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Brown Bag Lecture "Dot-com Design: Reflections on Coolness, Usability, and the Versioning of Web History"
Over six years ago, the term “Web 2.0” began to garner significant attention as a way to define a “new era” of the web, one inaugurated from the ashes of the dot-com bubble. Commentators noted how commercial web ventures were shifting from a logic based on “destination sites,” where audiences go to consume content, to one focused around participatory media, social networking, and user-generated content. While the term may have helped internet investors and new web start-ups harness capital and rekindle enthusiasm in the years after the crash of the internet economy, it has also installed a set of divisive boundaries between “1.0” and “2.0” eras that reinforce a technological determinist mode of historical consciousness.
Rarely are the commercial practices or design strategies of Web 2.0 situated within a larger historical framework that investigates the web’s uneasy development as a vehicle for interactive advertising and commercial culture in the mid-1990s. While film, radio, and television studies have benefitted from detailed accounts of their institutional, aesthetic, and cultural histories, new media scholarship has not yet provided a detailed picture of the creative development, industrial logics, and cultural sensibilities that informed the design of the early commercial web. In drawing attention to this history, this talk takes two keywords—“coolness” and “usability”—as starting points for rethinking the chronologies of the commercial web by attending to the ways the user has been imagined in different socio-economic contexts.
Megan Sapnar Ankerson is assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan and a member of the Digital Environments Cluster. She received a PhD in media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in communication, culture, and technology from Georgetown University. Her research focuses on new media history and digital visual culture, and she is currently working on a book that explores the commercial development of web design industries and aesthetics during the dot-com era.