On the Net with...Douglas Adams

      Driven by the "laws of probability," or improbability as it were, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Noel Adams, 44, has moved from a job working as a bodyguard for an Arab royal family, to writing his own best-selling trilogy, to guest guitarist for rock legends Pink Floyd.
Douglas Noel Adams       What's next on the UK phenom's unusual itinerary? Fortunately for 'net users, Adams is presently hard at work on an official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Web site about which he's rather closedmouthed, although he does expect it up and running by Winter '96. Also in development for Douglas in the year ahead is a television documentary series on evolution and another chronicling the adventures of Dirk Gently and his holistic detective agency, and (possibly) the filming of a silver screen version of Hitchhiker, to which Ghostbusters director and producer Ivan Reitman owns the rights.
      So without further ado, welcome the galaxy's most traveled hitchhiker as he joins IU to discuss his undying passion for Macs, his unrealized dream of rock stardom, and his work with the "multiple media" company, The Digital Village. And, of course, his impressions on the meaning of life, the universe and the Internet.

Internet Underground: Currently, you're adapting some of your own work for the online world. What do you think of the Internet right now as an entertainment medium?

Douglas Noel Adams: I think the Web is something we haven't understood yet, and we're not using it properly. Whenever any new medium arrives, people bring old models with them. We're all familiar with how the film industry started, people just sort of put on stage plays and stuck a camera in front of it. I feel that in the last 10 years, we've all been encouraged to get wildly excited about desktop publishing. I think it should be a medium through which you are able to get much more information assembled on the fly.
      I think that just wandering through endless brushes after a while gets to be a little less rewarding. Which is not being negative about the Web, but I think it's just saying that we haven't got it right yet. When telephones first started in this country, it was assumed that what we'd use them for was listening to concerts from the Albert Hall. And when that didn't work out too well, everyone said, ŽOh well, that's it for the telephone.'

IU: And clearly multimedia entertainment has taken off. When did you become involved with multimedia?

DNA: It's funny, the most fun I've ever had in my professional career was actually doing the radio series of Hitchhiker many, many years ago. At that point we were a little team of people producing it. We were inventing all kinds of new production techniques as we went along. Radio hadn't been made that way before. I really, really enjoyed that. I enjoyed going into television rather less. Then I had fun putting on a stage production and a novel based on it. Then the novel kind of hijacked my burgeoning multimedia career at that point because it was such a success that it meant that the next thing I had to do quite clearly was write another novel. And so it went. So really I've been sort of a frustrated multimedia author struggling to get out.

IU: You're co-founder of a new multimedia company titled The Digital Village (TDV) that's primarily involved with more computer/new technology-based entertainment. How and why did this corporation come together?

DNA: The prime founder is a great friend of mine named Robbie Stamp whose background is as a television documentary producer who, unlike virtually anybody I've ever met, has actually had a yen to be a manager. Most people dread management; he's very excited by management. But essentially, he's assembled a terrific team, including people from the world of publishing, television and online. So we kind of cover all the bases. We call ourselves very specifically, and note the additional syllable, a Žmultiple media' company. That's because multimedia is just one media. Most people in multimedia come from, largely speaking, (the)technology field. They form companies and don't necessarily have any background in print or text or television or whatever. It's funny because the television companies and the publishing companies all are saying, ŽOh we've got to get into CD-ROMs. Let's hire in someone who knows something about CD-ROMs and hope that they solve that problem for us.' But life isn't like that. So the way we're set up is to coverall of these bases, television, online, CD-ROM and so on.

IU: I've heard you're also constructing a Web site? Is it up yet?

DNA: No, it's not up yet. One of the things we had to resolve for ourselves early on is do we go for a small Web site early, or do we hit the ground running with something quite well developed? We decided to take that latter route. So I can't say at the moment when it will be up, but we hope it will be something that will be pretty strong by the time it goes up. I hope it will be this year.

IU: What kind of content will be on the site?

DNA: I don't want to give away too much at the moment, but I would say that any successful Web site is going to combine two things. One is strong individual content of its own and the other is good navigational links and directory services to the rest of the Web. Anybody who can help solve the problem of how you find the good stuff and how you find interesting stuff, stuff that is useful and particular to you will certainly be a great boon to the world. You may be surprised and astonished to hear that we will be calling our directory service The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Internet. [laughs] I know other people have appropriated that name but they're going to have to give it back now.

