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Web Safe 2k16

216 Words from 216 Authors on 216 Colors

Web Safe 2k16 is a unique web experiment: “a literary/graphic project exploring our memories of the pre-broadband Internet.” The website’s design concept is driven by the 216 colors in the “web safe” palette used in websites from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s, colors suited for viewing the web on VGA monitors with limited color ranges.

Each color was assigned to, or selected by, a contributor who used it as a writing prompt to craft a 216 word essay sparked by the thoughts that color evoked. Often this brought forth a memory crystallized in the early-Internet era that the popularity of the web safe color palette serves as a frame for. But the essays run the gamut - from clear to abstract, from concise meditations to manic prose-poems typed in all-caps.

The project was directed by a trio: conceptualized by Brooklyn artist Ben Sisto (who took the universal web gray, #cccccc), edited by writer Josephine Livingstone (whose color-meditation on #00CC66, a muted green, is beautiful), and developed by writer / coder Joe Bernardi (who opted for the grape-purple #CC6699, and sometimes writes cool think-pieces about videogames).

The 216 contributors are an eclectic who’s-who of artists, technologists, educators, writers, and others engaged in new media, mostly based in New York City.

The more well-known contributors include New York Times tech and culture writer Jenna Wortham, who took a bright shade of pink, #FF3366, and paired it with a reminiscence on Black Planet, a now-defunct MySpace-era social network.

Adrian Chen, The New Yorker writer known for his probings of the darker corners of cyberculture (example here), picked #33CC00. The vibrant green moved him to recall “Attack, Retrieve, Capture,” a 2D space battle videogame he’d played a lot in the mid-90’s.

Browsing the site, arresting snippets jumped out at me from artists taking the colors in deeply personal directions, or on the other hand, panning out to try and say something era-defining about that period of the Internet.

“There are two persistent and coexistent metaphors for the Internet: the cloud and the cave,” wrote Allen Riley, new media artist and a teacher at Brooklyn’s Beam Center, in his response to #33CC66.

Yesenia Padilla’s take on #CCCC66 is a potent recollection of the effort to create a virtual avatar whose skin color matches hers, only to find that color variation on other monitors render it a sickly green.

Web Safe 2k16 is a high-concept nostalgia trip to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, like a walk through a city that has been radically changed - buildings demolished, new ones erected. If the Internet is a city, it’s a city with cranes that never stop swinging, a skyline in constant flux. A city we’re still trying to find ourselves in.