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 how 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.

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One Response to Prof. Dr. Style

  1. Alan Levine says:

    I love this piece so much (FYI link in your post goes to blank amber cache page, but URL works fine). I had no idea of the Prof Dr. genre and struggle to remember them from the web in the early 1990s.

    But even better is her closing comments about the death of hypertext and links:

    “The last places to experience real online hypertext, hand made links, that look and behave like links, are the pages of the early web adopters and those who still follows their spirit. Visit them with your kids”

    And then I went down the rabbit hole of exploring Olia’s home page, what a treasure http://art.teleportacia.org/

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