I was going to give this post a much more serious and important name (I also wasn’t going to illustrate it with only homestarrunner images, but oh well), but I was thinking about the things that got me riled up this semester and I came back to Dappert and Farquhar bagging on significant properties with a vengeance. While I have made my peace with their point of view and the context in which they wrote their article – the phrase and its connotations were becoming cumbersome and antiquated – I still see a value in preserving the idea of stating clearly why something is important and what about that object must be maintained in order to show that it is rendering successfully. For my field study at the Smithsonian Libraries, I’ve been curating digital images and one of the new metadata fields is the “Short Description.” Having the Short Description ensures that no matter how many times the image is migrated, through how many file types, the most significant property is that it displays this particular image. What makes the digital object valuable is that it performs it’s functions; so without proof that it is in fact doing that thing, what good is it? A dead file is for most people less useful that the description of what it was when it was working.


What’s been really engaging has been the swirling vortex of how things grow from here. While the images I worked with at the SIL were very simple digital objects, more complex digital objects respond to unique preservation needs in a sort of three dimensional space where their needs are relationally defined as sometimes being very similar to simple objects and easy to meet and sometimes extraordinarily complicated and as the preservation expert you’re kind of left guessing and going “let’s screen-cap it and make a hard copy.” And while I could definitely see this as being an argument against the original model of the significant property, I see it as making the process of writing out those properties even more important. Complexity isn’t a bad thing, but as conservation moves out of the super-specialized labs and into the everyday service centers, being able to talk about what it is that makes a work unique and what it was supposed to do when the platform that ran it has been surpassed is important.


What I didn’t know at the start of the course was how expansive the definition of digital art could be. The myriad topics we’ve covered have been eye-opening and have illuminated to me just how narrow my experience of the digital world has been so far. But it makes me wonder if everyone has the same experience of digital culture: we all have our little slice of the internet and it undulates as it is acted upon by recommendations and as time allows, but with a finite amount of time and a potentially infinite amount of digital content, there is no way anyone can know the whole internet – hence sites like Know Your Meme.


One of the big questions still remaining to me is, when the large institutions – aside from Library of Congress which is having massive digital collections thrust on it because it is the last resort for many things no one else can handle – are only just beginning to deal with digital art and only in very small quantities, how can we encourage small institutions to engage? Not colleges, which are more likely to push boundaries and not digitize current collections, but how do we encourage small, single-staff services toward these endeavors and how do we best support them? I feel like if my Homestar Runner project proved anything it’s that if you love a thing, there are going to be other people on the internet who love it too and surely, if we’re curating digital content, we should be able to better leverage the amazing resources of the internet, the NYPL menu and the Old Weather transcription projects and Citizen Science.HRA4

Homestar Runner Archive AIP

IntroductionMountains Photo

Since my core content is already well preserved on the Internet Archive, YouTube, and the original site, since the contextualizing information has been meticulously captured by dedicated fans and posted to the HR Wiki, and since the community remains active through the Homestar subreddit, doing the actual preservation work was in the end highly redundant. The work has been done and well. So instead, here is the intellectual exercise of how to organize the data were it to be captured and preserved by a different kind of organization: a major research university.

While the argument has been made for preservation by original order, homestarrunner.com is organized in categories and then largely chronologically, but not purely so. The content here is organized to reflect as closely as possible the organization of the content as it appeared on the site (with major groups first and then release order) while still making it easy to navigate for novices and scholars. In addition I’ve broken out the content of the creative and auxiliary content discussed below.


Archive Organization

Part 1: Administrative Data

The first part of the Archive is the Administrative Data organized under the ReadeMe folder. This folder contains the information that captures intellectual control of the materials contained in parts 2-4 of the collection.

The files in this section include:HRA2

Parts 2 & 3: Content

Sections Two and Three house the creative content of the Homestar Runner Archive.

Part 2: Primary Content. This folder includes the featured content from homestarrunner.com, the areas of the site that were updated most often, featured most heavily, or most often seen by new fans:


Each of the individual folders for a primary video contains both a master copy of the video as well as a data file (to accompany the imbedded metadata). The Master Video file will be the best available copy of the most recent and accessible version, the least compressed; in short, the version from which future migrations should be made. The Data File will contain up-to-date curated content from the HR Wiki, plus additional information as relevant for each file. The Data Files will contain transcripts, references, links, Easter egg lists, and routing. For example, Teen Girl Squad #1 is actually a Strong Bad Email, so instead of duplicating the content, the folder for TGS #1 will route to the appropriate SBE folder.

