open source our code we use standard, open Apache 2.0 licensing, which means we don't control the code. Others can take our open source code, modify it, close it up and ship it as their own. Android is a classic example of this, as several OEMs have already taken the code and done great things with it. There are risks to this approach, however, as the software can fragment into different branches which don't work well together (remember how Unix for workstations devolved into various flavors — Apollo, Sun, HP, etc.). This is something we are working hard to avoid with Android.

While we are committed to opening the code for our developer tools, not all Google products are open source. Our goal is to keep the Internet open, which promotes choice and competition and keeps users and developers from getting locked in. In many cases, most notably our search and ads products, opening up the code would not contribute to these goals and would actually hurt users. The search and advertising markets are already highly competitive with very low switching costs, so users and advertisers already have plenty of choice and are not locked in. Not to mention the fact that opening up these systems would allow people to "game" our algorithms to manipulate search and ads quality rankings, reducing our quality for everyone.

So as you are building your product or adding new features, stop and ask yourself: Would open sourcing this code promote the open Internet? Would it spur greater user, advertiser, and partner choice? Would it lead to greater competition and innovation? If so, then you should make it open source. And when you do, do it right; don't just push it over the wall into the public realm and forget about it. Make sure you have the resources to pay attention to the code and foster developer engagement. Google Web Toolkit, where we have developed in the open and used a public bug tracker and source control system, is a good example of this.

Open Information
The foundation of open standards and open source has led to a web where massive amounts of personal information — photos, contacts, updates — are regularly uploaded. The scale of information being shared, and the fact that it can be saved forever, creates a question that was hardly a consideration a few years ago: How do we treat this information?

Historically, new information technologies have often enabled new forms of commerce. For example, when traders in the Mediterranean region circa 3000 BC invented seals (called bullae) to ensure that their shipments reached their destinations tamper-free, they transformed commerce from local to long distance. Similar transformations were spurred by the advent of the written word, and more recently, computers. At every step of the way, the transaction, a consensual agreement where each party gets something of value, was powered by a new type of information that allowed a contract to be enforced.

On the web, the new form of commerce is the exchange of personal information for something of value. This is a transaction that millions of us participate in every day, and it has potentially great benefits. An auto insurer could monitor a customer's driving habits in real-time and give a discount for good driving — or charge a premium for speeding — powered by information (GPS tracking) that wasn't available only a few years ago. This is a fairly simple transaction, but we will encounter far more sensitive scenarios.

Let's say your child has an allergy to certain medicines. Would you allow her medical data to be accessible by a smart wireless syringe which could prevent an EMT or nurse from accidentally giving her that medicine? I would, but you might decide the metal bracelet around her wrist is sufficient. And that's the point — people can and will reach different decisions, and when it comes to their personal information we need to treat all of those decisions with equal respect.

So while having more personal information online can be quite beneficial to everyone, its uses should be guided by principles that are responsible, scalable, and flexible enough to grow and change with our industry. And unlike open technology, where our objective is to grow the Internet ecosystem, our approach to open information is to build trust with the individuals who engage within that ecosystem (users, partners, and customers). Trust is the most important currency online, so to build it we adhere to three principles of open information: value, transparency, and control.

First and foremost, we need to make products that are valuable to users. In many cases, we can make our products even better if we know more information about the user, but privacy concerns can arise if people don't understand what value they are getting in return for their information. Explain that value to them, however, and they will often agree to the transaction. For example, millions of people let credit card companies retain information on the purchases they make with their card in exchange for the convenience of not carrying around cash.

We did this well when we launched Interest-Based Advertising in March. IBA makes ads more relevant and more useful. That is the extra value we create based on the information we gather. It also includes a user preferences manager that clearly explains what users are getting in exchange for their information and lets them opt out or adjust their settings. The vast majority of people who visit the preferences manager choose to adjust their settings rather than opt out because they realize the value of receiving ads customized to their interests.

This should be our default approach: tell people, in obvious, plain language, what we know about them and why it's valuable to them that we know it. Think that your product's value is so obvious that it doesn't need explaining? There's a good chance you're wrong.

Next, we need to make it easy for users to find out what information we gather and store about them across all of our products. We recently took a big step in this direction with the launch of the Google Dashboard, which is a single place where users can see what personal data is held by each Google product (covering more than 20 products including Gmail, YouTube, and Search) and control their personal settings. We are, to the best of our knowledge, the first Internet company to offer a service like this and we hope it will become the standard. Another good example is our Privacy Policy, which is written for humans and not just lawyers.

