Screencap from Wayback Machine’s copy of “GIRLYROCK,” a Yuki Isoya fansite by NatsukiGirl.

I recently wrote a longform essay on the history of web communities pre-social media. Or rather, I argued that despite being understood as ephemera, the fragments left over from dead websites provides folks (historians, archivists, whoever) great material to piece together the histories of digital life, especially since conflict and memory are the glue that puts them together.

While that paper was for a class, I’ve been left thinking about how that paper could have grown. I’ve realized that that meditation on web communities was informed by several themes I’ve been meditating on in the past and present; especially the presumption that “blogs” or other old form web community spaces (LiveJournal, BBS/forums, fansites, etc) are a lost art at best and dead at worst.

“Cereal,” from Dan Goodsell‘s Flickr archive.
Screencap from Wayback Machine’s copy of “sailorette,” a persona blog by Louise Androlia.

I think in past, I prioritized independence and creativity as being inherent in these spaces, as opposed to how commercialized and densely packed current web spaces are. I think this judgement falls out when you consider that there is a good argument to be made for current social media as places to easily (albeit problematically) curate personal archives. The difference is that very few people have to do the heavy lifting on building these archives; in fact, we are socialized to give a lot of our creative control away, but that is neither here or there.

I think the personal archive as a concept is apt especially in what I’ve been working through in my thoughts and reflections. As a teenager, I thought I’d become a graphic designer specializing in graphic design. Stumbling upon shrines, independent blog domains, JavaScript animations, and endless media collection lists inspired me to think of design as my future job. I learned HTML/CSS, workshopped on Photoshop and Illustrator, and designed. Even when my past life as a designer did not come to pass, I continued to make art: graphics, zines, bookmarks, mockup websites. My goal was to amass all of these things into a domain that functioned as a network, dedicated to my interests. That is literally what a personal archive is.

Spinster,” a shrine to the Iron Seas series, by Sophia.
ISHIRYOKU,” a personal domain by Aria.

It is easy to think that personal blogs and websites are dead, or that there are “stubborn holdouts” as the rest of the world sits in social media purgatory, but that isn’t the case. In addition to old school revival hosts such as NeoCities, new and seasoned creators, both amateur hobbyists and profession web developers, are still blogging and making sites, and amassing links to each other via collectives. These sites are exciting to see because while some are obviously making throwback and nostalgic references to the early net, others are remixing and innovating new ways of navigating and understanding personal websites. They’re gorgeous!

I’m not a designer by profession; I haven’t really made anything in years (besides some light graphics for this blog). But I continued to collect and organize my digital life as an personal archive via pinterest, my many tumblr lives, and my defunct Facebook account. In all that time, however, my skills didn’t disappear. I can still draw, I have good taste, and I can put things together. What is more, doing these things gave me joy, because they simply existed. In a time where cultivating joy is critical to my well-being, I might as well pick up some pen and paper (and my computer) and work on some new stuff. The best part is I can learn new things: knitting, sewing, different code languages, painting, inking, and so on and so forth. There’s still so much to learn, and there’s so much I can make.