The web’s not what it used to be

So says this article from The New York Times — way back in 2001.

Exploration of World Wide Web tilts from eclectic to mudaneThe New York Times
The new utilitarian view of the Web marks a disappointment for cultural critics who see the medium as fundamentally more democratic than traditional radio, television and newspapers, because the barriers to entry are so low. The Web was supposed to subvert corporate domination of culture by giving a global soapbox — or printing press or television station — to anyone with a computer and a modem. While plenty of people do publish their personal musings and pictures of their babies, new data shows that for many people, the Web has become an electronic routine.

It certainly looks different these days, as this tongue-in-cheek recreation shows.

How I experience the web today

But there are still glimpses of the old web out there, if you know what URL to type — or mistype.

gail.com
Q: Why isn’t there any content here? Can’t you at least throw up a picture of your cat for the Internet to check out?
A: Sorry, I have a cat, but she’s pretty unexciting by Internet standards. As for why there is very little content here, we wanted to keep the server’s attack surface as small as possible to keep it safe.

Q: Interested in selling gail.com?
A: Sorry, no.

Q: How did you manage to get gail.com?
A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.

Q: How many times a day is this page visited?
A: In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

Q: Why is your website so popular? Are you one of those famous people that no one knows why they’re famous?
A: No, I’m not famous. It seems likely that most visitors simply mistype gmail.com and end up visiting gail.com by mistake.

For curiousity’s sake, I right-clicked to ‘view page source’ of this anachronistic little website and was rewarded with this little comment, hence the header image of this post.

Quirky, hand-written html is something I definitely miss from the old web.

Saying goodbye

Another article about grief and chatbots, and another one about the end of the web.

The Jessica Simulation: Love and loss in the age of A.I.San Francisco Chronicle
As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

The day the good internet diedThe Ringer
The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets, too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to. Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.

Not selling the web, ok?

Tim’s in the news again, in another ridiculous NTF story.

Tim Berners-Lee’s NFT of world wide web source code sold for $5.4mThe Guardian
The NFT sold on Wednesday was created by the English scientist Berners-Lee in 2021 and represents ownership of various digital items from when he invented the world wide web in 1989. The sale effectively comprises a blockchain-based record of ownership of files containing the original source code for the world wide web. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.

A tidy sum.

Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source codeThe Guardian
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links. “I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

That ‘not selling the source code’ doesn’t quite square with how this was being reported earlier, but whatever.

World Wide Web code that changed the world up for auction as NFTReuters
The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. […] The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset which records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

Nothing lasts forever #2

After 25 years, the original Space Jam website has been replacedEsquire Middle East
The original website, launched in 1996, became a viral phenomenon in the early 2010s, as an internet that had evolved far past the 56k dial up modem found the site completely untouched from what it had once been. In an online world in which it often seems nothing is preserved, visiting the website felt genuinely like discovering the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Web designer Max Böck compares the resources and loading times of the two versions. Progress?

Space JamMax Böck
Although connection speeds and devices keep getting better and better, the web is actually getting slower. We see the increasing bandwidth as an invitation to use more and more stuff in our websites. More images, more videos, more JavaScript. We just keep filling the available space, jamming up the pipes in the process so nothing actually gets faster. Well, at least the dial-up sound is gone now.

Here’s something from the Web Design Museum for those in the mood for more movie reminiscences.

Flash websites of Hollywood moviesYouTube Playlist
Via B3TA – “The Web Design museum are collecting flash intros to film websites, should you want to remember what the Memento site looked like in order to tattoo it on your leg so you never forget again.”

Can we not have web 1.0 back?

I do miss the early web, sometimes. Amateurish, in a good way—spontaneous, care-free, lighthearted.

The early internet, explained by one weird Celine Dion fan siteThe Atlantic
Celine Dreams was a bit of a sensation. Toroptsov never lacked for dream submissions, and at the turn of the century—before the internet was a corporatized monoculture repeated across only a handful of giant web properties—a scrappy, DIY fan site could easily build an audience by climbing up search rankings and encouraging active participation. For years, Celine Dreams appeared in the first page of Google and Yahoo search results for Celine Dion—a distinction now reserved for Celine Dion’s official website, Celine Dion’s Wikipedia page, Celine Dion’s Twitter page, Celine Dion on Spotify, and Celine Dion on YouTube.

