It wasn’t hidden inside the Property section this week so I found it easily.

I slid SYTE onto the table, ordered another coffee, turned the chair so that the morning sun fell on my back, and started to read. It wasn’t until page three when I hit Douglas Rushkoff’s column that the morning went sour. The coffee went cold as I pondered his (considered) words about how he hated the Web. How he despaired about how crappy it had become and how it was just a platform for commercial propaganda, showing none of its promise for one to one conversation with our peers, or its potential as an avenue for ‘self expression, virtual community, global organism and world peace’.

Wondering where that left me, a committed web groupie, I slouched off to the last day of the Adobe Design Conference. I sneered at the tinsel and tourists that make Darling Harbour such a tacky place and by the time I’d parked the car, I was running late. The audience of design students, (a disproportionate number of them attractive girls), bearded senior members of design firms talking craft, and multimedia wannabe’s were all being unbearably bright and attentive. Dana Atchley, the last of the international guest speakers was about to start.

The overseas visitors had been a high point of this year’s event, starting with UK. typographer and designer Jonathan Barnbrook who kicked the conference into the right frame of mind, with his attacks on the design establishment, advertising agencies and teaching institutions. He was followed the next day by Japanese designer (and writer of numerous Photoshop ‘how to’ books) Etsuro Endo, who leveled out the discussion with some examples of Japanese advertising design that approached fine art. Now it was the digital storyteller Dana Atchley’s turn.

Atchley veered from the subject he’d planned, to present a condensed view of his personal performance event ‘Next Exit’. The audience were immediately sucked into the polished mix of large screen projected multimedia and Dana’s jokes, stories and audience asides. Funny, personal and calculatedly poignant it brought real not just polite applause, and a group of new female fans to mob him at the coffee break.

Feeling better, and at least entertained I was seated early for the second part of his presentation. Again he made a surprise change. Swearing the whole audience into a non-disclosure agreement he showed the prototype of the children’s CD-ROM / online hybrid that his company Big!Drive had been working on with Broderbund money for over a year.

Big! Drive is what the Microsoft Magic School Bus series would be like if the Bus was highjacked by a zippie version of the Merry Pranksters. Using an interface of a driver’s view of the superhighway, Big! Drive combines drawings by cartoonist Futzy Nutzle, Atchley’s Quicktime video road movies, and original music that’s selected from the push-button radio. There’s a standard adventure game format where objects must be found at roadside stops but what makes this game different and promises unlimited play and educational value, is that it combines a Web browser and e-mail program. The idea is that the game would have it’s own Web site which adds to the story and links the movies and animation on the CD-ROM with actual World Wide Web locations. The addition of the online component also offers the potential for winner’s rewards and further levels of adventures and provides short Shockwave downloads that appear as interactive billboards along the route. The plans are to subsidise the project via advertising banners and promotions integrated at the roadside stops.

The concept neatly involves all of Atchley’s themes of evolving communication, journeys of discovery and his excitement for storytelling via the Web. It may be just those reasons why he’s had trouble finding a publisher for it, in an environment where, if it’s not going to be another Myst it’s too expensive for publishers to take chances. Atchley explained the attraction of the road metaphor as “The road connects things, the road has the potential of the continually changing viewpoint, a different driveway every night. The only thing about the road that is frustrating, is that it would be terrific if you could turn a corner and really be in a different place. On the Internet you can do that with a simple link. Click on a URL and you are in some fantastic place you never imagined”.

That’s our challenge. If we keep creating places on the Web, with all the imagination, sensibility and style that is shown at events like the Adobe Conference, then we just might keep ourselves amused and stimulated until Doug Rushkoff mounts his Web rescue mission.

Lunch was fun at Darling Harbour sitting in the sun with all those Japanese tourists.