We can go even farther than this though. If you manage a consumer product where you collect information from your users, your product should be part of the Dashboard. If you're already there, you're not done. With every new feature or version, ask yourself if you have any additional information (maybe even information that is publicly available about users on other sites) that you can add to the Dashboard.

Think about how you can increase transparency within your product as well. When you download an Android app, for example, the device tells you what information the app will be able to access about you and your phone, and then you get to decide whether or not to proceed. You don't have to dig deep to figure out what information you are divulging - it tells you up front and lets you decide what to do. Is your product like that? How can you increase users' engagement with your product through increasing transparency?

Finally, we must always give control to the user. If we have information about a user, as with IBA, it should be easy for the user to delete that information and opt-out. If they use our products and store content with us, it's their content, not ours. They should be able to export it or delete it at any time, at no cost, and as easily as possible. Gmail is a great example of this since we offer free forwarding to any address. The ability to switch is critical, so instead of building walls around your product, build bridges. Give users real options.

If there are existing standards for handling user data, then we should adhere to them. If a standard doesn't exist, we should work to create an open one that benefits the entire web, even if a closed standard appears to be better for us (remember — it's not!). In the meantime we need to do whatever we can to make leaving Google as easy as possible. Google is not the Hotel California — you can check out any time you like and you CAN, in fact, leave!

As Eric said in his 2009 strategy memo, "we don't trap users, we make it easy for them to move to our competitors." This policy is sort of like the emergency exits on an airplane — an analogy that our pilot CEO would appreciate. You hope to never use them, but you're glad they're there and would be furious if they weren't.

That's why we have a team — the Data Liberation Front ( — whose job it is to make "checking out" easy. Recent examples of their work include Blogger (people who choose to leave Blogger for another service can easily take their content with them) and Docs (users can now collect all their documents, presos, and spreadsheets in a zip file and download it). Build your products so that the Data Liberation team can work their magic. One way you can do this is by having a good public API that exposes all your users' data. Don't wait for v2 or v3, discuss this early in your product planning meetings and make it a feature of your product from the start.

When reporters at the Guardian, a leading UK newspaper, reviewed the work of the Data Liberation team, they proclaimed it to be "counter-intuitive" for those "accustomed to the lock-in mentality of previous commercial battles." They are right, it is counterintuitive to people who are stuck in the old MBA way of thinking, but if we do our jobs then soon it won't be. Our goal is to make open the default. People will gravitate towards it, then they will expect and demand it and be furious when they don't get it. When open is intuitive, then we have succeeded.

When bigger is better
Closed systems are well-defined and profitable, but only for those who control them. Open systems are chaotic and profitable, but only for those who understand them well and move faster than everyone else. Closed systems grow quickly while open systems evolve more slowly, so placing your bets on open requires the optimism, will, and means to think long term. Fortunately, at Google we have all three of these.

Because of our reach, technical know-how, and lust for big projects, we can take on big challenges that require large investments and lack an obvious, near-term pay-off. We can photograph the world's streets so that you can explore the neighborhood around an apartment you are considering renting from a thousand miles away. We can scan millions of books and make them widely accessible (while respecting the rights of publishers and authors). We can create an email system that gives away a gigabyte of storage (now over 7 gigs) at a time when all other services allow only a small fraction of that amount. We can instantly translate web pages from any of 51 languages. We can process search data to help public health agencies detect flu outbreaks much earlier. We can build a faster browser (Chrome), a better mobile operating system (Android), and an entirely new communications platform (Wave), and then open them up for the world to build upon, customize, and improve.

We can do these things because they are information problems and we have the computer scientists, technology, and computational power to solve them. When we do, we make numerous platforms - video, maps, mobile, PCs, voice, enterprise - better, more competitive, and more innovative. We are often attacked for being too big, but sometimes being bigger allows us to take on the impossible.

All of this is useless, however, if we fail when it comes to being open. So we need to constantly push ourselves. Are we contributing to open standards that better the industry? What's stopping us from open sourcing our code? Are we giving our users value, transparency, and control? Open up as much as you can as often as you can, and if anyone questions whether this is a good approach, explain to them why it's not just a good approach, but the best approach. It is an approach that will transform business and commerce in this still young century, and when we are successful we will effectively re-write the MBA curriculum for the next several decades!