And then it shut down, blinkering out at the same time as thousands of other fan sites. The whole ecosystem slid into the digital ocean slowly, but pretty much all at once, like a famous ship.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially nowadays.

More of these fan sites disappear all the time, and the Wayback Machine isn’t able to keep even a near-perfect record. Toroptsov’s project, and the work of his “competitors,” are vanishing in what information scientists have long been referring to as the “digital dark age.” “However widely the myth of the automatically archival Internet has spread over the past 70 years, the fact is that the system of networked computing utterly fails as a memory machine,” the UC Berkeley media researcher Abigail De Kosnik writes in her 2016 book, Rogue Archives. “The internet and computers do not constitute the greatest archive in human history, but rather the reverse.”

This applies to iconic software, too.

The last vestige of Internet Explorer dies todayGizmodo
When Microsoft decided to use EdgeHTML, it made sense. Internet Explorer had once been the biggest web browser around and consequently, lots of web page designers focused their energies on making their sites work for IE. But Chrome had a foothold when Edge launched and Microsoft’s new browser just never gained the popularity it needed. Instead, more and more web page designers focused on making the best looking sites the could—for Chrome.

Chrome uses the Blink engine and the source code originates with the open-source Chromium project. The Edge that launches today will rely on Blink and Chromium too.

Some people are clinging on, though. I’ve been reading Joanne McNeils’s newsletter for a while, now, and her website is joyously web 1.0.

joannemcneil.com
Hi, my name is Joanne McNeil and this is my Home Page on the World Wide Web. My book Lurking is out on February 25, 2020 with MCD.

underconstruction

And do you remember Noah Everyday from the 2000s? He’s back again, and doesn’t look a day older. Ok, that’s a lie. He looks older, we all do.

Man takes picture of himself every day for 20 yearsFlowingData
In 2007, Noah Kalina posted a time-lapse video showing a picture of himself every day for six years. Pop culture swallowed it up. There was even a Simpsons parody with Homer. After another six years, it was a video for twelve years’ worth of photos. Kalina has kept his everyday project going, and the above is the new time-lapse for two decades.

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 20 yearsYouTube

happ://y.birthday.www

As I mentioned earlier, the Web turns 30 this year. Let’s reminisce with the Verge.

The World Wide Web turns 30: our favorite memories from A to Z
Over the past 30 years, major portions of the web have come and gone. They’ve made us laugh and cringe, let us waste time and find friends, and reshaped the world in the process.

For its anniversary, we’re looking back at some of our favorite websites, from A to Z, as well as some key people and technologies. Of course, there was far too much good stuff to include, so we had to note some additional favorites along the way.

Yes there are the obvious ones like Flickr and Geocities, but what about these blasts from the past?

JENNICAM
Jennifer Ringley started broadcasting every moment spent in her college dorm, by way of grainy photos uploaded every 15 minutes, in 1996. She was one of the first people to share her life online without a filter, offering a sense of intimacy and relatability that we now take for granted with digital celebrities. She was also one of the first people to discover the pitfalls of internet fame, including burnout after living years of her life in public, which is why she’s stayed mostly offline since 2003 when Jennicam went dark. […]

LIVEJOURNAL
Once upon a time (around the turn of the 21st century), there was a social network called LiveJournal where large numbers of people (some with very confusing pseudonyms) hung out, blogged, argued in long comment threads, posted fiction and poetry and art, and had a generally good time. In 2007, LiveJournal was sold to a Russian media company, and many of its original contributors eventually decamped to Facebook, Twitter, and other foreign climes. LiveJournal is still, well, live; its servers (and its user agreement) are now Russian and so are many of its users.

Looking back for a better digital future

A review of two books on the histories and possible futures of the internet, that try to position themselves somewhere between the more common approaches that recent studies have taken — either deterministic accounts of the “improbable marriage of countercultural hippie experiments and the military-industrial complex”, or heroic tales from Silicon Valley of “whimsical personalities and talents of digital entrepreneurs and inventors”.

