Nerd nostalgia
November 15, 2015 11:03 PM   Subscribe

Developments like wikis and Facebook walls and comments sections were supposed to open the Internet to everyone, “using the Web the way it’s meant to be used.” Ten years in, and it sometimes seems those technologies only opened us up: to quantification, to monetization, to tracking, to abuse. Given these rather disappointing developments, it’s little surprise that some look back at Web 1.0 with longing.

The counterintuitive, GIF-tastic plan to redeem the modern Internet (SLWaPo)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (46 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the sponsors of the conference ($11 tickets!) was Zombo.com. That's a beautiful thing right there.
posted by user92371 at 11:16 PM on November 15, 2015 [31 favorites]


Steganography FTW
posted by PMdixon at 11:29 PM on November 15, 2015


I got my first web developer job building giant corporate websites over 16 years ago. So, if there was ever a time where the web was "intimate and niche", it was sometime before the August of 1999.
posted by sideshow at 11:30 PM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


One the joys of that conference was watching people who were "Oh, I'm not a technical person" make the most personable websites about food, language, or their favorite telenovela star. Plus, reading through the 1997 edition of the Whole Internet Catalog with people who'd never seen such a thing before was a lot of fun.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:52 PM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I enjoy nostalgia for the mid-'90s web as much as the next person. Everything they're saying about the creative, freewheeling qualities of the early web is true. And this conference sounds fun, but I don't think you redeem the character of the internet by recreating the aesthetics of the early internet (and so much of this involves that). Why is the look of the independent web so conflated with the character of the independent web? Instead you make the coolest thing you can make here, in the year 2015, with the tools available to you now. Which have fantastically evolved! And you put it up and accept that it will never, ever make you any money.

I made one last week. I'm very proud of it, but it's pretty difficult to entice people to click away to it from social networks in 2015.
posted by distorte at 12:14 AM on November 16, 2015 [23 favorites]


For me MeFi is my web 1.0 pitstop. I go here whenever I get fed up on the modern Facebook-clickbait-share-ad-experience. Always get new stuff to think about, like this post, and never feel sold. Of course I have the classic theme so the look is right. Because unlike distorte I mentally connect the visuals of the "coolest possible" "modern web" with the "feeling sold" since the "coolest possible" nowadays seem to be based of the twitter bootstrap look.
posted by mnsc at 1:36 AM on November 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


So, if there was ever a time where the web was "intimate and niche", it was sometime before the August of 1999.

Well, yeah. I'd probably call the period between late 1993 (AOL users get access to Usenet, NCSA Mosaic 1.0 released) and mid-1994 (Canter & Siegel's green card spam) the fuzzy line between the Old Internet and the Modern Internet. I'm not sure at what point we stopped remembering that there was more to the internet than the web, but whenever that happened was the second extinction. Early 2000s, probably.
posted by hades at 1:39 AM on November 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


It was great in many ways, before the baleful eye of government and big business turned upon it.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:10 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Huh. I thought it was going to be about the IndieWeb people .
posted by Grangousier at 2:19 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


We need to build an end-to-end encrypted and preferably decentralized internet. I'm working for GNUnet and GNU Taler myself, but there are so many relevant projects now, like Etho-OS, Signal, etc., thanks in part to Snowden.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:22 AM on November 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Huh. GNU Taler looks interesting, in the sense that it explicitly wants to be taxable as part of its design philosophy.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:51 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure at what point we stopped remembering that there was more to the internet than the web, but whenever that happened was the second extinction.

It's zero-based. Gopher and menu-driven telnet sites were Web 0.0.
posted by XMLicious at 5:04 AM on November 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Fits in neatly with the idea that what's sucking all the money out of web journalism is adtech and martech. Sophistication and decadence share many genes.
posted by Devonian at 5:04 AM on November 16, 2015


Producers have algorithms for creating trending content. Networks have algorithms for connecting viewers to that trending content. The creators and the networks are merging together. Soon, content will be created and trend and be forgotten about without a single human ever seeing it.
posted by rebent at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


distorte: Why is the look of the independent web so conflated with the character of the independent web?

It's a signalling mechanism to help you find people who share the same values that you do. It's the same reason that people with hippie values dress like hippies, or at least incorporate a few hippie touches into their style. It tells you that you've found someone you can have a certain kind of conversation with, a conversation that will lead to incomprehension or hostility if you try to have it with the wrong people.
posted by clawsoon at 7:29 AM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


And it's virtually guaranteed that, just like hippie clothing, this trend will be co-opted and will show up all over your giant corporate social media websites any day now.
posted by clawsoon at 7:53 AM on November 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, yeah. I'd probably call the period between late 1993 (AOL users get access to Usenet, NCSA Mosaic 1.0 released) and mid-1994 (Canter & Siegel's green card spam) the fuzzy line between the Old Internet and the Modern Internet. I'm not sure at what point we stopped remembering that there was more to the internet than the web, but whenever that happened was the second extinction. Early 2000s, probably.

