♦ The Old Web ♦

My aim is not to convince you that everything was better in the past; it wasn't. You had trojans, malware, endless pop-ups, terrible security practices, browser incompatibility, slow Java applets. [...] This essay is my attempt to show you what the small and independent web can look like, why it’s different from the the sites that dominate web traffic today, why it's worth exploring and how easy it is for anyone to be a part of it. -Parimal Satyal in Rediscovering the Small Web

I miss when the internet was a wonderland. I don't mean that it was perfect or utopian, because it wasn't. Of course, neither was wonderland, when the Queen of Hearts got ahold of you; she was a master of concern trolling before it really existed. There's always been someone in a hurry, who's running late, but not too late to tell you tl;dr. There's always been the already-in-progress party that only makes sense if you're already part of it.

What I mean is: I miss rabbit holes.

I miss starting with one site and getting led to more. It used to happen on personal websites, and then it happened on wordpress blogs. Sometimes it still happens on blogs or on tumblr, but mostly services want to keep you in their garden. I used to love following the chain of links from one site to another, from one person's thoughts to another. Everyone grouped and linked slightly differently, so I could find related-but-different concepts, other points of view, and one thing could lead to another.

Now you can get "recommendations" from the algorithm, sure, and sometimes it's even good at it, but it's not the same thing as the curation of an actual person picking the sites they want to link and the concepts they want to connect.

What am I looking for as I click to a site, to the links, to another site, to the links page... The best thing about the yesterweb and the websites on it is the sense that these are real individuals, but I can get that on dreamwidth. There's a sense of wanting to plant your flag, too, a higher bar of entry... but it's not actually that high, as many of the sites are relatively light in content. That was true then, too, as you'd submit to review sites and they'd comment on your content, whether it was unique, whether it was interesting, whether there was any there there, but it was a usually a small percentage of your review.

Do you remember the review sites? I've seen cliques starting to make a comeback, but they seem a bit less picky and a bit more welcoming than they used to be. I haven't yet seen the review sites start back up again, though. It's probably for the best, but they were great places to find good things to read- more rabbit holes.

I've been spending time on the Yesterweb server on Discord, where there's a lot of discussion about what is missing in the modern web and what individuals want to bring back from Web 1.0. For some people, it seems to be mostly be blinking glitter text and embedded mp3s, and that's not my aesthetic but obviously there's a lot of people who miss- or missed out on- the HTML equivalent of vaporwave. For some people it's just fun and satisfying to build something and have it work. That's something that does make sense to me, especially when I actually get my code to work the way I want it to. And there's the people in it for the philosophy, the IndieWeb folks trying to reclaim the web in one small act at a time.

I like to think I'm the third category, but I'm also probably trying to recapture something. It's more of an idea or an experience than an actual endgame, because it was the discovery that thrilled me, the potential that the next website would be even better than this one. There was a sense that there were sites out there somewhere that had the information I wanted, that were run by the people I wanted to know. This impulse is probably related to the way I stop at thrift stores and secondhand bookstores, enticed by the idea of the perfect score, the one book that has the answers I want.

I know that one book doesn't exist, but the idea that there's a site hanging around out there that does in fact talk about what I want to know, that there are people interested in doing the same work that I'm doing... that feels possible, at least. I've been looking long enough that I know it's unlikely, but it's possible. Compatible ideas, related concepts, connecting strings between the articles on my conspiracy board.

The truth may or may not be out there, but the web we once knew... some of it is still there. Some of it can be reclaimed. And some of it we can rebuild, block by block and snippet by snippet. I'd like to think it's worth doing for its' own sake, but at the very least, I think it's worth doing because it's satisfying to put a page together.

Further Thoughts

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web

Despite its undeniable value, I think Facebook is at odds with the open web that I love and defend. This essay is my attempt to explain not only why I quit Facebook but why I believe we're slowly replacing a web that empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. And why we should, at the very least, stop and think about the consequences of that shift.

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process). These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

404 Page Not Found

For those my age, this tripartite history of the net begins at number two, with the anarchic, sprawling, ’90s net, followed by the post-9/11, pre-iPhone variety (including the blogosphere and the fulcrum moment that was Myspace), and ending with today’s app-driven, hyper-conglomerate social media net.
Like many people my age and older, I miss the pre–social media internet. The new internet knows this, and it capitalizes on my nostalgia as it eats away at the old internet. It amounts to an unforeseen form of technological cannibalism.

What is the Small Web?

The Small Web is for people (not startups, enterprises, or governments). It is also made by people and small, independent organisations (not startups, enterprises, or governments)... On the Small Web, you (and only you) own and control your own home (or homes).

A Handmade Web

I evoke the term 'handmade web' to refer to web pages coded by hand rather than by software; web pages made and maintained by individuals rather than by businesses or corporations; web pages which are provisional, temporary, or one-of-a-kind; web pages which challenge conventions of reading, writing, design, ownership, privacy, security, or identity.

Reviving Ye Olde Personal Home Page

Your virtual homestead on the world wide web. A pit stop all of your own on the ever-under-construction information superhighway. A place to hang up your shingle as you made your way through the wilds of an untamed, untrammeled cyberspace. (Barlow’s Declaration accurately captures the spirit of that age)... Now nearly extinct in this era of social media and selfies, the personal home page was one of the first trembling forays of humanity’s grappling with identity and self-expression in the Internet age.

Yesterweb's Manifesto Collection

How to Surf the Web

Don't get me wrong, Google is amazing - in a fact-finding and "let me google why my computer isn't turning on" kind of way. But Google's current algorithm is doing no favors for simple discovery. It's designed in such a way to show you the most popular pages first - but what if you don't want to see only the most popular, top-rated websites? Here are some ways to do it!