Counter-histories of the Internet
Two recent books address similar speculative scenarios in the course of offering alternative histories of the internet: David Clark’s Designing an Internet and Joy Lisi Rankin’s A People’s History of Computing in the United States. Clark’s book introduces its readers to scientists who designed our networks, many of whom still dream of redesigning them. Rankin writes about groups of students and researchers who used early computers with uncommon egalitarianism. Both authors wonder why versions of the internet that they personally favor have not prevailed. They also hope that recalling such forgotten projects could inspire their readers to fight for a better digital future. […]

Rankin explicitly describes herself as “highlight[ing] the centrality of education—at all levels—as a site of creativity, collaboration, and innovation.” More obliquely, but no less forcefully, Clark tries to free his readers from a myopic view of web architecture as a given landscape within which we pursue our goals and interests without considering how that landscape came to be. He shows that knowing more about how the web was built, or could have been built, allows us to think more freely about how we distribute our capacities and resources within it.

It’s an interesting debate, though I worry it may be a little redundant — do the top execs at Facebook, Google and Amazon have these books on their reading list?

Web beginnings and endings

It’s hard to believe the web’s thirty years old already. It seems like it’s been around forever in the way it underpins everything we do, from TV watching to banking. But we’re still grappling with the consequences its introduction has had on our societies, and probably will for another thirty years yet.

But let’s step back a little, to how it all began.

CERN 2019 WorldWideWeb rebuild
In December 1990, an application called WorldWideWeb was developed on a NeXT machine at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) just outside of Geneva. This program – WorldWideWeb — is the antecedent of most of what we consider or know of as “the web” today.

In February 2019, in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the development of WorldWideWeb, a group of developers and designers convened at CERN to rebuild the original browser within a contemporary browser, allowing users around the world to experience the rather humble origins of this transformative technology.

web-beginnings-and-endings

Their timeline is very interesting, too: “thirty years of influences leading up to (and the thirty years of influence leading out from) the publication of the memo that lead to the development of the first web browser.”

web-beginnings-and-endings-1

But all good things come to an end, and another one of the big players from back in the day is no more.

A eulogy for AltaVista, the Google of its time
You appeared on the search engine scene in December 1995. You made us go “woah” when you arrived. You did that by indexing around 20 million web pages, at a time when indexing 2 million web pages was considered to be big.

Today, of course, pages get indexed in the billions, the tens of billions or more. But in 1995, 20 million was huge. Existing search engines like Lycos, Excite & InfoSeek (to name only a few) didn’t quite know what hit them. With so many pages, you seemed to find stuff they and others didn’t.

web-beginnings-and-endings-3

Who’s next, I wonder.

That’s better

The next Marvel film is set in 1990s, and so is its promotional website.

Marvel launched a delightful, retro website to promote Captain Marvel
The result is absolutely delightful. The website taps into the nostalgia for the 1990s that we’ve seen in the film’s trailers, and features a ton of components that were mainstays of the web almost a quarter of a century ago: random animations, zany photo editing, HTML frames, brightly-colored fonts, and of course, a guestbook and hit counter.

Perfect! Now, all we need to do is switch the rest of the web back.

IRC is 30 years old

I was never really nerdy enough to properly join in with this at the time, but it’s an interesting stroll down memory lane nevertheless.

On its 30th anniversary, IRC evokes memories of the internet’s early days
I used IRC in the early 1990s, when there were all kinds of fun things to do. There was a server with a bot that played Boggle. I was the know-it-all music snob who got kicked out of a chat channel someone set up at Woodstock ’94. I created keyboard macros that spewed out ASCII art. I skipped Mike Tyson’s pay-per-view boxing match in 2006 to watch someone describe it on IRC.

<jon12345> lewis connects again
<jon12345> arg
<jon12345> on the ropes
<CaZtRo> HES GOIN DOWN
<CaZtRo> tyson is DOWN
<DaNNe_> no!
<CaZtRo> DOWN DOWN DOWN
<DaNNe_> why ..