I kind of miss the days before people really had a good handle on what kind of shit you could do with the web. Seemed more experimental and weird.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Developments like wikis and Facebook walls and comments sections

Only one of these things seems to me to represent "Web 2.0" really.
posted by atoxyl at 8:10 AM on November 16, 2015


rebent: "Soon, content will be created and trend and be forgotten about without a single human ever seeing it."

I, for one, welcome &c...
posted by chavenet at 8:13 AM on November 16, 2015


You know, Blogspot/Blogger, LiveJournal, Tripod, Angelfire, MySpace et al are all still around.

The old-school web didn't fade out because the tools and services were wiped out by some top-down corporate scheme. It died out because the web audience (very much including all those amateur creators themselves) is basically lazy and Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and such are really, really convenient. Twitter in particular may owe its prominence to the way its very form forces authors to cater to audience laziness. MetaFilter itself mainly exists not as a place for opinion-sharing and discussion but as a one-click source of novelty.

I agree that the modern common practice - Twitter and Facebook instead of personal sites and blogs - is pretty meager in many ways. The modern services do not encourage amateur-scale effort or depth the way the older ones sometimes could. But I suspect no movement in the other direction can work unless something about the audience changes.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:23 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


What Western Infidels said. Livejournal is still around, and I still visit it, even after various debacles like Racefail and the Russians taking over. If you want to dream about how we all can go back to Web 1.0, then answer this question: why aren't people choosing to use livejournal? And no, bullshit about corporations forcing us to do things won't fly.

Also, there's a hell of a lot of rose-tinted glasses wearing here. I remember Usenet, and the flame-wars and harassment that went on there, and the fact that our was pretty much 90% white male, and that if you weren't, you pretty much had to put up with the dominant attitude.

So yeah, it wasn't nearly as nice as people were thinking. It's a lot like how when I was in high school people were nostalgic for the 50s.
posted by happyroach at 8:43 AM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


distorte: ...this conference sounds fun, but I don't think you redeem the character of the internet by recreating the aesthetics of the early internet (and so much of this involves that).
Thank you for pinning down what was bugging me about this article. There are graphics (static and animated alike) that float across my various social media streams in 2015 that I find just as funny and/or weird as Mr. T Ate My Balls was the first time I saw it. Yes, these days we have clickbait, paginated, ad-ridden listicles... but in the mid 90's we had massive stacks of banner ads, webring widgets and shitty frameset hijacks.

My nostalgia for the early web is mostly for a certain exhilarating frontier/wild west feel I remember; even though I was already familiar with email, usenet and (back in the day) BBSes, the World Wide Web --particularly with the addition of the img and font tags-- was something different; a global distributed graphical publishing system that anyone could publish and cross-link to! (Granted, access and hosting space was nowhere near as ubiquitous at the time; I was privileged to be at a university with very strong IT infrastructure; every student had something like 2 megs of web space if they wanted it.) Those pioneer days are gone, though, and no amount of nested table or font tag abuse is going to bring them back.
posted by usonian at 8:48 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


So - I was confused at this at first:

"Even Drake, predictably, has gotten in on the action: He runs a donation-only hosting site called Neocities"


Like - I don't listen to a lot of hip-hop these days or whatever is the hip hip-hop. But I know the name Drake so I was like "WHAT?"

So I look up Wikipedia just to see if there's any mention and none, and then google for "Neo Cities" and "Drake" and then I see that it's Kyle Drake (who WAS mentioned previously in the article). Woops.

That was just really weird to think a super star hip-hop artist was getting in on this Web 1.0 movement thing...
posted by symbioid at 9:18 AM on November 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


distorte: " Why is the look of the independent web so conflated with the character of the independent web? Instead you make the coolest thing you can make here, in the year 2015, with the tools available to you now. Which have fantastically evolved! And you put it up and accept that it will never, ever make you any money. "

Because html-head-title-body is hella easier than importing jquery and accordian fold downs and responsive design and trying to learn so much more of that.

