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One of the oddest things about browsing Wikileaks, for me, was the banality of much of the experience. I expected it to feel exotic or daring, but the user interface — cut from a common Web-based mold — undermined much of that sense. This may be deliberate.

 

The easiest portal into browsing Wikileaks is the alphabetized list of countries on the left side of the home page. Scrolling through this list triggers, by association, memories of filling out online forms — the ones that don’t bow to American technoimperialism by putting “United States” before “Afghanistan”. The front page itself has an innocuous white and sky-blue color scheme, and the page for each sensitive state document has the instantly recognizable styling of a Wikipedia article. The part that plays best to my aesthetic expectations for cyberespionage is the SHA cryptographic signature accompanying the file.

 

In comparison, http://www.textfiles.com/ — intended to look like an old-school text terminal, and consisting of an innocuous archive of popular old text files that floated around the early Internet — is significantly more impressive. Since very few Internet users actually remember what it was like to use such an interface (and most of them never did use one), it instead conveys a Hollywood-inspired underground cyberpunk sensibility. (Sure, there’ s a category for “Anarchy and Explosives and General Mayhem”, but there’s also one for walkthroughs of text-adventures games. The latter is much larger.)

 

Of course, Assange probably doesn’t want his site to look particularly badass, given the delicate tightrope walk he executes between playing the reckless James Bond and defending the ethics and legality of his actions.