Here Ya Free! Crossed views on Skyblog, the French pioneer of digital social networks

Created in 2002, the Skyblog platform was the pioneer of social networks in France and the cult blogging platform from the 2000s. The platform hosted up to 33.5 million blogs in 2011, 90% of them created by teenagers. Long before the emergence of social networks, it offered millions of users an open and free digital space where you could quickly create a blog and exchange messages with other members. You could personalize your page, choose the layout, colors (as flashy as possible!) and typography, and create your own world from scratch. The platform's motto was 'Ici T Libre' (literally, Here Ya Free). A space for editorial and aesthetic freedom that didn't exist anywhere else at that time. A refuge writing area, hosting virtual diaries, photo galleries, video clips, animated postcards and official blogs for clubs, classes, groups and enthusiasts of all kinds...Skyblog was one of the first spaces for expression and connection, and has left its mark on web culture and the history of the French web. Since the early 2010s, Skyblog was no longer so popular with its target audience, who gradually moved to Facebook, but some bloggers have remained loyal and continued to publish articles on their blogs, while others, nostalgic, decided to reopen their own.

The announcement of the platform's shutdown in the summer of 2023, which was widely covered by the media, caused a stir across a whole generation and instilled fear that all the content that was still online (more than 12.6 million blogs) would disappear for good. Informed in advance by Skyblog's managers, the National Library of France (BnF) and the National Institute for Audiovisual (INA) undertook an urgent and massive harvest of these blogs, as complete and accurate as possible, within the framework of web legal deposit. Harvesting the Skyblogs implied a technical complexity that web archivists rarely face: how to collect millions of sites made up of billions of articles, comments, pictures and avatars.

The shutdown of the platform also raised the interest of several research teams: "Skybox, Skyblogs à ciel ouvert" (literally Skybox, Skyblogs in open-air) and "Chronicles from the city" are the very first research projects to look into  this gigantic archive: how to develop an epistemology of web archives using the Skyblogs? What methodologies should be used to build thematic research corpora?

The opening panel "Here Ya Free! Crossed views on Skyblog, the French pioneer of digital social networks" will bring together and cross the views of:

Pierre Bellanger

founder and CEO of Skyrock radio and founder of the Skyblog platform

photo: (DRMPB)

Pauline Ferrari

freelance journalist, specialist in new technologies, and former skyblogger

Photo: © Marie Rouge

Emmanuelle Bermès

professor and researcher at Ecole nationale des chartes

© Gabriel Bermes-Poupeau

Jérôme Thièvre

Web Archiving Technical Lead, Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA)

Photo: (all rights reserved)

Sara Aubry

web archiving technical lead, National Library of France

Photo: © Nicolas Taffin


Benoît Sagot

Benoît Sagot
Research Director at Inria,
head of the ALMAnaCH team

Photo: Collège de France

Benoît Sagot, a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, obtained a doctorate in computer science from the Université Paris-Diderot in 2006. He then joined Inria as a researcher specialising in automatic language processing (ALP), in what is now the Inria centre in Paris. He headed the ALPAGE team there from 2014 to 2016, a joint team with Université Paris-Diderot, and then created the ALMAnaCH team, of which he is the director. He also holds a chair in the PRAIRIE institute dedicated to research into artificial intelligence, a field in which NLP fits in.

His research work, initially focused on syntactic analysis, formal grammars and the development of linguistic resources, has evolved in line with his field of research towards approaches based on machine learning and then deep learning. He is currently interested in the design and learning of language models, as well as their implementation, particularly in machine translation and text simplification, while exploring the interface between text and speech and between text and image. He is also involved in the development of linguistic resources and research into computational linguistics. His work focuses in particular on the French language in all its diversity, but also on the challenges facing less endowed languages.

He applies his NLP expertise as co-founder of Opensquare, a start-up specialising in the design, conduct, analysis and reporting of employee surveys. He has also been invited to occupy the annual Computer Science and Digital Sciences Chair at the Collège de France for 2023-2024.

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