Olia Lialina. A Vernacular web. Links


The World Wide Web was constantly developing and when we say it looked different 2, 5 or 10 years ago we should also say it was conceptually different. The competence of early adopters, passionate amateurs and ambitious professionals, the dot.com hype and the mass distraction of the second wave (i.e. the blog) were all adjusting the way the web was built and interconnected. The way it looked was derived from the underlying architecture.

Let's forget about the visual appearance of the vernacular web and think about how it worked. What were the principles of its growth? The obvious answer is links. A lot of links. Links on every page.

Ten years ago every web site had a section of external links because people felt it was their personal responsibility to configure the environment and build the infrastructure. The many-to-many principle showed itself in linking strategies as well. A site was not complete without links to other sites.

On some pages links were gates to additional information, on others to unrelated information. The way you looked for information was time consuming but rewarding. By following the links you could find much more than you were looking for.

The vernacular web was fascinated by the power of links and often ran to extremes. Sites composed of lists of links, long pages of unclassified and annotated links, webrings or published bookmarks.html files from the Netscape browser.

Since the late 90's linking wasn't that hip any more. Search engines, portals and catalogues took over the linking responsibilities making searches faster and less surprising. In the quest for order and hierarchy the web changed completely. Sites with no external links at all became the norm and now constitute the facade of the mainstream web. Users jump back and forth between search engines.

Links -- the once typical means of conveyance -- have lost their infrastructural importance.

In todays web blogs compensate for over precise search engines by delivering a constant stream of surprise links. It's an interesting evolutionary paradox when you remember that old-school link collections were created to compensate, through human intervention, for the rough search engine results. In the end both cures delivered the same: a link to an address new to the user; an unknown topic, a surprise, an action, a deep web.