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“A comprehensive critical guide to the web would be possible only if the critic had seen all the existing websites, which is a qualification nobody sane can any longer possess. Probably there were only a few weeks, in at the birth of the new form, when a comprehensive critical guide was even remotely possible. But to provide a consistent critical guide — steady in its principles although necessarily incomplete — is surely a possible aim. Among the sites he visits, for whatever purpose, the critic is bound to decide that some are more worthwhile than most. In judging what is worthwhile, he employs his viewpoint. The best websites are already doing the same. Unlike a blog, which is mainly mere opinion, and unlike most websites, which are mainly information, a substantial website is presenting a view of reality. To assess various views of reality, and say how he thinks they accord with the real reality — with liberal realism — is the work of the critic. The process might be endlessly complicated but the justification is simple and immediate: this is the work that liberal realism, and only liberal realism, does. This is the impulse that defines liberal realism. There are no illiberal versions of it. What the web has provided is a whole new field of study that threatens to engulf all the others in its magnitude, but essentially this new field of study merely arranges and accelerates the fields of study that were already there. Nobody yet has been born into the web. We come to it from the outside, and our knowledge of where we came from determines where and how we search. Still too new to it all to have become blasé, I continue to be bowled over at what I find on the end of a single click. The first links at the left of this paragraph provide a small start to what could become a long list, if only I get time.”

Archive Editor's Note

Alas, Clive never did get the time. Perhaps the quest was in any case a greater one than he could have sustained in any number of lifetimes. The information space was already well into its inflationary period when Clive initiated his Website, long before he wrote the above words, and the exponentially accelerating gradient of its growth curve shows no sign yet of levelling off. Any one person's intellect can assimilate only a diminishingly small part of the matter that space contains, and to go further might seem futile to try. We can grab a strand that catches our fancy and pursue it only a little way along its branching path into that multidimensional chaotic cosmos, until it reaches a dead end, or we take a different turn. And as that cosmos has evolved, those dimensions have assumed new weightings: no longer is the Website the basic unit of information. Its apparent permanence has been eroded not only by the transience of social media various, and by the pressures of Internet commerce (an oxymoron indeed when the Web was born); but by the concept of blogging (I'll forgive some bloggers) and the dominance of the mobile device, whose users have come to expect their information to come packaged in neat one-sentence-per-paragraph blocks that can be considered for a few seconds and then dismissed forever. To find something amongst all that that justifies Clive’s heroic quest and manifests the liberal realism he sought, and then to discover it has vanished without trace, would be a disappointment hard to bear.

I shall not attempt to continue Clive’s initiative here, but I present, in the menu at left, those of his ‘picks’ or ‘Web finds’ that have survived for us to look at, as of late September 2020.

— S J Birkill