“Dreaming the Chinese Web (1996-1997)” is a magic series of nine 800×600 GIF animations composed with graphic elements sampled from the first year of GB2312 GeoCities. The compositions preserve the original formats of the graphics and framerates of the animations, enshrining them in an unclickable, undecomposable artwork looping until the end of time – or until your close your browser window.

“These aren’t webpages, yet they might as well have been – if you stare at them long enough, you can dream of what the Chinese web was like,” says Gabriele de Seta, the author of the series.

“Before UNICODE, the simplified characters of Mandarin Chinese were encoded in GB2312, one of the most popular versions of the guobiao (‘national standard’) character sets of the People’s Republic of China. The earliest websites encoded in GB2312 to be found in the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age archive date back to September 1996 – presumably the year in which the earliest Chinese users of GeoCities uploaded their first homepages for the world to see. Out of 381,934 archived GeoCities pages, only 14,209 are encoded in GB2312. While today one on six global Internet users is Chinese, twenty years ago only four percent of the amateur web was encoded in Mandarin.

Delving into the first year of Chinese GeoCities means traveling back in time to the early days of the Internet in China. The pioneering webmasters who discovered and ventured into GeoCities – Andy Zhang, Liu Dong, Benny Li, Lu Wenhu, Philip Zhai among others – were mostly university students, technicians, or academics. The webpages they designed, linked, experimented with, forgot and abandoned are a product of their times: tech tutorials, personal homepages, fan tributes, coin divination, videogame walkthroughs, tea expertise, politics and philosophy. The materials they built their websites with are a transparent testimony to the vernacular creativity of early amateur users: starry night backgrounds and T-Rex animated GIFs share 800×600 frames with Chinese pavilions and sword-wielding immortals. Pixel-art dragons and Japanese anime characters stand side-by-side with smileys and rotating stars. One webpage is just a wooden wall background with a red “Happy Chinese New Year” poster hanging there in the center.”

“Dreaming the Chinese Web (1996-1997)” will premiere at the Digital Folklore exhibition at HMKV (Dortmund) on the 24th of July 2015

You may also want to read this great Interview with Gabriele on Rhisome.

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