Digital Archaeology

Requiem for a Dream

Sometimes it takes me a while to get through my old bookmarks. And sometimes I discover something unexpected and comforting. Case in point was Eye Magazine’s post The Past is a Foreign Domain about Digital Archaeology — an exhibition and collection of videos about some of the early breakthrough moments in web design.

The show is a nostalgic look at some of the sites I remember fondly. It was an era when the web was so new that people were just starting to explore and invent what was possible. The description of Antirom and their work gives a good sense of what some of these early designers were trying to achieve:

[Antirom was] an art collective who formed in ‘protest against ill-conceived point-and-click interfaces grafted onto repurposed old content repackaged as multimedia.’ […] Antirom’s playful games represent the first attempt at exploring interaction as a form of media in its own right, as opposed to simply being an interface to content.

That’s why these projects were so exciting at the time — they weren’t just about the new technologies. They were about designers taking the technologies and exploring how they could be used in new and expressive ways. Sites include: Noodlebox with a collection of immersive game-like experiences created entirely in Director; PS2.Praystation with interactive experiments and sharing source code; K10k as an early design portal that every designer visited throughout the day; and Yugop, who pushed the boundaries of ActionScript in jaw droppingly beautiful ways.

Digital Archaeology is curated by Jim Boulton, a partner at Story Worldwide. It appeared as an actual exhibition at Internet Week in both Europe and New York. It presented the sites on computers from their eras, so that visitors could experience them as the designers intended.

More lasting and always available, there is also a YouTube channel full of great video interviews with the designers talking about the projects as well as a nice blog detailing some of the projects.

In her interview, Alexandra Jugovic, co-founder of web agency Hi-Res and the site Requiem for a Dream, talks about what users were like then, and how the world has changed:

Since there wasn’t much around, people had a certain attention for things. they liked to discover narratives, and go through websites. What we have today is a different ball game. People are busy, there isn’t much time, there’s too much online, social media… everything has shifted. So our work has to adapt. It has to find new ways of applying what’s been learned in the past.

The projects are all great. So step back in time and take the time they ask as you explore them. They deserve it, and it’s worth it.