I mean, I get what you're saying. Hell CSS alone can make things much prettier, but in terms of "advanced tech"... Well, there's the cost/benefit issue, and that's part of the problem, I think... You can have "easy" with simple html tags and maybe some CSS layout (which can still be confusing for beginners). But once you start adding in complex JS libs and anything needing backend you're back to the same shit.

I think the aesthetics are a side note, as someone noted above - a signifier more than anything.

Like - when I listen to Boards of Canada. It takes me back to a more distant hazy age that sort of existed and sort of didn't. Nostalgia is a powerful trip.
posted by symbioid at 9:25 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Western Infidels: "You know, Blogspot/Blogger, LiveJournal, Tripod, Angelfire, MySpace et al are all still around.

The old-school web didn't fade out because the tools and services were wiped out by some top-down corporate scheme. It died out because the web audience (very much including all those amateur creators themselves) is basically lazy and Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and such are really, really convenient.
"

This - so much. This is my first year where I've really used LJ less than I have since I started, but I put in a good slog and still try to. But I befriended a bunch of people from LJ on FB, even now, this year, found some old LJ peeps on FB. And I made a post on FB about LJ, and so many of these people were like "Man, I miss LJ"

And this is pretty much my response always "Well - it still exists, you know." But nobody ever wants to go back. They like the idea of the community, but...

We're all too fucking lazy. I critique this sometimes, because it's not just that LJ takes more effort to type a post, but that FB (and Tumblr & Twitter) have made "resharing" such a huge part of the experience. And when everyone can just reshare image macros to say whatever it is they think they agree with and is so important... Why not do that instead of bothering to waste time typing shit.

I try to use FB as a productive medium, but I am often guilty of clicking to share way more than I should. I made a rant about that the other night (people sharing images as the main form of communication vs in depth long form posts), and my friend turned part of it into a Philosoraptor macro : "I just. Sometimes the world isn't as trite and simple as you want it to be."

Which made me proud and then I realized the irony of that.

But yeah - if you want LJ, Blogger, etc... Have at it, people. Some of us are still there!
posted by symbioid at 9:38 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


html-head-title-body is hella easier than importing jquery and accordian fold downs and responsive design and trying to learn so much more of that. I mean, I get what you're saying. Hell CSS alone can make things much prettier, but in terms of "advanced tech"... Well, there's the cost/benefit issue, and that's part of the problem, I think... You can have "easy" with simple html tags and maybe some CSS layout (which can still be confusing for beginners).

Trufax. Back around 1998, I felt that I, a non-programmer, could design and build webpages on my own. And then CSS happened... and I somehow never caught up with it and got further and further behind, and now building webpages feels like something you need to have a lot of education and expertise for. And I don't have that. So now I feel that it's forever out of my reach.
Man, it was fun, back when the web was something pretty much everyone could participate in. Now we can all post on Facebook or Twitter... but that's just using someone else's website... and wasn't it great when we could easily roll our own and the web felt like it belonged to all of us?
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:49 AM on November 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm also a little confused by this whole "there were no HARD CODIFIED RULES back in the day!!!!" attitude. Which.... um, I got actual lectures in school about "Netiquette" as a kid, like hell there were no codified rules.
posted by sciatrix at 9:57 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember thinking that the people on Usenet with "netcom.com" email address were like official moderators of the Internet
posted by thelonius at 10:10 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Trufax. Back around 1998, I felt that I, a non-programmer, could design and build webpages on my own. And then CSS happened... and I somehow never caught up with it and got further and further behind, and now building webpages feels like something you need to have a lot of education and expertise for. And I don't have that. So now I feel that it's forever out of my reach.

This is me. I can throw together a really basic bit of html that, at one point, was enough. The amount of study necessary to catch up to today is way too much to care about.


I'm also a little confused by this whole "there were no HARD CODIFIED RULES back in the day!!!!" attitude. Which.... um, I got actual lectures in school about "Netiquette" as a kid, like hell there were no codified rules.

Netiquette has never mattered, no matter how much some people wanted it to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:10 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wrong, it mattered and worked until the Neverending September, when it was trampled by the barbarian hordes of AOL.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:27 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is me. I can throw together a really basic bit of html that, at one point, was enough. The amount of study necessary to catch up to today is way too much to care about.

I think the basic HTML stuff still works fine, especially if you go back to the idea of web documents as web documents. You can still use tables, and not divs. CSS is just a time saver, and you can keep that simple if you keep your markup simple.

Web 2.0 can be great and all but it has also led to the mass production of poorly performing hugely over-scripted pages that cram all kinds of (often ad platform-related) 'functionality' into tiny spaces, so that it's impossible to not click on anything anymore. The usability experience continues to spiral downwards. I read a number of long form articles, many linked here, but can you just print them out without the printer driver borking the parsing of the horrible underlying markup into a basic document - no, you can't.

