Internet Heroes #1: Geoff Ryman



This is the first in an occasional series on people who have done interesting things to do with the Internet or digital culture, but who we don’t talk about enough, or perhaps who we don’t think about as being “off of the Internet”. 




Canadian born, UK based Geoff Ryman: author, academic and e-government pioneer.




I was originally intending to point you in the direction of 253, Ryman’s innovative hypertext novel, but when I googled him I remembered a forgotten nugget of information: he was a pioneer in the field of taking the UK government online.


According to his staff profile at Manchester University, Ryman:


“helped lead the UK government onto the web, starting a web design team at the Central Office of Information in 1994. He also led the teams that designed the first official British Monarchy and 10 Downing Street websites, and until recently worked on the UK government’s flagship website”


Read that date again: 1994. That’s where it all started, people.




253 is a high concept hypertext novel that concerns the lives of 253 passengers (and one driver) on a perfectly filled (everyone has a seat) London Underground train. Every passenger is described in 253 words that tell you what they look like, and what they are thinking and doing. The lives of many characters cross over, often in subtle ways. Highlights include the (real) theatre company who are performing a piece on a tube carriage, the big issue salesman who has a string of lovers littered through the train, and Who? (I won’t spoil Who? but everyone loves Who? the most).


253 was written as an experiment in hypertext fiction back in 1996. In these days of endless mash ups, APIs and social services, it’s nice to go back to the well and spend a joyous few hours engaging with text that pushes the boundaries of what we expect. It’s all done so simply and mercifully Ryman hasn’t gone back to reboot it – you can view it in all it’s 1996 graphical glory here:


There’s also a pretty good print redux edition available if that’s more your thing.


Geoff Ryman, we salute you.


Image of Geoff Ryman is from Wikimedia Commons, user JP K1001, CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0All links accessed 26/11/10. 

By Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: