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1. Getting a lay of the web: an overview from web 1.0 to 3.0
Soon to be released:
2. Shaping the digital world: on autonomy and design (subject to change)
3. Why curation matters: the institute using the internet, a how-(not)-to (subject to change)
4. Online communities and web-cultures (subject to change)
5. Speculating on the format of online art. (subject to change)
Hi! You’ve encountered our research article in the wild. We’re glad you did as there’s a lot to talk about in our opinion. We’re all online - a lot - of the time. And some of us have started noticing some implications in relation to our daily life. The ‘world’ of the web is becoming inextricably linked to our actual physical world, which means that art too is becoming ‘webbed up’.
More and more we feel the necessity to be online which also goes for artists, organisations and institutions. But what does this ‘being online’ actually mean? How do we go about translating our work to the web succesfully? What should we take into consideration while doing so? And upon entering the web, how do we position ourselves among the myriad content streams, web-based cultures and platforms?
‘this message was deleted’ aims to inform you about topics relevant these questions with five articles releasing over the coming months, followed up with a roundtable podcast after the release of each article, where we invite guests to join the discussion. we’d love for you to become involved in the conversation as well by leaving comments, leaving voice-notes or by emailing us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or instagram.com/thismsgwasdeleted. because beyond informing, we want to start a broader conversation about the rapidly evolving landscape of the web and its relation to our lives and art!
so whether you consider yourself a web-citizen 100%, have your reservations about online and digital culture or just want to know more — feel welcome, be invited to participate and join us in considering art on the internet.
Getting a lay of the web: an overview from Web 1.0 to 3.0
written by: Olli, Ida Schuften and Bart Bruinsma
20 February 2023
A lay of the web
When it comes to online culture and the structure of the internet as a whole, we’re in the middle of a big turning point. Issues concerning the current state of the web are starting to make its online users reconsider their engagement with the web, resulting in the development of new models of organizational structures and platforms, as well as new theories, tools and technologies to shape the internet’s future. The development of blockchain technology, augmented- and virtual reality, and the development of a spatial web, are all parts of this speculated future dubbed Web 3.0.
This article will focus on a brief walk-through of the history of the mainstream world wide web and what the basic characteristics of its many phases are, divided into a pre-history/technical explanation,
Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and lastly Web 3.0. This information should help us understand how the web might develop and what the internet's future might look like for institutions, creators/developers, and users/consumers.
What is the internet literally
In a nutshell, the internet is the decentralised distribution of information. This key element is embedded in the internet’s origin in the 1960’s. It originated as a response to the threat of nuclear attacks on US telecommunication infrastructure. At the time, US telecommunication was a centralised infrastructure with a single exit point for communication across the entire country, making it vulnerable to rely on in the event of nuclear attacks from the USSR. If this one point was targeted it would fail. In response to this threat, engineer Paul Baran divised a solution to create a decentralised network that would allow information to travel from multiple exit-points and thus be better protected against attacks, thereby ensuring secure and stable communication within the United States. Information was transmitted between different relay points, also called nodes or hubs, until it arrived at its desired destination, establishing a decentralized communication network. Using such a network, it was possible to break data into multiple smaller units and send them independently in a distributed manner over the net, which sped up transactions and resulted in not only a more secure, but also a faster communication infrastructure.
image: networks by Vilhjálmur Yngvi Hjálmarsson
The development of the early internet is defined by an evolution from information being managed by a centralised entity with a single exit-point to a decentralised network of multiple exit-points that form an interconnected whole. This early version of the internet served as the foundation for what is called the ARPANET or Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. The ARPANET was a tool that allowed different computers to communicate with one another, and was mostly used by departments within the United States government as well as universities and research institutions. This has been regarded as a precursor to the World Wide Web (WWW), or the internet as we know it today.
The web as it’s structured today did not take shape until the 1980s and early 1990’s, when the first true web browser launched, revolutionising how web media was organised and navigated. Three elements in particular shaped the internet: HTTP, HTML and URL. The HTTP-communication language, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol transforms data from one machine to another, enabling communication between devices online. In daily use, we recognise this concept in the form of the blue hyperlink that allows us to portal through the internet.
image: hyperlinks on Google search
Another element that catapulted the development of the internet was the creation of HTML , or HyperText Markup Language which is the code used to lay out the structure of a web page and its contents, making it easier for users to navigate the web and for creators and developers to design websites and share information. The URL, or Uniform Resource Locator specifies the location of a resource on the internet.
In short, the web is nothing more than a network of pipelines that link electronic messages and information between people. These pipelines and infrastructures are physically connected through cable networks installed in the ground and lying on the sea floor, creating the connections required to communicate between continents. The ocean sea has become subject to a large network of submarine cables that form one integrated system in the connection between worlds.
From the beginning of the web, the concept of connecting worlds and distributing information through decentralised means has been one of the internet’s greatest strenghts.
image: the internet in the physical world, the sea-string.
Different layers of the web
The surface web and the web iceberg
The modern internet is roughly seperated into two layers: the Surface Web and the Deep Web. When we refer to the internet in our daily lives, we usually refer to the Surface Web. This surface layer consists of websites that can be looked up by using a search engine such as Google or DuckDuckGo, and includes widely used, popular websites such as Facebook, Youtube, Google, Amazon and Wikipedia. Because of its ease of access and popular content, this is the most often used layer of the internet by the general public. Its content is organised and curated by the help of algorithms. Since access is free, the Surface Web monetises by integrating advertisements in the user experience, as well as collecting user data that's traded with commercial organisations. But the Surface Web is only the tip of the web-iceberg, as the great majority of data on the internet (96% of it) is on the Deep Web.
image: the web iceberg by Vilhjálmur Yngvi Hjálmarsson - credit to New Models.