Internet Relay Chat turns 30—and we remember how it changed our lives
There was a moment of silence, and then something odd happened. The channel went blank. The list of users disappeared, and NetCruiser politely played the Windows alert chime through the speakers. At the bottom of the IRC window, a new message now stood alone:

“You have been kicked from channel #descent for the following reason: fuck off newbie”

I guess the Internet of 1995 wasn’t that different from the Internet of 2018.

So, farewell then, GeoCities. Again

Ten years after it shut down for the rest of us, Yahoo Japan has finally pulled the plug on its GeoCities service.

Yahoo Japan is shutting down its website hosting service GeoCities
The company said in a statement that it was hard to encapsulate in one word the reason for the shut down, but that profitability and technological issues were primary factors. It added that it was full of “regret” for the fate of the immense amount of information that would be lost as a result of the service’s closure. […]

The fact that GeoCities survived in Japan for so long speaks to the country’s idiosyncratic nature online. Despite the fact that Yahoo—which purchased GeoCities in 1999 for almost $4 billion at the peak of the dot.com boom—has fallen into irrelevance in much of the world, the company continues to be the dominant news portal in Japan. It still commands a sizeable market share in search, though it has steadily ceded its position to Google over the years.

So it goes.

Web design through the ages

Ok, not so much ‘through the ages’, as ‘since 1995’, but you get the idea. This online museum is the brainchild of Petr Kovář, a user experience designer from the Czech Republic.

Web Design Museum
At present, Internet Archive keeps the visual form of over 327 billion websites, the oldest of which date back to 1996. This service is undoubtedly a great aid to anyone who would like to look at the internet past. Unfortunately, it does not enable to follow past trends in web design or to go through websites originating only in a certain period. The thing is that Internet Archive is not a museum with carefully sorted exhibits that would give visitors a comprehensive picture of the web design past with the use of selected examples. It is more like a full archive of the internet.

Therefore, Web Design Museum sets the main objective to trace the past web design trends, and to give general public the full picture of the web design past with the use of selected exhibits. At the same time, it seeks to use selected websites to outline the development of websites from the most distant past until present.

Take a look at how our tastes have shifted over the years. It’s strange to think that, however old-fashioned they appear now, all of these designs would have been thought of as bang up-to-date, cutting-edge even, at the time.

web-design-2

It’s nice to see the wonderful k10k again, though. That still looks great.

web-design-3

Whilst we’re on the subject, here’s a post about the Internet Archive and one about Geocities. Ah, those were the days.

The sweet smell of failure

To be filed under ‘just because we can doesn’t mean we should’.

The failed quest to bring smells to the internet
In November of 2001, the smell of success began to fade for Joel Bellenson.

His invention, the iSmell, promised to bring scent to the internet. He’d developed cutting-edge sensory technology, assembled a dream-team of Fortune 500 execs, and raised $20m. Video game companies, Hollywood studios, and internet giants were lining up for partnerships.

But he’d forgotten to ask a crucial question: Did anyone actually want this?

It turned out nobody wanted iSmell, in the same way that no one wanted AromaRama and Smell-O-Vision in the 60s, but that’s not stopping people from still trying with this.

The oPhone is currently trying to convince the world it needs scent-based text messages, and the Cyrano (a “digital scent speaker”) aims to create “smell tracks” with names like “Thai Beach Vacation,” which can be played to the aromas of coconut and suntan lotion.

“Right now, nobody’s waking up at 3 a.m. saying, ‘I really want to send a scent message,’ ” oPhone founder, David Edwards, told The New Yorker. “But one day they will.”

Nah they won’t. It’s a sad, silly story, but the guy behind iSmell still stands by his invention.

Today, Bellenson’s a bit sour looking back on Digiscents’ failure. He insists the idea isn’t dead, but has merely “just been injured.”

“People just wanted to dance on our grave because we were so ridiculous,” he defends. “They were just afraid of our greatness.”

Nearly 20 years after the downfall of the iSmell, that greatness isn’t so apparent. The device is omnipresent on nearly every “worst inventions of all time” list and is universally heralded as a technological feat with no practical application — a paradigm of the dot-com bubble’s ugly bravado.

Blogger’s still here?

