On Monday we premiered Olia Lialina‘s keynote as part of Reclaim Open’s virtual event, which has been—and will continue to be—happening throughout July. Lialina’s talk is very much a highlight given her ongoing work to preserve and curate the work of the early web with online exhibits such as One Terrabyte of Kilobyte Age, featuring homepages from the free web hosting service Geocities that might have been otherwise lost in the Yahoo! purge circa 2009. This keynote beautifully balances scholarly critique with a playful joy while exploring the aesthetic that defined the early web, while questioning the teleologic assumptions that is was merely amateur or a necessarily early and rudimentary stage of evolution of an online aesthetic.
In this talk Lialina works from a series of links that highlight various trajectories of the world wide web at various inflection points, namely 1993, 2003, 2013, and 2023. It refuses the idea of a clear past, present, and future of the web, resisting the tendency to simplify the web into epochs like Web 1.0, 2.0, or even the more recent neologism Web3— highlighting the ways in which these categories obfuscate and market through an attempt to simplify complexity and make the enclosure of the web more palatable, through increasingly removing agency from the user experience.
It is a real joy to watch Lialina revel in early, vernacular web design. At various points throughout this talk we are taken on a tour of the GeoCities Institute’s Archives, filled with midi soundtracks, blinking tags, and glorious GIFs that define a sense of home for the respective users. All of this feeds into the broader trajectories that Lialina traces—including the shift “From My to Me” on the web—underscoring the various ways in which the changing nature of the web is not a foregone conclusion, but rather an intentional move towards closing things down to further profit off those that would build there home in cyberspace. The move away from access and agency on the web is not inevitable, but rather part of the broader movement presently afoot to lock down the web as we know/knew it.
If you missed the talk during its premier, I whole-heartedly recommend you take an hour to watch and listen to what Lialina has to show us about WWW across time and trajectories that resist netstalgia, and firmly embrace an inhabitable web that can be reclaimed one website at a time.