An open Internet transforms lives globally. It has the potential to deliver the world's information to the palm of every person and to give everyone the power of freedom of expression. These predictions were in an email I sent you earlier this year (later posted as a blog post) that described my vision for the future of the Internet. But now I'm talking about action, not vision. There are forces aligned against the open Internet — governments who control access, companies who fight in their own self-interests to preserve the status quo. They are powerful, and if they succeed we will find ourselves inhabiting an Internet of fragmentation, stagnation, higher prices, and less competition.

Our skills and our culture give us the opportunity and responsibility to prevent this from happening. We believe in the power of technology to deliver information. We believe in the power of information to do good. We believe that open is the only way for this to have the broadest impact for the most people. We are technology optimists who trust that the chaos of open benefits everyone. We will fight to promote it every chance we get.

Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.

As Google product managers, you are building something that will outlast all of us, and none of us can imagine all the ways Google will grow and touch people's lives. In that way, we are like our colleague Vint Cerf, who didn't know exactly how many networks would want to be part of this "Internet" so he set the default to open. Vint certainly got it right. I believe we will too.

Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Track Santa and his sleigh with NORAD

12/23/2009 07:13:00 AM

Sipping warm cider, watching the snow fall, unwrapping gifts — these holiday traditions always seem to produce many of the year's sweetest memories. Several years ago, we added another holiday tradition to our list — helping NORAD keep tabs on Santa every Christmas Eve.

NORAD's Santa-tracking dates back to 1955, when a Sears and Roebuck magazine ad in Colorado Springs accidentally directed readers to call NORAD instead of the "Talk-to-Santa" hotline they were advertising. Embracing the holiday spirit, the folks at NORAD provided callers with Santa's location according to their radar and have tracked his journey ever since. Many years later, in 2004, the same holiday spirit inspired us to use Google Earth — it was called "Keyhole Earth Viewer" back then — to display Santa's voyage around the world on Christmas Eve. We hosted the entire tracker on a single machine and were excited to have an audience of 25,000 following St. Nick's flight with us that night.

Our scrappy Santa tracker has come a long way since 2004. We added "Santa-cam" videos for select locations around the world, 3D SketchUp models of Santa's sleigh and his North Pole home, the official feed of Santa's location from NORAD headquarters and several other improvements. With more technical resources to support this richer experience, and the wonderful efforts of our Santa-tracking team, 2008 was the biggest year ever for NORAD Tracks Santa — more than eight million people tuned in to track Santa last Christmas Eve.

As soon as he returned to North Pole last year, Santa and his elves began planning for his 2009 flight — and we were no different. We thought hard about the different ways we could improve the Santa tracker and after a year of planning, we think this year's will be the best one yet. As usual, we'll display Santa's location, according to NORAD, in Google Maps and Google Earth at But we've made a few improvements to make tracking Santa even easier. Namely, we'll display Santa's journey with the Google Earth plug-in, directly on the NORAD Tracks Santa site, instead of using the Google Earth client. As a result, you'll be able to follow Santa in Google Earth's immersive, 3D environment directly within your web browser. For more information about the plugin and why we chose to use this tool to track Santa, have a look at our post on the Google Geo Developers Blog.

We're also excited about the many different ways you can keep track of Santa's location this Christmas Eve. Like last year, Santa will be trackable by visiting on a mobile device, or searching for "Santa" on Google Maps for Mobile, available for most mobile phones (read more on the Google Mobile Blog). Santa's location will also be updated on Twitter with @noradsanta and you can keep up with news about Santa's flight with our real-time search feature.

To track Santa, visit starting at 2am ET on Christmas Eve. There, you'll see a Google Map that will display Santa's location over the course of the day. To visualize Santa in Google Earth, just click "Track Santa in Google Earth" and you'll see St. Nick flying through Google Earth in your browser. If you don't have the Earth plug-in, click here — it will be installed automatically when you download Google Earth 5.1.

We hope you enjoy tracking Santa with us this year. And on behalf of everyone at Google — happy holidays and have a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are HP Computers Racist?


Are Hewlett-Packard webcams racist?

In a video posted to YouTube this week, two co-workers - one white and one black - tried out the webcam face-tracking software on an HP MediaSmart computer. It is supposed to follow users as they move, but it fails to recognize Desi, a black man. When his co-worker Wanda, who is white, enters the frame, it immediately recognizes her and follows her in the frame.

"As soon as my blackness enters the frame ... it stopped," Desi said. "As soon as white Wanda appears, the camera moves. Black Desi gets in there? Nope, no facial recognition anymore, buddy. I'm going on record and I'm saying it. Hewlett-Packard computers are racist."

