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Cyborganic was a community of friends, geeks, and artists who came together in the development of new practices and imaginaries of networked media. I conducted participant observation field study of Cyborganic from 1993-2003 and this research was the subject of my 2008 dissertation

TND Dispatch Archive: Excavation or Renovation?

July 15th, 2009

TND Dispatch ArchiveLast weekend I spent some time working to restore part of the Cyborganic archive that went down when died in April 2008. Aimee Cardwell had been asking after the TND Dispatches, so I decided to get an idea of how much grepping and schlepping it would take to get images and main links working for just that part of the Cyborganic site.

Though these things are never the quick look-see one intends, it was pretty simple to correct/revise broken URL paths. However, I came away with a much thornier sense of all the decisions involved in doing a complete restoration of the site for real (including decisions about what for real means).

Do you work to restore all the serverside includes and scripts, including slideshows done with cgis? Do you re-implement same/similar functionality with current wares? Do you leave broken links to pages outside the Cyborganic site as they were because the original path, broken or not, is itself the data in the context of an archive? Just what I needed, a host of complex techno-philosophic decisions to get to before diving into the archive data that’s been sitting on my PC for almost a year!

Chapter Guide to the Dissertation

December 14th, 2008

I’m hoping some of you will read some of the dissertation. I realize that’s asking a lot. It’s a huge, academic document. You’re busy. It has many parts. You might be interested in some (but which?). So, I prepared a short chapter guide to show where the goodies are and a slideshow (it’s bigger in the guide) to entice you to read, baby, read!

Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media (It’s here!)

December 8th, 2008

Communities of Innovation: Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media is now available for download (PDF, 5.7 MB). I am especially eager to share my dissertation with the many Cyborganics who participated in the research, sharing their stories and insights. For those who prefer a quick synopsis to the 420-page version, I offer the following diagram and abstract.

Network of Firms, Projects and Communities

Communities of Innovation: Cyborganic and the Birth of Networked Social Media

Cyborganic, the subject of this study, was a community whose members brought Wired magazine online; launched Hotwired, the first ad-supported online magazine; set-up Web production for CNET; led the open source Apache project; and staffed and started dozens of other Internet firms and projects—from Craig’s List to Organic Online—during the first phase of the Web’s development as a popular platform (1993-1999).

As a conscious project to build a hybrid community both online and on-ground, Cyborganic’s central premise was that mediated and face-to-face interaction are mutually sustaining and can be used together to build uniquely robust communities. Yet, Cyborganic was also an Internet start-up and the business project provided both impetus and infrastructure for the community. The social forms and cultural practices developed in this milieu figured in the initial development of Web publishing, and prefigured Web 2.0 in online collaboration, collective knowledge creation, and social networking.

The objectives of this dissertation are several. The first is to demonstrate the role of Cyborganic in the innovation and adoption of networked social media through an ethnographic case study of the group, showing it as exemplary of the regional and cultural advantage of “technopoles,” and as precursor to contemporary phenomena of online social networking. The second objective is to interrogate the relation between entrepreneurial and utopian practices and social imaginaries in the Cyborganic project, identifying not only their synergies, but also their tensions. Finally, my third objective is to ground celebratory and utopian discourses of new media genealogically, showing that the social media heralded today as “revolutionary” grew from earlier media and practices, similarly hailed as revolutionary in their day. Rather than representing rupture with the past, the narrative of social revolution through technologies is a cultural legacy passed through generations already, and one that draws on quintessentially American attitudes and practice.

Our black box has gone dark (for now)

June 17th, 2008
Picture of a VA Linux serverOn April 11, 2008 the power supply on our server failed bringing to an abrupt halt a bandwidth cooperative with a long and noble history, and taking with it (for the time being at least) content far more important than my blog here.

After going through three power supplies we figure one of the boards in our hardware must be shorting. Now we have two tasks–data recovery and setting up a new system. So, we’ve been offline far longer than anticipated.

Meanwhile, I handed in my dissertation on April 15, defended successfully May 13, and should at this very minute be formatting it to file by July 1. So, I’ve neglected The Participant Observer and been remiss in putting up any error message. This shall have to suffice until the blog is reborn later this summer. Meanwhile, I’ll be tweeting and answering mail at

Jonathan Steuer: online publishing pioneer

February 7th, 2007
image Jonathan SteuerA couple months ago my friend Justin Hall alerted me that the Wikipedia article on Jonathan Steuer had been flagged by an editor concerned that it did not “satisfy the notability guideline… for inclusion on Wikipedia.” Justin, whose own Wikipedia entry stands unquestioned, thought I might want to do something in response. I did, but didn’t know what until now.

I didn’t want to just go in and edit the entry on Wikipedia even though a quick look at the notability guidelines told me they’d be easily satisfied by a gathering of citations and sources, mortared with a little exposition. But I wanted to profile Steuer in the “People” section here before going in to edit his Wikipedia entry.

First, I’m going to demonstrate that, as “the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject itself and each other,” Steuer certainly meets the definition of “notable” specified in Wikipedia’s guideline.

Jonathan Steuer is, as the Wikipedia article in question says, “a pioneer in online publishing.” In addition to leading the launch teams of a number of early and influential online publishing ventures (such as HotWired, the first ad-supported web magazine, and c|net’s online operations), his article “Defining virtual realities: Dimensions determining telepresence,” is widely cited in academic and industry literature. Originally published in 1992 in the Journal of Communication 42, 73-9, it has been reprinted in Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality (1995), F. Biocca & M. R. Levy (Eds.) and is freely available in PDF format.

image of vividness and interactivity matrix
Steuer’s vividness and interactivity matrix from that article appeared in Wired magazine circa 1995 (I don’t have the exact citation) and has been particularly influential in shaping the discourse by defining virtual reality in terms of human experience, rather than technological hardware, and setting out vividness and interactivity as axial dimensions of that experience. Some years ago I made this simple Flash version of the vividness/interactivity matrix for my own use in teaching.

Steuer’s notablity in diverse arenas as a scholar, architect, and instigator of new media is documented in multiple, independent, non-trivial, published works, some of which I will proceed to list here.

Some books and print articles that discuss Steuer’s role in the web publishing industry that emerged in San Francisco in the 1990s (if you know of others, send ’em in via comments):

  • Net Voice in the City by Yoshihiro Kaneda, ASCII Corporation, Japan, 1997, pp. 88-107
  • Architects of the Web by Robert H. Reid, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1997, pp. 289-292, 296-297, 299-300, 302-303.
  • “Webheads on Ramona Street,” by Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, Issue 722, November 30, 1995.

Some books and print that draw on Steuer’s definitions of virtual reality and telepresence (again, let me know if you have titles to add)

Besides the printed works above, Steuer’s article is taught in university courses (for example, this Ethics class, this English class) and is cited in many online works, a few of which I list here:

Thursday Night Dinner (TND), September 1994

February 5th, 2007

For a while, TND was the place to be for San Francisco’s up-and-coming Web workers. Generation X author Douglas Coupland was a regular at the apartment. Rolling Stone chronicled the scene, as did a German documentary crew.
— Paul Boutin, “One More Thursday Night Dinner,” Wired News, May, 02, 2002

Photograph of people at Thursday Night Dinner Sept 29, 1994
Thursday Night Dinners began in 59 Ramona where I lived with Graham (now Francis) Potter and Bagus Haig and moved with me when I moved to 65 Ramona in March 1995.

They started small as you can see from this weathered Polaroid. I can identify everyone except the woman in the middle back, and the two gentlemen at far right. Kudos and a toy surprise to anyone who can supply names, especially for the poor fellow defaced by an errant thumb. The rest, from left to right, are: First Row: Ken Goldberg, Jenny Cool, Jonathan Steuer, ??. Middle Row: Safi Bahcall, Bagus Haig, Anne Francis. Back Row: Ovid Jacob, ??, Graham Potter, ??

Comments on original post (that got munged in Oz crash):

From: Nick Matelli <>
You should really bullet-point these posts. It’ll make them easier to skim while at work.

From: Francis Potter
It’s possible that the woman in the back row is Amber Luttrell, who was a friend of mine at the time. Although it’s really hard to tell. In fact, I could barely even identify myself! What’s the fuzzy thing in the top right corner?’

From: Justin Hall <>
I believe that sitting next to Jonathan Steuer might be one Jonathan Wells, who helped start RES magazine and the RESfest film festivals.

From: Jenny Cool <>
Thanks, Francis, I think you’re right, that is Amber, I remember now that I hear the name again. Thanks, Justin, but how sure are you? Somehow your note sounds tentative. Meanwhile, kudos to you both and, if you email me your postal addys, a toy surprise will be dispatched from my vast collection of dotcom era schwag.

cybersutra #2

June 24th, 2004


you know you’re a geek when your play is more work than your work.

dateline ramona

June 16th, 2004

what brings me back to ramona after all these years? it’s so different than it was in 1993 when i first moved here.

photo of street sign 15th and Ramona, San Francisco, CA

and different than it was in 1995 which, as you’ll see if you google “webheads on ramona street” and read the rolling stone article, was when ramona’s 15 minutes of fame went down. but my connection here goes far beyond that. it is wired into walls and across roofs..

photo of telecommunications plumbing

so it might well be this lovely punchdown block that brings me back

photo of desks with many computersphoto of punchdown block (telecommunicationa plumbing)

in 1994 a fire gutted this victorian. all the wiring had to be redone, and rick, aka mister 3-D, offered to do the telco wiring for the new owner for free. he put ethernet right in the walls, jacks in every room. ever since the building has been part of the ramona empire. it has been in the family, inhabited, like more than a dozen apartments in the neighborhood, by folks connected to this place through cyborganic. say what you will about cyborganic as a community, we were always proud of our wiring.

photo fridge covered with magnets and clippings photo close-up of fridge magnets

perhaps i am drawn back to visit the city by this fridge, by its magnets, poetry and clippings. postcards and new surprises alongside the eternal huey newton. huey has been sitting in that wicker chair, in that photo torn from a newspaper, on this fridge, since humans first returned here after the great fire.

