Filmmaker Wishart and reporter Bochsler throw light on the Internet’s evolution from fertile idea to commercial juggernaut as they look at a David-vs.-Goliath domain-name fight.
In the early 1990s, a renegade group of artists in Europe launched an Internet site called etoy (the name was essentially pulled from a hat) to satirize the dot.com frenzy, a conceptual art project that spoke to the times and encouraged an anarchistic, altruistic, corporation-free Internet. The aim was “to turn on its head the behavior of big-brand corporations that ‘steal’ the cool rebel music and the elan of street fashion” and to provide a “parallel world somewhere in between Lego land, Internet training camp, virtual fairground, hypermedia test ground, sound and vision dump and Internet motel” that would also make forays into the forbidden—“pornography, violence and drug use”—in its critique of middle-class righteousness. On the other side was eToys.com, interested only in making lots of money selling toys online. The authors track the story of both sites as they explore the seamy world of domain-name control, deliver an astute history of search engines, and try to make sense of just what investors were thinking when they valued companies at such grossly inflated stock prices. They wear their convictions on their sleeves when they suggest—with data to back it up—that Internet users collectively turned against eToys when eToys turned predatory on etoy because it thought the latter, with its near-identical name, would besmirch the former’s squeaky clean, family-oriented reputation. The artists of etoy also had their own fallings-out, but not before having a lot of fun with digital hijacking, subversive art, and a rousing campaign for the democratic integrity of the Internet.
The freedom and inclusivity of the Internet still has life, write Wishart and Bochsler, even as its economic side makes seismic shifts. (Photographs)