HRA4Part 3: Secondary Content. Everything else. This folder contains everything else produced for the site.

Like the Primary content, this will consist mostly of master copies of AV content, such as the website homepages or music videos, and the associated data files. However, it also includes free downloads, collaborative materials, the live-action puppet videos, and merchandise lists to help collectors track licensed products.


Part 4: Auxiliary Materials

Section Four comprises materials relevant to a full understanding of the Homestar Runner Archive, but not a part of the creative content.




Next Steps

With the content so well preserved in so many locations, the next logical steps for a research institution interested in the not only the social impact but the research potential of this collection would be to make overtures to the creators to see what interest exists in the preservation of the creating tools, what oral histories could be captured about the creation and creative process, and what original media still remains that might bolster a digital collection for the edification of future generations.

The Eternal Now: Digital Folk Art and Mass Culture

Trevor Blank said to kick off his interview,

Contrary to popular belief, folklore is just as much, if not more, of an agent of the present as it is of the past.

To extrapolate from Blank where folk-activities are self-defining factor for inclusion: where each may see him or herself in a bigger us. If the us is no longer defined easily along simple geographic terms, but through a broad digital landscape, then the larger “Us” requires a different kind of preservation, a different kind of museum, and builds a different kind of heritage.

Your tribe @micahannepark:

Examining the breakdown of Zombie-infested Flickr (outside of a half-formed argument about the prevalence of zombies on the site because they have fewer lighting concerns) let us consider the idea, as Blank described it, of folk activities as the agent of the present. Owens (or Original Trevor) describes the zombies in his Flickr sample as being “literal” and immediate. The crafts, costumes, and vigs displayed were all recent, the events all happening now. Like traditional folk arts and activities, the zombie aesthetic helps people to connect to a particular umwelt.


The fan art video sought to explain how the participatory element of the fan community takes something beloved and wants to be a part of it, highlighting Sherlock fan art as some of the most out there. A Pinterest pin I saw a few weeks brought up the claim that the first fan fictions were written by fans of the original Sherlock Holmes in the 1930s – the veracity of this claim completely unsupported –

Peer review or it didn't happen! #science:

what was instructive from the PBS video was hearing how the creators of Adventure Time, upon allowing one of their artists to engage with their fan base on a transformative project, subsequently creating their most watched episode with gender-bent characters. The video on viral videos last week, though never mentioning the Vlog Brothers, did show them repeatedly and I would take a moment to point out that one of the keys to the success of the Vlog Brothers has been their decision to go above and beyond general acceptance of fan interest – they share fan art on their videos regularly and their webstore commercializes and profit shares fan made art with their entire community and beyond. As new artists come to prominence, the material rotates, embracing the now and keeping people interested. 

Fraimow’s article addresses the now and then of fan video as an archival object requiring a different kind of preservation than the merch being sold or the crafts being so lovingly created. Falling outside the traditional accession methodologies and collecting remits of most institutions transformative media is heavily ingrained in the ideas of right now: what has captured our attention this second, what’s going on, what’s available? Which naturally puts the materials created in direct competition with their sources – hence, I suspect, of the source material owners demanding the transformative works be taken down whether or not they have a right to do so. However, the solution being worked on by key supporters of fan work that Fraimow relates at the end of her article is as problematic as the difficulties it is attempting to solve. The proposal is a Dark Archive where all the fan videos can go live and be safe from evil corporate takedown notices, but if the point is preservation for the sake of access, then perhaps I’m missing some hip new meaning of the phrase “dark archive.” If the archive was truly dark, then why bother submitting material to it if the point of creation is to share? Who would have access? Would it be account based? How would non-creators discover new content if all the content was restricted access? Who would be responsible for this work? What funding would support the project if the same companies with their take down notices demanded access to the archive?

