The Mystery of
The Strange! The Beautiful! The Ordinary!
From time to time, as I slogged the Wrrrld Wide Web, I would
encounter a photograph. I thought it was interesting that people
would present pictures of themselves that way to a global audience.
After a while I started collecting the URLs of the pictures. Soon I
had accumulated a pretty good assortment, and I decided that I should
create a webpage about them. After all, second-order information is
what the WWW is all about.
I had neglected to collect any identifying information, so I
didn't have any idea who the people were. There wasn't any particular
theme or pattern. It wasn't a "
collection or anything like that. It was just a cross section of
pictures of people I had found on the web, and the only thing that
they had in common was that I didn't know who they were.
I put a bunch of URLs on a page and called it The Gallery of the
There were no HTML tricks in the Gallery page, just a list of
<img> tags. But because the images existed on multiple
computers, the browsers tended to choke, sometimes crash. They were
optimized to suck data out of one server at a time. They didn't cope
very well with multiple servers. Also, there was a high likelihood
that at least one of those servers was down or ailing or overloaded.
There was also a high likelihood that one or more of the pictures had
been removed or relocated or renamed. The WWW is an extremely brittle
medium, and the Gallery of the Unknown demanded more than the WWW
I broke the Gallery into pages, each page having pointers to four
images and a link to the next page. The collection continued to grow
until I had 32 pages of people I didn't know. A page for every day of
the month...and more!
Twice I received mail from guys who had pictures in the gallery.
Gosh, it sure was good to hear from them, but then I knew who they
were, so I removed their pictures from the Gallery of the Unknown and
created a new gallery, the Gallery of the Known.
Then things got weird.
I went to Japan for a couple weeks. I was meeting with famous
Japanese companies, introducing them to our designs for the
socialization and commercialization of cyberspace. I encouraged
people to visit the Electric Communities website to learn more about
us, which many of them did.
They also visited
my home page and many
of them also checked out the Gallery of the Unknown. After a few
days, I began to hear reports that the Gallery contained pictures
that were "impolite". I was curious about what that meant, but there
was nothing I could do about it until I got home.
It turned out that a crazy woman had discovered that her picture
was in the Gallery of the Unknown. She was upset about what she
supposed was a copyright violation. I think she was further upset
because I did not respond immediately to her email, which I could not
do because I was in Japan.
So she replaced her picture with what some might consider a
pornographic picture, an extreme close up. I don't know if it was a
picture of herself, or of someone else I don't know.
By linking to a resource not under my explicit control, I had
become a pornographer. I might also have been in violation of the
Communications Decency Act.
In any case, I was concerned about the image I was presenting.
When I got back to the States, I removed the impolite link from
the Gallery, and I removed the link to the Gallery from my home page.
Sadly, The Gallery no longer exists. Curse the ephemeral nature of
the Web! It is the Universal Orwell Machine!
This story does have a happy ending. Recently I was going through some backups, and I found some of the original files from The Gallery. Nearly all of the links were broken, but surprisingly, many of them still point to images.
You can see them now.