Koalition Server Archeology — Part I

A seemingly tedious task of cleaning the server turned into a nostalgic journey into Koalition history. A museum of digital projects from a past long gone was uncovered. Some of this work is over 70 years old in dog years.I even had to install Flash.

We try to limit meetings here at Koalition, but we do love our regular Monday summits. So it was with great dread that we had to move this to a Tuesday because of Labor Day. A very ironic holiday since no one seems to work at all. We still called it our Monday meeting to avoid any confusion and went through our agenda for the upcoming week.

Laust, our brilliant front-ender and latest addition to the team, kicks off the meeting by pointing out that our server resembles day three of the Roskilde rock festival. Laust is militantly organized and you could almost hear his peaking OCD through the scratchy Skype connection.

I must have signed up for our hosting back in 2004 which means we were potentially looking at over a decade of abuse.

Koalition co-founder Colman suggested we simply close the account and run for it. Like taking your unwanted puppy out it the desert and speeding away. Since I like puppies and we had a few live staging sites I took on the thankless task of cleaning the server.

Cleaning

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. This book had mysteriously appeared on my Kindle just the week before. I suspected that was a not so subtle hint from my wife. I reluctantly started reading and got more and more fascinated. Not only did it have the longest book title ever, but also some really interesting points. This “art” of organizing your things and learning to throw stuff out could really improve life quality. I immediately disposed pants, socks, phone bills, the complete Flash Bible collection (except the Flash 5 Bible which I contributed to with a tutorial), ancient invoices, spoons, way too abstract polaroids, prehistoric conference badges, iPods, USB cables, t-shirts and everything else within reach. After the purge was over and the dust had settled, I realized that a lot of Kondos ideas could and should be ported over to my digital life.

I took a sip of my triple shot La Colombe Latte, pulled up my sleeves and logged onto our server.

It Begins

I opened the root folder and peaked inside with the same enthusiasm as checking the cupboard for weird crawly sounds. I immediately realized that this was going to be a pretty hefty task. Scrolling down seemed to go on forever through a sea of every filetype ever known to man (or woman). This mess was created before DropBox, Droplr, Google Drive and similar conveniences were invented. We take sharing files for granted today. Pre-cloud, if you wanted to share a style-guide with a client or send vacation photos to your grandma you would zip it, throw it up on your FTP and email a download link. Your email client was no help here, and would yell at you if you had an attachment beyond that 0.01k threshold.

Anyway, the funny thing with the human monkey brain is that when it comes to tasks we are not completely keen on doing (like cleaning) you start to create diversions. You get extremely easily and conveniently distracted. I know I had promised to clean this within a few days. But I kept finding stuff I had to play with. In a folder curiously named “test” I found a little car that could drive whenever you talked into the microphone. Made in pure javascript. I must have played with this until my vocal chords gave up and I thereby ran out of fuel.

Every remaining intention of organizing the server came to a complete and utter stop when I reached a folder named /dev/.

The Dev Folder

I was suddenly energized by curiosity. I felt like an archaeologist uncovering a lost Mayan village. What had seemed like a painful cleaning job, now looked like it would be an nostalgic journey into Koalition history. A museum of digital projects from a past long gone. Some of this work was 70 years old in dog years. I even had to install Flash.

Flash, lots of Flash

Koalition started primarily crafting Flash sites. But then, most studios did back in the day. There were no iPhones for Flash NOT to work on. We were really fortunate to be involved with the film business. And it’s a niche we still enjoy today with the likes of phosphenefx.com and part2pictures.com. The great thing about this industry is the content available. You usually get access to great motion content, design assets and still shots.

One of our first launches was for “Terror Inside,” a horror movie where some very unlucky townspeople fall victim to a primordial gooey virus that reverses pain and pleasure. So basically, if someone chopped your left arm off you would feel pleasure instead of pain. If you rode the A subway train during rush hour you would experience pure joy instead of groping agony. If you never heard of that movie, then don’t feel bad. It never had its theatrical debut, but it did star Corey Feldman, and that was reason enough for us to do it!

