Letters from Somnolescent May 6, 2023

Five Neat Things From the Somnolescent Archives

by bulb

If you were to ask me my favorite part of the Somnolescent site network, archives would be it. archives started back in 2020 as cold storage for file hoards, but more and more, it’s become my obsession to use it as a living museum of all the websites that the Somnolians have built over the past six years or so. We’ve had so many cool ideas for pages, so many memories around our sites, so many neat looks and layouts for them, that I feel personally responsible to keep it all intact. I want it all as browsable, speedy and functional as the day we unveiled them.

archives has been eating tremendously well this year. All of Caby and dcb’s sites from the Neocities days are finally present on there, patched, restored, and usually fully functional. I just finished restoring dcb_v2, a BeOS-styled site that used an embedded Gopher proxy to display Gopher menus in lieu of pages, last month. Now that’s fully functional again, using locally-stored copies of the proxy’s output back when our Gopher looked like that. I’m supremely proud of it–and just happy to have it to click around again!

Only counting full sites (not components of sites or subsites), we’re up to 54 of them. That’s a lot of sites! And I built half of them, probably! There’s so much on archives, you might not know where to start, and that’s what I wanna spotlight. Here’s five cool, nostalgic (if you’re of a certain age and web background) sights from Somnolescent’s past you can go visit on archives right now, just as if it were still live on our sites today.

#1: dcBe (/web/dcb_v2/), early 2019

dcb_v2, from early 2019

Let’s start with this one because I just mentioned it. Somnolescent’s had a Gopher (sadly a bit long in the tooth) since we got on DreamHost in late 2018, and it’s taken a few different shapes over the years. The original idea was for us to all have directories dedicated to each of our stuff, like we all have individual Somnol sites, but seeing as it’s a super geeky, autistic thing that only dcb and I are much into, that gave way to just having directories for projects.

Problem being, dcb based his BeOS-styled site around his directory, using a Pituophis-based Gopher-HTTP proxy to get the menus to display in a little window in the site’s layout, and I apparently only saved my directory (I was not good at doing group backups at the time). Thankfully, he did save the menus partially using the Wayback Machine, meaning I was able to reconstruct the site near-perfectly, using the proxy’s output (or simulated) as local pages, no Gopher server required.

Rehoming our DreamHost site variations is a no-brainer. We’ve gotten a bit slower with our redesigns since the lockdowns hit, but I’ve seen the fuzzies come back. Caby’s redrawn random designs from her old art gallery recently, dcb’s reclaimed his Neocities account and now uses it as a launchpad for his various sites, and there’s a definite sense in the group that we got away from what made us fall in love with site building in the first place. Lots of plans for redesigns and new sites, all getting back to that. All for fun again.

Honorable mention: dcb_nc9, the site he parked his account with when we left Neocities. Powder Toy headings, old dcb software, and a ton of just random pages about all sorts of crap. We’ll probably be bringing that back soon too, pages about everything…

#2: Somnolescent Districts (/web/districts/), late 2018

(Formerly) districts on Neocities

An absolute classic! dcb had the Districts account in his back pocket, and when him, me, and Caby started talking to each other more regularly, we decided to give making this little riff on Geocities neighborhoods a go. dcb wrote a special version of AutoSite Legacy to build district listings from a JSON, Caby drew everything, including designing the little grumpy armadillo Sebastian (whom she amusingly modeled after me), and I put it all together. Some other people were involved too, but they don’t like us anymore, so who cares.

I still really love what we put together. The color scheme is probably my favorite of any of my sites (sans maybe mari_nc1), Caby’s banners are still iconic, and it was proof that there absolutely was a lot good to see on Neocities, just that it was buried under bad navigational tools. Unfortunately, we no longer have access to the account. I gave neo a log with the password on it, and her and Cheren stole it when they got kicked out of the group. Seeing it now kinda sucks. It’s uglier, Pippin is a pretty bland mascot, and it’s not been updated in about 15 months. I feel for all the people who still try in vain to contact them to get their sites listed. They deserve better.

