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South Park stars come to life

Comedy Central is hoping for another hit, this one a software spinoff based on characters from its South Park cartoon.

They throw up. They're flatulent. And they're just cute and portable enough to want to get for yourself.

That's what cable TV channel Comedy Central is hoping, at least, for its Monday introduction of portable multimedia "Things" based on the wildly popular, irreverent cartoon South Park.

Created by Boston-based Parable, the so-called Things are multimedia "objects" that are transportable from one Web site to another and even from one computer to the next.

The idea is for companies, as well as individuals, to be able to create multimedia characters and other objects that they can share with friends and fans while still retaining the copyright on them.

With ThingMaker, the $99 software suite, users can create characters that can do things like talk or even regurgitate--one of the charming traits of a South Park character.

Like Warner Brothers' animated characters created by togglethis, the "Things" can also interact under the control of a mouse.

They will perform one function when a mouse is passed over them and another upon a click. They perform a third when left alone on the page. Viewers need to download free Thing Viewers, however, to see them.

The software grew out of the idea "that if you simplified Web publishing, more people would use it," said Steve Barlow, chairman, chief technology officer and cofounder of Parable. "The file format known as 'things' is truly portable, controllable, and usable.

"There are millions of personal publishers who want to put great content on their Web sites, and there's a lot of sports teams, entertainment companies, and brand companies that would really like to see that marketplace [flourish]," he added.

Many fans build Web pages dedicated to their favorite shows and characters. And to get the content, they often simply "borrow" it, a practice that has met with some resistance from copyright-conscious entertainment companies such as Viacom. Although companies like the publicity these sites generate, they also like to retain control over the way the properties are used.

Things allow publishers to create content that they can give away--and yet still retain control and copyright over them. Things always retain a credit box and are locakble. A creator can decide whether to allow Things to be transportable and how much they can be altered by a third party.

Companies such as Comedy Central can use Things to attract users with giveaways.

The idea is akin to a fast-food franchise teaming with a movie studio and giving away plastic figures of characters from the latest children's movie to publicize the movie. But the product being given away--the Thing--is only two-dimensional.

In fact, Parable encourages people to collect Things, and one day companies might even make collector editions and actually sell them. Private users also can do things like create animated pictures of their children. Things also can be used as screen savers.

Parable also announced a partnership with the company's home football team, the New England Patriots.

Along with the partnership with Comedy Central, Parable also is announcing a partnership with portal site Lycos to create an area where users can search for Things.

Parable will provide Lycos with a Lycos-branded searchable database of more than 500 Things. The two companies will then share revenue generated by ads.

"This is a huge brand extension opportunity," Barlow said.