Despite the accusations, Desi is good-natured and seemingly amused by the problem.

HP responded on its blog.

"We are working with our partners to learn more," HP said. "The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty 'seeing' contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting."

"Everything we do is focused on ensuring that we provide a high-quality experience for all our customers, who are ethnically diverse and live and work around the world," HP continued. "That's why when issues surface, we take them seriously and work hard to understand the root causes."

Copyright (c) 2009Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Intel Launches Next-generation Atom Netbook Processor


Agam Shah, IDG News Service

Dec 21, 2009 11:00 am

Intel on Monday launched its next-generation Atom netbook processor, saying it will bring longer battery life and improved system performance to low-cost laptops.

The single-core Atom N450 chip is 60 percent smaller than existing Atom processors, and consumes close to 20 percent less power, said Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at Intel. The chip draws about 5.5 watts of power, according to an Intel specification sheet.

The small footprint of the chip could also lead to new device designs, like thinner netbooks and tablets, Nanduri said. Netbooks with N450 chips will be shown by major vendors at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show to be held in Las Vegas Jan. 7-10.

The company has about 80 netbook design wins based on the latest processor, Nanduri said. The company did not immediately release pricing for the chip, but said new PCs will be available at existing netbook price points.

Netbooks are low-cost PCs characterized by small screens and keyboards, and are designed to surf the Internet and run basic applications like word processing. The category took off when Asus introduced the Eee PC in 2007, and today top vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and Lenovo offer netbooks.

The Atom N450 will run at a clock speed of 1.66GHz, which is the same as an existing Atom N280 netbook chip. However, the improvements in the N450 come from the smaller chip size, achieved by integrating the graphics and memory controller into the CPU. The N450 will process multimedia faster and free up bandwidth for the processor to communicate with other components. Previously, the graphics and memory controller resided outside the CPU.

The graphics improvement will come as relief to netbook users who have criticized the chipset in current Atom netbooks for its limited graphics compared to Nvidia's Ion platform, which plugs a GeForce graphics core into an Atom chip to deliver full 1080p graphics.

The integrated graphics processor in N450 is capable of 720p high-definition graphics natively, but Nanduri insisted the N450 processor is meant to consume Internet content, not to play graphics-intensive games or view high-definition movies.

"These are not meant for hooking a Blu-ray player to it," Nanduri said. However, Intel is validating technology from companies like Broadcom that vendors can integrate into systems with the Atom processor to let users view full 1080p high-definition content.

Netbooks powered by Atom N450 will run Windows 7, Windows XP or the Linux operating systems, Nanduri said.

Netbook shipments totaled around 17 million in 2008, with the number expected to more than double by the end of this year, according to research firm DisplaySearch. Many netbook purchases were driven by the economic downturn late last year and earlier this year when consumers clamped down on spending.

"People thought this was a recession-oriented business, but we believe... this is a category here to stay," Nanduri said.

Nanduri acknowledged netbooks could be threatened by ultrathin laptops being offered at competitive price points. Ultrathin laptops are lightweight laptops that are as portable as netbooks, but provide performance to run most applications such as high-definition multimedia or casual gaming. Intel supplies chips under the Celeron, Pentium and Core brands for ultrathin laptops.

Intel also launched two Atom processors for low-cost, small form factor desktops. The single-core Atom D410 and dual-core D510 operate at clock speeds of 1.66GHz and include 512KB and 1MB of cache respectively. The D410 draws around 10 watts of power, while the D510 draws 13 watts. Intel has about 50 design wins for entry-level desktops, Nanduri said.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ghibli's new 'anime' features girl in fantasy


Ghibli's new 'anime' features girl in fantasy
This artistic impression shows a scene from Studio Ghibli's new animation film ''Kariguras...
A girl's fantasy inspired by British writer Mary Norton's novel is the main theme of the upcoming new animated film Studio Ghibli will release next summer, the Japanese leading ''anime'' creation atelier said Wednesday.
Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi will direct the film ''Karigurashi no Arrietty'' (Arrietty Borrows Everything) with the help of the country's anime great Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki said at a press conference.
The story, inspired by the novel ''The Borrowers,'' depicts the life of a 10-centimeter-tall girl, Arrietty, under the floor of a human's house.
''This is a story of a girl who borrows many things from the human's world for her life. I think the film will give viewers suggestions about how to survive this tough time,'' Suzuki said.
The new Ghibli film, following Miyazaki's ''Ponyo on the Cliff,'' will be distributed by Toho Co.

