There will be a review up later today, but I wanted to make a quick note to point out PennyPacker, a fan-designed extension for FireFox designed to help browse the archives of Penny Arcade. In the process it is creating a very effective database of tags for the strips themselves, allowing one to search the PA archives with ease regardless of whether they actually use the extension or not.
This is good, because the Penny Arcade archive search is the work of the devil.
On one of the more professional webcomic sites out there, with an eight person staff on hand working to keep the comic running smoothly, the complete ineffectiveness of that feature has always seemed a glaring hole in an otherwise solid production. It isn’t a necessity, persay, for a webcomic to have – but it seemed somehow wrong for a site so polished to be lax in that one area.
Given Tycho’s comments in his post, it seems the gentlemen there are aware of this as well. I can’t fault them for not having invested them time in developing a better feature, especially given the strain a search engine might be under given the size of their archives and their audience… but I imagine they were even more pleased than I to discover that fans had already come up with an answer.
Which brings us to the point of this post – there are a lot of nice features for webcomics to have that go above and beyond the essentials. Searchable archives, detailed cast and story pages, plot overviews. And more often than not, webcomic creators don’t have the time or capacity to go ahead and create all of those themselves – but that doesn’t mean they have to go without. I’ve mentioned this before, regarding Comixpedia – even if an artist isn’t able to write up their own introduction to the comic, it’s worth checking to see if a fan has already done so at Comixpedia.org… and making sure to link to that page!
I imagine more than a few fans would be happy to make similar contributions to their favorite comics. Will it always be something as robust as PennyPacker? Most likely not. But even a simple story summary could be a big help for a new reader, and something a lot of fans could help with.
I’m not trying to say that fans should be treated a plunderable resource and used for free labor – but I’m sure every comic has those devoted enough to it they’d be glad to lend a hand for the simple purpose of improving the comic.
And in a lot of cases, I imagine all it would take would be putting the option out there.