The chronological reading below is a summary of 20 year of social and cultural development in relation to the local technological environment in Turkey since 1990: all entries under Pre-Internet cover the period 1990-1995, the ones under Early Internet cover the period 1995-2005 and Pro-Internet covers 2005-2010.
The first personal computers (PCs) were introduced to the Turkish market in the mid 1980s. Electronic handheld games and personal computers like Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amiga brought the digital games into Turkish households at a time when the only government-operated black & white TV channel TRT was broadcasting in limited hours. The computer art subculture began as copy protected software, and was cracked and distributed via underground channels. The Turkish “demo scene” first appeared during this era. Demos were non-interactive audio-visual presentations that run in real-time on a computer. Coders, musicians, and visual artists formed groups and created intros for cracked software while also trading programs, games, cracks, and demos locally and internationally. The earliest demo group known is Zombie Boys and started in 1988, which then grew into an international group called Bronx in 1991. The underground disk swapping / file sharing activity later continued in early computer networks.
Bulletin board systems
Bulletin board systems (BBSs) started in the early 1990s, enabling a small techno elite to exchange files and send emails in Turkey and abroad. BBS enabled ordinary people to be able to communicate in a way that before had only been possible for governments and big organizations. One of the oldest virtual communities, the San Francisco based WELL, began as a dial-up BBS, and attracted many people around the world. In 1993, the HitNet message network connected BBSs in Turkey, creating a national network of BBSs, just like its international version FidoNet. These early BBS users were the first to engage in networked publications and experienced long-distance collaboration via electronic communication, which then affected the way they worked. The leading Turkish blog network Pilli and the collaborative wiki-like dictionary Eksi Sozluk are some examples, whose founders started network communication in the early days of BBS and later became leading actors of the Internet era.
Early Internet, 1995-2005
Internet usage in Turkey started at a number of academic institutions including the Middle East Technical University, Bilkent University, Ege University, and was followed by other academic and governmental research institutions. The Internet conference “Inet-tr” started in 1995 with Professor Mustafa Akgül's precious efforts. Various topics, from network democracy to e-government, and from online education to internet governance laws, were discussed in an academic context. Practical workshops on setting up web servers and website development were popular among the participants.
ISP and IRC
As of 1997, as the commercial Internet Service Providers (ISP) began to provide Internet access, more homes were able to join the network. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) became highly popular. In fact, Internet cafes both in urban and rural areas were a cheaper short-term alternative to home subscription. They quickly turned into massively multi-player online game rooms.
New media art
By the mid 1990s, the Ankara based political/artistic Körotonomedya collective was among the forerunners of experimental new media and video art in Turkey. Ulus Baker's work within the collective became a major theoretical resource in these fields.
By the late 1990s, effects of economic growth were visible in the cultural sphere. Borusan Kultur Sanat, Proje4L, and Platform art institutions opened with corporate support. These were later followed by Istanbul Modern and the Sabanci Museum, which are mainly focused on modern or contemporary art in Turkey.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s visual communication design and art departments were created one after another at Bilkent University, Istanbul Bilgi University, and Sabanci University. These academic endeavors were formed by professionals from cinema, architecture, contemporary art, advertising, and the computer industry. They had students who came from a variety of studies, from engineering schools to political studies. These students had a much more organized attitude in research, information gathering, analytical thinking and a fine handling of the tools that aid them in their creations. These days were also the forming of digitally literate independent art initiatives Xurban Collective and NOMAD, who had close relationships to the academia.
The Net.art movement was rising between 1994 and 2000 with the involvement of avant-garde artists and writers around the world. This form of art has circumvented the traditional dominance of the gallery and museum system, delivering aesthetic experiences via the net. The idea of Internet as an art medium was being discussed critically on the Nettime email list, in particular with participants from Europe, the Balkans, and Russia, but no participation was recorded from Turkey.
The collaborative dictionary Eksi Sozluk started in 1999, and with it a subculture of alternative self-organizing Turkish dictionaries emerged, it reached ~200,000 users and ~1.5 million topics by 2010. Eksi Sozluk became a historical log, a social space, and a highly popular reference for Internet users in Turkey.
The 7th Istanbul Biennial (2001) with the title Egofugal was curated by Yuko Hasegawa. The effects of digital culture were visible in the exhibitions and panels. German artist Carsten Nicolai as well as Ali Kazma from Turkey showed video and electronic based work. The Mexican media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer contributed to the Collective Intelligence panel, a topic which was soon to become popular with the emergence of participatory web by 2005.
E-art in public space
Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions I: Nişantaşı (2002), curated by Fulya Erdemci, featured artworks in public space including a collage video installation ‘In the Courtyard’ by Cevdet Erek and a traffic light hack by Köken Ergun. Erek’s work combined a digital video collage with scenes and sounds from his school’s courtyard. Ergun’s hack was placing a shopping icon cut out on the traffic light in a busiest shopping junction in Nişantaşı. Later Erek did more video and sound installations and he explored various issues with his interventions in public space.