Manga' library opens at Tokyo university


'Manga' library opens at Tokyo university
A staff member prepares for the opening of the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Mang...
A ''manga'' library opened in Tokyo this weekend, featuring traditional Japanese comic magazines that were popular nearly half a century ago and a rare compilation of romantic comics for women.
Visitors can also browse old issues of the smash-hit girls' magazines ''Ribon'' and ''Nakayoshi'' as well as most comic books published in Japan in the 1960s or later from among some 140,000 items stocked at the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subculture, which opened Saturday at Meiji University.
The library, named after the manga critic Yonezawa who died in 2006, is a preparatory facility for what the university is trying to complete as one of ''the world's largest'' library featuring manga comics in 2014, it said.

Rap and manga - new roads to Nirvana in Japan


TOKYO — They rap sutras, use manga characters and serve beers -- some of Japan's Buddhist monks are turning to decidedly unorthodox means to boost the appeal of their ancient faith.

The new breed of holy men worry that Buddhism is slowly losing its shine as a generation raised in a consumer society turns its back on prayer and seeks solace in material rather than spiritual remedies.

Buddhism is still Japan's main religion, along with the animist Shinto faith, but hundreds of temples have been shuttered and monks say they struggle to be heard above the buzz of modern life.

With prayer beads in one hand and a microphone in another, robed and bespectacled monk "Mr. Happiness" flicked on a boom box one recent afternoon and, under the placid gaze of a Buddha statue, rapped lyrics that roughly translated to this:

"This is a story from a long time ago /

He gets in my dreams, he's my cosmic idol /

Yeah yeah, who ya talkin' about bro? /

I'm talkin' about the Buddha yo."

His lyrics, sung in modern Japanese, are inspired by ancient Sanskrit scriptures about compassion, pain and suffering, said the monk, the latest in a line of family patriarchs to head the 400-year old Kyouyoji Temple.

"There was a lot of controversy when I started this," said the monk, whose real name is Kansho Tagai.

"But I think a monk's role is to spread the teachings through a wide variety of performances. With more than 2,500 years of history, I think we should be able to choose ways to adapt Buddhism to every age.

"Buddhism has the substance ... to respond to people's needs, but monks need to get closer to the people," said Tagai, who on his website describes his temple as "Your Heart's Clinic."

Elsewhere in Tokyo, the suburban Ryohoji temple attracted hundreds of people for last month's autumn festival by drawing on the power of manga comics and the quirky youth cult of Cosplay, or costume-play.

Girls sporting frilly maid uniforms and sets of fluffy cat-ears -- the latest in comic-inspired costuming and usually a more common sight in Tokyo's geeky manga cafes -- greeted visitors to the 16th century temple.

Benzaiten, the goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, was depicted as a doe-eyed cartoon character on a sign at the temple, which also offered short cellphone video downloads of chief monk Shoko Nakazato chanting prayers.

"I came over because this temple has been the talk of the Net," said software programmer Mitsutaka Adachi, 26. "I was a bit surprised to see this, but it's fun. This can motivate people to come here."

Ryohoji's abbot Nakazato, 45, said he is part of the manga generation himself, having grown up on a diet of big-eyed cartoon figures and robo-cats, and sees nothing wrong with using the genre to attract newcomers.

"I have little resistance to manga ... I wanted to tell the people that temples are a fun place to visit," he said.

In another Buddhist temple, monks and nuns have even staged a fashion show to promote the faith, strutting down a catwalk to hip-hop music at Tsukiji Honganji Temple and showcasing their colorful Tokyo Bouz ("monk") Collection.

The fashion-monks from several different sects wore colourful robes and rapped sutras under a shower of confetti shaped like lotus petals.

Yet another monk, hipster Kaku Aoe with a goatee and a shaved head, has organised monthly 'dinners in the dark,' where blindfolded guests play a guessing game about the food but also get a taste of a monk's life.

"There are few opportunities for monks and people to connect," he said during a recent dinner. "Through a fun concept like this, people will be more open and eager to learn about Buddhism."

While some detractors dismiss the monks' business ventures as marketing gimmicks, the debate underscores real worries over the faith's future.

Japan is home to 75,000 temples and 20,000 monks, but hundreds of the religious sites are shuttered each year.

