Welcome to the house of... yours!

A PhD fellow's website that is also a community website

foto profilo
  Nicolò Fabio Arceri

If you just want to jump straight to the conclusions, click here.

Picture this

It's an October evening in 1987, an ordinary evening. It's raining outside, you've just finished your dinner and it's almost 10pm. A television program from those lost years is on air, but it's not of your interest. Or rather: it could even be, but you are completely absorbed in something else. In fact, you can't wait (literally) for 10pm so as to be finally able to be connecting with your Commodore 64 to the BBS in your city, taking advantage of the cheap night-time telephone tariff. You're eager to see if you've received any messages from that interesting guy or girl you met on the BBS.

Message Area of the BBS The Drunken Gamer (thedrunkengamer.com:8888 // telnet) – Fonte immagine

You also want to take a look around the BBS file area to see if users have uploaded anything interesting. And, if some time left, no doubts that you will be continuing your quest at that turn-based door game that you like so much.

Legend of the Red Dragon (LORD), a very popular game back then. BBS players were fascinated by many of the aspects of MMOs we enjoy today, such as exploring a challenging fantasy world, leveling up, conversing with NPCs, acquiring loot, and finally facing the big bad boss. – Fonte immagine

Everything is peaceful. No ads pop up randomly disturbing your browsing. Also, there are no other distractions as well as no annoying sounds, apart from the rain that you can heard coming through the window. You are in a total state of relaxation.

A stylized representation of "what it was like" – Fonte immagine

Were you not around in the 80s or were you not old enough to be living an experience like that?

It doesn't matter that much. Let's teleport ourselves to the mid 90s / early 2000s. We turn on the computer and our 56k modem, connect to the internet and open our trusty MIrc. Open? Wow... what a wonderful vision.

User interface of mIRC – Fonte immagine

This time you don't want to connect to the usual IRC network, 'cause you've decided that tonight you are going to just explore. Then you open the network list and choose one at random. Double click to start the connection request and, a few seconds later, the server that's in charge welcomes you with a beautiful ASCII-coded welcome wall, briefly showing you the network policy, the allowed commands, the unavailable ones and so on. You are happy and tremendously curious like a child in an enchanted castle. After hesitating for a moment, you finally issue the /list command to access the network channel list.

mIRC channel list – Fonte immagine

In no time at all, a list of channels ordered by the connected users amount begins to form in front of you. You notice that the text takes advantage of ANSI escapes to enrich that list through bright colors and special characters, making everything psychedelic and even more mysterious.

Eventually you spot a channel that arouses your interest, thus deciding to dive into it. The channel window welcomes you and shows you both the topic and very concise rules of conduct. You greet the users inside and start chatting.

mIRC: welcome message and topic (with initial greetings) – Fonte immagine

However, you almost immediately realize that a Trivia session is underway in the chatroom, which four or five users are participating in. It is now coming to an end, so you decide not to disturb until it is done. While waiting, you get up from the chair and eat a candy or a cracker, glancing at your TV on but with the volume at minimum, just for the sake of keeping you company. It's Saturday; and I'm sure that there's a broadcaster running some comedy television show (or kind of).

mIRC: Trivia play time – Fonte immagine

Were you more of a web person than an IRC person?

Where's the problem? Open your Internet Explorer or your trusted Netscape and go to Geocities, where you start to explore the imaginative, ugly to look at but damned fascinating and often mysterious sites of ordinary people; people who, like you, cultivate a passion for this new media, have understood its potential and have decided to start experimenting by setting up their own site.

Some of the first websites from the early 2000s – Fonte immagine

In many cases these are personal sites, in others thematic or hobby-related sites but always managed by a single person, perhaps two. On some of them you will also find the guestbook, a small section where the site guests can leave a message when passing by. Tonight, however, you don't want to leave too many traces of your passage, you simply want to observe in silence, as if you were reading a book. On the other hand, it's still raining outside. And you're not sleepy at all.

Personal sites are all different from each other, both as graphically as in their mood. In short, each site reflects the character and personality of its creator, and entering it is therefore a bit like entering the house of a stranger who has left the door open for you to sit down and explore without any limits. And there are so many sites that you are literally spoiled for choice.

End of the dream. Let's go back to the present day.

Nowadays all this almost no longer exists, largely replaced by silo platforms such as Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, WhatsApp, Telegram and the rest of the gang. People no longer have their own independent website but profiles. You need to have a Facebook profile, a Tik Tok profile, one on Instagram, another one on Linkedin and so on and so forth. And if a new social network is making its way among the most renowned ones then... yeah, you definitely need to have a profile there too, so they say. And yet that's not all.

The web perceived as a handful of platforms – Fonte immagine

For instance, did you post something that doesn't suit the platform you post on? No problem. Content censored or even deleted without notice. Or more, did you write to the assistance service for explanations? Don't worry. They will promptly dismiss you by confirming that the decision made is correct, without further explanation. Are you reposting the content because you are sure you haven't said anything bad? This will result in a banned account without the possibility of recourse. With many many warm regards.

This site

This site is my site; but it's yours too.

This site in a somewhat inappropriate photo :-D – Fonte immagine

My name is Fabio Arceri (you can find me on the Libera.Chat IRC as The_Farr0w) and, at the date of publication of this first article, I am enrolled in the second year of a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Catania.

