Posts tagged web

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

Even though I’m a long-standing Tumblr user, starting in the paleolithic age of early 2007, back when Tumblr was a small beta website in the age of Friendster and Hi5, I have to admit I’ve always had minimal interaction with Tumblr as a community, and such interactions have over the years mostly consisted of sparse likes and discarding private messages asking me to give up my beloved found username in exchange for a number of followers (how does such an exchange even work?) or more faves or whatever I can well do without.

Therefore it was fascinating to read this long article on Tumblr teens, which are mostly of the alienated variety that thrives under perceived anonymity, therefore the kind of kids that would have been building Geocities websites were they born 15 years earlier; but also, in a turbocapitalist twist, the kind of kids that fall for the Get Rich Quick schemes standing for contemporary Web Marketing (eg. affiliated links, clickbaiting, clickfraud, & etc.) and thus find themselves locked out of their own websites for infringing Tumblr or Google Advertising’s less-than-transparent ‘rules’ (or perhaps arbitrary and somewhat fraudulent on their own, even). It must be noted I find such measures equally deserved and nauseating: on one hand some kind of retribution from On High being served upon the brats that tricked other kids into buying sketchy diet pills in exchange of too much money and a temporary taste of Los Angeles’ glamour; on the other hand the crime of deleting a kid’s website, perhaps the very activity that brings meaning to the kid’s life, perhaps a meaning most of us won’t ever find in an activity, therefore a small (in the unfortunate context of world affairs) but certain violation of human rights.

All over these nine years Tumblr has mostly been for me a very convenient way to blog on my own website, as I’ve been using its API in order to sync posts to my own web host almost from day one. It’d be sad if found were to be deleted someday (or Tumblr ended API support), but my stuff would always still exist somewhere, both online and in regular offline backups. And herein lies the lesson: online, Big is Bad. Big users with big followers will suddently cash in and serve diet pill advertisements (or maybe ads loaded will malware). Big services with big users will suddently pull the plug, either because they don’t feel like sending that paycheck, or because a picture post once contained a nipple, or because that big service turns out to be insolvent and abruptly disappears one day. Big goes against the grain of what makes the web great.

Stay small.

As the creator, Paul Ford (also), defines it, "a cool place where people can just hang out and make web pages on the web".

The Tilde Club no longer accepts new members, which is unfortunate but understandable since this is not supposed to be Ello but rather something like an doomed-utopian Geocities, webrings included. And I do think there’s something wonderful about randomly clicking through the webpages Tilde members have been “making on the web” (eg. this page that pulls you beyond the 1990s cyberspace event horizon). As Ford tweeted, it’s refreshing to see people doing things rather than just saying things — which, coming to think of it, would be the core difference between the Early Web and the Centralized & Appified Web of nowadays. 

A triumph for the Indie Web!

Google will shutdown Google Reader on July 1st.

This is terrible.

Not because I’m a heavy gReader user. I’ll have to move my subscriptions over to some alternative feed reader (like the appropriately-named The Old Reader) and import all my favourites to my Pinboard account, but that’s easy and not much of a problem.

This is terrible because this is the final nail in RSS’s coffin. Without a popular and efficient feed reader, those small personal blogs that made the Web great will struggle even more to find audiences. Blogging is dying, replaced by the efficient ‘sharing’ of Facebook and Twitter. RSS would have been the federated open alternative, but syndication is contrary to walled gardens.

It seems we came full circle. With the demise of Google Reader, it seems having a small online presence on the Web outside of Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter is again the province of hackers and nerds…


This is my thousandth post on Tumblr, entry number 1945 on my stream. If I printed all these posts and entries, averaging one post per page, I’d have a pretty thick book by now — almost two thousand pages of randomness. However, considering I’ve been adding stuff to my blog since April 2001 that doesn’t seem all that impressive. In fact, considering that I have had my Tumblr since March 2007 the fact it took me five years to reach post one thousand actually characterizes me as a Tumblr dilettante: perhaps I should really give away my nice Tumblr username to one of those teens who routinely ask me for it (not that I would — if I bother replying my first answer is still ‘no’ and my second is still ‘fuck off’).

The fact that I’ve been a weblogger / tumblrer / twitterer / data entry hobbyist in modest quantities for such long periods of time without ever closing or restarting my web records from scratch allows me to appreciate change. Not surprisingly, my posting style changed dramatically through the influence of the tools I used to write and post. Whereas before I had a HTML text box as my interface, using Tumblr (with its predefined types of content) and its API as a content management system for my own weblog brought a profound shift (compare January 2007 to March 2007). A new style took years to crystalize, and is still ever crystalizing. The tools’ influence lies in the surface however — the kind of posts I make —, but obviously time is the factor in the greatest shifts in what goes in each post. A graph for my changing attitude could be traced, from naïve idiot to whatever I am now, which I hope is better.