Although temples and religious festivals remain popular, many Japanese see them as tourist magnets that do a roaring trade in lucky charms and expensive funerals but have little connection to their lives.

Others resent the idea of ascetics seeking enlightenment in the comfort of their tax-free temples at a time when a severe recession has caused massive layoffs, a spike in suicides, and worries over a bleak future.

Hoping to take his spiritual message into the earthly realm of the Japanese office worker, another monk has ventured into the inner sanctum of the salaryman, the after-hours beer bar.

Working the counter of a cozy music club one recent night, monk Hogen Natori was serving drinks, yelling orders, joking with customers -- and chanting traditional ancient sutras.

Hogen began performing with two junior monks six years ago, experimenting with jazz and other styles. In the end they decided to stick with the original -- unembellished and ancient chants.

The monks explained their message before dimming the lights. Then, one struck a chime and a hush descended over the 12-seat bar. The trio began to hum in low voices that swelled into chants as candles flickered.

After their performances, the monks engaged the guests in dialogue.

"Japan's youth have very few opportunities to run into Buddhism," Natori said. "They think monks are boring, that they just sit in their temples and say they pray for people without even coming out to listen to them."

Natori is unashamed about his nocturnal forays into Tokyo nightlife in his bid to bring enlightenment to the people.

"We need to actively guide people about how to live," he said. "But we also need to make monks fun ... If they can't come to us, we need to go to them, like a delivery service."

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved

VLC Christmas Version

I was just watching a video of Ayaka on VLC and guess what?
I closely looked at the icon. It was definitely different. Upon closer look I found that it was the regular VLC icon with a Santa's Red Cap on top of it. Now that was a pleasant surprise!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Origins of manga and anime


November 27, 2009 | 11:09 am

It was the simple clacking of two wooden sticks on a street corner that signaled to children the start of kamishibai, a popular pastime during Depression-era Japan. Kamishibai means “street theater using painted illustrations.” Author Eric P Nash examines the little-known art form and predecessor to modern-day anime and manga in his recent book “Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater,” published by Abrams ComicArts.

Storytellers would travel from town to town with their butai (miniature stage) on the back of a bike. The setup was reminiscent of a Punch and Judy show, but instead of puppets the narrator would slide a series of poster boards with watercolor illustrations in and out of the box. He would act out the script, which was written on cards placed on the back of a board.

Propaganda_p164Each show consisted of three stories of about 10 minutes each: an adventure for boys, a domestic drama for girls and then a simple comic story. The majority of performances ended in a cliffhanger, forcing eager audiences to return the next day.
Nash, a New York Times writer and research editor and author of several books on architecture, has always been a fan of comics. It was while reading the book “Getting it Wrong in Japan” that he came across kamishibai, a word he had never seen before, and decided to dig further. Unable to find any book on the topic in English, he traveled to Japan two years ago to investigate and found more than 300 images in two children’s libraries in Osaka and Tokyo and discovered countless contributions that kamishibai had made to the comics genre.

“A lot of attributes seen in anime are present,” Nash said, “such as giant robots and monsters from outer space.” He also mentions the “manga-sized eyes,” wide and oversized, meant to convey emotion found in popular characters such as Jungle Boy. Goldenbat_p98
Golden Bat, created in 1931, was considered to be the world’s first true comic superhero. Although visually resembling Captain America’s nemesis Red Skull, Golden Bat and Superman share more commonalities: the red cape, skill of flight, superhuman strength and a fortress of solitude, albeit in the Japanese Alps.

Kamishibai artists departed from traditional Japanese line art drawing by creating a cartoon-like style and applying “chiaroscuro,” the Western style of contrasting light and dark, providing depth and mass.

During World War II, the Japanese government utilized used kamishibai for propaganda, as did Americans during the occupation with stories centered on democratic values such as baseball.

The demise of kamishibai coincided with the end of the occupation and introduction of television in 1952.
Many of the form’s writers and artists then migrated into manga in the ’50s, such as Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka.

In “Manga Kamishibai,” Golden Bat creator Takeo Nagamatsu summed up his feelings on kamishibai’s role in Japanese society: “Pictures that look nice in someone’s house are great ... but kamishibai are loved by many children and cheer them up. When I think of these children later growing up to be honorable Japanese adults, it makes me realize the significance of creating kamishibai.”

-- Liesl Bradner

Images, from top: Jungle Boy, Boy Soldier and Golden Bat. From "Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater" by Eric P. Nash / Abrams ComicArts 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

apanese temple resorts to manga to woo visitors


HACHIOJI, Japan — Girls clad in maids' outfits are not traditionally associated with Buddhism, but that has not stopped monks at a centuries-old temple using Japanese pop culture to woo visitors.

