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Beautiful disasters: NewHive is making the web weird again

Get a few clicks into NewHive, and suddenly pills have taken over your screen: giant white tablets of premium mood stabilizer set against a backdrop flashing black and white in a rhythm carefully calibrated to give you a seizure. An earsplitting scream emerges from your computer speakers while you focus on the two text-message bubbles sitting on top of the mess:

that xanax that austin sent isintense

"Intense" is a good way to describe NewHive, a new platform for creation that is coming out of private beta today. This particular creation, called "im ok," was made by a mischievous user who creates under the name Pepsi. (On Twitter, he is better known as sadjew.) Pepsi’s glitchy, discomfiting pieces of culture-jamming fit right in on NewHive. Billing itself as "the blank canvas of the web," it's a place that takes the anything-goes spirit of 4Chan and YTMND and tries to make it as easy to use as Tumblr.

On New Hive, you'll find digital art books that pair still images with animations; the works of Walter Benjamin remixed and accompanied by GIFs; and artist Molly Soda making gaudy Valentines out of messages that suitors sent her on OKCupid. "We want to make the web weird again," says Zach Verdin, the company's co-founder and CEO. In an era where most venture-backed startups are focusing on mobile apps, NewHive is a company betting boldly on the web.


Gif from @sadjew

Dare to be ugly

Like Tumblr, which it resembles in some ways, NewHive lets you post media including text, audio, and video to a group of followers. But NewHive goes a step further, letting you post all sorts of media at the same time on the same page. An entry on NewHive could include a full-screen animated GIF, a handful of embedded videos, and some accompanying text, and still appear relatively tame compared to some of what's on the site. The pages often recall the garish profiles of the original MySpace, unapologetic in their use of neon and glitter. At a time when companies from Facebook to Medium make a fetish of clean design, NewHive dares its users to create something ugly.


From Newhive user mollysoda

And in the year since it has been testing, NewHive's earliest users have embraced new forms of expression, such as the "sound papers" that embed recorded audio inside a single image. They're also bundling GIFs into single scrolling pages, which the site calls GIF walls, that tell a story as you go. "It’s very much an experimental space," Verdin says. "The ethos of NewHive is to create the tools, build the space, and get out of the way."

It does that through an engine that is crude but flexible. When you create a page, you're greeted with options to add text, still or animated images, music, or video. You can also sketch with a paintbrush, draw rectangles, or upload files. When you save a page, you can add tags or allow others to remix it to help it reach a broader audience. Or you can leave it unlisted.

The resulting "expression," as NewHive calls the finished result, is a webpage that acts a lot like a Twitter card: it can be embedded on other websites, for example, as a scaled-down version of itself that expands when clicked. In its early days, that idea has resonated with artists who grew up making art on the internet. "I've always liked the idea of making websites that stand alone as 'pieces' that don't necessarily need to 'function' a certain way, and NewHive totally facilitates that for me," said Soda, who has built a large following on Tumblr, in an interview with Vice.


From Newhive user buttercup

The risks ahead

Of course, creating a blank canvas for the web is easier than it is to get people to use it: several high-profile efforts to create art communities have failed in recent years. Mixel, a collage-making network for iOS, shut down after failing to attract a critical mass of users. More recently, 4Chan creator Chris Poole shuttered DrawQuest, his effort to create a family-friendly mobile version of the famously NSFW image board. "It may seem surprising that a seemingly successful product could fail, but it happens all the time," Poole wrote. "Although we arguably found product / market fit, we couldn’t quite crack the business side of things."

Verdin says that beta testers' creative use of the site has given him confidence that a larger audience will embrace NewHive. For now, everything on the site is free. Like Tumblr's David Karp before him, Verdin is resistant to the idea of advertising on his site. Instead, he says, NewHive will eventually make money by selling new tools to the creators who use it.

But most of the people who try out NewHive won't care how the site is going to make money — they'll just want to roam its weirder corners. Whether it lasts is anyone's guess. But for as long as it does, NewHive represents a welcome embrace of the web's wilder side.

Lead gif by Newhive user fatsycline