I really like dead technology. Obsolete ideas are really interesting
because there’s always a story behind them: why were they made, why
were they maintained, and where were they killed?
I’m on record as an ironic fan of Swatch Internet
Time, a bizarre
invention of the early nineties that consisted of timezone-free time
format that counted from zero to 999 every day. It looked like this:
It was basically a marketing concept from Swatch based on the idea
that we’d spend so much time online chatting with people from other
timezones that synchronizing time would be a huge problem. It is a
problem now, but not one to warrant the invention of an alternate,
metric time format. Most online interactions have become asynchronous.
Every time I think about Swatch Internet Time I think about all the
people who came up with and promoted that idea, their reasons for
doing so, and the spectacular hubris of its failure and obsolescence.
A discussion at work about theoretically most pointless “fuck yeah”
tumblr blogs inspired me to create one:
If you’re not an old school Internet nerd you probably won’t get it.
Basically, back in the day computers were embarrassingly limited in
that they could only display 256 colours on the screen at a time. When
you tried to display more than that, you would get ugly hatch-mark
patterns on the screen. (You can see this yet in animated GIFs which
are also limited to 256 colours and are making some sort of
After some intense thinking the brains of the World Wide Web decided
on a palette of 216 “web-safe colors.” The theory was that all
websites in the world would agree to use only these 216 colours in
order to prevent the horrors of dithering. The remaining 40 colours of
the palette were left to the operating system to do as was its wont.
The plan never really worked, though, because any non-web application
on the screen would also attempt to allocate some of the computer’s
256 colors, and stomp all over the web-safe palette, thus bringing on
the unsightly hash marks. Not only that, the web-safe palette was made
up of a lot of really ugly, bright, clashing colours.
The era of web-safe colours was over quickly. New display systems came
on the market within a couple of years that were capable of displaying
16.7 million colours simultaneously. Websites using web-safe palettes
suddenly looked hilariously out-of-date. The whole concept, now
we’ll be going through the web-safe colors, one at a time, with no
commentary. I urge you to meditate on the colors. What do they say to