'CSS Crimes' turns these social media posts into games

‘CSS Crimes’ turns these social media posts into games

It is a universally recognized fact that if you build something online, people will find ways to creatively break it. This is exactly what happened with cohost, a new social media platform that allows posts using CSS. Searching through the hashtag #interactables on the group host reveals a wealth of CSS-enabled clickable experiences that go beyond GIFs – there are WarioWare A mug catching game, an interactive Habu tribute, magnetic fridge hair, that totally banana gear machine, and even a ‘playable’ Game Boy Color (which was once used in ‘GIF plays’ PokemonHappened. Yes, there is too the death.

The home team embraced insanity. It was the start of a creative avalanche that wasn’t possible on other social media sites – a phenomenon the host community has since dubbed “CSS crime.”

As the social media giants cling to standardization and standardized posts, the co-host is throwing all that institutional banality out the window. My first encounter with this emerging platform was like stumbling into a bygone era of computing – where websites were unfettered reflections of personal expression and often strange and confusing emotions. Most importantly, cohost has developed a thriving demo packed full of creative artists, designers, programmers, and aspiring connoisseurs ready to push the envelope of computer art.

At first glance, cohost is a simple blogging site. There is no character limit on posts (posts or half-joking “stuff”), and there is an option to create multiple pages for different topics or projects. You can create a co-owned page that multiple people can use, such as crowdfunding or a podcast. It’s like the embarrassing offspring encounter of Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit tip. From a sensual design standpoint, the site’s peach and off-white accents and semi-retro logo evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia (there are drop downs!) evoking personal memories of vintage tableware and Hugh Hefner’s robe – a totally asymmetric palette that sets an intriguingly intimate mood. Obviously, this is not an ordinary “modern” platform. It is not an ecosystem or a product. Cohost is a file web page.

Cohost is a humble operation co-founded by Colin Baer and Jay Kaplan, both of whom have professional backgrounds in software engineering and technology startups. “Sometime in 2019, I was grumbling online about how Patreon got away with highway robbery, and how I wish I had the money to build a non-profit competitor, because the economy seemed like a hard hit,” Baer recalls. . He and Kaplan eventually quit their jobs and made an offer to a friend of Bayer, who offered a generous loan for their idea. Thus, the cohost was born.

When co-host was first rolled out to a trusted group of friends in February 2022, publishing with CSS was largely considered an exploit, and the team didn’t really touch upon it. Full CSS crimes didn’t take off until the cohort host started early check-in in June. “[Users] Designer Aidan Grealish, who joined Bayer and Kaplan in 2020 and created the site’s mascot, eggbug, started very quickly testing the limits of what we’d let him work on as a post-music composer. “I think one of the first experiences was an eggbug playground, and a little bit of interaction—and I mean this with all the love in the world, it’s a real compliment—maybe done on the first day of web design class,” he says.

Despite taking a page from previous incarnations of personal web aesthetics, the host team is wary of walking on familiar ground. For starters, the site does not use algorithms or promote “trends,” the team has pledged to never run ads or sell data and is against cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Bayer and Kaplan are also quick to undo the tendency to remember Web 1.0 — the pink days of GeoCities, IRC, and DIY web hosting — as the perfect playground without issues.

The number of free hosting services in the 1990s was very restrictive, says Bayer, explaining. For example, their web hosting provider at the time did not allow users to write HTML for free and had a limited stock editor and layout. The better services were not feasible for users who have limited internet access or can’t afford the extra features. “None of this makes the popular image of Web 1.0 a fake; the aesthetics were clearly correct until far away Says. “But a lot of people associate the dynamism of the early web with some zeitgeist of decentralization and anti-capitalism, which I think is largely untrue; the digital divide was as bad or worse, and the surviving startups of that era are basically the heart of capital at this point.” .

Bayer goes on to point out that those survivors include Amazon and Google, both start-ups from the 1990s that have since grown into forms of privatized global infrastructure with a slew of problems. Google’s unofficial mantra used to be “Don’t be evil,” and “google” became a common verb to use for the search engine named after him. Amazon, which is an essential part of global online retail as well as cloud computing, is facing flagrant violations of labor law (including a failure to accommodate pregnant and disabled workers, resulting in miscarriages) despite efforts to rehabilitate its image. The 1990s were a very optimistic time for technology – a Panglossian model still driven by those who helped define that era. Web 1.0, for all its quirks, flaws, and unforgettable flaws, was also the starting point for what we are today by turning the internet into a business.

