xkcd is a webcomic that makes its home on xkcd.com. And what a webcomic! I think it's consistently better than pretty much any you'll find in your local paper.

How many?

As of February 27, 2007, there have been 227, A new one comes out each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Who? About?

You mean who are the characters or who wrote it? Well, I guess it's kind of the same. The characters are stick figures and often represent the author, Randall Munroe. He's a physicist who used to work at NASA. With robots. Big stompy Martian-killing robots of DOOM! (But they're top secret, so you didn't hear it from me.)

Redalien adds: 'Randall is also a lovely man! He's given the computer science society at the university of bristol permission to reproduce one of his comics for profit. The others are, of course, creative commonsed.' (links mine)

The content is the musings, fears (especially of velociraptors), and thoughts of the author, someone cooler than any of us. He's a geek--he sees math and physics everywhere. Sometimes they're very sweet, but unlike some comics, he remembers to be funny at the same time. To be honest, it reminds of a geeky Pearls Before Swine1. And who doesn't like Pearls Before Swine? Sometimes it reminds me a little of Calvin and Hobbes.2 Other times it's just what it is. (phraggle says it reminds him of E2: 'geeky and beautiful'.)

Okay, maybe you won't fully understand every joke. You'll laugh anyway.

Oh, and just so you know, always check for title attributes on the comic. This can be done by holding the mouse cursor over it. Sometimes there's an brief explanation of the joke. Usually, just relevant line. It's like a minijoke to go with the comic. Delightful!

The Name

It's not an initialism. From the about page: 'It's just a word with no phonetic pronunciation. It stands for the comic and everything the comic stands for!' And that's just what a name is supposed to do, is it not?

  • 1 Examples: http://xkcd.com/c193.html and http://xkcd.com/c108.html
  • 2 Example: http://xkcd.com/c209.html

Since the date on the last writeup, the popularity of xkcd has become even more ubiquitous. xkcd seems to have replaced The Onion as the common ground for geek discussion. The words "oh, this is just like the one xkcd strip..." are now a conversational touchstone. How did xkcd so quickly insinuate itself into our consciousness?

One of the things barely mentioned in the above writeup is the actual art on the strip. The art is, to say the least, minimalistic. The most typical strip or panel involves stick figures, without faces, talking with each other. Some strips or panels are even more bare, featuring a simple chart or graph. Is the success of Randall Munroe simple luck, then? Or even worse, is he simply deluding hordes of geeks by giving them the Linux references they want, without actually having any talent?

I think that that is not the case. Although it may be an example of judging things in hindsight, I think that the stick figures used in the strip do manage to convey a lot of emotion and meaning in fairly simple motions and postures. When Scott Adams' Dilbert strip became popular, it was also the simplest drawn strip on the comic page, but also managed to communicate to people about familiar situations. Going further back, Charles Schultz's Peanuts strip was also fairly simple artistically, but managed to gain people's sympathy using just the lines around Charlie Brown's eyes. I think this is part of what makes the strip's art meaningful and popular---there are some very emotive stick figures. The other aspect of the strip's art is that some of the strips show a lot of artistic creativity and skill. Occasionally, the characters move around in dramatic, surrealistic landscapes, and some of the tricks and visual jokes, such as strips dealing with recursion and dream sequences, are quite sophisticated. Two recent strips focusing on logarithmic pictures of the universe I found especially artistically and scientifically well done.

For all of those reasons, I believe that xkcd is well done, and has some staying power, and is not just about using or abusing geek cred.

To bring this node into the 202nd decade...

" SCIENCE. It works, bitches. "
xkcd 54, wherein a graph of cosmic microwave background radiation is portrayed.

xkcd, owned and operated by Randall Munroe, is a webcomic containing witty and often geeky humour. At the time of writing, the number of comics is well over a thousand and counting. It's the kind of comic to which you say "haha, that's so true" more than anything, though it does have moments that fall under the banner of tragic, hilarious, memorable, or simply badass. It also adopts the gimmick of alt-text (viewed by hovering the mouse over the image for a few moments and reading the displayed tooltip) for every comic, providing an additional joke or fact for the entertainment of those who've remembered to check it.

Its reputation among the net-savvy is legendary. One unofficial claim is that there is an xkcd comic for everything, every situation you have ever been in—this claim has yet to be refuted. It has also influenced a lot of internet culture, being the humour fountain that it is: Cory Doctorow was said to sport a cape and googles when blogging in one comic, and subsequently the real Cory Doctorow dressed up like this for a charity event due to the sheer popularity of the idea. As well, terms and ideas like 'blag', 'blogosphere', 'geohashing', and probably a bunch of others find their origins at this site.

Randall likes to push the boundaries of his medium often, using various image gimmicks or javascript code (or both) to put some interesting twists on how you view his work. In the 2012 April Fools' Day comic, called Umwelt (link), in keeping with the spirit of Umwelt—that everything about us, no matter how small, dictates how we perceive the world, and therefore different people see the world in radically different ways—he made different comics display based on the time of day, geographic location, browser choice, window size, zoom level, and probably more aspects that we haven't figured out to try. Another April Fools' saw the temporary introduction of XK3D, wherein all comics were converted to pseudo-3D by a very neat and clever javascript algorithm. A recent comic concerning traffic lights features a GIF image simulating a complex traffic light system, while another humbles us with respect to the grandness of the world.

Interspersed amongst the jokes, tricks, and thinly-veiled life lessons, you can also find infographics on current events. From a comparison chart of different radiation emission levels, to an analysis of the numbers of Google hits for "<game>" vs. "strip <game>", to a recent one on the history of US electoral leanings. An early one maps out IPv4 addresses, and then another maps out the internet itself. Even topics like 'How to make people feel old' are covered. Everything is thoroughly researched, some jokes are thrown in when it's tasteful, it's beautiful. And the best part is that it meshes seamlessly with the style of comic that Randall has running.

But the webcomic isn't the only thing on the site! Randall has a blag, where he makes posts about his life and what he does or finds sometimes. There's a bunch of humourous excerpts from the National Hurricane Center discussion bulletin, the morbid actuarial script that he actually used for some of his comics, and various other adventures and announcements in and/or about his life. There's a store, if you're looking for some velociraptor-themed swag. And Randall's recently launched the What If? section, wherein readers send in crazy questions about physics, and once a week, Randall simultaneously blows everything out of proportion in the most humourous fashion the question allows for, and takes us through a blow-by-blow of how and why what happens, happens. It's like the comic, but longer-winded and more educational.

A few selected comics:

So, what might xkcd stand for, you ask? It does not stand for any words—it stands for principles.


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