Johnson’s discussion of the standardization of fanfiction sites brings up several interesting points, but the one most relevant to this post is how, as fan fiction becomes more and more standardized, more and more recognized and trafficked, more accessible and searchable, more accepted and acceptable, it also begins to self-censor. Johnson describes how Fanfiction.net, a top repository for all things Slash (and the one with the best metadata schema) self-imposed a maximum posting limit of M on all content. We can assume that the appetite for the NC-17 material has not evaporated as the overarching genre has become more socially acceptable, so shall we for the sake of argument also assume that the fringe content has once again shifted venues? And if it is not with its “mainstream” compatriots, where has it gone, how deeply ingrained in this particular subculture do you have to be to find the really fringe material?

To return to traditional art, Perkel states that,

creating knowledge of how the web works is not just an outcome of using the web or theorizing about it. It is a part of what is helping to produce the web in practice…

So according to Perkel, by using, we create; our now is the advent of our cultural heritage – to return to Blank, folklore is now.


Which brings us to Espenschied. Throughout his interview, nuggets of policy wisdom are scattered and two elements in particular highlight the problematic nature of now: the “flimsy” nature of digital culture and the changing story of history. The latter, as Espenschied discusses, is based on the problem faced by preservation frameworks built on the idea of a single creator (generally a white man) doing a thing that is succeeded by someone else (of similar phenotype and gender) doing a related thing. Digital culture is distinctly more diverse and decidedly more collaborative. The former, as was pointed out in class last week, needs only to look to fan-made content to see just how not forever the internet is. Moreover, the rapid development of internet culture, language, and trends compounds vulnerable materiality with quickly forgotten context.

Preserving Homestar

Warning: There is a Spoiler in this Post.


Statement of Intent

           It is the intent of this project to keep Homestar Runner safe. As one of the contributors to the Internet Archive commented when he/she uploaded a large quantity of HR .swf files, the hiatus was making him/her paranoid and he/she just wanted the files to be safe (see below; sorry about the quality). Homestar Runner is good clean fun, it swept the nation and beyond. Its absurdity was also its access point. It sustained on fan support alone. And so I intend to preserve it in the same way: keeping it safe, keeping it accessible, and keeping the fans involved. It is intended to be open and amenable for as long as there is new material to be added.


Content and Priorities

           The files released by the Brothers Chaps in the Homestar Runner Website are not confined to simply the Flash-born .swf files or html5 files, but include numerous other file types for the multitudes of content they produced. While it is important to the project to capture all of the content of the site, it must be recognized that the releases fall into two main categories: core narrative content and auxiliary materials.  

           While the project will seek to maintain all the releases, the core narrative content will receive top priority. Auxiliary materials such as downloads, games and merchandise specs, while interesting, must be prioritized as secondary to the core narrative content.

           The content of it site is extremely well preserved and has extensive contextualizing information created by fans. Failing to gain access to additional original materials from the creators, capturing these are the top two priorities for the project. The third priority is to try to capture how the site captured the world’s attention and spread before social media.

           It is also a priority – though I initially saw it as the death of the project – to keep the fans involved. The same fans that have kept interest alive for fifteen plus years and bought the merchandise to keep the site running are the same fans who have curated such a thorough wiki that it will form the core of the contextualizing data in the next section. Preserving the content for these fans and then discounting their curatorial efforts would be arrogant – they are the experts on the subject of Homestar Runner, all we need to do is filter it into the world of GLAM.

Fan-created wiki.

Content Capture

           Since we have prioritized the core narrative content as the files that must be saved and contextualized before the other auxiliary content, the first step would be to encapsulate as best as possible a Flash emulation bubble (like the WayBack Machine does now) that could render the original content in its original format without requiring the casual viewer to download outdated software. This would moreover allow all the hidden content to remain valid when subsequent interfaces, such as DVD players, render it unreachable.

           With the Death of Flash and the sites recognition and migration to HTML5, the creator’s established a directive of migration. Following this directive and wishing to continue the trend of non-proprietary migration for maximum accessibility, the content should be migrated through a Content Management System, ShareStream in particular was recommended because it can handle the additional content below.

