a cobbled-together history of hyperreal

written by mike brown in december 2000

originally for publication in iron feather journal and on hyperreal.org. contact hyperreal for permission to reproduce elsewhere.

brian behlendorf is a southern california native who fell into the los angeles rave scene during his high school years. at the time, the only raves in the usa were in l.a., san francisco, and new york.

in 1991 he started college at u.c. berkeley and gained access to their computing facilities. in march of 1992, he started an online mailing list for the san francisco rave community: sfraves. it was a huge success. says brian,

"When I moved, the only parties I could easily find up here were in over-21 clubs. Yet I had heard about ToonTown and Wicked and other crews, so out of desperation thought that starting an Internet mailing list would be a way to find other people who knew. Turns out that was a good idea - SFRaves started March 6th 1992, and that weekend I went to a party I found out about through the list, called the Woopy Ball. Later that year, August, the SFRaves list itself threw a party called "Connection" on a beach in Santa Cruz - that led to more parties and more use of email to find other ravers and coordinate underground parties."

i have to explain something here. in 1992 the only rave mailing list besides sfraves was ne-raves, which was hosted at m.i.t. ...someone had already created the alt.rave usenet newsgroup, and the uk-dance mailing list existed as well but wasn't focused on a rave scene. so these were about the only places online where people could get information about the scene.

longtime hyperreal contributor dan "danFREELove" philpott adds:

"In '92 there were at least three rave lists on the east coast. UMD Raves (University of Maryland) was active due to the scene blowing up in DC. The list was really just a way to find out about parties and organize road trips. It went under quickly after DC Raves started up and absorbed most of the conversation. So DC, UMD and NE Raves were operating but only DC and NE survived.
"As for LA, SF and NY having a lock on rave in the US at that time. DC actually was the first place on the east coast with raves. DC's Catastrophic parties predated (and influenced) the Storm parties in NY. The Storm parties are what inspired NERaves into exis-dance. NY always had a wikked club scene but from what I remember the rave scene hit LA first, then DC, then NY."

the majority of people with internet access back then were college students involved in computer-oriented studies, employees of well-funded technology companies like at&t, and a smattering of u.s. government and military agencies. consumer-oriented services like compuserve, genie, prodigy and aol, as well as most dialup bbs 'networks' were not on the internet, or had very limited gateways for mail and news that no one knew about. there was no spam, and since you weren't interacting with a true cross-section of the general public, the entire net had a different character than it does today, socially.

to be a part of the internet at that time was a big deal, because everybody who could contribute something to it was able to do so and be heard, and their contributions were more often than not of significant value. it was easy to concentrate and filter information into very valuable outlets like mailing lists, newsgroups, and ftp-accessible repositories.

and at the same time, it wasn't a big deal, because no one foresaw that it would become what it is today. we were just into it because we had access to it, usually on someone else's tab, and it allowed us to connect and exchange ideas with people whose interaction and ideas we valued. there was a lot of signal in a very small number of places, and hardly any noise except what we generated ourselves. definitely a different internet than today.

so as the rave scene started to blow up nationwide, we'd tell each other online about the flyers we found and the records we bought and the parties we went to. you'd have people in the midwest who were driving 9-12 hours to get to raves in new york and d.c., and to hang out with the friends we made through these online forums. the same thing was going on in california and all over the northeast. a lot of information sharing was going on in this subculture's subculture. 'netravers' or 'cybertribe' is what we called ourselves.

at the same time that brian started the sfraves mailing list, he was able to make available an anonymous ftp space where would put various files related to the scene. this was at soda.berkeley.edu and later haas.berkeley.edu. it contained the sfraves list archives, gifs of various people on the list, drug information, flyers, and other interesting text files about raving. he (i think it was him) also set up gary grossman's telnet-based 'unix-cb' chat server, and dubbed it 'vrave' -- the virtual rave.

this was the beginning of hyperreal. early-mid 1992.

in one sense it was this tangible, static thing, a deliberately assembled collection of information about raves, music and drugs. there were very few places online where this kind of subject matter could be found, so it was very important. in another sense, especially through the mailing list, it was something less tangible; it was active service for a certain small segment of a relatively small community of people. it was simultaneously providing services for and more importantly, helping build and strengthen that community. it was a conduit, a filter, and a magnet for information centered around certain memes.

