Posted by: Tony – Dec 22, 2009
On October 27th, 2009, a web era came to an end as GeoCities was shut down. The company was bought by Yahoo! a decade ago, and in late April of this year they announced that they would be shutting down the U.S. branch (the Japanese site remains at geocities.co.jp). For those of you who don’t know or are perhaps too young, GeoCities was a web hosting service that started in the mid '90s and, until recently, consisted of at least 38 million user built pages. Now that it's gone, does anybody actually realize what’s been lost? Ryder Ripps might. On a Saturday afternoon in early November I sat down with self-proclaimed Internet Archaeologist in his apartment in Queens to discuss lost unicorn homepages and deleted kitty fanatic domains.
Where did the idea for Internet Archeology come from?
In early June I heard about Geocities closing and there was no press about it. I heard about it on some shitty blog and Googled it, and there was nothing. Very little exposure, press, or care. It really bothered me that millions of human beings’ websites, maybe as much as Myspace, maybe a little less, were being deleted and no one seemed to notice or care. Not only was it a bunch of peoples’ stuff, but it was stuff in a time that was so pivotal for the internet, a time in ‘95 when things were first starting to happen and people were figuring out what the fuck to do with this thing and how to have a voice. This whole idea of a voice for everybody was a very web 1.0 ideal. Web 2.0 now is about not only everyone having a voice, but everyone being a content creator. The idea of making your own website now is meaningless because you have your own Facebook page and Youtube channel. You have all this shit that is already formatted for you. I created Internet Archeology because I was upset that this stuff was vanishing. The idea of Internet Archeology is something that I have been doing as well as a lot of other people; there just hasn’t been a name for it. It’s basically going to websites that you shouldn’t be on from a cultural standpoint, fetishizing and re-appropriating them. That’s something that’s been going on as a movement called “dirt style”, headed by a website called nastynets.com,.
What is it aesthetically about early internet graphic art that appeals to you so strongly?
A lot of art is influenced by the notion of “the primitive”. Anthropologists like Levi Strauss would explore other cultures and bring back the ideas and artifacts of these “primitive cultures” and it would greatly influence art. I think it’s kind of the natural way of things, to be influenced by the past and to take that and do something new with it. In a way, this stuff is rooted in our bodies and culture. If you see a cave painting it might strike a chord. If it inspires you, then it has. That comes from a deeply rooted human expression. The greatest thing about art is the dialect between emotion and tool. A man trying to emote with everything he has using this tool whether it’s a rock, a paintbrush or a computer. It’s trying so hard to get beyond that and transcend the tool. Art movements on the Internet are changing every two months. Some people see graphics as just the design of the page. I see it as art. The way things look when you go outside in New York City is all things that people had to decide. In a way that is an aesthetic choice. Things are recursive, and go back to the beginning. If you look at the art of Paper Rad or go to M.I.A’s website, you can see that it’s inspired by early GIF animation. It’s not that I’m in love with the way this stuff looks. Some of it I adore, and some of it I don’t, but I still catalog it anyway. It’s more that I think it’s important because I think people, whether they are inspired by it now or not, are going to be inspired by it and need to see it. The problem with the Internet is that this shit just vanishes. It’s not Pompeii, it’s not going to be covered in volcanic ash and preserved for thousands of years. It’s going to vanish if someone does not show it. That’s the main driving force behind showing the aesthetic qualities of the early Internet.
How many hours of the day do you spend online?
A lot. These days I’m going to sleep around 4 or 5, waking up at 12 and then spend all that time online. That’s 16 hours a day.
Damn dude. That’s a good chunk of time. How are your eyes?
Good. I was worried about carpel tunnel, so I'm getting an ergonomic mouse pad to sadly replace my Mac classic pad. It’s basically a girl with two tits that are padded.
What’s it like to not have any face-to-face contact with people for most of your day?
That’s a good question. It’s funny, the reasons that people gravitate to this lifestyle. I'm not the only one, you know. I have people online who I talk to all day, basically who have the same lifestyle, and they’re all very smart people who know a lot about culture. All of us know a lot about what’s going on outside. People have this idea that if you’re a hermit or a misanthropic person inside, you’re going to be socially inept. It’s quite the opposite. I feel like the more time I spend online the more I understand subcultures when I go into the real world. That’s the way the Internet is set up. Different sections of the Internet are for different sets of people. Doing Internet Archaeology, in a way is going where you’re not supposed to go. I don’t mean trespassing. I don’t mean that in a hacker sense. I mean as a white, 23 year old dude in New York, there’s a set of websites I'm supposed to go to. I can go to Facebook, Kanye’s blog, or some other design sites. I'm not really supposed to go to alien Nazi websites from 1995. That’s just not what I am supposed to do. That’s a ridiculous example, but doing a lot of things like going on forums for different cultures you start to get a grasp of people and how they interact with media and how they interact within their culture. Not going outside is interesting. It’s a choice but it makes so much sense to me. I don’t know what to do outside anymore.
Do you remember the first time you ever logged onto the Internet?
