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Holding a Wake for the Web That Was

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Peter Verheyen, Conservation Librarian
Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, NY 13244
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        [IBM AS400expert online. Click here.]

          December 10, 1997                               [Image]

          By CHRIS TACY [Bio]

          Holding a Wake for the Web That Was

          [Y] esterday was the last day for what I saw as a
              personal symbol of all that is great about San
          Francisco. For decades the corner of the San Francisco
          Women's Building has been occupied by the Dovre Club, a
          traditional Irish neighborhood bar. Yes, that's right,
          an Irish bar sharing space with a Women's organization.
          I've always seen this as a living example of the sort of
          tolerance that makes San Francisco what it is. But the
          contradictions eventually resulted in the Women's
          Building evicting the Dovre Club. I mean, it makes
          sense. Having a bar in a space that hosts AA meetings,
          while being richly ironic, isn't very rational. On the
          other hand, San Francisco has always seemed to be
          somewhat counter-rational to me. And that's a spirit
          that I think is to be treasured. This column is, in
          part, a wake for that spirit as it once existed on the

          I've been thinking a lot about San Francisco's role in
          making the Web what it has become. I'm a firm believer
          in the idea that products reflect the culture that
          produced them. While the Web is, of course, a product of
          CERN at its core and is global and "non-geographic" in
          nature, it was profoundly influenced in its early days
          by the culture of San Francisco. There was an energy in
          South Park 4 years ago that was directly reflected in
          the Web. It was an incredible scene. Even now, I feel
          that we can learn a lot about the Web as it is and as it
          will be by paying attention to what is going on in the
          Web "people" culture here in San Francisco. And I have
          to say that it doesn't look very good for those of us
          who believed that the Web is something special.

          The energy in the Web when it first "hit" was like a
          drug for a lot of us. Everything became so exciting. One
          big source for this energy was the creative "friction"
          between being an artist and being an engineer. In some
          cases, this friction existed between a single individual
          who was having to learn about Unix in order to be an
          artist, or who was having to learn about Photoshop in
          order to be an engineer. In other cases, this friction
          was between multiple people, each trying to push their
          own envelope and create their own dream. This friction
          directly resulted in many of the early great innovations
          that pushed the Web into the limelight it now seems to
          own. And, of course, it also resulted in some meetings,
          fights, parties and relationships that will remain vivid
          in my memory forever.
          in my memory forever.

          -------------------------- The other big source of this
          For a year or so there it  energy was freedom. We had
          felt like we were leading  all been wage slaves and
          a revolution.              temps. We had worked for
          -------------------------- traditional publishing
                                     companies, or software
          companies. We had worked in cubes and spent hours in
          department meetings. Then suddenly the Web arrived and a
          door out opened for all of us. We worked in lofts, we
          played loud music all day long, we had Nerf wars at
          work. For a year or so there it felt like we were
          leading a revolution. Even now there is still a spirit
          of revolution in some San Francisco Web companies. Some
          people still cling to the dream and fight the fight. We
          have no choice, we're true believers. But Cyborganic's
          gone belly up. Henri cut his hair. Caffe Centro's full
          of advertising and marketing execs. The spirit is dying.
          The greedy have won.

          I go to a lot of parties that are "Web related." It's a
          part of my job I guess, or at least that's how I
          reconcile this habit. Over the last year I've seen a
          trend in these parties. At each one there are fewer and
          fewer people in funky clothes, fewer and fewer people
          who look like bike messengers, and there are more and
          more folks who are wearing cologne. The average age of
          attendees has gone from maybe 22 to maybe 35 in two
          years. I'd love to know how many people who consider
          themselves "Web Professionals" had an e-mail address 4
          years ago (and no, AOL/Compuserve/Prodigy does not
          count). I think it would turn out to be a sad
          confirmation of my suspicions.

          These days there seems to be no difference between
          working on the Web and working in advertising or in
          publishing, except that you can still, for now, fool the
          rubes into thinking you're cool. I guess that's got to
          count for something.

          Well folks, it's been a fun year, but my time is up. To
          all of you who sent me e-mail (some critical, some
          supportive, some questioning, some abusive) I want to
          say, thanks.

          When I said I wanted to start some discourse between
          users and developers, I had no idea how interesting it
          would become to be in the middle. I've learned a lot.
          And I'll miss my conversations with all of you. Take
          care and keep the faith.

          Click here for a list of links to other UNDERDEVELOPED
          columns in the series.

          Related Site
          The following link will take you to a site that is not
          part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has
          no control over its content or availability. When you
          have finished visiting this site, you will be able to
          return to this page by clicking on your Web browser's
          "Back" button or icon until this page reappears.

             * San Francisco Bay Guardian article on the closing
               of the Dovre Club

          Chris Tacy at ctacy@xxxxxxxxxxx welcomes your comments
          and suggestions.

        [IBM AS400expert online. Click here.]

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