in 1993, berkeley wanted their machines back, so everything moved to sfraves.stanford.edu, aka techno.stanford.edu, thanks to someone at stanford who was into the scene and donated the facilities. it was there that brian was able to give out accounts to some friends and add more non-sfraves specific content like audio files (30 second .au-format clips), discographies, etc.

among the new contributors were people who improved the vrave code, including brian's new long-distance girlfriend, laura la gassa, one of the ne-ravers whose hoboken, nj apartment had hosted more than a few pre- and post- rave netraver gatherings. laura and brian met on vrave in april 1993. laura moved to san francisco in 1994 and they eventually wed in september 1995.

also getting an account was lamont granquist, a university of washington student who was building up a collection of faqs and informative posts that were coming across the alt.drugs newsgroup at the time. this was before there was a rec.drugs hierarchy. lamont started a massive archive of recreational drug information, much of it anecdotal but with some scholarly references too. this part of hyperreal was and continues to be very popular.

brian gave me an account, too. i was on about a dozen mailing lists (you could do that back then; there wasn't that much traffic) and i read every post on the newsgroups. i wanted to archive as much information as i could, especially discographies and music reviews that people would post, and i wanted to reorganize what brian had already collected. i focused on the music but helped with everything. aside from the music related files i also had an archive of image & audio conversion and eye candy software.

there were a handful of others helping with other rave, drug and music related sections. we had archives for several regional rave lists, and there were accounts associated with those. the idm mailing list started in 1994 on techno.stanford. rob campanell was producing a techno video show for the u network (a syndicated college tv network), and he had various files up related to that. there were sections on nootropics and smart drinks. and there were some e-zines that people had put together that we were archiving.

brian set up a gopher server on techno.stanford. this opened up a whole new world of possibilities. gopher is dead now, but at the time, it was a great interface. rather than just opening up a filesystem and letting people wander around and having to view README and 00-INDEX.TXT files to see what they were looking at, one could selectively index the filesystem, causing nice navigable menus to appear in people's gopher clients. as i got more familiar with the server's capabilities, we started adding text around the menus, and when i got a hold of mosaic, i found out that the gopher server we were using (john franks' gn) also had http service. if you gauge hyperreal's entry onto the 'web' as being the day the archive started http service, then it was sometime in 1993.

this archive didn't really have a name. it was just 'the ftp server at soda.berkeley.edu' or 'brian behlendorf's techno/rave archive' for the longest time. when i got into configuring the gopher server and setting up all the indexes, i registered the site in some central directory as 'the techno and rave resources at techno.stanford.edu'.

in the fall of 1993, while still attending berkeley, brian started working at wired magazine, where he set up www.wired.com, with articles from back issues of the magazine and other fun stuff. that was one of the first non-academic/research web sites online. a quote he gave me when he was at wired: "the people who run this company know a lot about magazines and nothing about about the internet."

in 1994 things really started taking off with the web. isps were starting to offer affordable internet access to the general public en masse. the consumer networks got connected to the net. it was disconcerting in some ways but it was my first inkling that something bigger was going on. i was still downplaying it, content to just help take care of the archives, but brian was all over it, co-leading the apache web server project, predicting (accurately) things to come, evangelizing, prophesizing, espousing terms like community building and collaborative filtering.

in july of 1994, brian bought his own pc so he could move all the content off of the stanford site and have more control over the servers. it was also simultaneously a home for a new project he was involved in: a set of patches for the ncsa http server ('a patchy web server' ...get it?)

the pc, a pentium 90, went under his desk at wired, was hooked up to their lan and was given a public ip address. he chose a domain name for it in honor one of his favorite techno tracks at the time: 'hyperreal' by the shamen. (specifically, the jack dangers remix of that song). the machine name, taz, was a reference to hakim bey's entry on every cyberpunk's essential reading list: 'T.A.Z. - the Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism'.

brian wanted hyperreal to be a place where all the people who were contributing could have free reign over their projects, and for it to be a home for these projects that people couldn't put elsewhere. the subject matter had to meet with his approval, of course, but that just meant that it had to have something to do with raves, electronic music, and altered states of consciousness. another rule was that there could not be any banner ads or commercial activity on the site. this was partly due to the fact that wired didn't want other people using its network for commercial activity, but also because we just didn't want it. netscape had turned the web browser into a billboard, and for all the ways that was good in fueling the growth of the web, it was also obviously not something that we wanted hyperreal to be dependent upon.

