SHORT VERSION: A number of us here on G&T used to run a site called Observation Dome. Having been offline for over ten years, I’ve finally restored a backup and it’s now back. Never to be updated again… but as an archive, and a record of a certain time in Dwarf fandom.
LONG VERSION: Read on.
Back in 2004, G&T wasn’t the joyous group effort it is today. Instead, a certain Mr. J. Hoare and Mr. I. Symes ruled over all, like a couple of malevolent dictators. But even that didn’t stop the site’s community thriving, and a few other fansites sprung up as part of a new wave of Dwarf fandom. (Exactly like the French New Wave movement, but more important.) Sites like Jonathan Capps’s The White Hole and Seb Patrick’s Fuchal were launched. Even more worryingly, friendships were being formed.
I had an odd idea.
Maybe it was a stupid idea. But we did it anyway.
* * *
The result – yes, called Observation Dome, a name which me and Ian both came up with independently at the same time to the minute – was an awful lot of fun. We often had multiple posts a day, with topics ranging from whether “Does mouse shit roll?” is a Dwarfy line, to how to introduce your partner to the show, to some old nonsense about Chicken McNuggets. Some things were a few paragraphs long, others were just a single line, but the site felt alive. Looking back at those archives, it often feels like Twitter before Twitter.
And the height of all this was the VII fan film competition. In January 2005 the competition was announced, and the OD team decided to enter as a group; in June 2005, it was announced we were one of the winners; in November 2005, the VII DVD was released, with our winning fan film on it: The Movie: Yeah, No, Yeah, No. Whatever else I achieve in my life, this will always be one of the most fun things I’ve ever been part of, and I think the same goes for all of us.
It couldn’t last.
* * *
In 2006, things came to a head. We all began to have a few too many things going on in our lives – hey, we’d launched another brand new site together the previous year – and updates on all our sites suffered. Even worse, the distinction between OD as a group site, and all our individual sites seemed to be getting ever-more blurred.
I found myself sending the below email. An email I never thought I’d write.
We went for it.
* * *
The final days of Observation Dome were mired in a little unpleasantness, and I don’t plan to go into all of that here. Suffice to say that we combined Observation Dome’s archives into G&T – a little roughly, it has to be said – but sadly, lost control of the observationdome.org domain, due to a bit of a tiff with one member of the group. No matter. We ploughed on with running Ganymede & Titan as a group, and ended up producing some of the best stuff the site has ever done. It’s difficult to feel too bad about how things turned out.
But I’ve always had a bit of a regret that OD as it was just… fell offline. And now I’m writing stuff about the history of the web – especially when it comes to pieces like this – the sheer weight of my own hypocrisy just got a little too much. Combined with the observationdome.org domain becoming available again, and a plan began to form in my mind. Could I actually rescue a piece of Dwarf fan history – however small it might be in the grand scheme of things?
A quick boot up of my ancient Mac Mini, and I came across a file labelled backup-observationdome.org-7-31-2006.tar. And some quick server config, and some rather more painstaking restoration later… she lives.
* * *
Ah, but “restoration” sounds a little suspicious, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, there are no missing ray gun effects or anything. But some things just needed a little rebuilding here and there. For instance: all those feeds on the front page relied on scripts which weren’t accurately working any more. I had to manually rebuild those, guessing what the stories would have been back in July ’06.
I’ve also taken the decision to convert most of the links to various sites on the front page to Wayback Machine links, to approximate how those sites would have looked 10 years ago. There are also some missing graphics recreated here and there (for instance, I had to create all thumbnails for the TM:YNYN gallery again from scratch), and I’ve added a little disclaimer to the top-right page. All the links to various TM:YNYN extras are now pointing at files hosted on G&T, rather than leaving them as dead links. Sadly, the Wiki hasn’t returned – I have a backup here, but to restore it would take longer to do than I can currently justify, especially to do it safely. But most of the site is exactly as it was just before it was pulled offline. You can finally see the TM:YNYN gallery again for the first time in ten years!
Unfortunately, the comments for the first couple of months of the site are gone forever, due to a ridiculous mistake I made back in 2005. Luckily, that doesn’t include the single best comment thread on the whole internet.
So there you go. A little piece of the web, restored… mostly. And a stupendous moment in our own personal history is back from the dead. We’ll never update it again, but browsing it will hopefully bring back some fond memories for some of you. It certainly does for me.
Now, when is Red Dwarf World coming back?