It’s funny how important Districts would become to Somnolescent going forwards. Sebastian and Penny moved to Pennyverse, becoming a little more than mascots, and it was the first time Caby and I ever collaborated on a character design and personality and found how nicely we work together. AutoSite would get a rewrite in Visual Basic and a nice GUI to match too! It’s funny to think Caby designed Sebastian after me, given how close I feel to him now, and how much he’s changed from even what’s on his toyhou.se profile, let alone from Districts. I’m a lot warmer to him now, and Colton too. Hopefully I can show everyone that in time.

Honorable mention: somnol_v2, one of the top-level group sites! What’s fun is that all the different site revisions link to each other, as we did, but they link to the equivalent-in-time archived version of that person’s site, meaning you feel like you’re clicking around somnol.net as it was, untouched by the passage of time.

#3: Gwta v.2 (/web/caby_nc3/), May 2018

caby_nc3, from mid-2018

Ah, the CGA era of Caby sites. This is how her site looked when I first met her! I always loved the look of these pages, the simplicity, how decorated they were in silly drawings (I can tell you that drawing of Po and Caby on the index is still one of my favorite things she’s ever drawn), and how it just didn’t feel like anybody else’s site around. I knew I had to get to restoring and reuploading them someday!

Caby’s Neocities sites were fairly well preserved (guess that potato did do something right after all), so it was no trouble at all to wget them off the Wayback Machine, clean them up, get everything reassembled, and then rehome them. Even more exciting for a web archaeologist (and something I’ll be finding out in a few weeks when I visit!) is that Caby has a big, messy external USB drive she’d throw random files onto back then, so who knows what never made it online or what she still has that never got saved?

Neocities is a time that’s both well past me and still fuzzy to me. I can tell you stories of seeing that gwtagacw liking my site updates and wondering what she’d ever want to do with me, really. Then she got to talking with me, and then the whole love thing happened… It’s such a huge part of my history and of her history, not just on the web but as people. I can tell you that her reaction to seeing them again made it extra worth it to me.

Honorable mention: Caby’s Halloween 2019 story on caby_v2. She likes to do something site-related for Halloween every year, and this one was a mini-story of all her piggo characters going trick-or-treating and being lead astray by a strange piggo with a pumpkin on his head… I still remember the behind-the-scenes of this one visually (as I do all of 2019, really), but mostly I’m just always happy to see the piggo mascots. I hope she uses them more sometime!

#4: :: matfloor.net :: (/web/matfloor_v2/), early 2021

matfloor_v2, from early 2021

Ah, Devon. She’s been having a rough time as of late, but there’s no denying her sites are one-of-a-kind. She’s got a big graphic design fixation and it comes out in all these sharp, geometric site layouts (that sadly never stick around terribly long–see how many versions of matfloor.net are on archives for proof of that). I’ve seen people specifically site what she does as an influence. I think that’s a pretty high honor.

This one came at a pretty big low point for the group, but we all agreed on including it. Love the diagonals, love the color scheme, love all the art on it still, love the pixels and the 80×15 buttons–it’s just a really inspired look. I’ve got to fix the links to all the blog stuff–it still exists, but currently, the links on archives go to the wrong place and 404 on her current site. Ideally, the blog itself should get rendered to static HTML and backed up to archives, a la my Scratchpad, but y’know. Only so many hours in a day.

Devon’s an interesting case because her at her best is proof that Somnolescent isn’t just the one or two things people want to peg us to, furries usually. Somnolescent isn’t about the interests, it’s about the mindset. We’re curious folks! Even if you share something no one else in the group likes (like I hit with the level design stuff I’ve been up to lately), it’s still cool for variety alone, let alone what new things others can discover from your boundless excitement. It’s easy to think we have to fit in a small box of shared interests (as I’ve alluded to, it got us hard the last few years), but nah. Love what you love. Be “annoying” about it. That’s why I invited you all here.

Honorable mention: Devon’s mixtapes. Again, a weird, momentary fixation of the group, back when we were all making mixtapes and playlists and sharing them out. I have a feeling these will come back in vogue when we start mailing each other stuff more often. Doing up all the CD art, getting stuff printed, doodling, including notes–I’ve already partaken in it a bit, and you can bet I’m doing more of that.

