We are happy to announce that from the 25th of July till the 27th of September 1st of November 2015, the world’s first Digital Folklore exhibition will be on display at HMKV in Dortmund.

Opening: Friday 24 July 2015 | 7.00 pm

The exhibition is based on the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age archive, which comprises the remains of 381,934 GeoCities homepages made by amateurs in the pre-industrial era of the World Wide Web. GeoCities, the first free web hosting service, was created in 1994. Only five years later, it was sold to Yahoo!, the contemporaneous Internet giant, which eventually shut it down in 2009. Although GeoCities holds an eminent place in the  history of the WWW as one of its period’s most visited servers, it has already fallen into oblivion. All that is left are the legends and rituals surrounding it.

I’m Josh and I am building this page to have some fun. My life is boring. If it wasn’t for the internet I would die of boredom.
SouthBeach/Channel/1284/ 1999-07-14

Among the 28 million files—hastily copied before total deletion—are user-built personal websites, fan, mourning, recipe, arts and crafts, computer game and pet pages, rotating “Welcome To My Homepage” and “Under Construction” signs, blinking star wallpapers and jittery animated characters. For the purpose of this exhibition, these and many other manifestations have been elaborately digitally restored and reinterpreted by the net artist and folklorist Olia Lialina (@GIFmodel), the artist and digital conservator Dragan Espenschied (@despens), and their current and former students from Merz Akademie; Saskia Aldinger, Monique Baier, Helena Dams, Darja Daut, Robin
Diedrich, Frederika Eckhoff, Lisa Hofmann, Christopher Lauber, Susanna Müller, Hannah Saupe, Sonja Schmid, Sophie Schulz, Maximillian Semmler, Madeleine Sterr, Mona Ulrich, Marc Wiethe.

Supported by the US artist Joel Holmberg (@dotkalm), the expert for Chinese net culture Gabriele de Seta (@SanNuvola), and Jason Scott (@textfiles), head of the Archive Team and responsible for the original data rescue.

In the next weeks we are going to tell you more about our findings, restorations and objects in the exposition.

Curators: Prof. Olia Lialina (Stuttgart; GRI, Merz Akademie), Dragan Espenschied (New York; GRI, Rhizome) Kommissarin: Dr. Inke Arns (Dortmund; HMKV)
In Cooperation with: Merz Akademie — Hochschule für Gestaltung, Kunst und Medien, Stuttgart

P.S. Digital Folklore reader is almost sold out!

Why to make home pages today
Transcript of my talk given at superglue.it launch on the 3rd of October 2014 at WORM, Rotterdam

It is a great feeling to speak at the event which launches a device packed in a box that instructs:

“Make your own webpages and host them at home.”

Sounds simple and humble. But there is so much in this sentence – a 20 year history of love-hate relations between users and developers, users and providers, users and the internet, users and the www.

It also contributes to a long web debate about what a home page should be.
Let me explain and argue why you should actually still make one.

“Make your own home page” is an old appeal. It is older than the mid 90’s. Not even 1994, but 1992. On the internet, one year is equal to ten astronomical years, there is a century between 1992 and 1994. … continue reading

Roses are Red,
Violece is Blue,
Yahoo sucked ALWAYS,
Now GEO does TOO!!!

Half a year ago speculating on what to expect from 1999 on Geocities, I didn’t mention may be the most important fact. It was the year when Yahoo bought GeoCities.
Till the end of June users reaction to this deal was rather calm. Annoyance was growing, people complained about pop ups, banners, water marks, but anger was still directed to GeoCities. The first (to appear in our archive) clearly anti Yahoo page comes on the 27th of June. It lists Yahoo sins as theGooCities owner and a search engine

You can’t see the last paragraph, so let me paste it here:

It was bad enough when Geocities got all commercially and intiated the geoplus and “pages that pay” crap, but now i’ll never go back to another geocities page. I hope all the companies that use Vortals continue to do so, so yahoo folds. THEY SUCK! I WILL REJOYCE THE DAY THEY ARE CRUSHED BY COMPETITORS AND FORCE INTO BANKRUPTCY. I’d rather Microsucks bought Geocities than Yahoo. DIE YAHOO!! DIE YAHOO!! 1

This page can be seen as a presage of the real upraise that happened later that week. For the first time homesteaders started to blame Yahoo when giving a reason for moving to another service or closing the profile.

… continue reading

Sad news: five years after the deletion of Geocities, Yahoo sysadmins found out (I hope not from this blog) that some parts of the empire are still visible and usable and made a new clean up, replacing profiles and directories with the page promoting their smallbusiness hosting service.

They even removed profiles of GeoCities Plus users, including the glorious spunk1111/, the famous ASCII artist Joan G. Stark. Though the promise was that those pages will stay up. “If you’re a Yahoo! GeoCities Plus customer, your friends and family can still view your web site as usual. However, you can no longer access your files or update your pages with GeoCities tools” was stated on a help page which is erased as well, but the Internet Archive remembers.