The Deep Web consists of all of the information that is not indexed by search engines and are not easily accessible through the use of standard web browsers. This information varies from government records to social media profile information, military data, cloud data, academic data, legal documents, and medical records among other things. Various steps to restrict access to these websites are put in place, and usernames and passwords are frequently required to access it. Private internet-banking information, or your Netflix login information being good examples of this. To gain access to it, various steps to restrict access to these websites are put in place, and usernames and passwords are frequently required.
A minor subset, or sub-layer, of the Deep Web is known as The Dark Web. These two terms are often confused with eachother. A special software/browser is required to access it, as well as a specific decryption key that allows the user to access the content on the encrypted website. For this purpose, the Tor browser, which lets users access the web without leaving any traces of personal information, has gained popularity.
It has served as a safe platform for activists and journalists to communicate safely and anonymously, and store sensitive information. But apart from these legitimate uses, the added layer of anonymity has also attracted illegal activities, such as i.e. buying and selling products such as weapons, drugs, personal information, and organs, as well as services such as hiring a hitman and sharing hacking tutorials between each other anonymously. One infamous example of such websites is Silk Road.
The term Dark Forest has been used to describe platforms that exist parallel to websites on the Surface Web. Examples are Patreon, Substrack and some Discord servers. The term Dark Forest was popularised by science fiction author Liu Cixin's book "The Dark Forest," in which humanity's open communication with possibly hostile aliens is called into question and caution is advised, much as animals in a forest must be cautious of predators. As opposed to mainstream Surface Web spaces, users of Dark Forest platforms ‘forage’ for content instead of having the content curated by the platform’s algorithm. These spaces are, if at all, minimally and straight-forwardly commercial which is a clear difference to Surface Web spaces. Dark Forest spaces are also more encapsulated in order to subvert influence of corporations or governments in service of protecting the privacy and/or security of its users. But as the director and writer Lil Internet from New Models put it, none of these spaces are perfect:
“A Dark Forest space could be home to a community of generative, well intentioned discussion and debate, or it could be a sort of filter-bubble on steroids.”
Because Dark Forest spaces are often closer in scale to real life human networks, these spaces are less sociologically stressful than the vast, open space of the Surface Web. Your contributions here are less exposed to scrutiny than on a platform such as Facebook or Twitter.
image credit: New Models
For more context material on different web-layers, we recommend checking out this video lecture by New Models.
Now that we know that there’s more to the web than meets the eye, and we have a general idea of how things are laid out, let’s take a look at where we came from.
Web 1.0 _ 1991 - 2003
To get a sense of the structure of the web during its Web 1.0 stage, we’ll look at the text -
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace by John Perry Barlow, published online on February 8, 1996. According to the text, cyberspace should be a realm apart from the one we live in. It should provide a new world without centralised governments, borders, or laws. Instead, cyberspace should be free to create its very own social contracts based solely on the Golden Rule:
"We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
It is interesting to note how vast the structural transformation of cyberspace has been since the text’s publication. At the time, cyberspace was thought of as a world seperate from the one we live in. Most people did not use their true identities online, instead creating a separate persona just for cyberspace. This is a significant difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Barlow himself is best known as a long-time member and lyricist of the psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead. This is significant because there has always been a strong relationship between 1960s American psychedelic counterculture and the early days of virtual-and cyberspace. As author Fred Turner puts it:
“In the mid-1990s, as first the Internet and then the World Wide Web swung into public view, talk of revolution filled the air. Politics, economics, the nature of the self—all seemed to teeter on the edge of transformation. The Internet was about to "flatten organizations, globalize society, decentralize control, and help harmonize people," as MIT's Nicholas Negroponte put it. The stodgy men in gray flannel suits who had so confidently roamed the corridors of industry would shortly disappear, and so too would the chains of command on which their authority depended. In their place, wrote Negroponte and dozens of others, the Internet would bring about the rise of a new "digital generation"—playful, self-sufficient, psychologically whole—and it would see that generation gather, like the Net itself, into collaborative networks of independent peers. States too would melt away, their citizens lured back from archaic party-based politics to the "natural" agora of the digitized marketplace. Even the individual self, so long trapped in the human body, would finally be free to step outside its fleshy confines, explore its authentic interests, and find others with whom it might achieve communion. Ubiquitous networked computing had arrived, and in its shiny array of interlinked devices, pundits, scholars, and investors alike saw the image of an ideal society: decentralized, egalitarian, harmonious, and free.”
source: From Counterculture to Cyberculture
What is described here is a societal binary of the counterculture subject vs the subjects upholding society's established institutions, embodied at the time by the flower-power hippy on the one hand, and the “stodgy men in gray flannel suits” on the other. Being online was perceived as a new counter-cultural movement, and most people who used the internet were those who were outside the norm, such as programmers, tech enthusiasts, hackers, and artists, all of whom saw a lot of potential in this new frontier.
Web 1.0 sites and net-art
In the Web 1.0 era, most sites were primarily text- or image-based, with no user interaction. The sites often had a single purpose and were organised in a hierarchical framework represented by the home page which contains hyperlinks that you pressed to go deeper into the website. To actually contribute material online, you needed to be relatively technically adept and know how to code, which made the web not very accessible to the majority of people, establishing the highly one-directional relationship between the content provider and the user. Because very few Web 1.0 websites were linked to a search engine, the decentralised and static architecture of the websites made it challenging to find information if you didn't know exactly what you were looking for. This is akin to wanting to call one of your friends, but not knowing their phone number as well as not having a phone book to look it up. Still, artists were quick to recognise the opportunities presented by the internet, and at this time, a movement known as net.art emerged, which used the aesthetics and medium of websites for artistic purposes. An anthology of the net art movement created by the Rhizome website may be found here. These sites serve as an excellent example of Web 1.0 sites.