An Interview with Kenneth Aronson, founder of Hell.com.
+ + +
Alex Galloway: ok let's start with the basic details. when did hell go
online? when did you acquire the domain name?
Kenneth Aronson: a version of HELL.COM was online in early 1995 on
another site of mine
i registered HELL.COM ..august 2, 1995 i believe..
AG: can you describe the first version of the hell site in early 1995?
was it always a private web or did it start differently?
KA: the private web was its mission..however i wasn't going to launch
that stage until i had the funding/resources to do so….conceptually
hell.com was the antithesis of what the web was,,,and what it was
destined to become…
in the early days of the web…everyone's sites were rediculously
superficial and dripping with self promotion…it was painfully obvious
that very shortly it would be all hype & commercialism. the medium had
tremendous possibilities for new human experience..
initially hell was perhaps the only closed site..no hype, no
information, the links were counter intuative, it was fast & it would
AG: what was the content on hell like for the first two years?
KA: initially…the site itself was a wall..once you got there you had 3
minutes to leave. it would take over control of your browser & crash
at that time the focus was bogus sites all over the net ,,links in the
early net communities etc,,that were blackholes..that would drop people
AG: did you always know that you wanted creative content on the site?
KA: the concept was always to have the worlds visionaries create a web
that was exciting, imaginative, and a facinating journey..
which i guess can be spun as "creative content"
AG: what type of early audience came to your site? how did they respond?
KA: alot of university traffic spent hours trying to find the way in…
i never even thought to look at the stats…i switched to a new isp in
97 who automatically emailed daily stats…the first email said i had
36,000 hits for the day… people were hitting 10-20 pages… at that
time the site was only four pages.
that's when i decided to launch the private web regardless of the
AG: the story of hell.com is partially the story of having a fabulous
KA: in case you didn't notice….we just changed the name to something
…much lower profile
AG: yeah, i found that out the other day. what's the new domain?
AG: it is same as the old hell?
KA: although it looks the same..
it's the exact opposite. it's a gateway to the parallel web… [even the
404 is a portal] ;-DDD
[don't tell anyone..]
our guestlounge will move this week to http://no-such.net/WORK it will
be the everchanging door to a never ending journey
AG: so you decided that the best way to have people leave you alone is
to send them somewhere else.
no… actually hell.com was only the first step of a bigger project. the
mission was to build a community/parallel web free from commercialism.
it's very complicated…not easily navigable & not for everyone
before it was easy to find…difficult to get in
now it will be hard to find…easy to get in. paradoxically the reverse
dynamic works in exactly in the same way…
the people who can appreciate it …will find it
AG: what do you say to your critics who complain that the private web
concept is elitist?
KA: the entire project is about refusing to except boundaries…. a
pursuit that requires desire and imagination. the depth of one's
experience at HELL.COM was limited only by ones capabilities &
people who were stopped or put off by a few words were out of their
this is about going for the wild ride.. not discussing it
AG: you mean not limiting it, right? or is something wrong with
discussing it too?
KA: yes, there is nothing wrong with discussing it.. but what we do is
create experience… mostly temporal & personal
it's the experience that is relevant
not the why, or how…
no-such.com is comprised entirely of people that "do." we express
ourselves in our work…who has time for reflection?
AG: have you ever thought of doing a cdrom?
AG: what form would it take? a collection of projects? or some
KA: both..our collaberations tend to have a collection element due the
diverse visions of the individuals
AG: can you say a little more about why you chose to go *lower* profile?
KA: the neighborhood got out of control… when we started, HELL was 'the
perfect name'…it was like setting up a small intimate gathering place
….then all of a sudden it's in the middle of times square.
the project is about individuality, and avoiding labels or being put
into a box… paradoxically we ended up building our own BIG BOX.. HELL
became a definition..and individuals start being categorized as an
it has been fun living in peoples imaginations… however its become a
burden. the administration of a site with so much activity requires an
infrastructure that we don't have… it's out of control…
just keeping the site from being listed in indexes & search engines was
time for a change
there is NO-SUCH.COM
AG: i like your move away from hell.com.. i sensed that hell had turned
into a game: who could get in? but you never really wanted that. you
just wanted to be ignored. ..and it's easier to be ignored when you're
invisible than when you're password protected, right?
AG: has anyone ever successfully hacked into hell.com?
KA: not once since 1996… and that was only because …a temporary ISP
hosting the site had some stupid admin password like "admin"
AG: …but it seems like a lot of the hell.com-ers are hackerz anyhow…
KA: hell.com / no-such.com is about building something that didn't exist
not breaking into what does
AG: ah yes, but it's the hacker spirit that makes sites like Jodi.org so
good… showing what html can do that no one else knows.. right?
KA: in that sense absolutely…
that is at the core of discovery