The Ryohoji temple, built in the late 16th century in a Tokyo suburb, erected a colourful manga-inspired sign at its entrance in June and has since seen visitor numbers perk up -- especially young men.

But it went a step further at the weekend, setting up tents and opening up a temporary cafe staffed by bonnet-wearing girls sporting classic frills, one of the recent popular themes among fans of anime and costume role-playing.

The "maids" look authentic and old-fashioned in every way -- save for the short length of the skirts and the fake cats' ears on their heads.

And it seemed to work, the temple drawing hundreds of visitors on Saturday as the event coincided with a local autumn festival in Hachioji, on the western outskirts of Tokyo.

"I came over because this temple has been the talk of the Net," said Mitsutaka Adachi, a 26-year-old telecom software programmer, one of many first-time visitors to the ancient temple.

"I was a bit surprised to see this but it's fun," he told AFP. "This can motivate people to come here."

One of the maids, who only identified herself as Yurin, said it was "good that young people come to the temple."

"This is my first experience as a maid but I'm enjoying myself," she added.

Ryohoji's chief monk, Shoko Nakazato, 45, said he did not think it was inappropriate.

"I'm a manga generation who grew up watching them on television. I have little resistance to manga.... I wanted to tell the people that temples are a fun place to visit," he said.

Ryohoji previously had almost no visitors during the week, but recently up to 30 people, mostly young men, had come every day, Nakazato said.

Adding to the spectacle, Toromi, a singer who drew the manga characters on the temple's sign, was in a red-and-white costume inspired by a goddess worshipped at the temple.

"I'm so happy as unexpectedly many people came," said Toromi, who goes by one name and is a common sight in Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics district that is frequented by computer buffs and fanatics, known in Japanese as "otaku."

Ryohoji is also selling a 500-yen (five-dollar) card with cartoon characters which allows buyers to download three-minute motion pictures on to their mobile phones of chief monk Nakazato chanting prayers.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

It's the unreal wedding of the year


November 26, 2009
Photos courtesy Sal9000, via">

The honeymoon in Guam and, inset, Nene Anegasaki. Photos courtesy Sal9000, via

We may occasionally wish our spouses had an "off" switch but a Japanese man will have that luxury full-time after he married his virtual girlfriend in an official-looking ceremony over the weekend.

In a bizarre story reminiscent of the film Lars and the Real Girl, the man, known by his nickname SAL9000, fell in love with a fictional character from the Nintendo DS "love simulator" Love Plus.

Popular in Japan's geek subculture, the game invites players to pick a girlfriend and then challenges them to woo her by taking her out on "dates" and perform boyfriend duties such as saying "I love you" 100 times into the handheld games console.

Photos courtesy Sal9000, via">

The bride and groom in Tokyo. Photos courtesy Sal9000, via

The most successful lotharios can even give their virtual love interest a kiss by literally kissing the DS's touch screen.

But that wasn't enough for SAL9000, who wedded Nene Anegasaki in an official-looking but not legally binding reception in Tokyo on Sunday.

Unusually, before the wedding, he took her on a "honeymoon" to Guam.

The reception included a priest, an MC, a DJ, speeches from friends and family, photo slideshows, wedding music and even a bouquet. The entire event was streamed live on a Japanese video-sharing site, of which SAL9000 is a prominent member.

"I'm so happy so many people were able to witness this," SAL9000 wrote in a letter to tech culture blog, calling it a milestone in his life.

"Some people have expressed doubts about my actions, but at the end of the day, this is really just about us as husband and wife. As long as the two of us can go on to create a happy household, I'm sure any misgivings about us will be resolved.

"The two of us hope to continue to let our love for each other grow as time goes on."

Lisa Katayama, a US freelance journalist who covers Japanese tech culture for publications including, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, and her own blog,, has been at the forefront of this virtual love craze.

She covered SAL9000's reception and in October interviewed young Japanese real-life couple Koh and Yurie, whose marriage took an unexpected turn when Koh took a liking to his Love Plus virtual girlfriend while on a business trip.

Yurie said she didn't have a problem with Koh's virtual indiscretions, saying "if he's just enjoying it as a game, that's fine with me".

And in an even stranger story, Katayama wrote a piece for The New York Times about Tokyo resident Nisan, 37, who fell in love with a stuffed pillowcase emblazoned with a depiction of a teenage video game character.

