what is bitrot?

bitrot is a nebulous umbrella. bitrot is not unique. bitrot is one of many projects encouraging and enabling a richer and more fulfilling digital lifestyle. bitrot advocates for a decentralised, personal, pro-community, not-for-profit internet. bitrot publishes materials that enable anyone to forge their own path on the information superhighway. bitrot extracts the nutrients from digital decay.

why is it called bitrot?

bit rot is digital decay. the technical term refers to when digital files become corrupted due to a variety of physical factors. on most digital storage media, single bits of a binary file will randomly flip from 0 to 1 or from 1 to 0 given enough time. you can read more about this phenomenon on wikipedia.

while bit rot is not desirable, a poetic similarity to the idea can be drawn to two vital processes in nature. the first is decomposition, which is one step of the nutrient cycle. old organic matter must be recycled in a process of decay, in order for the life-giving nutrients within it to become available to new organisms. the second process is mutation, which can happen when DNA becomes corrupted, just like files suffering from bit rot. usually mutation is either benign or harmful, and can cause things like cancer. however, sometimes it is beneficial, and random positive mutations are a key driver of evolution.

many of the issues bitrot hopes (in some small way) to address were not as prevalent in the past. it is the hope of bitrot that the ideas and values of the early internet can be recycled and mutated to help return digital culture to the utopian potential it once had. bitrot does not advocate a return to the past, however the decentralised and diy nature of yesterday's web is needed now more than ever.

what is the ethos behind bitrot?

bitrot draws from many existing movements across multiple fields, without necessarily adhering to them dogmatically. it intends to explore, inform, and entertain. emphasis is placed on decentralisation, self expression, free innovation, collaboration and experimentation.

bitrot advocates for creatives to use tools that are cheap or free, and to share their work on platforms that are resistant to censorship, exploitation and corporate interest. the modern internet is trending towards centralised services and closed source creative tools, both of which endanger artistic expression. when you do not own the tools you use, or the platform on which you publish, you are at the mercy of the whims of megacorporations. this is not a necessary evil; there are a myriad of open source creative tools that can never be locked behind a subscription and taken away from you. centralised social platforms are also unnecesary; it is surprisingly easy and cheap (or free!) to build your own site from scratch, and create a place to express yourself that is entirely your own.

bitrot values diy and punk culture for both aesthetic and philosophical reasons. diy ethic makes arts scenes more equitable and aesthetics more varied. this can be seen in the glasgow scene bitrot operates in; independent club nights run at cheaper venues as passion projects result in much more enjoyable and innovative nights than the big commercial offerings. the most exciting music from the city is being made by bedroom producers sharing their tracks for free or pay-what-you-want on soulseek and bandcamp. community radio operates on a volunteer basis, with scores of DJs pouring countless hours into stations with often single-digit listener numbers simply for the joy of it.

bitrot also emphasises the value of citizen science, especially as it relates to the communities bitrot operates in. many people on the scene engage in activities that are frowned upon by large sections of society: medical gender transition and psychoactive drug use. pushed to the margins by the powers that be, online resources cataloguing observations and data from individuals tends to be the only resource available to people wishing to live their lives safely and well-informed. when these resources operate on platforms like discord or reddit they are liable to be wiped from existence at any time. luckily there are many standalone web sites serving this need that are much more resilient.

bitrot's ethos has similarities to the philosophy of the pirate parties popular across scandinavia. along with organisations like the EFF, they extol the virtues of things like freedom of speech, democracy, freedom of information, and net neutrality. while we can all agree on most of these being good things, the issue of piracy is more interesting. on the surface, downloading somebody's work without paying for it seems like a bad thing. however, talk to any DJ, even one that makes and sells their own music, and soulseek (the modern incarnation of napster or limewire) is probably on their laptop. there's a good chance they put their music on it themself. the reality is that that creator's music being shared freely, whether on a peer-to-peer file sharing network or on a diy radio station, exposes them to far more potential fans. it costs nothing to duplicate an mp3, so it shouldn't cost you anything to download one.

what was so good about the old web anyway/what's wrong with the new web?

the old web consisted largely of homemade websites, written in plain html, css, and javascript. when you clicked "view source", their source code was readable and easy to learn from. anyone could create anything they wanted, and sites had charm from their simplistic diy nature. nowadays, if you want a website, you use a closed source website builder like squarespace or wix. you are restricted to the features they offer you, and the source code is obfuscated beyond readability. web pages still load about as slowly as they did in the past, despite the fact that modern internet speeds are orders of magnitude faster. this is partly thanks to the absurdly inefficient designs of these modern sites, as well as the hordes of trackers that process every measurable element of your internet usage to better extract money from you.

people also just don't really have websites any more. where you used to say "check out my blog", now you say "what's your instagram?". words like "netizen" and "blogosphere" developed to describe this radical new mode of self expression and communication. now language is changing to get around censorship from "the algorithm"; we don't say kill, we say "unalive". online you can't talk about sex, it's "seggs", lest you get shadowbanned. on a website you run yourself, nobody can tell you whether your nipples are female presenting or not. self expression isn't just important from an anti-censorship perspective, but a creative one too. if you are a photographer, the layout, shape, resolution and ordering of your photos is extremely limited if you only have an instagram page. with your own website the possibilities are near-endless.

if your community is a subreddit, or a facebook group, or a wikia instance, and that company decides they don't like you, your community can be destroyed overnight. for communities that host valuable information, this can be devastating. services like discord are attractive for their slick interfaces, but are significantly harder to archive than an old-school forum and are much worse stores of information. if you do decide to set up an independent platform, using a lightweight design is beneficial for multiple reasons. on top of loading quickly, simple sites are cheaper to host. one of the main ways a platform can die these days is a payment processor deciding it doesn't like their content and disabling purchases or donations. therefore, if resiliency is your goal (as it should be if you host any information that deserves longevity) keeping operating costs low is of utmost importance.

to be fair, there are many ways that the new web is better. the modern incarnations of html css and js are more powerful than ever, and the successful proliferation of https (the little padlock most websites have now) has made everyone safer. if we lose the cookie pop-ups, ads, bloated frameworks, and centralised platforms, and return to dedicated diy sites instead of just having an account on some multinational's platform, we'll be one step closer to the digital utopia we were all promised decades ago.

what can I do about all this?

build your own website. browse from a computer, leave your phone in the other room. surf the web; click links, explore. keep bookmarks. make the internet a place you visit, not an endless distraction in your pocket. block ads. use open source software. pirate everything and pay when you want. you'll find yourself giving more of your money to artists, and less of your time to advertisers. participate in your community irl. tell stories about it on your blog.

presumably you're putting your money where your mouth is?

yep, this site is nothing but plain handwritten html and css, with a tiny bit of javascript that makes the webring work. bitrot is a proud supporter of the neocities project, a simple web host that shares bitrot's fondness for the old web. neocities is free to use, but bitrot is on the paid tier both to support the project and in order to use a custom domain.

bitrot zines are printed at home in small quantities and designed with low tech methods. I Will Never Use Adobe Photoshop.

who created bitrot?

bitrot is the creation of ada fuge, aka netgf, a scottish computer programmer, artist, musician, dj, transsexual, researcher, psychonaut, and activist. she is currently heavily involved in subcity radio, a glasgow based community radio station that she is the lead software developer for. during her time at the station, especially during the creation of the subcity.org website, the bitrot concept formulated in her mind. she developed a design taste that takes inspiration from the early web, viewing transparency, openness, and low tech solutions to web dev as highly valuable. this station is also where the bitrot name originated, as an ad hoc radio show run by ada playing a variety of "internet music".