No. I don’t remember the first time, but I have a lot of memories of early computing. My aunt owned an electronics shop all through the 90’s and the late 80’s. She hooked us up with a Mac classic. So I was always using that. Then my dad got an IBM Aptiva in ‘96. He didn’t know shit about it, so I basically figured it out. I remember when I installed a 56k modem to replace a 28k one. I was like “Dude I am fucking going do so much more online now.” That was a huge deal. I was obsessed with the Internet. Totally. Something I keep thinking about is why people wanted to get this fucking thing. The equipment was so expensive and slow and there was no content. Now getting any kind of information is so easy that people take it for granted, and I think it overwhelms them. At that time you really had to dig for shit because there really was a lack of content. The availability and access was much more shoddy than it is now. So it’s really interesting why, against all odds, a lot of people did this stuff. A lot of people. Like me at ten years old. Why was I so into this? I remember the first time a friend and I dialed into each others computers at our houses and played DOOM. I was absolutely awed by that.
How much or what percentage of Geocities do you think you have seen, and how much have you archived?
I’m not the only one who’s been archiving this stuff by any means. I’ve ended up with three hundred some Gigs. Which is nothing. It’s literally a drop in the bucket. This guy Jason Scott, who’s kind of been doing this for a long time, thinks he has over four terabytes. What I have downloaded is small but picked through. I was really focused on the downloading of “neighborhoods”. I thought that was one of the most interesting ideas of Geocities. When Geocities was founded in 1995 it was established that there would be neighborhoods set up. These neighborhoods would be the things that bound people and started a dialogue between them. There would be a neighborhood called Hollywood where people talked about celebrities, a neighborhood called Area 51 would be where people talked about aliens and so on. So it’s kind of this idea of these Utopian neighborhoods where everyone could be one and have a sense of unity. Mind you, Geocities in 2004 ventured into other countries. Mexico, until recently, used Geocities for everything. People adopt technology a lot slower over there. I would like to emphasize that the point of Internet Archeology is not about archiving. For me, the sheer terabyte data number doesn’t mean anything. It’s like drinking water out of a fire hydrant. It’s not productive. What Internet Archeology is focused on is not creating algorithms that crawl and store the Internet, which is what archive.org and other archivists do. What Internet Archeology wants to do is to really go through it, make sense of it, and present it. That’s where the use lies.
Where do you think the Internet is going?
A lot of people are debating what web 3.0 is. Web 2.0 is basically the idea of everyone being a content creator. Someone posts something on a blog and it gets flung around on the Internet in a matter of minutes. Some great image will get posted or Tweeted and that image will be on thousands of sites in a matter of an hour. What that does is take the authorship away from the content. Once you take that away, it’s worthless. If you have a Warhol painting that wasn’t signed, it’s not worth anything. I could make a fucking silk screen that looks just like a Warhol, but it’s not going to be worth anything. That’s an epidemic that Internet Archeology speaks to. The idea that digital shit has value is the core belief of Internet Archeology. I think the idea that it doesn’t have value comes from web 2.0 in that you have to make things so fast to stay relevant. If you don’t blog every three hours, you’re not reaching the audience. A blog post that is three months old is irrelevant. It’s not news anymore. No one gives a shit. An image I posted on my blog four months ago is not something people are going to look through as opposed to web 1.0, where everyone’s websites had something at the bottom that said, “last updated at this time.” It was more like a plot of land. If something changes on a plot of land, you tell someone or people notice it. Now it’s more like Hong Kong where things are expected to change every second. The future of the Internet…I don’t know, faster. More compelling shit like what Google Wave is doing with real time access to the entire Internet, as you want it. It’s like watching TV. That’s what I think the future of the Internet is. The Internet is going to come to you instead of you coming to it. You’re not going to have to go on Facebook or whatever and figure out what you like. It’s going to figure you out. I don’t mean that in a SCI-FI way, but it’s already happening.
So SCI-FI!!! Are there any sites that you think are going to get really big soon?
I think Tumblr has immense potential. I think Twitter is going to go under soon. There are plenty of sites I could name drop that have great ideas and do great things, but it doesn’t matter because they don’t have the brand. People don’t have sixteen hours to spend on the Internet like I do, so their allegiance is going to be with a specific brand. When people go to buy clothing they don’t have three months to figure out what kind of clothes they should wear, and read blogs to figure out what’s cool. They already have their ideas and preconceptions. Most sites can’t build a brand and a following and I don’t think it’s productive to name sites that don’t have that element.
Is there an ultimate goal or endgame for Internet Archeology?
Book deal! Ha. I want to do a lot. I want this to be something that is not just me. I want it to build on its own and have people contributing ideas. Internet Archeology has a blog with ten contributors, so in that way it’s not really just me. To really take it to the next level we need funding and an office. We need new interfaces and new ways to find content. I would really like to enable others to be Internet Archeologists. What I do with this whole thing is really a lot of fun. Finding something that probably hasn’t been accessed in five years, to me, is like finding a hundred bucks on the street. It’s a process I would really like to show people. I don’t think it’s out of Internet Archeology’s reach to make a Facebook app. I want it to be very populist.
by Elliot Robinson