           The importance of the Homestar Runner collection cannot be underestimated. Huge amounts of curation have already been accomplished by volunteers on the Homestar Wiki and this content should not be discounted. Just as the site itself grew organically, this content was created over the course of years by dedicated fans. This content includes detailed transcripts of both the original content and the DVD commentaries, any Easter Eggs and how to activate them, copious lists annotating trivia, glitches, internal and external references, as well as how the DVDs differ from the original online content. Having examined a few of the transcripts, the thoroughness is more than adequate for inclusion in a professional setting. Updates and spiffing up could be done on a case by case basis, as time allowed or changes deemed it necessary.

           By using ShareStream’s features, content can be locked for licencing purposes, transcripts can be synced with video, and it produces standardized output, simplifying content migration moving forward, a must for content of long-term value. Combining in a single CMS the video, metadata, and robust contextualizing information will create not only an academic resource, but a user-developed time capsule of what was feeding into the creation of each video and where each is referenced in the larger world.


Content Creation

           As the bulk of the content to capture already exists, much of the work will be to migrate and merge it into a single interface, standardizing inconsistencies where necessary. Moreover, each of the videos in the core content would need to be catalogued separately for the purposed of future academic research so that searches and filtering could be easily accomplished based on specific needs.  

           As new content is released – which according to one half of the Brothers Chaps is likely, though intermittently – the system should be open to allow for new additions in both core narrative content, auxiliary materials, and contextualizing content.

           For any of the auxiliary materials that are known to be in particularly vulnerable file formats, an alternative format should be immediately sought or a video and written description of the item created and archived in its place.

           To meet the third priority of the project, a data collection form will have to be created and, like many things on the internet, it will have to run on the honor system. I have chosen to call this part of the project the Leotard-Postcard project because it combines two aspects of the Strong Bad emails: postcards from his vacation email and the weapon of mass destruction that will wipe out the zombies from the funeral email. Unlike the HRwiki, it cannot be re-edited once incorrect information has been submitted. To chart the spread of Homestar Runner, the Leotard-Postcard project will be a form similar to Where’s George, the dollar bill tracking website. Linking from the HR archive, interested fans can share information about how they heard about HomestarRunner: where they lived, in what year, and how they heard. This will track the spread of the site like the zombie virus that Strong Bad inevitably contracts.


The Preservation Plan

  1. Acquire ShareStream license and dedicated server space to host content at Internet Archives
  2. Run Homestar Runner content from WayBack Machine through ShareStream interface to pull standardized files.
  3. Develop a file structure to mimic the homepage of Homestar Runner so that navigation of the content is as close to the original as possible – should the original site and the WayBack machine sites have both failed.
  4. Copy and paste data from HR wiki into individual video file catalog records bespoke metadata fields.
  5. Link to additional content
    1. The Original Site & Store
    2. The WayBack Machine
    3. Leotard-Postcard Project
    4. THe HR Wiki
    5. HR Reddit 

HomestarRunner: Still DotCom

A Statement of Significance

Homestar Runner


The story of homestarrunner.com and the story on homestarrunner.com are both delightfully innocent. The former is a charming tale of a couple of Georgia college buddies caught up in the 1996 Olympic fever, drawing kids books, and imitating local tv commercials before ever going near a computer that became about two brothers sticking to their guns. The latter, as encapsulated in the website’s intro, is the tale of an earnest, energetic, if often missing the mark hero in primary colors, and his sarcastic character foil. These would-be archetypes are surrounded by a supporting cast endearing in their eccentricities – loyalties and rivalries abound, speech impediments and character flaws.


The World of HomeStar

Strong Bad

The site featured cartoons with a regular cast: armless Homestar, his equally armless, guitar-playing sometimes girlfriend Marzipan, globular best friend PomPom, hip-hop loving Coach Z, concession stand-running Bubbs, the gluttonous King of Town, the exactly what it sounds like Poopsmith, and finally the aptly named Strong Sad, Strong Mad, and Strong Bad with his sidekick the Cheat.

