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: fuckyeahwebsafecolors.tumblr.com. 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 ironic-retro-art comeback).
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 Websites using web-safe palettes suddenly looked hilariously out-of-date.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 irrelevant, vanished.
At fuckeyeahwebsafecolors.tumblr.com 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 you?