Putting on the style

NET GAINS
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The Independent Culture
:-) Append your e-mail with happy/sad/laughing faces and you're not just indulging in e-shorthand, you're practising the noble digital art of Ascii. A kind of desk-bound op-art, Ascii has in fact been around as long as there have been keyboards. VGA, the format in which you and I are most likely to come across art on the web, can trace its roots back to Ascii.

The 26 Ascii characters and their `SHIFT' variants are the only brush strokes available, but as Heister's Digital Art page (www. geocities.com/SoHo/Gallery/4219/ascii.html) explains, the form's origins and attractions are entwined with another antiquated format, Ansi. The latter, a colour development of Ascii, seems to attract the digital art cognoscenti principally because it's extremely cumbersome. It has to be said that the "art" itself is very much an acquired taste, best appreciated with a heavy dollop of irony.

The Ascii E-Zine (www. zinezone.com/users/TonyCucchiara) has links to dozens of relevant pages where fantasy fiction illustrations appear to be about the height of the creative ambition on display. You can even commission a work of art for free from the Ascii Group (pages.prodigy.com/Ascii). And, should you want to embellish your smiley faces and symbols, Heister's page offers a useful glossary of terms and a helpful guide to software.

Hot wired

www.hotwired.com/hardwired/wiredstyle

The web site's in place, it looks great, so what do you do? Go and litter it with awful literals. Nothing undermines a site's authority more than a spelling mistake or a punctuation howler. You may think a digital communication style guide too fussy, but take a look at Wired Style (above), one of a number of good e-writer's companions and then make up your mind. The site emphasises that it's an official spin-off rather than an on-line version of the 1996 book Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. Less hip but more wide-ranging is Michael Butzgy's Writing For Multimedia (home.earthlink.net/atomic_rom/contents.htm), which provides a comprehensive guide to effective on-line writing. Multimedia will get you up and running whereas Wired Style offers nuggets of hard-won wisdom.

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