gooolOS Design & Philosophy Notes

The Riot Goools website (I refer to it as gooolOS) takes many aesthetic cues from the early world wide web and the computers of that period. More specifically, it draws a lot from the design of the first Macintosh OS GUIs and the work of early Apple icon designer, Susan Kare, who is a big influence on me as a pixel artist. My first interaction with computers was in elementary school where there was a dusty old Apple computer tucked away in the corner of the library that was mostly used for playing Oregon Trail (we all thought it was just an Oregon Trail machine.) I think staring at those little pixelated images flashing on the screen likely started my obsession with making drawings out of little squares and turning those drawings into little worlds with meaning.

When it came time to make a website for the goools project last year, I knew I wanted to do something that paid tribute to the design languages of 90s computing. I thought about things like that early Mac, and about Netscape Navigator, Geocities beveled buttons, and ICQ. The goools themselves are rooted in a very specific era with Riot Grrrl being a 90s movement (see also popular references to Sailor Moon, Pokémon, Power Rangers, Neon Genesis Evangelion, etc.) Being a pixel art project, the pixelated computer interfaces of the time just made conceptual sense for the gooolniverse!

The Gooolcities of Fantom, Tezos and Ethereum
The Gooolcities of Fantom, Tezos and Ethereum

While it's fun and trendy to do 90s callbacks and remixes, I wanted to deploy reference points like these for something more than just nostalgic mimicry. To me, revisiting this past made sense beyond just a superficial appreciation and could speak to a direction for the future.

The 90s were the last decade to have a real separation between offline and online life for a lot of people. And it was the first decade of learning to be internet cyborgs. Maybe it was because I was so young at the time but I look back at it as a period of curiosity and discovery and new potential. I get the same feeling from the decentralized web movements of today that have sprung up as we've reached a point where we're re-examining our relationship to being online and the type of internet cyborgs we've become over the past few decades, for better or for worse.

My goal for the gooolOS design is to revisit the feeling of a less clean-cut, wild, and weird web – before a lot of the rough edges got sanded off in pursuit of the sanitized, generic, social network we seem to mostly exist in today. Functionally, deprecated things like web rings, guestbooks, and chat rooms don't perform as well as their modern evolutions if all you're looking at is pure performance and convenience. But I think that websites can and maybe should be more than just information pamphlets and purely utilitarian services. They can be something that gives you a unique experience and be an art form in themselves. That's what I miss most about the old internet. I miss "surfing the web" and finding strange (sometimes broken) websites that felt like it was built by an actual living person and was an expression of that person. These days we mostly live online in algorithmically generated silos. The sites that I link to in the gooolOS boookmarks are some that I feel are attempting to create something unique online.

I also use gooolOS as a way to try out different decentralized web technologies I learn about. Sometimes it feels like a lot of the technology being developed in the "web3" space is just used for price speculation and the actual product is besides the point. I actually want to use them to make things. Like using IPFS to host and IPNS to point a domain (managed with Fleek.) And you can reach gooolOS through riotgoools.eth if you have an ENS resolver. This makes the site more durable against things like DNS hijacking and centralization problems with traditional hosting. I'd like to get my HNS domain working at some point too. Goool Chat is a callback to things like Yahoo chatrooms but using the decentralized Matrix protocol as the backend so that messages and data is stored with the user and not some random company's server. It's a place for intermittent conversations with random people like those old chat rooms without the pressures of the current social media landscape. At some point, I might introduce some goool token functionality to gooolOS but I'm still learning and experimenting with that stuff and trying to find an interesting way to use it.

gooolOS tries to rely on mainly open technologies (to varying degrees of success)
gooolOS tries to rely on mainly open technologies (to varying degrees of success)

It's also important to me that the future web doesn't continue the dark patterns that we've seemingly accepted through web 2.0 such as data collection, fingerprinting, and tracking. So I don't use anything like Google Analytics, etc. The only things that get stored when using gooolOS is any Goool Notes you write and a Matrix access key if you log in. And these are just stored in your browser's local storage and not retained on servers (no website cookies.) Also, in the spirit of web 1.0, no ads! It's also why I use things like (which stores writing on arweave) instead of platforms like medium or substack.

I'm always looking at different ideas to move my tech stack further away from the centralized surveillance and data extraction model of web 2.0. gooolOS is a playground to explore alternatives to that type of web reality. My dev skillset leans more toward the frontend than the backend and I feel it's part of my work to make things that help people can gain understanding. Much like how Kare, in the video linked above, describes the visual metaphors used in her design work to humanize what may be alien to some. The visual design choices and details I put into gooolOS are to reflect the mission of moving to (back to) a more open, creative, web. I consider design as more than just visual polish – there should be holistic consideration for the aesthetics, the systems behind the aesthetics, and the ethos behind the systems. Creating harmony between all of those things is the art of the design. Art can be the aesthetic frontend to interface with the decentralized web ethos backend.

I probably think way too much about this stuff but if we have to spend so much of our lives online anyways, then why not make it interesting? Time only moves forward for us so we can't ever go back to the old web. Besides, despite all the hellish aspects of the web today, would we even really want to go back with all the cool things we do have? I'd rather take a look at what was good before, add to it the good that's coming up, and find ways to create art that makes being online just a bit more enjoyable for everyone and push toward a more healthy web of open standards, decentralization, and encryption. The alternative is to continue to let giant corporations and eccentric billionaires command our attention while filling their own pockets. No thanks, keep the internet weird please.

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