Spring Webcleaning

Web nostalgia is sweeping over me.

As I described in the previous post, Zen and the Art of Instellar Immanence, I recently chanced upon a link to one of my old Web essays from 1995 that had been mirrored on another site. Turns out it still is! I had moved it from my academic host to a personal domain last year, but had never put it back in circulation, so to speak. Having discovered that it was indeed very much alive, I spent an evening cleaning up the link rot and tweaking the layout. If I wanted it to be presentable, I would have to make it so myself.

Hardly was that done, when the phone rang, and it was Nick Bantock, author of the early-1990s best-selling Griffin & Sabine trilogy: Did I still have the Web pages that I had created about the trilogy in that long-ago era?… Yes, as a matter of fact I did, on that same commercial server…. There was more in this vein of reminiscing, until he mentioned that:

● he has already released an iPad version of The Venetian, a later work;
● there is an iPad version of Griffin & Sabine in development; and
● he is trying to resurrect the essence, if not a facsimile, of Ceremony of Innocence, the interactive CD-ROM version of G&S.

If you have never seen Ceremony, you can get a faint sense of it from this video on YouTube. For me, Alex Gifford’s haunting theme during the titles is worth repeated listening on its own:

So, in the aftermath of Nick’s call, I spent much of yesterday doing more Webcleaning to make Where in the World Are Griffin & Sabine? similarly presentable. The original core essay is pretty much unchanged, with link rot again being the principal target. Likewise for the Acknowledgments page, except that I also changed tense and phrasing to make it clear that people had helped me 15 years ago, rather than last week. And then there was the Afterword, where I explained and rationalized that I had done the pages not only as a fan of the trilogy, but also as an academic, wondering whether this new “Web” thing could be used as a serious research tool.

There was much that we take for granted today that was absent then. Mind you, in 1996, most search engines were like Yahoo, built on top of a Web directory assembled by human editors; the premier Web index was the brilliantly innovative, but now largely forgotten AltaVista, itself less than a year old; Google had one Page but no pages; and the self-correcting genius of Wikipedia was still five years away. It was not unreasonable to invoke a frontier metaphor in saying that “www” stood for “wild, wild Web.”

Looking back from this Google-centric era, and with the connectedness and community available through Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, and the blogosphere, it is easy to forget two things: (1) how little information and knowledge were available in some absolute sense; and yet that (2) if you were persistent, you could usually find someone, somewhere online who could point you to the one obscure thing you needed.

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