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A Vernacular Web
September 4, 2007 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Vernacular Web 2: Two years ago I wrote an article titled "A Vernacular Web", in which I tried to collect, classify and describe the most important elements of the early Web – visual as well as acoustic – and the habits of first Web users, their ideas of harmony and order. I’m talking about everything that became a subject of mockery by the end of the last century when professional designers arrived, everything that fell out of use and turns up every now and again as the elements of “retro” look in site design or in the works of artists exploring the theme of “digital folklore”: the “Under Construction” signs, outer space backgrounds, MIDI-files, collections of animated web graphics and so on.
posted by Armitage Shanks (38 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by DU at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2007


MIDI files were one of the "most important elements of the early Web"? Really?
posted by aaronetc at 7:59 AM on September 4, 2007


I was surfing the web before most of those elements were even in use. Before backgrounds, before animated gifs, before IE or even Netscape. So for me, those things are more like the 'middle' web.
posted by delmoi at 8:02 AM on September 4, 2007


I remember the shocking and amazing debut of tables. What a day that was.
posted by verb at 8:04 AM on September 4, 2007


This is fantastic.
posted by ardgedee at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2007


Very interesting.

Can you imagine the sheer amount of glitter text our lack of the IMG tag is protecting this thread from? Even as someone who misses IMG, I'm relieved in advance.
posted by hermitosis at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2007


Great stuff, especially the graphics links. I'm a sucker for cheesy web graphics. Thanks, Armitage Shanks!
posted by amyms at 8:10 AM on September 4, 2007


Delmoi, this link's for you! (From the Browser Emulator.)
posted by mwhybark at 8:14 AM on September 4, 2007


That grid o' glitter is NSFE (not safe for epileptics)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:16 AM on September 4, 2007


The author is a Russian artist/writer. Some of the commentary (particularly the bit about CSS) misses the point, but I think the, errr, amateurishness is part of the charm of an essay about the early amateur web.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2007


I remember when I could navigate all of Yahoo in an evening to see if there was anything new on the internet. More than one navigation, actually.
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


As someone who comes from a print publication background I blamed things I didn't like about the Web not on "amateurs" but on professional webmasters who had a techie background but no true publication design knowledge. (I still want to know why sans serif fonts became so prevalent on the Web.)

And I've also thought - from a sociological or psychological approach - about differing attitudes toward use of the Internet, based on differing backgrounds.

But this piece makes an interesting point I'd only somewhat considered. It's almost sort of sad that we've already moved on from people who enjoy dabbling in a "new" medium and creating for the sheer novelty of it. Now users aren't even thinking about the medium itself. They have no more to do with that than they do with developing a phone system or an entirely new form of transportation.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:38 AM on September 4, 2007


Seconding the fun in cheesy vintage cyber graphics in spite of how that kitsch used to crash my feeble, second-hand desktop, while using free dial up, MetConnect I think it was called. (omg, they still exist!) I could almost hear the impact as I imagined throwing my entire computer out the fourth storey window. Halleluja broadband.

NorthernLite, interesting point. Not cyber virgins anymore. Still tons of exuberant, this is a new medium creativity happening, daily.

Timeline of browsers.
posted by nickyskye at 8:50 AM on September 4, 2007


Great page, but it's already dated. MySpace pages don't provide a good example of "what the web looks like now." You could argue that MySpace foreclosed on its own popularity by allowing users to design pages that looked too much like Web 1.0 dogs' breakfasts, and not enough like the bland suburbia of highly templatized Web 2.0 sameness.

Glad the author touched on translucency as applied to Web 2.0. But what about the oversized type? The white backgrounds? The big buttons, lowercase letters and garishly misspelled names? It's as if Web 2.0 took the visual tackiness of Web 1.0, and tranferred it to the language.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2007


we've already moved on from people who enjoy dabbling in a "new" medium and creating for the sheer novelty of it.

One point I like to make to people who miss the good-old-days of the web is that the proportions might look worse, but not the absolute numbers look a lot better.

