Tags: cities




It’s hard to believe that it’s been half a decade since The Show from Ze Frank graced our tubes with its daily updates. Five years ago to the day, he recorded the greatest three minutes of speech ever committed to video.

In the midst of his challenge to find the ugliest MySpace page ever, he received this comment:

Having an ugly Myspace contest is like having a contest to see who can eat the most cheeseburgers in 24 hours… You’re mocking people who, for the most part, have no taste or artistic training.

Ze’s response is a manifesto to the democratic transformative disruptive power of the web. It is magnificent.

In Myspace, millions of people have opted out of pre-made templates that “work” in exchange for ugly. Ugly when compared to pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer. But ugly as a representation of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.

Regardless of what you might think, the actions you take to make your Myspace page ugly are pretty sophisticated. Over time as consumer-created media engulfs the other kind, it’s possible that completely new norms develop around the notions of talent and artistic ability.

Spot on.

That’s one of the reasons why I dread the inevitable GeoCities-style shutdown of MySpace. Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time. And when it does get shut down, we will forever lose a treasure trove of self-expression on a scale never seen before in the history of the planet. That’s so much more important than whether it’s ugly or not. As Phil wrote about the ugly and neglected fragments of Geocities:

GeoCities is an awful, ugly, decrepit mess. And this is why it will be sorely missed. It’s not only a fine example of the amateur web vernacular but much of it is an increasingly rare example of a period web vernacular. GeoCities sites show what normal, non-designer, people will create if given the tools available around the turn of the millennium.

Substitute MySpace for GeoCities and you get an idea of the loss we are facing.

Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

Tears in the rain

When I first heard that Yahoo were planning to bulldoze Geocities, I was livid. After I blogged in anger, I was taken to task for jumping the gun. Give ‘em a chance, I was told. They may yet do something to save all that history.

They did fuck all. They told Archive.org what URLs to spider and left it up to them to do the best they could with preserving internet history. Meanwhile, Jason Scott continued his crusade to save as much as he could:

This is fifteen years and decades of man-hours of work that you’re destroying, blowing away because it looks better on the bottom line.

We are losing a piece of internet history. We are losing the destinations of millions of inbound links. But most importantly we are losing people’s dreams and memories.

Geocities dies today. This is a bad day for the internet. This is a bad day for our collective culture. In my opinion, this is also a bad day for Yahoo. I, for one, will find it a lot harder to trust a company that finds this to be acceptable behaviour …despite the very cool and powerful APIs produced by the very smart and passionate developers within the same company.

I hope that my friends who work at Yahoo understand that when I pour vitriol upon their company, I am not aiming at them. Yahoo has no shortage of clever people. But clearly they are down in the trenches doing development, not in the upper echelons making the decision to butcher Geocities. It’s those people, the decision makers, that I refer to as twunts. Fuckwits. Cockbadgers. Pisstards.

Designing for the street

I went along to the UXBrighton gathering on Tuesday for a screening of William Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

I had already seen a clip of the film online. In fact, I was fairly sure I had republished the clip. But a search through my archive here returned nothing. So then I checked my Tumblr account which I use for posting quotes and videos. But it wasn’t there either. Then I remembered where I had posted it: Pownce. I sighed at the unbidden reminder of all that link rot I contributed to.

For the record, here’s that clip:

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was a great companion piece to an earlier Brighton geek gathering. Dan Lockton came down last week to give a Skillswap talk on Design With Intent.

Design with Intent: How designers can influence behaviour on Huffduffer

Dan mentioned urban social places, specifically benches in English town centres, referencing William Gibson:

The street finds its own uses for things.

Like Dan’s talk, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was filled with lessons that can be applied to web design (or as it is more fashionably known now, UX design). It also reminded me of my previous career as a busker.

In the time period between dropping out of college and discovering the web, I spent many years playing music on the streets of Europe. Whenever I showed up in a new town, I would try to figure out the best pitch for busking. I developed a sense for it. The acoustics were important, of course. I didn’t want to set up anywhere too noisy. But a completely silent place would be silent for a reason: lack of people. Yet, I didn’t want to choose a spot where the flow of foot traffic would be too heavy either or I would be ignored in the bustle. Looking back now, I realise that I was seeking out those small urban spaces where people felt comfortable congregating and where the presence of a street entertainer would be welcomed.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was quite US-centric but the lessons were universal, regardless of place or time. I’d love to see a sequel made today. It would be interesting to compare the cities of the early 21st century with the cities of the ’70s. Maybe it could include the anecdote that Liz told:

…there was a fountain that was built in Washington Square Park in New York but before they got ‘round to turning it on, people started using it as a seating area. When the city tried to turn on the fountain, people revolted.

New York remains the place to watch for further developments. As we were sitting down in Brighton to watch a film on urban planning, citizens of Manhattan were celebrating the opening of the High Line.

Further reading

Update: Tom recommends Reading the Everyday as a very readable, more UK-centric take on urban living.

The Death and Life of Geocities

They’re trying to keep it quiet but Yahoo are planning to destroy their Geocities property. All those URLs, all that content, all those memories will be lost …like tears in the rain.

Jason Scott is mobilising but he needs help:

I can’t do this alone. I’m going to be pulling data from these twitching, blood-in-mouth websites for weeks, in the background. I could use help, even if we end up being redundant. More is better. We’re in #archiveteam on EFnet. Stop by. Bring bandwidth and disks. Help me save Geocities. Not because we love it. We hate it. But if you only save the things you love, your archive is a very poor reflection indeed.

I’m seething with anger. I hope I can tap into that anger to do something productive. This situation cannot stand. It reinforces my previously-stated opinion that Yahoo is behaving like a dribbling moronic company.

You may not care about Geocities. Keep in mind that this is the same company that owns Flickr, Upcoming, Delicious and Fire Eagle. It is no longer clear to me why I should entrust my data to silos owned by a company behaving in such an irresponsible, callous, cold-hearted way.

What would Steven Pemberton do?

Update: As numerous Yahoo employees are pointing out on Twitter, no data has been destroyed yet; no links have rotted. My toys-from-pram-throwage may yet prove to be completely unfounded. Jim invokes , seeing parallels with amazonfail, so overblown is my moral outrage. Fair point. I should give Yahoo time to prove themselves worthy guardians. As a customer of Yahoo’s other services, and as someone who cares about online history, I’ll be watching to see how Yahoo deals with this situation and I hope they deal with it well (archiving data, redirecting links).

Like I said above, I hope I can turn my anger into something productive. Clearly I’m not doing a very good job of that right now.