For every new website that goes up, there are some like these that get lost or forgotten – along with a sense of what online culture used to look like. We may have faster network speeds and better web features now, but – like finding an old mixtape (yes, on actual cassette tape) – finding a webpage dating back to the turn of the century is like unearthing King Tut’s tomb.
And there’s something about those artifacts that’s worth preserving, whether it’s a promo site for the 1996 film Space Jam (above) full of twinkling-little-stars backdrop and spinning GIFs, a virtual “mall” promoting Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, or a collection of (now-nearly-obsolete) “Enter” pages. Some of these gems are easy to find, but others are not, and there’s always a chance that some may disappear from the web forever and while the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has logs of more than 240 billion pages and counting, but it probably can’t save everything.
In 2009, fearing that the web would lose a lot of great Flash-based pages – particularly with Yahoo’s shuttering of GeoCities – Ryder Ripps began archiving a lot of the best images from his favorite sites. Dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the internet” he set up Internet Archaeology and began archiving hundreds of images with the intent to “explore, recover, archive and showcase the graphic artifacts found within earlier Internet Culture.” As Ripps and his fellow internet archaeologists see it, web culture is just as important as any album, painting, film, or other cultural artifact and its preservation is essential to chronicling the birth of internet culture – as much for the historical record as for the creative one.
The year is 1974, and Arthur C. Clarke is standing inside one of those cavernous computer centers that held the massive machines of the day.
He’s joined by an Australian television reporter with a gloriously enormous set of sideburns, and the reporter has brought his son, who’s about 5 or 6 years old. As those massive machines hum in the background, the reporter looks down at his son and asks Clarke what the boy’s life will be like in, yes, the year 2001.
Clarke — the science fiction writer who teamed with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to give the world 2001: A Space Odyssey — is up to the task. And then some.
What if large groups of people could go beyond ridesharing – replacing traditional car ownership altogether through on-demand access to the cars they want: a convertible in the summer, an SUV for winter ski trips?
What if driving skills could be computed as a score that warned us of bad drivers nearby – real time, on the road – also enabling navigation systems to offer safer alternative routes? Imagine if we could get rid of traffic jams and accidents altogether. Or how about if our cars picked up our groceries on their own – and dropped us off at the airport like a self-contained limo service?
What if automakers could subsidize our car purchases by working with telecommunications and other companies that want to capitalize on the lifetime revenue opportunity of a connected driver? Consider also the possibilities for insurance providers to charge higher premiums (for those who drive their cars themselves), or for local governments to monitor personal CO2 usage (in exchange for not taxing or tolling public roads).
Whether you embrace or object to these scenarios, they’re not too far away. This isn’t just an evolution of technology-enabled, connected vehicles. This goes beyond self-driving cars. And it’s more than a simple sensor-network: This is the era of smart mobility — an Internet of Cars.
Every so often in human history, something new comes along that warrants a celebration, and that deserves its own holiday. That’s why I propose we celebrate “Internet Freedom Day” later this month.
We already know there’s pent-up demand for holidays, typified by the number of official – and unofficial – holidays out there. Take Super Bowl Sunday, which is more widely celebrated than most official holidays. Take Black Friday, our post-holiday celebration of another contact sport, of sorts: shopping. Take April Fool’s Day, a celebration of pranks and human gullibility. And then there’s Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14 – get it?), a celebration of circumferences, math, and store-bought cherry pie.
So it’s shocking that we don’t already have an unofficial Internet Freedom Day, or even an official holiday like we do for the Fourth of July, given that the internet is one of the most revolutionary technologies the world has ever known. It has given us an entire universe of information in our pockets. It may connect us to spammers in Nigeria and cat videos, but it also connects us to our loved ones and people we only know from Twitter.
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Peter Kirstein is the man who put the Queen of England on the internet. In 1976.
That’s Her Majesty in the photo above, and if the year isn’t immediately obvious from the computer terminal she’s typing on — or from her attire — you can find it on the wall, just to her left, printed on one of the signs trumpeting the arrival of the ARPANET.
The date was March 26, 1976, and the ARPANET — the computer network that eventually morphed into the internet — had just come to the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, a telecommunications research center in Malvern, England. The Queen was on hand to christen the connection, and in the process, she became one of the first heads of state to send an e-mail.
It’s becoming the trademark move of failing regimes: silence your critics and cripple their communications by cutting off the internet. Libya did it. Egypt too. And last week, Syria pulled the plug on its own internet system.
According to new research from network monitoring company Renesys, it could just as easily happen in many other countries too, including Greenland, Yemen, and Ethiopia. Sixty-one of the world’s countries have just one or two service providers connecting them to the rest of the internet.
As live streaming video surges in popularity, so are copyright “bots” — automated systems that match content against a database of reference files of copyrighted material. These systems can block streaming video in real time, while it is still being broadcast, leading to potentially worrying implications for freedom of speech.
On Tuesday, some visitors trying to get to the livestream of Michelle Obama’s widely lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday were met with a bizarre notice on YouTube, which said that the speech had been blocked on copyright grounds.
On Sunday, a livestream of the Hugo Awards — the sci-fi and fantasy version of the Oscars — was blocked on Ustream, moments before Neil Gaiman’s highly anticipated acceptance speech. Apparently, Ustream’s service detected that the awards were showing copyrighted film clips, and had no way to know that the awards ceremony had gotten permission to use them.
Last month, footage from NASA’s triumphant Curiosity rover landing was blocked numerous times on YouTube, despite being in the public domain, because several companies — such as Scripps Local News — claimed copyright on the material.
Those incidents foretell an odd future for streaming video, as bandwidth and recording tools get cheaper, and the demand for instant video grows. Just in the last year, Google Hangouts, a feature of Google+ that allows multiple people to video conference, became a cult hit. Now it’s used by news sites, such as the Huffington Post, for live video interview segments. Ustream and Justin.tv have made it simple to livestream book readings, Meetups and the police siege of Julian Assange’s embassy sleepover.
Copyright bots are being wired into that infrastructure, programmed as stern and unyielding censors with one hand ever poised at the off switch. What happens if the bot detects snippets of a copyrighted song or movie clip in the background? Say a ringtone from a phone not shut off at a PTA meeting? Or a short YouTube clip shown by a convention speaker to illustrate a funny point? Will the future of livestreaming be so fragile as to be unusable?