said brian for a yahoo! internet life article,

"What I was always into building was platforms - places where people can get together and build web sites about anything that they typically wouldn't be able to, and not have to worry as much about the boring tech side of things. Now, these days, anyone can set up a web page at Geocities or a mailing list at OneList, but Hyperreal continues to be a big 'group publishing experiment'. The purpose has evolved, but it's still about giving people a platform to speak from, to show off, to organize, and to inform, without having to worry about banner ads or other forms of corporate infiltration. We'll stay true to our roots until we're forced off the air.
People don't really need free web space or free lists anymore, so actually it's been easier to focus on supporting the really unique content or ideas that people want to sponsor. Just as it was in '94, the mission continues to be to create a reference site for this community, and I think we're doing that pretty well."

this volunteer-based approach has of course had its downside. projects are often started and then abandoned in a half-finished state. content gets stale because people have personal lives to get on with. it's not so much a community as it is a loosely organized carnival of sorts, a bunch of side shows competing for attention. brian and i and various graphic designers have made a number of attempts over the years to reign in the content as all being 'part of hyperreal', creating centralized indexes to lead visitors to the individual projects, but we've gone about as far as we can with this approach. the nature of the web is changing. everybody has their own domain name. there is no need to distinguish between resources just based on where they are hosted. hyperreal is not supposed to be about hording information. it's hard, though, because people want to go to 'hyperreal the web site' and can't really handle finding 'hyperreal the arbitrary collection of commonly-themed volunteer-run projects'. and it is becoming ever more arbitrary all the time.

back to the story. brian set up hotwired.com in the fall of 1994. it was the first ad-supported web site, and also the first user-based web site. around this time he dropped out of college. he went on to cofound the web presence / e-marketing provider organic online in san francisco, eventually settling in as cto of that company until leaving to start o'reilly's collab.net in 1998. all along, he was involved in the apache project, mainly as a facilitator and as a sysadmin for the project's home server, which was, as i mentioned, actually taz.hyperreal.org.

although hyperreal appears very stagnant, people and their projects quietly come and go all the time. the indexes to the web-accessible content are sporadically updated projects, themselves. lamont abandoned the drug archives after a couple years of inactivity and allowed its content to be merged into the erowid.org site, which we had been quietly hosting all along. some projects like they eye candy were retired semi-permanently, others like the music reviews and automated rave calendar are just on ice for a while. vrave had to be taken down due to abuse in 1998, but it might come back again someday. new projects are getting off the ground and others are collecting dust. everything is in motion, and there's always something new. it just isn't highly polished and could still stand to be better organized. says brian,

"Very few other sites are as volunteer-focused as ours; most rely on some form of revenue, even if it's just ad banners. But even ad banners can really get in the way of trying to make a message. I think the most important thing is that we don't really care about being the #1 site for this or that - we just want to put out the truth, as we see it.
Hyperreal, all told, is pretty big, as archives go, though it could certainly be formatted much more nicely, we admit. It's a lot like a city - some central planning, but most of the character comes from serendipity, finding the cool stuff amidst the mass of just so-so stuff. And hey, if you don't like a certain section, and want to help, just speak up!"

i would add that lots of people speak up, but there's not a lot of follow-through :) i should also mention that in addition to brian and myself and all the other volunteers, helping behind the scenes have been several people like andrew bennett and eric mccormick, whose contributions have been invaluable.

the rest of hyperreal's history from 1994 to the present has been pretty much the same story. brian contributes the hardware, the bandwidth, the vision, the mission, and he executes & delegates the primary sysadmin duties. other volunteers bring in their own projects -- web sites, mailing lists or whatever -- and some occasionally make donations, at their expense, toward hardware upgrades. hyperreal is currently a pair of boxes sitting in a rack space at a major backbone provider in san jose. who knows what it will be, physically, or virtually, next year. there is very little expense involved with running hyperreal, other than time, and no financial income associated with it.

in the mean time, the internet has gone mainstream, raves have gone mainstream, we're all working i.t. jobs or have started our own technology and design companies, and we've somehow become 'old school' in more ways than one. through it all, we are, each of the volunteers individually, dedicated to certain ideas and ideals that are compatible with each other to some degree, and this compatible commitment and enthusiasm manifest as the projects that are collectively known as hyperreal. hyperreal, or something like it, is the natural result of human interaction, and it will continue to exist in some form or another for quite some time to come.

This document last updated Friday, 10-Aug-2001 08:22:56 PDT