Prof. Dr. Style

Lauren Heywood, Daniel Villar-Onrubio, and I are working on the exhibit for the Learning on the Open Web conference (OWLTEH) in exactly two weeks. One aspect of the exhibit will be framed examples of the 90s learning web. This will entail framed posters of websites from back in the day along with a placard crediting the person whom submitted the site and as well as their description. It’s been cool to see the submissions we have gotten thus far, and feel free to add your own examples of 90s web sites that have anything remotely to do with learning (which means a whole lot of them). 

So, when I was originally think about this exhibit I harken back to personal homepages on the academic tilde spaces that were a prevalent part of the academic web. Professors would create a fairly simple website with links to research, papers, professional organizations, and so on. .Net artist Olia Lialina termed this genre of websites the Prof. Dr. style, and has written extensively about the aesthetic here. Im blown away at the level she gets into in terms of browser copatibility, blink tags, web safe colors and more. I’m submitting the website featured above of German professor Werner Römisch as an example of such a site which will include the following text on the placard which quotes Lialina at length:

.Net artist Olia Lialina wrote extensively about early web design, and she classified a whole set of personal sites from the early 90s as “Prof.Dr” websites (http://contemporary-home-computing.org/prof-dr-style/).  As she notes:

“Prof.Dr” is a codeword, a tricky search request. I am aware of the fact that there are users outside of academia as well who always designed their sites in pure markup or redesigned according to 1993 standards recently. Still I suggest to use this name based on a scientific title as a tribute to the history, and reminder that all around the internet the very first pages were build at universities. To cement this term, within this article I’ll use only pages of senior academics holding a doctoral title.

The site highlights the minimalist, static design of the early web as well as reflecting a commonplace in the 1990s for universities to provide web space on a web server hosted by the university before the relative popularity and affordability of shared hosting in the early 2000s. The accounts were commonly referred to in the U.S. as  one’s “Tilde space” (~) and provided a small amount of storage and the ability to upload media and  HTML files via FTP.

I like of Lialina underscores the vital role of universities in building and shaping the early look and feel of the early web. I was also wondering what services Europeans used that was akin to 90s shared hosting where sites like Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc. would give you free web space much like universities. I’d love to get a sense from anyone in the UK who used hosted services for web pages in the 90s.

What’s I was talking with Lauren yesterday, and we started to make real progress on the layout. We are thinking 10-15 printed website with blurbs distributed around the entire conference (on hanging racks or easels), with a central pre-fabricated wall with an over view and rationale. It’s kind of cool to build an impromptu exhibit like this, and given the goal is modest in that it just wants to highlight the long history of the web aesthetically. I’m also working on re-creating a 90s desktop and laptop experience in the lobby of the venue, and I’ve been on Ebay looking for OG hardware which is always fun! Anyway, I have more to say on these sites, but I’ll save that for my next post.

Where have the Online Neighborhoods Gone?

After linking to the “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op” Tumblr in my last post, I started reading around a bit on the Geocities research blog. This post by Olia Lialina (pioneer web artist and theorist) about Neocities got me thinking a lot about how we are framing Domain of One’s Own here at UMW. Neocities is a project by Kyle Drake to “help me keep the creative, independent internet alive!” and it’s built in the spirit of Geocities. Lialina has some deeply insightful observations that she jotted down as soon as the service went public this Summer that I’m finding helpful to think more broadly about building community around DoOO.

We have the basic hosting worked out, we’re currently exploring more sophisticated syndication, but we still need to figure out how to imagine community more broadly. In this regard I think the same is true for Reclaim Hosting—in order for both to be more than just hosting they have to be able to expose what’s happening around the community.

As she was testing out Neocities soon after its launch, Lialina notes that….

There are still people out there who can write HTML, want to have their homepages made by hand and want to express themselves through HTML code. What seems lost is the idea (or skill) to make links to each other, manually, to build anything outside of your own “profile”. Neocities users do not link to other users’ pages, except user youpi and myself.

This idea of isolation in managing one’s own site is a theme that recurs through the first impressions. What’s more, I think it’s also apparent for anyone who has been blogging for a while. The slow death of the blogosphere is just that, the cultural amnesia that links between sites and people is what makes the web. Like with syndication, we want this to happen as a part of a siloed service like Facebook or LinkedIn—the idea of a personal profile seems almost divorced from the social self online—and that is something we need to challenge with DoOO.

There is also a discussion about the changing rhetoric around Geocities over time. In 1996 and 2004 Geocities was referred to as a priosonhouse of one’s content. Free web hosting services like Geocities “were seen as a prison for creativity and self expression.” There was a push to controlling your own webspace through commodity web hosting services like Bluehost and the like. But the rhetoric around Neocities, an updated verion of Geocities in many ways, is framed by Kyle Drake as a….

….place for the users to be “in complete control of the content and presentation they provide to their audience”. It is of course an over-over-statement. However, compared to the industrialized nothingness Facebook offers, any “pimp my profile” service can be regarded as offering “complete control”.

This is fascianting to me because the critiquing of Geocities in 1996 and 2004 was not so much about ownership as it was about ease of use. For the replacement was not cheap commodity web hosting for most folks, but rather “the industrialized nothingness Facebook offers.” So much so that something like a simple, third-party service for hosting HTML pages seems like the second coming of Freedom online. What an interesting shift in the rhetoric of the web over the last 15 years or so. There’s a dissertation in that alone.

But what is most interesting and useful for me in her early impressions is the fact that Neocities is cultivating a series of disconnected sites that don’t foster community. No one is linking to anyone else, and that frames the “beginning of the end.”

Very bad move: Calling it Neocities and not starting with neighborhoods. When Yahoo bought Geocities, they only offered vanity profiles and discontinued neighborhoods and suburbs. Users became isolated, it was the beginning of the end.

How do we build neighborhoods in DoOO and Reclaim Hosting? Is it around topics? -interests? -academic disicplines? -academic departments? -courses? -people? I imagine some combination of all these will be the case? And the more I think about it the more the idea of rolling out DoOO by a class of students, i.e. freshamn, didn’t make all that much sense for the project. The success of DoOO is going to depend as much on academic programs, courses, departments, and individuals—and like everything else we’ve done at UMW it will depend on an organic push. I’m just wondering what the idea of “neighborhoods” looks like for DoOO and how we might start experimenting along those lines.