A Web.

Back in 1999 you could learn almost everything you, the young web developer, needed from a book such as Webmaster in a Nutshell. Those simple times (the 1990s — simple!) are now long over. Much as days’ worth of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, now it seems as if college degrees’ worth of web technologies are invented every week. I feel as if the Technological Singularity arrived, and I (we?) lost the grip on History. However, instead of a single machine intelligence, some Cray-like box, simulating and running away with the Future, I feel there’s this distributed Singularity, part made of machine and part made of highly-focused individuals who are able to surf the technological zeitgeist for a brief amount of time until they wipeout — highly-skilled, motivated, caffeinated workers who are like the human cogs in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: people programming machines that program people that program machines, the Singularity created of this runaway ressonance that also concentrates wealth and employement.

Perhaps the Web needs less builders, just enough architects and more planners.

The above illustration was made with this small Processing sketch.

For comparison, here’s a screenshot of my real Geocities-hosted homepage, made in late 1997. The downside to years of data-loss paranoia and redundant backups is that I keep all kinds of embarrassing stuff, readily available for me to share with you readers whenever I find myself on a Cory Archangel-esque, aesthetic-appreciation-of-crap mindset. (Perhaps the Internet equivalent of my not-totally-ironic conversations on the merits and demerits of individual episodes in the Rocky series.)

Anyway, as it has been years since I last looked at this, I have a few questions to my 18-year old self: What the hell is that typeface in the title and background? And how could you even include that handheld-scanned ID photo? And is that darker background color purple or blue? (At 32, I can’t tell them apart.)

For the record I’m pleased no Comic Sans was found anywhere on that page. And surprisingly enough, no hitcounters!

The Geocities-izer will theme any website like a Geocities-hosted crapfest, which is why I found it appropriate to present the above image of my GC-ized website as a 16-color GIF. I think the transformation lacks a centered text layout, as well as a few animated buttons and Java hitcounters. But the garish colors: perfect.

If This Then That

This is a impressive and (deceptively) simple webapp that allows you to route actions in a service (eg. liking a video on YouTube) to another (eg. tweeting about it). Granted, many sites offer this ability already, but I like IFTTT because it provides a central dashboard for all your routing while often being more customizable. Sure you could use Yahoo Pipes or Tarpipe, but those are just too excessive. Here’s a list of IFTTT recipes.


A nice-sounding Flash soundtoy by André Michelle. The rest of the ‘experiments’ are also worth checking.

Rest in Peace, Geocities

Yahoo will close Geocities later this year. For those who don’t know (because damn — I’ve got colleagues who were in elementary school by the time I first went to college and got on the internet), Geocities was the free web hosting service when I first bought a 33.6 kbps modem and got on the Internet in 1997, a time synonymous with browsing the web with Netscape Navigator running on Windows 95, comparing searches between giants Yahoo and Altavista, and expressing yourself with personal homepages, probably hosted at Geocities.

I had my first personal page — which included a small bio, a couple of movie reviews and some pictures of my town Porto (scanned at a friend’s, using his handheld scanner!) — hosted at the two megabytes of server space my ISP kindly provided at an address I’ll never forget — — which was an unbelieveably short URL in those days. Since the space was short I signed up for a Geocities account which provided me an extra megabyte of web-presence, which I used for some sort of porfolio website (showing some bad art made up with Corel Draw! and Paint Shop Pro, which in pure 90s style displayed very liberal use of effects and filters).

In typical cyberpunkish fashion, Geocities’ URLs had plenty of metaphor — it’s a cybercity, ain’t it? — therefore you couldn’t choose your desired URL, instead you would pick from a selection of e-street addresses, or whatever, so my Geocities URL was something impossible to remember — — it seems somehow I got myself an address intended for sports webpages.

Anyway, that’s all ancient web history now. Since then we’ve seen people thinking selling pets online would be a good idea leading to the dotcom bust, John Barger starting a different kind of personal webpage, starting the weblogging trend and the not-so-sad demise of those “Welcome to Ed’s Personal Homepage, here’s a picture of my cat” sites, the rise of web apps and social websites and the laptop-at-the-coffeehouse crowd, people no longer lonely and unproductive in their rooms, but lonely and unproductive in public spaces.

Through all this, it seems, Geocities continued to exist. In fact, I recently found out a friend’s website still existed — and I hope you’ll forgive me when I say it is indeed the quintessential Geocities webpage (which, at least, is a lot more interesting than finding the same Blogger template for the thousandth time). So I hope Yahoo doesn’t knock the whole thing offline when the closing time comes, but freezes it instead. It is a very important artifact of early web history.

In a very strange way, Geocities will be missed.