Big news: My work on Geocities is now part of the European project Digital Art Conservation. For the whole of 2012 I will be working1 for the University of Applied Arts in Switzerland in the Analit research project, which has the stated goal of “moving from case studies to a conservation matrix” in digital archiving.
My job is to make it possible to meaningfully experience Geocities again. Of course this heap of data is a good way to examine how such artifacts can be handled. Reflecting on what I came to know until now, digital conservation and archeology is still struggling with many issues:
- The logic of business dominates the creation and preservation of digital culture.
- Objects considered art get a premium conservation treatment. Especially considering internet art this seems weird, because if the “low culture” is not being preserved next to them, the art pieces are removed from any context. Meaningful internet art is not about uploading a self-sufficient piece of data and use the net just as a distribution channel, it it deeply interwoven with the the net as a whole.
- The second kind of objects waiting in line to be conserved are off-mainstream, weird, outstanding artifacts that do not represent the day-to-day reality of digital life. Of course artifacts that are denying themselves to fed into the mainstream systems are very interesting, but to favor them is distorting what actually happens and smells of hacker elitism.
- The idea of original objects, authenticity and defined authorship still bleeds over from library science into interpreting digital mass culture.
- Practices of how digital cultural artifacts were produced or used is not taken into account enough, as pointed out by Camille Paloque-Berges in the panel at Transmediale that Olia, me and her took part in.
Incorporating historic artifacts into new works of art or transferring them into other contexts seems to be the most successful strategy for preservation at the moment. For example, The Deleted City, an interactive piece by Richard Vijgen, is an attractive interface to Geocities data. It does not have to do much with what Geocities was or what it means today, but attracts attention to it and does not work without keeping this data. Museums buying this artwork will have to make sure that they keep a copy of Geocities around.
If the goal is to use Geocities as research material or make it possible to experience it again in different grades of realism or meaningfulness, it seems crucial to work with different versions and collections. There are already a lot of contradictions, redundancies and at the end of last year, Jason Scott annouced on Twitter that a new pile of Geocities files is available on archive.org. I am also hoping to cooperate with the person behind oocities to merge his and the the ArchiveTeam’s collections. This situation will be typical for future archiving efforts and I will try to create a meaningful framework to handle this situation with a defined ingression process.
What will guide this “normalization work” is the firm conviction that Geocities belongs to the people. Olia and me certainly hope that it can help building an identity and history for personal computer and net users. So while this blog has some code and instructions sprinkled around, everything will now end up on github, in well-defined order and including documentation. As soon as there is something usable there, you’ll be the first to know!
Also, as the ArchiveTeam with the release of their torrent masterfully pioneered, there are other ways of keeping digital heritage alive and meaningful. We will certainly investigate several possibilities of spreading the knowledge and love.
And let me remind you that there is still this torrent seeding.
- Olia is still available for funding! [↩]