The source code of the site is hosted by the web space of the computer center of my department, the DMI (Department of Mathematics and Computer Science), and I am the first point of contact for what is published on the site itself. This means that, in principle, no one can ban me or disable my site without first asking for a discussion with myself. And if it were to happen, I would be the one to ask for (and absolutely obtain) a comparison. A real one, without hasty liquidations whatsoever.

I created this site because I want to reclaim what the silos have taken away from me, that is, the sense of home on the internet; a sense that was present in the pre-internet era thanks to BBSes and, in the very first years of the internet, through IRC, Usenet and the personal websites I was talking about earlier.

There was a different feeling back then. We were all a bit explorers, in our own way pioneers of a technology that promised to change our society for the better1 . We experienced the internet as if we were in a sort of parallel reality, quite magical in some ways, full of strange and interesting people who often did not reveal their identities, because doing so would most likely have dissolved that veil of mystery that made the internet not an extension of reality, as it is today, but a real alternative place to the reality itself, in which you could be able to spend some of your time getting to know new cultures, new worlds, and new people.

On this site you can find (again) all of this

Scientific research is an environment with very complex dynamics, where standing out is anything but trivial. With this site my intent is precisely to be a little less anonymous. Indeed, my goal is simply carving out a few more opportunities for myself. So, in short, it is a personal space that I have decided to use with the precise and primary purpose of supporting my visibility in this last remaining year of academic activity as a PhD student. Therefore this site will first of all report about me and my progresses as a PhD student: this is definitely what this site is and so it will be until the end.

But in all honesty, that's not all that matters to me. The all point behind this whole work is that I don't want to experience this journey with the spotlight on but with my feelings turned off. This is because of that sense of discovery and wonder in my early internet experience that I was talking about before, that is something that has remained in my heart and that's still close to today. But I know for sure that I am not the only one who experiences the discomfort caused by the lack thereof. Whit that in mind, I created this site not for it to just act as a one-way channel, where I myself speak and then others read if so wished, but so that the site could have a life of its own as a virtual square, where people who share the same feelings as mine can express themselves freely (provided the expected education and respect). I would like a lot to see people participating in discussions and, in general, contributing and feeling part of a community; a community reflecting those dreamy and concrete values ​​that permeated the early internet society, and that of course layed the foundations for the today's internet (for better or for worse).

In other words, the secondary purpose of this site is to allow people who still retain this sensitivity today and yet are forced to repress it, to free themselves (at least in part) from control, surveillance, censorship, and from a logic of centralism in the network which they feel to be not belonging to. Plus, this site aims to give people the possibility of reuniting with their peers and returning to experiencing the internet as it should always have been; and which no longer existed from a certain point on.

Ultimately, you can think of this site as a little refuge, a shelter if you like more; a place for scholars and in general for people who seriously care about freedom in computing as well as in science and society.

Basically, you can do the following things on this site

Simply, enjoy the contents present in it. For example you can:

  • read news from the IT/CS world (see 📰 News);
  • access an avalanche of useful links to various sites and resources (see Useful Links and other links scattered here and there);
  • consult blog articles and minibooks on varied topics related to the IT/CS world in general or to my research activities specifically (see ✍🏻 Blogging and ✍🏻 Minibooks);
  • getting various information and files concerning my personal projects and research activities, including published papers, source codes, datasets, etc... (see 📂 All the media for a comprehensive list);
  • access the message area (see 📣 Forum) and read the discussions started by other users, but also read their comments left here and there among the pages of this site (including this very article!);
  • whether you are an individual or even represent a school, find out how I can help you or your institution learn programming (see Tutoring).

However, if you want to bring your experience to a true community level and still relive today the feeling of being part of a "homemade", amateur, to some extent "familiar" and safe community, here's what else you can do

1. If you have a Mastodon account...

...you can comment on some contents of the site. Don't have a Mastodon account yet? Create it here :-)

2. If you have a Lemmy account...

...you can participate in discussions on the forums federated with this site. To create an account on Lemmy, click here.

3. If you just want to chat without registration of any kind...

...find out how to do it in 💬 IRC Chat.

Icing on the cake, you can do all this while...

...listening to the 📻 Radio! (As long as you're not already listening to it :-P).

Last tips before leaving

For a more immersive and old-fashioned experience I suggest you do the following two things:

  1. visit the site from a desktop computer;
  2. enable full screen mode (in popular browsers this can generally be achieved by pressing the F11 key).

Finally, one last thing: thank you.

If you have come this far you are probably interested in the leitmotif of this site. And it's precisely thanks to people like you that the hundreds of volunteers all around the world are working hard nowadays to guarantee the existence of alternatives, namely other ways to experience the internet and on the internet.

So, thank you very much. I'm looking forward to you in 💬 IRC Chat :-)

1. And indeed it has changed... ↩︎

Written by Nicolò Fabio Arceri
PhD fellow in Computer Science (INFO-01/A)
Dept of Math and ComSci (UNICT)
IPLAB/ICTLAB Research Group
🌍 Mastodon | Linkedin | ResearchGate | ORCID
Open in the main site