Nisan insists he has real feelings for the character and says he carries the pillowcase everywhere he goes.

"When I die, I want to be buried with her in my arms," he said.

But Katayama says people who dismiss these love affairs as the preserve of wackos are simply placing judgment too quickly on something they're not comfortable with.

She said people needed to stretch their imaginations to consider how far they would go in loving something that's not human.

"Here [in the US] it's OK to love your dog, it's OK to even love your car, but it's not OK to love an anime character," she said in a phone interview.

"We draw the line there in Western culture but in Japan some people still draw the line at cars and some people draw it a little further.

"I don't know if it's a good thing for society but we're always replacing things that humans used to do with technology, so it's not too far off to think that things like romance and sex can be replaced by technology."

Man Actually Marries His Anime Girlfriend On Guam


Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Saturday, 21 November 2009 18:53


By Jeff Marchesseault

GUAM - Doe-eyed, innocent, and cute beyond belief. What single guy wouldn't go for a girl like that? But given the fact that Nene Anegasaki is an anime character in a dating simulation game, most guys who enjoy spending time with her don't mind the constraints on the relationship. After all, it's just a game. But one boyfriend's love knows no bounds.

Several stories surfacing online are taking curious note of a man's actual church nuptials with Nene right here on the tropical vacation resort island of Guam, a hot spot for Japanese and Korean weddings and honeymoons. The couple may come from different worlds but they'll reportedly celebrate their wedding together among family and friends in Japan.

One blogger at, reports:

The two were married when a man brought his DS along with a copy of Love Plus to a church in Guam. There's no word on honeymoon plans, but the two will be holding a small reception for family, close friends and the internet on November 22nd. (Seriously, there will be a webcam and stuff.)

Read the story, "Guy Marries Video Game, We Don't Judge".

Read the story, "Man Weds 2D Virtual Girlfriend in Real Life".

Read the story, "Man marries his Love Plus girlfriend".

Read the story, "a man and his video game girl: the love plus marriage".

Read the story, "When a Man Loves a Video Game Character"

Taking the Ubuntu gospel to the Anime nation


by David M Williams
Sunday, 29 November 2009

People all over the world use computers for many different reasons. Yet, often Linux evangelists focus on those who already have a technical bent through initiatives such as software freedom day. The Ubuntu community in Massachusetts decided its time to reach out to a new crowd.
Ubuntu is possibly the most accessible and popular Linux distribution available today. With the release of Karmic Koala – version 9.10 – just weeks ago it is also presently enjoying a status as the most current operating system on the planet, even moreso than Windows 7.

Anime, on the other hand, is the term ascribed to animation, be it hand-drawn or computer-generated, which originates in Japan. Popular Anime franchises include well-known and successful cartoons such as Astro Boy and Pokemon.

The Ubuntu Massachusetts Local Community (or “LoCo”) has put careful thought into how they could prosetlyse the unreached. It occurred to them that a reasonable proportion of Linux geeks are also Anime geeks.

Consequently, the LoCo is now working to establish a Linux advocacy stand at the coming Anime Boston 2010 convention. The convention expects some 16,000 visitors which thus offers the potential for both Ubuntu and the principles of open source software to be espoused to a great many people who might otherwise not hear of them.

The LoCo is aiming to design Anime-themed flyers and materials explaining how free software can be used to create artworks, to watch DVDs and other media, and ultimately support the computing needs of the Anime-loving crowd.

In addition, English translations of the unique Ubunchu Manga will be handed out. Manga is the term ascribed to Japanese comics and thus has a close relationship with Anime. Ubunchu is a comic about Ubuntu Linux, and quite likely the world’s first Manga – or comic of any form – used to evangelise an operating system.

Ubunchu tells the story of high school teens who argue over which operating system is the greatest. Their view of Linux is steeped in visions of arcane command-line instructions and hours of inscrutable tweaking but this is blown away when they boot Ubuntu Linux and have it up-and-running with nary a few clicks of the mouse.

It’s likely the Massachusetts crowd are onto a clever thing; certainly, both Linux and Anime are out of the mainstream and even share cult status in some circles.

Unfortunately, at this stage nothing is certain with the LoCo still needing resources before they can fully commit to the booth. If you’re an Anime-loving Ubuntu-using geek in Boston, give them a call.

Perhaps Linux user groups around the world might like to similarly consider community events that they could find common ground with.