- Editor’s Introduction
This journal does not usually run editor’s introductions, but with this issue it enters a new phase of its existence, and that new phase deserves some comment. For more than three years, Postmodern Culture has been publishing peer-reviewed critical and creative work in a text-only format that accommodates electronic mail: we will continue to publish in that format, but beginning with this January, 1994 issue, we will also publish each new issue (and provide all back issues) through the World-Wide Web. Regular subscribers of the journal will also note that this is the first issue ever to be published late: unfortunately, producing two versions of each file and setting up templates for article and issue design proved more time-consuming than anticipated. That it came out at all is due in large part to the efforts of the guest editors, Scott Allen and Stephen Bernstein for the DeLillo cluster and Tan Lin for the poetry cluster—and no less to Jim English, the review editor, and the editorial staff, Jonathan Beasley, Chris Barrett, Amy Sexton, and Jason Haynes.
What’s the Web?
The World-Wide Web may already be familiar to some of our readers, since its use is growing faster even than the internet itself, but many others will not yet have discovered it and may welcome some background information. The World-Wide Web is a client-server system for providing integrated text, graphics, sound, and video over the internet. The most important feature of the Web, though, is its ability to link files to one another in a hypertextual structure: in fact, it has the capability of turning the entire internet into one hypertextual web.
The Web has been around for a couple of years, making it older than gopher, the more well-known client-server program that currently underlies (for example) many campus- wide information systems. At the moment, Web traffic is growing much faster than gopher traffic—341,634% per year vs. a mere 997% per year, according to one estimate1 —but its relatively slow start was due in part to the lack of an adequate client program. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Champaign- Urbana, has filled that void with Mosaic, an excellent, free, mouse-oriented client for the Web. Mosaic clients are available for Macintosh, Windows, RS6000, DEC, and Sun computers (by anonymous ftp from ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu). The entry-level equipment for using these clients might be, for example, a 386 with a VGA monitor and an ethernet card— equipment that costs under $1000 at this point. In fact, the nature of one’s connection to the internet is more likely to be an obstacle than is the nature of one’s equipment: since using the Web involves transmitting sizable files (graphics, sound, etc.), the transmission speeds of an ethernet connection are required for satisfactory performance. It’s possible to cruise the Web over your modem, with an additional layer of SLIP software, but this is agonizingly slow and can be absurdly difficult to set up.
Since June of 1993, the World-Wide Web has been growing at a rate faster than one new server a day. In June, there were 100 sites; in November, there were 270 sites; in December, there were 623 sites (according to Matthew Gray of MIT, author of the WWW Wanderer, a program that follows links from one server to another, to determine the extent of the web). These estimates are certain to be low, but they give an idea of the curve. At present, something on the order of a quarter of a million documents are provided over the Web; the increase in use of Web clients is on the order of 2000% a month. In other words, while it is not clear how well all this will scale up, it is clear that we’ll find out the answer to that question very soon. The Web has its shortcomings (for example, its hypertext pointers refer to literal file- and path-names, making it easy for someone on one system to set up a pointer to a file on another system...