The cartoons featured this main cast heavily and were generally stand alone. The site featured games and downloadable content like desktop wallpapers and sound effects to customize your AOL Instant Messenger. But, as the into pointed out, the site’s break away hit was the Strong Bad Emails. In this segment, fans could email the character and the character would pick emails to respond to – sort of. Early favorites like “Theme Party” had the sender asking for theme suggestions for a frat party and Strong Bad suggesting that the theme of the party be “Frat Party.” Part of the fun was how far off topic the email would diverge, how ludicrous it would become. From this meandering came Trogdor the Burninator (fun fact, Google Docs, corrected my misspelling of Burninator because Google knows what’s up), Strong Bad Techno, and Teen Girl Squad, which became an independent feature on the site. In addition to its own internal world of jokes, characters, and plot devices, the site heavily featured pop culture references from the 70s-90s, especially in the form of the annual Halloween costumes.

Halloween 2015 Back Row: PomPom, the Poopsmith, the King of Town, Strong Mad Middle Row: Bubbs, Strong Sad Front Row: Homsar, the Cheat, Strong Bad, Homestar, Marzipan, and Coach Z

The Intended

From 2000 to 2009, homestarrunner.com was a regulrary maintained website. The site never advertised, nor took in advertising; supporting itself through merchandise sales and expanding solely by word of mouth largely before the explosion of social media. The key audience was high school and college students ten years ago, the members of generation nostalgia;  group for whom the integration of the 70s-90s pop culture references would resonate most clearly with their own life experiences.  As with the preservation of other popular cultural icons, homestarrunner.com would be a valuable candidate for preservation because it spread so far without being dictated to the people who liked it by a network or publisher like other mass media. It was not created through a marketing machine, but by a couple of guys making what they thought was funny.

This is one of the great equalizers of the internet and the entire basis of YouTube – that anyone can put their content on the web for the whole world to enjoy, the best material will rise to the surface, the creators will be acknowledge and achieve fame and fortune. It is, in a sense, an easy version of the American dream (and it does ignore that there are now multiple television shows dedicated to making fun of the internet like @midnight on Comedy Central).

Nevertheless, the fans who supported the site, who bought enough merchandise to keep the project running for years, are the same fans who are making stained glass windows and keeping a subreddit active, editing a dedicated HR wiki, and following the Twitter feeds. Granted, many of the fans, like the creators, have gone on to focus on other things as their interests had developed, but like any beloved childhood accessory, what it meant at the time is fundamental to the shaping of who we are now.

Above all it is this first group for whom preservation is undertaken because it is for this group that the site was saved from the death of Flash, see more below, and for this group primarily that the site continues to be updated. No less arbitrators of cool than Rolling Stone magazine are on board, promoting the return of the ever innocent Homestar.

The second main group of people interested in the conservation of homestar runner would be internet historians who would be interested in tracking the growth and spread of a social phenomenon before social media. In addition to the site, however, conservation efforts would need to include materials relating to the site’s popularity and spread through the zeitgeist – mentions on mainstream television shows, appearances in other works, and as an early success in internet memes. The meme, the spreadable idea, is more what the site is becoming remembered for already, the snippets that haven’t quite died away – Trogdor especially.

Homestar began its ascent before social media and continued more or less independently of the craze. Those scholars would perhaps be interested in tracking the decline of homestar runner against the social media explosion looking for a corollary between the two; to determine if such word-of-mouth sites were no longer truly sustainable in a post-Facebook world when they should have been infinitely more accessible.

The Cheat. The Cheat is the Best.

The third group of people who would be interested in the preservation of the site would be computer and internet technical preservationists who would be interested in the mechanics of how the site was built and maintained in the Flash animation environment and the subsequent transition away from Flash. The site dealt with the Flash transition in it’s own way, not ignoring that it was dealing with a significant problem and humorously dropping lines of broken code from the sky onto the main characters as the ever-frustrated Strong Bad attempted to explain the horror of the situation of the death of Flash in an entirely Flash-based world to the optimistically-oblivious Homestar. Both tech news outlets the Verge.com and Geek.com ran entire stories on HomestarRunner and the death of Flash.

The final group of people who would be especially interested in the preservation of homestarrunner would be cartoon and television historians who, because of the later work of the creators, the Brother Chaps, on other popular children’s shows such as the highly regarded Gravity Falls and Yo Gabba Gabba. Historians of popular media would be especially interested in capturing this early work to contextualize the later work of two prominent auteurs, however out of the mainstream the early career-making work might have been. 

All the cast that there might have ever been…