Yesterday I moderated an evening with media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, digital folklore archivist and net art pioneer Olia Lialina, and the developers of SuperGlue, the follow-up to HotGlue. The event marked the launch of the platform, which enables users not only to design their own website within a browser interface, but also run it from a mini-server installed in their own homes.
Rushkoff was the first to speak via Skype, and he talked about the nature of early communication (IP to IP, the Well…), which although limited in terms of bandwidth (certainly no Skype video chats back then), was nonetheless a decentralized form communication. This model of a distributed network was contrasted to our current reliance on centralized media giants such as Facebook and Google; in other words, platforms that need to secure their ubiquity and dominance to both monetize and monopolize our data. For him projects like SuperGlue, offer a means of circumventing these monopolies, and remind us of network architectures, which have not disappeared but are underused.
Olia Lialina talked about the vernacular of the early web, a period she notes which squeezed many years into a few (a notion of condensed time perhaps). Moving through archived GeoCities homepages, she spoke about the commonalities and quirks indicative of early nineties webpages. Prior to the world of CMS skinned with CSS, this was the hallmark of an era of web design based on amateur enchantment, digital DIY, GeoCities clip art and slogans such as “Welcome to my homepage”.
Overall her talk was not about dwelling in nostalgia, but rather focused on celebrating the role of users in defining their own website identity without genericizing templates. This actually provided a smooth segway to SuperGlue and a discussion with some of its developers, Danja Vasiliev, Joscha Jaeger, Michael Zeder, Abigail Smith and Erwin Kho. (Teresa Dillon was unable to attend).
As a design tool, the interface offers different levels entry. Depending on your expertise (or even interest for that matter), you can design your site by dropping and dragging elements across a webpage, or work directly with html. Users can share visual elements and create their own repositories of what could be analogous to clip art – albeit with more contemporary streamlined aesthetics. But what is important to remember is that nothing is centrally stored – instead your storage unit is this mini-server, which as you can tell is plugged into the wall in much the same way as an Apple Airport Express.
Why is this significant? Becuase it connects tools of design (software) to infrastructure (hardware/networks). While modest in capability, it will accomodate users with standard web traffic and relatively light content. It’s an option offering plenty of room for play, and as illustrated in the below promo video, it gives you more control of how and when you want to connect to the network. (see SuperGlue’s promo video)
At this juncture what is difficult to gauge is long term sustainability; by this I mean what will be the underlying supportive economy (gift, donation, cultural subsidies, user contributions in either labor or kind, or pure capital investment), which keeps SuperGlue up to date and operational. In the same way these questions are levied against platforms like ELLO, it’s important to ask the same about projects like these. If you migrate your content to SuperGlue, you want to know how long it will last, will the userbase be broad enough to fuel its development, and will it have the structural robustness to sustain changes in webstandards. Or (and I say this without any sense of cynicism) is it something symbolic, a reference to a potential parallel network, which wakes us up, if even temporarily, from our blue and white Facebook slumber.