TechCrunch has news of an update to Blogger. Nothing newsworthy about the update, really. What’s catching our eye is that Blogger still exists at all.

Blogger gets a spring cleaning
It’s surprising that Blogger is still around. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Blogger site in my searches, and it sure doesn’t have a lot of mindshare. Google also has let the platform linger and hasn’t integrated it with any of its newer services. The same thing could be said for Google+, too, of course. Google cuts some services because they have no users and no traction. That could surely be said for Blogger and Google+, but here they are, still getting periodic updates.

I used to have a blog on Blogger, and prompted by this article I’ve just had a very strange stroll down memory lane to visit it, via the Internet Archive’s marvellous Wayback Machine.

more-coffee-less-dukkha-585

I really liked the look of that old blog. Very mid-2000s. Are there no blogs that look like this anymore?

Remembering Geocities, the future

Geocities was arguably where it all began, for me at least. It looks so ugly and ridiculous now – hopeless grammar, frames, silly gifs, pages forever ‘under construction’. So old-fashioned. But the 90s weren’t that long ago, were they? The future dates so fast.

Perhaps a difference between these pages and the blogs and sites of the present day is their lack of professionalism. Or rather, their joy in their amateurism, their spontaneity, their lack of polish.

The web today looks like television, like broadsheets, I can’t tell which is which. It’s all got very boring.

I wish I had kept a record of what I did then, but perhaps this could help. One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age is a Geocities research blog and accompanying tumblr by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied.

Digging through the Geocities Torrent
The free web hosting service Geocities.com was founded by “Beverly Hills Internet” in July 1995 — exactly the time when the web left academia and started to be made by everyone of us.

Soon it became one of the most popular and inhabited places of the WWW and stayed that way through the second part of 1990′s. In January 1999, on the peak of Dot.com mania, it was bought by Yahoo!.

The new millennium proved Geocities to be a bad investment. Having a page on there became a synonym for dilettantism and bad taste. Furthermore, the time of personal home pages was counted, being replaced with profiles on social networks.

Ten years later, in April 2009, Yahoo! announced that they are going to shut down the service.

On the 26th of October 2009 Geocities seized to exist. In between the announcement and the official date of death a group of people calling themselves Archive Team managed to rescue almost a terabyte of Geocities pages. On the 26th of October 2010, the first anniversary of this Digital Holocaust, the Archive Team started to seed geocities.archiveteam.torrent.

On the 1st of November 2010 Olia and Dragan bought a 2 TB disk and started downloading the biggest torrent of all times.

Gmail’s beginnings and consequences

How Gmail happened: the inside story of its launch 10 years ago
But serious search practically begged for serious storage: It opened up the possibility of keeping all of your email, forever, rather than deleting it frantically to stay under your limit. That led to the eventual decision to give each user 1GB of space, a figure Google settled on after considering capacities that were generous but not preposterous, such as 100MB.

An interesting read about the cautious beginnings of what now seems like such a no brainer. But consider that passage above with this one from Barclay T Blair, information governance expert, in a post entitled “There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”. He had found an article that he thought…

“There is no harm in keeping tiny emails”
… nicely summed up the attitude I encounter from IT and others in our information governance engagements. Ask an attorney sometime if there really is “no harm in keeping tiny emails around in this age of ever-expanding storage space.” The drug dealers of the IG world have really done an incredible job convincing the addicts that the drug has no downside.

The Internet Archive

Still can’t get my head around the scale of these things, the numbers involved.

Internet Archive
Internet Archive is a documentary focused on the future of long-term digital storage, the history of the Internet and attempts to preserve its contents on a massive scale.

Via Webmonkey. Don’t know why it makes me think of this though…

What if all these things were invented in the 80s

instagram

After seeing the British BBC show ‘Look around you’, Jo Luijten was inspired by the idea of creating a nonexistent world in the past. Using old software, like QuickBASIC 4.5 and MS-Paint, he created several ’80s and ’90s versions of contemporary social media and video games. Jo Luijten’s girlfriend Kinna McInroe is the voice-over of the ‘Wonders of the World Wide Web’ videos.

http://www.squirrel-monkey.com/