Sure, right now maybe 1% of the web's users care about the underlying techniques and technologies, but that 1% adds up to a hell of a lot more people than the 50% (or whatever) of web users 10 years ago.

I see an explosion of creativity, of people who like to tinker and try new things, who are very much preoccupied with the medium as well as the message.

The fact that there's also tons and tons (gigas and gigas?) of soulless, corporate crap is not really relevant, as long as you know where to look.

CMSs, Blog systems, templates, web services, open source projects, new programming languages, etc., are much more exciting than a few animated gifs, IMO.
posted by signal at 9:21 AM on September 4, 2007


They have no more to do with that than they do with developing a phone system or an entirely new form of transportation.

Most people don't want to develop their own phone system or new form of transportation. However, the analogy breaks down because getting a web 1.0 homepage is still feasible and as someone earlier pointed out it still happens. A lot. We just don't care anymore.

Frankly, early amatuer publishing with limited linking was not very web-like. A few links and a complete lack of awareness of the surrounding environment (network). Its not the poor design that made it obselete... its the fact they were on the whole mostly little islands with very little to offer to the conversation.

I think amateur web design now is truly much more in tune with the web as new medium and not a rehash of old print media.
posted by monkeyx-uk at 9:32 AM on September 4, 2007


(I still want to know why sans serif fonts became so prevalent on the Web.)

They're easier to read than serif fonts on a screen, especially at lower resolutions.
posted by drezdn at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2007


They're easier to read than serif fonts on a screen

Is this your personal opinion, or is there data to back it up?
posted by signal at 10:07 AM on September 4, 2007


Is this your personal opinion, or is there data to back it up?

Here's a little data to back it up.
posted by drezdn at 10:20 AM on September 4, 2007


Serif fonts looked terrible on low-resolution displays (which computer monitors are -- compare the 60-100dpi of a monitor with the 300dpi of most printed text), particularly prior to the invention and widespread use of anti-aliasing, and high-res displays.

Anti-aliased displays changed people's perceptions a lot, because it makes the web (and computer displays in general) seem a lot more "print like." Suddenly, 10/11-pt or smaller serif text didn't look like a complete horror show.

Serif fonts will come back as computers continue to catch up. It's not going to be all-Helvetica, all-the-time forever. Particularly if very high-resolution 'e-ink' displays ever become widespread. Even people who know nothing about typography realize that reading a book in sans serifs is annoying.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2007


Here's a little data to back it up.

All I see there is that 1123 readers of something called "Doctor Ebiz" think Arial is more readable than Times New Roman (big surprise, there), and that 190 of them either don't have Georgia installed or are unable to distinguish it from Times New Roman.
posted by signal at 12:44 PM on September 4, 2007


...and they expressed these opinions 6 years ago.
posted by signal at 12:45 PM on September 4, 2007


Here's NASA saying it.

Here's another study on it.

From Adobe: According to research conducted by Web Marketing Today, readers of online websites prefer sans-serif fonts for readability. In a survey that they conducted of over 1,600 readers, sans-serif fonts were preferred by a 2:1 margin.

posted by drezdn at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2007


Looking over the Adobe link, it actual references the study I mentioned the first time. It's really not an idea I magically pulled out of thin air as kadin2048 explains the reasoning behind the thinking.
posted by drezdn at 1:38 PM on September 4, 2007


Bad Web 1.0 design is still alive and well on Geocities and Tripod, where it's commonly seen on the pages of middle-aged Jean Teasdale-type women, and glurgey "phenomenal women of the Web" pages. These aren't abandoned sites; they're still actively maintained.
posted by elmwood at 3:00 PM on September 4, 2007


The link to this CSS Zen Garden entry is worth the price of admission all by itself.
posted by dansdata at 4:55 PM on September 4, 2007


The link to this CSS Zen Garden entry is worth the price of admission all by itself.

My sentiments exactly!! That is an awesome version.

