Michael Stevenson and I just published a special issue on “Legacy Systems” in the Internet Histories journal. The special issue explores the productive ambiguity of the concept of “legacy systems” in different directions to address the past’s persistence as well as its felt absence. The contributions revolve around a socio-cultural sense of legacy – of ideas built into Internet culture and how Internet devices continue to operate into the present. They also address cultural and political legacies relevant to histories of networks and digital culture, and investigate how specific technologies bear the marks of past debates and decisions.
- In “Legacy systems: internet histories of the abandoned, discontinued and forgotten” (open access🔓) Michael Stevenson & Anne Helmond explore the productive ambiguity of the concept of legacy systems and outline the contributions: from articles that deal with cultural and political legacies relevant to histories of networks and digital culture, to others that investigate how specific technologies bear the markers of past debates and decisions.
- In “From closed world discourse to digital utopianism: the changing face of responsible computing at Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (1981–1992)” (open access🔓) Megan Finn & Quinn DuPont discuss the legacies of CPSR , an organization founded in 1981 to address limited technological understanding in public debate around military applications of computing. Their account of CPSR’s legacy offers important ways for approaching and understanding the challenges of responsible computing and the ethics of technology today.
- In “Rethinking legacies in internet history: Euronet, lost (inter)networks, EU politics” (open access🔓) Niels Kerssens examines what happened to Euronet by drawing on the concept of legacy systems to reframe a “lost network event” as a marker of continuity, and thus to complicate typical narratives of “winners” and “losers” in histories of networks.
- In “The narratives we inherit: the local and global in Tomsk’s internet history” Polina Kolozaridi & Dmitry Muravyov offer a history Tomsk’s Tonet by unraveling the distinction between local nets and the global Internet. They examine how stories of the inevitability of a global Internet featured in the development and adoption of a local network.
- In “Recovering the web’s unclaimed legacy of academic text standards: SGML, HTML, and the misremediation of quotation” Rudolf Ammann provides a history of the “misremediation” of academic text standards in HTML. He contends that the perception of HTML as a legacy of hypertext overshadows an important lineage of academic textual production.
- In “Cookies: a legacy of controversy” Meg Leta Jones combines a history of the cookie’s original design with one of the regulatory frameworks and commercial activities brought to bear on it, Jones reveals the cookie’s “legacy of controversy” as both subject and object within various discourses around online privacy, commercialization and control.
- In “The historical trajectories of algorithmic techniques: an interview with Bernhard Rieder” (open access🔓) Michael Stevenson & Anne Helmond discuss Rieder’s forthcoming book which provides a strong theoretical contribution to software studies as well as a historical analysis of dominant technologies and algorithmic techniques within current practices of information ordering.
Taken together, the various contributions to this issue provide evidence of a rich terrain for engaging with seemingly failed, abandoned and forgotten objects, discourses, and practices in Internet histories. They reveal that doing so requires attention to symbolic and material legacies and lineages, and remind us that these histories must be appreciated to fully understand the present – including what is missing from it.
The original articles appearing here were first presented at ‘The Web That Was: Archives, Traces, Reflections,’ the third biennial RESAW (Research Infrastructure for the Study of Archived Web Materials) conference, held at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, June 19-21, 2019, organized by Anne Helmond and Michael Stevenson, the University of Amsterdam. We thank all presenters and participants for their contributions, as well as all contributors and reviewers who made this special issue possible.
This work is part of the research programme Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Veni with project numbers 275-45-006 and 275-45-009, which are (partly) financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).