Marleen  Stikker, Gert  Lovink, Walter  de Cruijsen, …

Digital City

De digitale Stad (DDS)

Digital City

Digital City

Content Description

Is it a commissioned art/research project? What was the specific scientific/artistic/commercial goal for the project development?

None of all that. It is history anyway. DDS was a community network, initiated by hackers, activists and artists.

What was the innovative aspect of the project or your particular research interest?

DDS was one of the first community network that operated on a European scale. It had a mix of local topics and information (related to Amsterdam in particular), mixed with a heterogeneous and fast growing user population. People used DDS to explore the Internet in a time when there wasn’t much else available than boring academic papers. This was before the dotcom boom. Around 1998 the user population became more stable, but still well over 100,000. The innovative aspect could perhaps be located in the graphic user interface, the freedom DDS offered to the users and the ability to be local AND translocal at the same time.

Authors and participants (names, professions/studies, functions, institutes)

Not relevant, in my opinion. What counts is the multi-disciplinary mix, not names and institutions. The project had a spontaneous start, which defined its open character, and which many users learned to appreciate. But this undefined and vague element, of course, also lead to its fall in 2000. In our eyes later community networks were always a bit boring while they had very official bureaucratic structures and were very much focussed on local issues, an aspect that in many place leads to deadly provincialism. Please listen to Lou Reed’s song ‘Small Town’ if you don’t know what I am referring to: ‘There's only one good use for a small town. You hate it and you know you'll have to leave.’

Which particular skills and resources were necessary to realise/organise the project?

Good question. Around 1993 not much technical knowledge was available in the cultural scene. Marleen Stikker did a wonderful move by teaming up with the hackers’ ISP that had just started, called xs4all. Both Rob Grongrijp and Felipe Rodriguez of xs4all have been instrumental in the build-up of the DDS project. Back then, users had to learn rudimentary unix commands. In the fall of 1994 DDS switched to WWW, but that was regarded very experimental and high bandwidth at that stage.

Who were the customers and partners of the project?

This is of course impossible to list and no one ever tried to. However, the three academics mentioned above have done research about the growth and the changes of the user community throughout the nineties, in particular:

How often and in which context has the project been presented?

No idea. Very often. Countless times. In particular in the 1994-1997 period. In my idea such presentations of the project mainly focussed on early adaptors in other European countries, academic researchers and policy makers. Actual users were not so interested in all this and perhaps also didn’t know much about that level of the project. Such presentations were mainly done by Marleen Stikker, Joost Flint and me. I did the German speaking countries and academic type events. Marleen and Joost were more focussed on policy, both in the Netherlands and on the European (EU) level.

What was the reaction to your project and what findings and consequences came about from the evaluation of your project? What does the recipient learn about the relationship between digital and physical space?

The response to DDS in 1994 was overwhelming. In the years 94-97 DDS grew exponentially, up to 150.000 users (or so, always hard to estimate).

I guess DDS was also a success because users positively responded to the Amsterdam free spirit, which the project, almost to the very end, enbodied. The culture of freedom, which one can find (or could find, should we speak in the past tense?) in Amsterdam was extended into the digital domain. Most important here was the freedom of metaphors. The city metaphor should enable users to freely navigate and use the systems, and not restrict them. Space and locality can also be very repressive metaphors.

Do you know about similar projects?

DDS has been compared to many European Internet project. However, I always found the comparison to the Berlin-based Internationale Stadt the most interesting one, also because we started around the same time and came from very similar backgrounds and had a similar mix of hackers, artists and activists. Still, IS had a very different history because it never wanted to realize its public access claim. In a way IS remained a pilot whereas DDS engaged with thousands of eager first users.

Geert Lovink
Brisbane, December 19, 2003