As my Clear GIFs collection vividly shows, yahoo blocked access to the two transparent pixels on their server
pixel.gif, used in the layouts of Geocities itself, and visit.gif, the web beacon that was tracing accesses to Geocities pages.

The pixel c.gif is still there though. Yahoo blocked access to the clipart directory now, but c.gif they didn’t dare to touch. It supports our earlier assumption that this file is a corner stone of the WWW, and if one pulls it out, the world build with HTML will collapse, burying underneath the ruins of old websites modern services, online shops, social networks and the Large Hadron Collider.


Skywriting (excerpt)
86 video/MIDI sound captures of Geocities home pages featuring welcome_plane.gif

Megarave
Kunsthaus Langenthal, Switzerland
28 August – 16 November 2014

Thanks to the Geocities Research Institute’s intern, Joel Holmberg (olia-3), who helped identify copies and variations of welcome_plane.gif.

One day in 1998, Pure10 moved into the Dreamworld suburb of the Area51 neighborhood, house #6246. He build his home page using Intel’s Web Page Wizard. He made index2.html with more pictures, and index3.html which tells more about him, and Index.html with “Possibly more stuff to come”.

In an attempt to modify the template he made quite some copy-paste mistakes and messed up the HTML syntax. To the search engines of that time he wrote:

Matt, Pure10, pure10, PURE10, dudes, dudettes, corrado, Corrado, G60, Suzuki, Katana, waverunner, map, Mcmurray, McMurray, PA, rmc, RMC

Late in the evening on March 17th 1999 he revisited his Geocities home and noticed: “Hmm, haven’t really done anything with this for a long time, maybe I should, huh ? Okay, okay…” Pure10 uploaded a new pic.

He added links to the Corrado Club of America, weather forecast for Pittsburgh, USA airways and stock market charts, then sent his files to the server for the last time. He made it in the first minutes of a new day, at 00:24:42. This is how his homepage became the first one to be last updated o the 18th March 1999 — the day when Microsoft released Internet Explorer 5.

Pure10’s page becomes the first one rendered in Internet Explorer in our archive and to appear in this new frame on Tumblr. 15 years later it is the date when we at the Geocities Research Institute say good bye to Netscape and switch to Internet Explorer.

Dragan Espenschied justifies this move:

With the release of Internet Explorer 5 and it being shipped with Windows 98SE and Windows 2000, this browser can be considered to be the default window into the web for a long period of time.

We don’t do it with light heart. We know that our followers will be disappointed, we will miss it ourselves, but to continue with Netscape would mean to go nostalgic, to ignore history.

The framing of Netscape made every page look great, with Explorer it is different. To quote Dragan again:

While Netscape considered itself a product with a strong identity and therefore very recognizable visual design,1 Internet Explorer tried to look like an utility, the web becoming part of the operating system.‎ So while Explorer copied the structure of Netscape’s user interface, its appearance is more modest and transparent. With its toolbar being smaller than Netscape’s, web users gained a few more pixels, the Microsoft-Windows-only ActiveX plugin interface, smooth Java integration and many proprietary tags like <marquee> opened up new forms of expression — yet in hindsight Explorer’s staggering dominance is regarded as a dark age of the web. For most users, an actual loss was experienced through the lack of Explorer’s support for the <blink> the tag — a widely used way of bringing animation to the web, introduced by Netscape in 1994.

One thing is for sure: you will see much fewer home pages with garbled text on them. While Netscape strictly adhered to the HTTP protocol and displayed non-latin alphabets  only if the headers were set correctly — which many users did not know about –, Explorer tried to find out on its own what character encoding a page might be written in, and was guessing right more often than not.2

So, enjoy a glimpse into the web of 1999 written in Vietnamese, Russian, Korean and Chinese.


  1. See an overview of how Netscape looked on different platforms at Two Rovers Consulting, the designers in charge for it. []
  2. We also have improved on the HTTP headers sent to Netscape in the meantime, some of the older home pages now would show up with the right character set if visited again. []

As mentioned in the post about the earliest under construction signs, there is not much sense in knowing what exactly was the first under construction sign or rainbow bar and who exactly created them. At the same time it is a great opportunity to talk to the people who made graphics, or wrote scripts, or put together collections that were used by many and influenced the web. By this you get reminded about the motivations of early web users, their idea about the state and the future of the WWW, and learn about their work flow.

It was a pleasure to talk to Steve Kangas, the creator of one of the earliest under construction signs, the digging man . The sign can compete in popularity only with the under construction ribbon. Steve is also the author of the restless counter . He made the warm welcome to the internet and left an important reminder null. In 1995 he put these and other graphics (99 in total) together on the Animated Icon Browser website. It is still online!

On the page about himself Steve Kangas recalls:

“Early in 1995 I saw a graphical web browser and decided that the web was the most staggeringly awesome thing happening on the planet. I quit my profession and have devoted my time since then to exploring the web, spending an average of 10 hours a day online, either surfing or creating web projects. This is an excessive amount of time for any one pursuit – more time than it will be possible for me to sustain – but, well, it was worth it (in my opinion). I felt like a spectator at the Big Bang (“isn’t that neat! Imagine the universe that will grow from this!)”