After the financial crisis and massive lay-offs in the media sector in 2001, the Internet seemed to be the only alternative for publishing, thus online journalism accelerated with independent news portals and media criticism websites, created by many prominent journalists and columnists who had lost their jobs. Some journalists formed their own sites, some used free services like Geocities, and some turned into individual bloggers. Running on such web services, Nihayet Icimdesin (nihayeticimdesin.com) was one of the earliest forums for contemporary artists for news announcements and discussion. Among these initiatives, Hafif.org, Bildirgec.org, Ucantekme.com, and FazlaMesai.net were the first do-it-yourself collective blog-like websites about internet culture, digital art, and open source software movement. They developed their own blog software, maintained their own servers, wrote articles, and flourished communities all at the same time.
In the mid 2000s, internet access became cheaper and more widely available. 10 million internet users in 2005 became 26 million in 2009. Like the television sector, the internet got highly commercialized with the rise of web start ups and e-commerce, following the trends in the US and Europe. Web applications became like TV programs, where the advertisement is the only revenue that sustains the service. Wireless Internet connection became widely available at homes and in cities. Mobile Internet and smart phones were introduced.
The Turkish Wikipedia - Vikipedi - started in 2003 and reached more than 100,000 articles in 5 years time. It had ~250,000 users by 2010. Eksi Sozluk, dated 1999, is usually considered as Wikipedia’s Turkish predecessor. In fact, while Wikipedia aims to develop objective articles for the subject matter, Eksi Sozluk aggregates subjective points of view through collective dialogue, with its own slang, and is becoming a unique phenomenon in the history of Internet.
Carnegie prize won by Kutlug Ataman
Interesting uses of video emerged in contemporary art. Kutlug Ataman won the prestigious Carnegie Prize for his work Küba, a 40-channel installation filmed in a poor enclave by that name in Istanbul, in 2005.
Blog on techno-culture
In 2005, Düğümküme started as a commentary blog on techno-cultural production with contributions from Istanbul, Boston, and San Francisco. Düğümküme members later organized visual programming and network mapping workshops, parties, and lecture series on networked culture in Istanbul. The most recent Düğümküme Meetings (2010), organized at Platform Garanti, confronted contemporary art by considering its relationship to rapidly developing technologies in the context of civil society issues. Düğümküme Meetings had a mixed audience in Istanbul, from contemporary artists and activists to technologists.
Initiatives by Başak Şenova
NOMAD, initiated by Başak Şenova, started the NOMAD.TV-Network to detect and facilitate links within the local digital culture in Turkey. NOMAD collaborated with international networks, organized new media exhibitions, sound-art performances, and panels on digital art and culture. The first sound art festival ctrl_alt_del was organized in Istanbul (2003-2008), HTMLles exhibition and panels in Istanbul (2006), City Sense project (2008), and collaboration in Light, Illumination, & Electricity Residency program in SantralIstanbul. Also, Şenova, started the Istanbul chapter of Upgrade!International events, where art and technology hybrids gather and discuss their recent work.
TECHNE digital performance events were organized by Aylin Kalem and Ekmel Ertan, with contributions of techno savvy performance artists. Later, focusing on the relationship between the human body and technology, Ertan initiated the Body-Process Arts Association (BIS) along with its digital arts festival Amber.
Open source software
The first Turkish Linux operating system Pardus was released in 2007. It is the largest open source software project that has ever been undertaken in Turkey.
Exhibition & database
The Becoming Istanbul project, initiated by Garanti Galeri in 2007, is a traveling exhibition and consists of a database prepared with contributions from various cultural institutions, private and institutional archives, and artists, on today’s Istanbul. The database continues to expand with contributions from architects, artists, and researchers who conduct studies on the city while the exhibition travels to meet urban enthusiasts until the day it settles in its hometown, Istanbul. In its first year of inception, it has travelled to venues in Frankfurt, Lille, Al Manama, and Berlin.
The social web
After 2005, social web services grew in popularity with the rise of the web 2.0 business model, which meant developing better services by harnessing collective intelligence from users. Photograph sharing, social bookmarking and video sharing websites were the earliest social media services. The social network service Facebook and the one-to-many short message broadcasting service Twitter enabled anyone to share and distribute content. In fact, this new distributed communication power created gaps between generations of traditional media users and new media users. The use of social network platforms is currently the most dominant digital activity after emailing. Social networks are not only accessed on the web, but also diffused in everyday mobile activities.
In 2007, the Turkish court decided to disable the access to the YouTube.com domain due to a single inappropriate Atatürk joke video –insulting Turkishness is punished by the law in Turkey. In a way, the Turkish court treated Youtube as if it was a TV channel. These court decisions were followed by the censorship of blog services blogger.com, and wordpress.com. It has been left to conspiracies whether the judges didn’t get the idea of user contributed content / social web services or they wanted Google / YouTube to have legal offices in Turkey so that they could be taxed. At the end, millions of Turkish authors were unable to write and reach their readers. Since 2007, heavy internet censorship continued, which applied to more than 6,000 local and international websites.
reactions against censorship
On the one hand, social network media drives commercialization of social spectacles in a way that was never seen before, but on the other hand, it is becoming a strong driver of new political movements. New constellations of independent political solidarity have emerged against Turkish government's internet censorship. Sansüre Sansür, Netdaş, Pirate Party Turkey use social network services for online political campaigns, physical gatherings, and develop rapid response against government censorship policies. The growing campaigns on the Internet finally turned into the first large street demonstration against the Internet censorship on July 17th, 2010.