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Crawling for Horrors: Tracing Women’s Public Intimacy Online through Guest Books and Webrings 1995-1999

March 26th, 2015 § 2 comments

This weekend for SCMS I am presenting some exploratory work that I'm trying to make sense of in my dissertation as part of a kick-ass panel. Thanks to Fenwick McKelvey for inviting me.

Society for Film and Media Studies 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015 09:00AM-10:45AM (Session N)

N20: “Crawling Horrors” in Contemporary Network Policy Room: 20

Chair: Stephanie Schulte (University of Arkansas)

Kevin Driscoll (Microsoft Research), “Beyond the End-to-End Principle: Lessons from Store-and-Forward Internetworking”

Fenwick McKelvey (Concordia University), “Synchronizing Humans and Machines: Early Computer Networks, ARPANET, and Non-synchronous Communication”

Magdalena Olszanowski (Concordia University), “Crawling for Horrors: Tracing Women’s Public Intimacy Online through Guest Books and Webrings 1995-1999” Respondent: Thomas Streeter (University of Vermont)



Crawling for Horrors: tracing public intimacy online through feminist spaces 1995-1999

A horror is defined, among other things, as a bad or mischievous person. Women have been continually signified as horrors (i.e., witches). As outlined in our proposal, a horror can also be an object, an object that re-inscribes itself, finding ways to continually evade signification/control.  The objects I want to explore in my presentation are the traces left behind of websites maintained in the 1990s. These traces as fragmented links/pages/images have remained attached  to the network, are archived by the WayBack Machine, not written over by Yahoo and/or Geocities, or removed by their owners. The period from 1995 to 1999 is of interest because it comes just before the internet boom of social networking and blogging platforms. Specifically, I look to website guestbooks and webrings of young women who started websites as platforms of enunciation around the horrors of mental illness, violence, and compulsory heterosexuality.  Guestbooks are public spaces built for visitors to leave their contact information and comments to the web-owner or other people commenting in the guestbook. Webrings are self-organized networks of websites, often with a theme, that serve to link users interested in that theme. These communicative networks were a large part of the internet infrastructure in the 1990s, and created conditions for an alternate layer of finding relevant data through human versus algorithmic web crawling. Through content and discourse analysis, I frame these communicative nodes as participating in a feminist intimate public (Berlant 2008). More specifically, how do we deal with traces of public intimacy? (Olszanowski 2014) What are the politics of horrors? These markers of public intimacy are often left out of internet histories. I want to elucidate an alternate genealogy of the ways in which women make use of online technologies to resist control and create spaces for them to exist (Lovnik 2009). When theorizing contemporary public social networks, what can we learn about the precarity of these practices and their concomitant data (Hestres 2013) from the communicative traces of these women?


Lialina, Olia and Espenschied, Dragan. 2014. “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age: Digging through the Geocities Torrent” http://contemporary-home-computing.org/1tb/ Accessed 28 Aug 2014.

Berlant, Lauren Gail. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hestres, Luis. 2013. “App Neutrality: Apple’s App Store and Freedom of Expression Online.” International Journal of Communication 7: 1265–1280.

Lovink, Geert. 2009. Dynamics of Critical Internet Culture: (1994-2001). Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

Olszanowski, Magdalena. 2014. “Feminist Self-Imaging and Instagram: Tactics of Circumventing Sensorship.” Visual Communication Quarterly 21, no. 2: 83-95.

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§ 2 Responses to Crawling for Horrors: Tracing Women’s Public Intimacy Online through Guest Books and Webrings 1995-1999"

Hi hi... your words mean everything to me.