“Brooklyn Rules” was another film site we did. It starred Alec Baldwin and Freddie Prinze Junior. It was not a box-office hit to say it mildly. But we simply could not pass on the opportunity to make a preloader out of the Brooklyn bridge. And hey, we started Koalition in a studio apartment in Brooklyn so we had to do it!

“Restrepo” was one of the more successful films we created the online presence for. It is an amazing documentary about the Afghanistan war, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington. It’s a movie that really puts the horror of war on display, and I can only have utmost respect for these guys that risk their life and limbs to document this.

It is interesting to see the design trend with these early sites. Responsive was a town in Kazakhstan for designers. We were all stuck with Nokia flip-phones so I guess the demand just wasn’t there. These sites usually had a dynamic fullscreen background, but everything else was pretty much boxed in. Text was small, and in a box with tiny scrollbars. Videos were also in claustrophobic inducing confinements. Bandwidth did of course have something to do with this, since streaming was a bit complicated and Vimeo was not around to solve this for you.

There were some incredibly creative and innovative things being built with Flash. In the end, it was properly mostly us designers and coders that had all the fun, and the users suffered because of lack of web standards and proper UX. These sites are pretty far away from the solutions we ship today. There is a lot more focus on result oriented content, user experience and hitting your KPI’s. And rightly so.

Responsiveness has been a standard for a while just as video is now fullscreen and text is actually readable. The “George of The Jungle” flash site for Cartoon Network was an exemption though. We re-created a responsive jungle that George could call home. Trees, bushes and leaves would realign as you resize the browser. Oh yeah, we were ahead of the times indeed.

Looking through all these ancient sites one thing that popped in my eyes was the complete absence of any links or integration of social media! No Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter. It was time to dig up our social media projects and investigate further.

The early days of Social

Social Media was still in its infancy at the time we created an Instagram aggregator for Stuart Weitzman. Social had already changed people’s habits. Instagram was, and still is, one of our favorite social media channels. The filters they introduced were groundbreaking. You could put a photo of a log of wood on your feed and it would instantly look amazing!

Stuart Weitzman saw an opportunity in the selfie culture. It was a way to have “normal” people wearing their products and using that for marketing purposes. We thought this was a fairly straightforward thing to develop. You could harvest feeds for a specific hashtag and load the images in a nice grid. Done! But of course, few things in our world are that easy. We quickly realized that someone could hashtag a photo of himself wearing nothing but socks while displaying a rude hand gesture, offensive things that a luxury shoe company would rather avoid. We eventually had to extend the scope to include a custom content management system so some poor intern could weed out people wearing only socks.

As we all know, Facebook eventually ended up buying Instagram. People’s web habits had begun to change. Regular web surfing was switched out with primarily using Facebook. Bloggers were getting more traffic because content was becoming king. People were starting to skip the Flash intros.

One of the first Facebook campaigns we did was a cooperation between Visit Sweden and Volvo. Volvo’s Overseas Delivery service is a pretty nifty program where you can go to the factory in Gothenburg, Sweden and pick up your car yourself. You can then drop off the car after your have had your way with it for 15 days, and they’ll ship it to your US address. You get to eat crawfish AND a get car at the same time. Pretty sweet. To do this promotion, we needed original content and started hiring established travel bloggers to help us out. We prepared travel itineraries, rented some Volvos and sent these bloggers on their way around West Sweden. It was an oddly analog experience to suddenly manage writers, book hotels and make sure they posted on our Facebook page. But their followers became Visit Sweden’s followers and their “fans” (or likes as it is today) ballooned. The mission was accomplished.

OK, back to business. I was supposed to be tidying up this server…. But what is that file here with an obscure .ipa extension from 2011? We will have to investigate more in Part II.

Stay tuned and I hope you have enjoyed the voyage so far.


If you have comments, questions or just want to say hello email us at info@koalition.com