I sometimes miss my animated moose from my very first page back in 1997... Man, I loved that thing!
posted by gemmy at 5:05 PM on September 4, 2007


Here's NASA saying it.

With no sources or data or references or sample definition or methodology or anything except a declaration of opinion.

Here's another study on it.

Which says: "it could be argued that there is a slight advantage for the12-point Arial font over the12-point TNR font for the best font choice for reading text on the Web... The 12-point TNR font, however, was the fastest font to read".

And even accepting its lukewarm conclusions, is again only comparing Times New Roman with Arial. I don't think anybody would dispute that TNR is a terrible screen or print font, but this doesn't make any general point about Sans vs. Serifs.

From Adobe: According to research conducted by Web Marketing Today, readers of online websites prefer sans-serif fonts for readability. In a survey that they conducted of over 1,600 readers, sans-serif fonts were preferred by a 2:1 margin.

Which references the same article you pointed to before, which, again, just makes the point that Times New Roman sucks.

So I guess it would be just an opinion?
posted by signal at 7:25 PM on September 4, 2007


There's all the vernacular you could possibly want at the delightfully corny maltesedog.com.
posted by O9scar at 7:30 PM on September 4, 2007


BTW, drezdn, I'm not being snarky (or don't mean to be), I'm actually very interested in this topic (I develop websites for part of my living), and always hear the trope about how you use sans for screen and serifs for print, but have never read any actual (valid) research about it.
posted by signal at 7:34 PM on September 4, 2007


MIDI files were one of the "most important elements of the early Web"? Really?

There are a lot of firsts in my life that I no longer remember, but one that will always be with me is the first MIDI I ever heard on a website. It was the theme to Hawaii Five-O.

Or maybe it was the theme to Mission Impossible.

Damn.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:23 PM on September 4, 2007


That little "This page is optimized for Internet Explorer" graphic on the "collections" page, with the IE icon with legs, makes me wonder if someone's made IE/Netscape porn. Like, with the IE icon humping the Netscape one instead of slapping it.
posted by Many bubbles at 11:03 PM on September 4, 2007


All these years, I've been a cynical MetaFilter user, so I'm extraordinarily excited to see links to my humble CSS Zen Garden design above!

I'd just like to thank all those 90s pioneers of the animated GIFs and my main design muse, www.partytentcity.com for this 15 minutes of fame.
posted by Pericles at 5:02 AM on September 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Found a literature review from 2005 on sans vs. serifs:

http://www.alexpoole.info/academic/literaturereview.html

Its conclusions state: It seems that the whole "sans for screen, serifs for print" thing is actually just received opinion, not based on any actual research.
posted by signal at 6:11 AM on September 5, 2007


In the mid-90's, I made a little version of the "this page is optimized for" button that noted "This page looks best on MY Browser" (which ever browser that happened to be. Anyone else was out of luck). 'Cuz frankly, that's all that anyone else really meant anyway
posted by richlach at 11:19 AM on September 5, 2007


Signal, thanks for finding that... This is one of those things that will add to me being wary when someone says "Studies show..." though personally I do prefer sans-serif on computer (though in this thread I was basing my original comment on what I was told in web design class, back in the day).
posted by drezdn at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2007


I was basing my original comment on what I was told in web design class, back in the day

I feel you. I have also told clients about "studies show", but then realized, what studies?
posted by signal at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2007


It seems that the whole "sans for screen, serifs for print" thing is actually just received opinion, not based on any actual research.
My opinion? Serif and sans serif are equally readable on page and screen. Individual typefaces, though, are not. And there are far fewer SERIF faces that come shipped with most computers AND look good at small point sizes on screen.

It's about the installed base of fonts -- it doesn't matter how great you think Adobe Jenson Light would look for your blog's body text: you gotta pick from the palette of 10 faces that you can count on being there when a user hits the page. And one of them is Comic Sans.
posted by verb at 3:07 PM on September 5, 2007


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