Al the GIFs on Animated Icon Browser look familiar, they all became viral. They are all superstars. And there is something they all have in common: they are obviously not made by the same person. I asked Steve if the graphics were made by him or if he knows who are the authors. He said:

All the animations at http://209.197.100.244/mmmm/ were mine. None of the graphics were.

All the animations used pre-existing graphics, most of which seemed fairly commonplace at that time. I have no idea who created the original graphics. Many of them came from a site called “Icon Browser” (that’s why I used the phrase “Animated Icon Browser”). […] It was an influential site at the time – people everywhere used their icons. Maybe you can find it somewhere.

My goal at that time was just to advertise the possibility of animation. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Netscape 1.1 came out everybody was excited about the possibility of using font colors other than black and link colors other than blue. When Netscape 2.0 came out, it was mind-blowing, by comparison, that images could actually animate.

I spent many hours in Photoshop, modifying popular icons frame by frame, trying to keep file sizes under 3K. That’s the most absurd thing now, but it really seemed necessary then.

Of course I looked for the Icon Browser site. Believe it or not, it is still here http://www.ibiblio.org/gio/iconbrowser/. Put online in February 1994 and last updated in 1998. 7296 icons for all possible themes and interactions.


Look, the third pic in the 4th row http://blog.geocities.institute/wp-content/uploads/eye1.gif it is the one Steve Kangas used for his crying icon .

The Icon Browser collection is huge and eclectic. You don’t even have to ask if the graphics are original or found. But i contacted their author Gioacchino La Vecchia , early web adopter and founder of the Italian W3C . He confirmed, that all the 7296 GIFs were collected by him, not created. He saw himself as a search engine, as an aggregator:

Icons crawling was manual. Download or extraction adapted case by case […] at that time was not easy to find icons for web sites or applications.
No image search was available (like it is today with Google). So IconBrowser was a primary resource for web and apps developers.

The early web was very eclectic, because web pages were constructed using elements copied from other sites and different collections, from desktop icon collections published on cover CDs, sample files included with graphics or animation software packages, or files that have been popular before the WWW, on BBSes or the UseNet.1 And, I think now, that Steve’s and Gio’s collection’s were influential because you could find there all kinds of stuff. And I think now that being eclectic by themselves they were advocating and pushing this style.

The next pic is a screen shot from a typical homogeneous clip art collection to be found on CDs attached to web design manuals of that time. Its good that early users did more surfing than reading.

Myknet is on WordPress now. This news will not make it into international headlines. If you don’t belong to rural and remote First Nations of Ontario you are not on myknet.org, and probably never ever heard about this free hosting service for aboriginal peoples of Canada.

I got to know about it two years ago from the Austrian anthropologist Philipp Budka, and since then was surfing it regularly. … continue reading

Today, looking at the “oldest” (last updated 1995-09-30) page in our archive, I again found myself in a chain of thoughts that I usually try to avoid, because they are formed by the questions that are time and energy consuming to answer … and these answers are not important for anything. Pure сuriosity and avidity.

So, yesterday I looked at the page, saw the under construction sign,

and asked myself and the Internet: How old is this particular file? Was it the first ever Under Construction sign? What was the first Under Construction sign? On what page did it appear? Who did set the trend to talk about the pages as being “under construction”? What was the first page “under construction”?

Internet Archive doesn’t remember. Google doesn’t know. Tim Berners-Lee doesn’t answer.

Anybody can help? Does anybody here know somebody who knows the guy who made the first Under Construction image?
And what to do with similar questions in the future? To ask them in a blog? On Twitter? Put an ad in the Guardian or the New York Times? How to reach users who were making their pages in 1993-1995?

On the other had, as I mention above, getting answers to these questions doesn’t help to understand the web of the 90’s and didn’t bring me closer to the question that I really want to answer: What did it mean to make a webpage? Maybe even the opposite, such facts are turning history into anecdotes.

As for Under Construction idiom:

I know that it was not used on the very first CERN web page.

This screenshot comes from the book The Whole Internet, 1993. Ed Krol annotates:

It’s important to realize that the home page and everything else that’s available is not “built-in” to your browser. […] Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see text that doesn’t match our sample screen. The Web is constantly changing; that’s part of its beauty.

But already in 1994 — if to believe the screenshots in the book Using World Wide Web, published that year — one could read on the home page of the World Bank at www.worldbank.org “This World wide web Server is under construction and there will be many changes in the immediate future as more data becomes avalable for publication.”

Encyclopedia Britannica (www.eb.com at that time) also warned its visitors: “The World Wide Web database is under construction.”

census.gov used a different phrase: “construction continues”.

Stanford’s WWW Virtual Library referred to their Mechanical Engineering document as being “under continuous construction”.

And this particular line was around already in September 1995.

related:

update 10 May 14:
Jason Scott reminded me about the 5 years old the thread on Metafilter where user twoleftfeet states that in was him who made the first UC icon in 1995. It is great to know the author of glorious null and the website he comes from.