#5: mariteaux Online (/web/minerteaux/), November 2018

minerteaux on Neocities

And let’s end off with a bit of my own past! I thought it’d be funny, after Neocities became a lot of me fighting kids at Chuck E. Cheese and I became infamous for my opinions on nostalgiamining and cookie-cutter “old” sites, to build my own LARP-y old looking site and see the reactions. I got thinking about a lot of crazy tiled textures and table layouts and the kinds of things I would’ve put on a site in 1998, and it wound up being a lot of fun to build. (Nobody really reacted to it outside of a few comments–you can read more about the immediate aftermath in my November 2018 “The Day I Became a Nostalgiaminer” essay from mari_nc2.)

I think seeing this one is a perfect encapsulation of Somnolescent going astray for a few years. I remember building this one, liking it a lot in 2018 and 2019, and then it becoming highly embarrassing for reasons I’ve yet to figure out. It’s like I disowned doofy fun for a bit. Everything became “using Gopher correctly” or “using old computers for a practical purpose” and fuck all that, man. There is nothing practical about using Windows 2000 in 2023, and if there was, it would lose some of its out-of-time charm. It’s fun because it’s not what you’re supposed to do.

Lockdowns hit everyone hard, what can I say?

A big fixture of my thoughts these days is the idea of parsing through six or seven years of web detritus I’ve made and getting the stuff I still like cleaned up, discoverable, and catalogued. I’ve written so many stories that are scattered about on sites, stuff I still like (though perhaps needing an illustration pass) and stuff that needs to be rewritten. Essays are scattered between our Gopher, this blog, and the Scratchpad. My art is unlisted on my site, and invisible to a casual viewer. What will someone see when they look up “mariteaux”? My other profiles, sure, but what about my own site? What about my offsite presences?

Getting stuff mirrored on archives is definitely a little step towards making it a little easier to find again. minerteaux never got deleted from Neocities (see “mariversary 2.0: I Actually Paid for This” for why), but I don’t think it was being linked to anywhere outside my mariversary posts, which is a shame because I’ve recently come back around to liking it a lot again. It’s highly autistic, but you can see big shades of what would be to come on cammy.somnol in it (and that too needs to be updated!), and I fucking love that site still.

Honorable mention: The Outposts page on mari_v2! This entire site is so fuzzy to me (in fact, what I’ve got if the new mari.somnol layout, like that art gallery link two paragraphs ago, is based on this, but much more accurate to that OS 8 look), but the Outposts page is what I think about the most. I love my little descriptions, I love everything I linked to still, and I dunno, doofy. Good and doofy. I probably have less use for such a page now that I have a Pinboard, but I’m sure some permutation of it will show up on mari_v4.


archives is never truly complete or finished. dcb’s current site design needs to get mirrored, as does the lince.somnol experiment and the Patio, and I think Devon has a layout to toss me as well. Thankfully, I don’t have to do much restore work on new sites going up on archives because all the assets are intact and together. Usually, it’s just a find-and-replace to make sure assets link to the right places and then a PNG optimize to speed up loading.

As of writing this, archives is slightly over 40GB in size, and that’s only gonna grow. We just got two new people joining the group and I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot of site redesigns over the summer (including one for archives itself, hopefully!), so keep watching the space. When stuff goes up on there, I’ll be sure to update my Blips about it, hint hint.

There was a lot on archives I wanted to link in this post, but this is really just meant as a sampler. Go forth and browse through; if you remember us from years past, it’ll be a nice trip down memory lane, and if you don’t, you get to see how we were back then and how we’ve morphed into the adults we are now. That’s the true beauty of archives: it lets us revisit it all and see what we got away from, what suited us, what made us happy when we’re not really sure where next to go. As always, we look into the past for the future. That’s just being Somnolescent.

About bulb

Group posts, recaps, and things we all contributed to. Hopefully, our hum-to-English translation is intelligible enough.

2 comments on "Five Neat Things From the Somnolescent Archives"

  • dcb says:

    Always always welcomed! It makes me really fuzzy to see our old sites. Getting you the files I had for my old Neocities was really overdue, but I’m glad to have gotten around to it. Giving that chapter its much deserved peaceful rest.
    More site stuff to come in the future with its spirit, of course 🙂

  • dcb says:

    Nooo wordpress converted the silly emoticon it’s over

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