For Kaplan, the most interesting parts of Web 1.0 are the levels of control and creativity that the old services offered to their users, something we no longer have today on Facebook or Twitter. It can be said that our modern perception of social media began with GeoCities, which offered free “home pages” and the idea of ​​”housing” and identity. It ushered in a renaissance of design chaos, as people learned how to quickly and easily put together GIFs, embedded audio files, tables, and frames. No two GeoCities site were alike, and exploring these unique web pages was intoxicating. “We’re in this age where everyone’s profiles on major sites look exactly the same, and the limited control that users have to start with has been left out,” Kaplan says. It feels less like ‘This is my Twitter page’ and more ‘This is the part of Twitter where you only see my posts. “

Paradoxically, it is constraint and control that drives the embodiment of shared society – the defining part of demoscene art is to create as much as possible within the fixed technical constraints and existing hardware. Blackle Mori, one of the site’s most prolific CSS offenders (he uses his/her pronouns), explained how he made the elaborate mechanic interactable with the CSS “resize” property, which allows the user to “grow” a visual element. Mori says her approach is essentially “hack on hack on hack” to get around the shared host’s HTML limitations and inability to use JavaScript, the programming language used to create interactive web pages. (Some of the finer technical points of Mori’s creation were discussed in a Hacker News forum post.)

For Morey, playing on a group host means using a wealth of HTML and CSS knowledge that has been honed over the years. “Web technology is uniquely cursed for its complexity, and that comes from being so popular for so long,” Morey says. “Developers and designers have come and gone, each adding their own idea to the giant set of abstract ideas that make up the web. And because the web has to be bug-compatible, all of those ideas are forever.”

What doesn’t always go around is internet art tied to a particular platform. (Rest in peace, vine.) Cohost is still a work in progress, but the team realizes a “what if”: that is, if the co-host ends up working, what will happen to the reactants? “This is not strictly an archive, but our goal is not to break any post,” Kaplan says. “When we make changes to how rule set posts can be displayed or can be used, we have systems in place to ensure posts made prior to this change continue to display as they always have.” Grealish is interested in treating CSS crime as a site-specific art form, which does not always survive environmental changes in the physical world. “The site’s digital artwork, the kind of work compatible with its existence and the tools that made it possible in the first place, really excites me personally and I hope the group host becomes a space where that kind of intent can encourage you,” she says.

For now, the team is focused on making sure the group host stays on track and stays in awe of users fiddling with CSS and SVG files to huge effect. The three are quick to share their favorite interactive elements, which include a readable rework of the Stoneship Age book from mist, the game Lights Out, and Mori’s accurate account of the alternate universe One World Story; Mori was worried about being suspended or banned for tweaking the shared UI, but the moderators liked it in addition to that Mario 64 title screen. (Bayer admits he was “partly let down” by the error Morey found while working on One World Story.) Grealish is particularly fond of tools that allow participants to get more creative with their posts, such as a shovel by artist and game designer Everest Pipkin, which enables the interactive fiction tool Twine in common group. It works with the HTML “Details” tag that allows interaction without the need for JavaScript. Pipkin used the detail tag for previous work (such as the unfolding poem “Soft Corruptor”). “Although I set the Soft Corruptor manually, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else,” Pepkin said. “And then, Ravel; a tool that blends details and summary tags together for you.”

With cohost still in the invite-only early access mode, the future is still bright for adventurous CSS criminals. One of the main goals of the team is to generate income. After all, it all started with the frustration of Bayer from Patreon – allowing its users to take full advantage of its unique publishing features. This means finding better ways to embed Bandcamp pages and YouTube videos, but for now, nothing is consistent, although Kaplan says audio and video are priorities. “I love Bitsy games and would love to support ‘bitsyposting’ at some point,” Grealish says. “In general, I (selfishly) want to support as many flavors of interactive art as possible.” The guinea pig now monetizing is the cohoststaff page, which receives subscription money from cohost as well as signups (“which will give you access to [the team’s] The dumbest and worst ideas”).

It seems that what the team cares most about is staying in sync with the needs and desires of the host community. “Especially as we are out of startup mode, and more and more of our salaries are being paid by the creativity of our users, we can’t rule by decree otherwise we are just as bad as the others,” Bayer says. For now, the joint team wants their child to exist and become sustainable as a company. “It was never my goal to beat any other platforms,” Kaplan says. ‘I just want to co-host to continue to pay the rent.’ Grealish agrees and thinks about how cool it would be for someone a decade from now to say they learned CSS from messing around in a shared host.

“That would kick ass,” Kaplan says. “Scratch off everything else, the new goal is to get people talking about the combined group in a decade the way people my age talk about Neopets and MySpace.”

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