Fashion on the Internet


I started out at and looked at random home pages linked from there.

What are some of the items you observe that are peculiar to the virtual world. Do they have particular connotations (that you are able to comprehend)?

These things seem to be the common elements on web pages (there are more, I'm sure, but these seem to be the most popular): Web Rings/Rails, Page counters, Banners for supported causes/idea/objects, Awards, and Pictures of self and friends. Each has particular cultural connotations; Web rings/rails embody a connection to a community. They allow the creator of the web page to position and identify themselves as part of a larger whole. Page counters seem to be a signal from the creator to the viewer of how popular they are. Perhaps this is something like how many friends you have, or how many social gatherings you attend or are invited to. Banners portray personal beliefs, much like bumper stickers on cars. People see iconographic representations for the groups to which they belong to or beliefs to which they subscribe as being more understandable and meaningful than describing those beliefs and memberships in words. The banners contain a lot of encoded information about the creator of the home page, much like clothing (according to Davis) signifies the group membership of a person and expresses a codified representation of a person's psyche and social location. Awards seem to be mostly there for the creator's sake, a kind of justification for the work they put into creating the site. Awards could easily be kept to oneself, but they are put on display (as in RL) to convince others of the worthiness of the site. Pictures of self and friends make the site more socially accessible by linking the virtual world of the home page to the real world of a human being.

What is your hypothesis of how they acquired this meaning?

Common code... Davis talks about how fashion codifies the society in which it exists. This code is also interpreted differently depending on who is decoding it. The same is likely true for home pages. There are particular elements that have shared meanings, and their interpretation is assumed to be understood by other members of that community. Of interesting note is the two-sided nature of fashion that McCracken discusses: designers and reviewers. Online there are a plethora of designers, but no real reviewers (perhaps Yahoo! Magazine is an exception, but it is really more like a People for the online community). This may be a reason why most home pages are ugly (though this is not necessarily a solution). Perhaps the 'cobbled-together' look of most home pages is itself a fashion...

Think about fashion (McCracken and Davis) in an information world--today's web pages are quite static, do you think this is likely to change significantly? why? how?

Many home pages share common design themes: they are visually very busy, complex, and colorful; they almost always have a background image or color; people tend to talk to their visitors in the introductory text, address them as friends, welcome them; they tend to name their site and embody that name in a large, colorful banner of some sort at the top of the page; most of them look like they were created using an HTML visual programming tool; And most of them are (in my opinion) garish and ugly.

Davis claims that something is fashionable so long as not everyone has it. This seems to be true in the online world as well. Web pages themselves are fashionable, and many people have and are creating them. But few people maintain them after a while. There may be two reasons for this: (1) web pages are relatively hard to maintain and take time to keep current. Unlike RL fashions, which usually just require an initial investment of time, web pages make constant demands on a person's time. (2) web pages themselves--not just their elements--are fashion items within a smaller group of people (friends, office workers). They become fashionable for a time, and (like all other fashions) fall out of that connotation eventually.

Home pages in their current incarnation are probably not going to change to be more dynamic. They need to become more quantized--at least in their content--and easier to maintain. Looking at the decorations in a house, fashionable items are easy to add in increments: a vase here, flowers there. Larger, more expensive fashions are added less frequently, but can still be quantized, i.e. a self-contained object can be added to a room without changing the state or contents of the rest of the room. This also makes keeping a room updated and easy task, which is usually done in passing (finding some knick-knack while out shopping), though the initial setup can be time consuming and a lot of work. Right now, while there are prepackaged elements that people add to their web pages (counters, guest books, graphics, etc. Geocities even provides an area where you can browse such objects), most people assemble their sites by hand, creating the graphics and layouts themselves rather than rely completely on items they can shop for. In RL, almost no one creates his or her own clothing. Rather people shop for the elements of their wardrobe, and assemble their outfits at home. Perhaps this is why most web pages look haphazard and poorly designed: most people aren’t designers, yet they try to design the whole of their site. An interesting evolution of home pages may be the change from self designed to store bought home page elements. (I can imagine going to Ikea on the web and laying out my home page from a catalog online...)

page last updated 3/27/2001