magnet says photo close-up of fridge magnets and clippings

if you look closely you’ll notice a set of square, electricity-themed magnets in pastel colors with such pithy questions as “What is your kilowatt-hour rate?” these were sent around 1997 to educate consumers about the deregulation of california’s electricty markets (ha ha), but might also work as pick-up lines.

photo of foamy coffeemaybe it’s the frothy coffee that brings me back, or the note from aunt caroline (visible to the left of huey) which came with the whisker and admonishes: “…don’t shove this in the back of a drawer, foam wildly, foam madly, foam everything.”

of course geeky artifacts of days past also have their draw.

for example, the specimen below, brought by pauline to a party where the price of admission was an item from a failed dotcom, has to be one of the most vacuous paragraphs of marketing jargon ever written. it is reported to be genuine, that is, written in earnest, though i can’t imagine how.

Jargon Graph

standard gauge

May 12th, 2004

quik 1 … why is std banner ad that size? was invented chez hotwired for zima, nu?
ian3141592: 468×60
ian3141592: My great contribution to mankind. 🙂
jennybot19: yours… tell me the story again
ian3141592: Mine and 3 other people.
jennybot19: organic made the banner, i know that much, was mathew nelson 1/3?
ian3141592: We were sitting around, me and Jeff Veen and um, me and my bad name memory… The art director at HW, and one other person.
ian3141592: Dunno. Could have been. Him or Steuer.
ian3141592: We said, well, we’re designing for 640×480…
ian3141592: And netscape is this wide….
ian3141592: And leaves this much space…
ian3141592: So let’s make it 468 wide…
ian3141592: And 60 high looks good.
ian3141592: …
jennybot19: neat…first person versions are cool, thanks!

jennybot19 is me. you should be able to figure out who ian3141592 is from this HotSooth page of Justin’s.

Another account of the birth of the Zima banner ad

Fri Apr 23 14:47:53 PDT 2004

April 28th, 2004

seems to be fixed now.

just to provide you with a momento of the occasion:

Now atsa bigga mailbox!:
oz:~ % ls -la /var/mail/cool
-rw——- 1 cool mail 512033527 Apr 23 14:18 /var/mail/cool

What time is it?
oz:~ % date
Fri Apr 23 14:47:53 PDT 2004
oz:~ % uptime
2:47PM up 4 days, 20:48, 6 users, load averages: 1.48, 1.33, 0.96

Okay, let’s compress that mailbox. here goes!

oz:~ % top -u
pid: 31321; load averages: 1.28, 1.25, 0.91 up 4+20:47:49 14:46:54
269 processes: 3 running, 259 sleeping, 7 zombie
CPU states: 56.2% user, 0.0% nice, 18.2% system, 1.6% interrupt, 24.0% idle
Mem: 285M Active, 85M Inact, 114M Wired, 15M Cache, 61M Buf, 992K Free
Swap: 2048M Total, 206M Used, 1842M Free, 10% Inuse, 8K In, 432K Out

29330 3004 64 0 18396K 17304K CPU1 1 14:17 97.66% 97.66% imapsd
29503 1001 44 0 2232K 1348K CPU0 0 1:18 11.13% 11.13% top
2634 1001 -2 0 4064K 2640K getblk 0 0:43 9.47% 9.47% imapsd
31295 1004 2 0 2836K 1752K select 1 0:01 3.04% 1.81% imapsd
31296 1004 2 0 2828K 1748K select 1 0:00 0.41% 0.24% imapsd
54412 80 2 0 15364K 4416K sbwait 0 0:10 0.05% 0.05% httpd
29108 12345 10 0 2392K 1540K nanslp 0 0:00 0.05% 0.05% smtpd
31178 80 2 0 10788K 3184K sbwait 1 0:00 0.05% 0.05% httpd
31261 80 2 0 10772K 3120K sbwait 1 0:00 0.06% 0.05% httpd
175 0 2 0 1164K 540K select 1 8:21 0.00% 0.00% master
117 0 2 0 964K 460K select 1 4:16 0.00% 0.00% syslogd
559 0 10 0 912K 224K nanslp 1 4:05 0.00% 0.00% svscan
22021 0 -6 0 1004K 292K piperd 1 2:49 0.00% 0.00% cronolo
552 0 2 0 18204K 7916K select 1 2:44 0.00% 0.00% perl
75083 12345 2 0 2328K 1824K select 1 1:55 0.00% 0.00% qmgr
22013 0 2 0 10756K 2328K select 1 1:54 0.00% 0.00% httpd
22032 80 2 0 21072K 12820K sbwait 1 0:54 0.00% 0.00% httpd

Okay, all done. It got a LOT smaller!

oz:~ % ls -la /var/mail/cool
-rw——- 1 cool mail 436178 Apr 23 15:29 /var/mail/cool

Which means you had this much trash (in kB):

512,033,527k – 436,178k = 511,597,349k = about 500 Gb!