Over the past few hours, Google has managed to create a great hubbub by announcing out of the blue that they will be launching their new browser, codenamed Chrome, in beta later today. It is supposed to present a revolution in the way we approach the web, with great improvements in technology, user interfacing and security. But the great thing is, they’re using a comic to announce it.
Last year, Microsoft used a webcomic to announce their new “Ribbon” feature, that they had just introduced in Office 2007. It used an elaborate metaphor with lots of fairy tale elements to basically present a sales pitch to technologically less savvy.
Google ups the ante by hiring Scott McCloud to create an white paper in comic format about Chrome’s new features, and about how they think it will revolutionize the internet. With his trilogy on the comics medium, McCloud has proven himself a wizard at using the language of comics for essayistic, non-fictional exposés rather than narrative stories. Over the years he has prefected his own idiom of talking heads, schemata and multidirectional reading patterns to create a new and more engaging way of approaching non-fictional subject matter, rather than resorting to the standard picture-and caption approach that is predominant in essayistic or educational material in comic format.
With this project, McCloud clearly had a field day. He worked closely with the people of the Chrome team on the scenario and the different topics they wanted to tackle, but the script itself just oozes McCloud’s own experience. Just as he uses his own likeness as main host in his Comics books, McCloud brings the actual engineers and team leaders from the Chrome team on the stage to explain certain aspects of Chrome’s new features, providing them with additional visual metaphors so as to have even the most luddite reader at least basically understand what they are trying to say.
But even with these visual similes, McCloud never starts telling fairy tales – his approach is a no-nonsense one, and he keeps his (and the reader’s) eyes on the ball : what is this new browser and why is it so cool. He also makes sure that all aspects of the product are covered : technological innovations, but also user interfacing, security and privacy and even the rationale behind the open source approach that Google takes, all the while binding his narrative together by continually elaborating on schemata that he earlier introduced.
Up until now, I thought that Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Comic Book Comics (Evil Twin Comics) would be the best non-fiction comic I’ve read this year, but once again, McCloud gives the competition a run for its money.
As for Chrome itself, my limited technological background does not permit me to make sound judgements on some of the new features, but I think I can see the benefits of assigning each webpage its own “sandbox”, independently from all other web applications you might be running. And I’m also quite curious about Chrome’s “naked” look, which supposedly should direct the user’s attention to the page he’s using, instead of to the browser’s interface.
update — as the Register attests, McCloud and/or Google have been a bit sloppy in their European geography, since they very generously give Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Switzerland and a large part of Austria and Hungary to Germany. Even Denmark, which is where the panel is about, is annexed to the Fatherland. Sounds like an Anschluss to me… (by the way – thanks, Joe, for pointing that out).
(Illustration © Google 2008, used for review purposes)