IU: I'm sure you'll publish some of your own work on the Web site.

DNA: Oh, very much so. At this point I don't want to say that it will specifically have this or that. But my inclination is, if in doubt, put it up.

IU: What other multiple media projects are you currently involved with?

DNA: There's a thing I'm working on right at the moment. It will be an original work of fiction that will actually originate as a CD-ROM. And that's kind of a pointed principle for me. Anybody can take a book and turn it into a CD-ROM. But, of course, a book is linear, and you'll produce rather linear CD-ROMs as a consequence. The CD-ROM that we're in the early stages of developing will be something that draws its first breath as a CD-ROM.

IU: Any other projects Adams fans can look forward to?

DNA: Yes, there's a book that I'm terribly, terribly late on at the moment and everybody's getting fed up, including me. And to be honest, it has gone on to the backburner because of all of the Digital Village projects. It'll move forward to the front burner, but it's a book that, so far, has gone through too many versions and I was just sort of losing sight of what I was doing. It may well be that that one even stays on the backburner and that I'll just sit down and simply write a completely different book because you can work on the same thing for too long.

IU: At the alt.fan.douglas-adams FAQ, it's said that you often look for ways to procrastinate when working on new projects. Do you spend much time on the Web, looking for ways to waste time?

DNA: I try not to do much aimless surfing around on the Web, but I use it a lot. If you're as busy as we are at the moment in setting up a company, then there's an awful lot of information just about other companies out there that might have useful resources or useful partnerships, or software.

IU: Speaking of partnerships, word has it that you're developing products for Apple first and Windows second. In light of the difficulties and your apparent taste for Macintoshes, has anything changed with your development plans, and would you please consider taking over the company yourself?

DNA: [laughs] No, I don't think so. I'm watching with interest. For people who love Macintoshes, it has been a very frustrating time. But we've announced our technology partnership with Apple and people sort of said, ŽWhy with Apple, they're in trouble?' Well, yeah maybe they are in trouble. But first of all, I have every expectation that they will survive this particular twisty-turn as they have survived earlier twisty-turns. But also, we are a development company and we want to develop using the best technology, and Apple is clearly the best technology. The world needs Apple.

IU: You say Žthe world needs Apple,' but clearly the Internet is very America-centric. Does this bother you, and are Americans as rude on the Internet as they are in person?

DNA: At the moment, obviously, most of the people on the Web are American. But I very much hope that if the whole world comes online that cultural diversity will actually thrive because everything will be equally present. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a false hope, but I think there's every reason to be optimistic and certainly proactive in encouraging cultural diversity.

IU: By the way, in regard to the alt.fan.douglas-adams FAQ I just mentioned, do you read it or any other Douglas Adams newsgroups on the 'net?

DNA: When I first discovered them I used to sort of read it quite a lot, but I haven't so much as of late. I'll tell you why. I think once we set up our Web site here it will become more of an issue, but the thing was that I would read something and reply to give somebody some information, answer a question or whatever. Then, in an incredibly short time that information would become so garbled -- you'd see people passing it around to each other. So I would then have to intervene and say Žno, no, no, that isn't what I said, it's this other thing.' Because there is no persistency on the newsgroups, you just get chinese whispers happening at an extraordinary rate. So what I'll do when we have our Web site set up, is kind of interact with the newsgroups a little bit. I'll answer stuff on the Web site so that it stays there, the correct information.

IU: You must receive an enormous amount of e-mail from fans. Do you respond to all of the letters sent to you?

DNA: I try to reply but I have to admit that I don't reply to everything. Sometimes you get a lot of kooky letters from people, and you look through for some particular question they're asking that you can answer simply. And there isn't one, so I say, Žoh well,' and move on to the next.

IU: Are you surprised by the number of sites devoted to you on the Internet?

DNA: I guess there's sort of a strong crossover between people who might enjoy my books, and people who use the Web. I don't know what that says about any of us, but there certainly does seem to be a strong crossover.

IU: Before I let you go, I'm just curious, what does Douglas Adams do when he's not writing or not surfing the Internet?

DNA: Play the guitar. I play with my daughter. One of my still to be realized ambitions is that I do want to be a rock star, and I feel that I'm now nearly old enough.

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