For me the basic web document approach is at least as important as any aesthetics of Web 1.0. You can do an awful lot with HREF, H1-H6, P, B, U, I, BR, TR, TD, UL, IMG, etc. (apologies if I left any out).
posted by carter at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


We're all too fucking lazy. I critique this sometimes, because it's not just that LJ takes more effort to type a post, but that FB (and Tumblr & Twitter) have made "resharing" such a huge part of the experience.

I don't agree that it's laziness. We all have a finite number of hours in a day, and a finite number of days in our lives. "Convenience" – aka saving labor – is a hugely powerful tool. It's not a moral failing to gravitate towards the easiest solution, it's a natural and useful tendency.

What is interesting about these "web 1.0"-ish sites is: I wonder if by reverting to simpler websites, we're giving people a little more control over their online presence (no need to hire a developer or rely on Facebook/Twitter) since they can put it together themselves. As others have noted, if you're not a dev and every site needs 10 JavaScript libraries, then you're not going to roll your own. But if we can simplify a bit then rolling your own is achievable.
posted by Tehhund at 10:54 AM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


why aren't people choosing to use livejournal

Have we already forgotten the great social media wars? LiveJournal was one of several websites that were racing each other to become what parents, aunts and uncles used the internet for, each desperate to achieve what they were even calling at the time critical mass. They all knew, once enough people used their service, it would attract more people, which would attract even more, and so on. And they knew, once they were using one site, once "everyone" was using it from their eyes, they wouldn't see a reason to use any others. Zuckerberg won that race, and so here we are.

All those other uses of the internet people are pining for are still there. They are still there, if you look for them. They're dwarfed by the big social media sites, but then so is everything else. So long as you don't discount them just because they're not in the top 100, or even top 1,000, they're fine.

You guys remember Tilde Club and its offshoots are still around, right?
posted by JHarris at 12:20 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Who said laziness was a moral failing ;)
posted by symbioid at 12:37 PM on November 16, 2015


You guys remember Tilde Club and its offshoots are still around, right?

Yeah, one of the key folks for Tilde Town was at the 1.0 conference—I was really impressed by the enthusiasm for the project. Not every thought on the web is going to fit into a pre-baked box on Facebook or the like.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like hand coded HTML formatted with tables. I agree that learning CSS makes you feel like "I'm too old for this shit unless someone is gonna pay me." But anymore it's super easy to throw up a CMS and make it look old school if you want.

The main issue then is security flaws on the CMS. I realize now that one possible workaround is to spider your entire CMS (kept locally or not public) so that your live site is only static pages. In fact I did this years ago for a commercial site for non security reasons and they ended up getting hacked by Russians after switching to live Wordpress. There might be a clever shared hosting idea buried here. Old school themes, private CMS, simple triggering to keep static public site up to date.
posted by aydeejones at 1:33 PM on November 16, 2015


Tilde Town? I am intrigued....
posted by JHarris at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah tilde.club, that fleeting two weeks when Internet Cool People set up a unix shell on aws like the old days, wrote a couple of nostalgic thinkpieces, and didn't let the riffraff get accounts. I remember tilde.club.
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh wow, somebody's hosting a Tor server on Neocities!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:14 PM on November 16, 2015


Well that's a bit unkind isn't it. What happened was that Tilde Club filled up. But it also spawned a number of other places you can get accounts, like Tilde Town, and some of those are still available.
posted by JHarris at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2015


Trufax. Back around 1998, I felt that I, a non-programmer, could design and build webpages on my own. And then CSS happened... and I somehow never caught up with it and got further and further behind, and now building webpages feels like something you need to have a lot of education and expertise for. And I don't have that. So now I feel that it's forever out of my reach.

Have to disagree strongly with this. Every few years, I feel the overwhelming need to throw up a few web pages. Or I have a relative who says "You're good with computers. Can you make a simple page for my business?" So I end up making something and, being a bear of little brain, I don't remember much about my previous work or much beyond the basic tags.

And it's really not that bad. Especially if you know your limits. You're probably not going to do anything with javascript. You'll use CSS only to setup basic margins for the page, standardize on a font or two, and set colors for a few simple elements. It'll take you five times as long as it would if you were a pro, but the actual time spent is still probably not a lot. Especially with the plethora of tutorials, quick references and StackOverflow questions available.

You'll end up with a site which has a chance of looking decent, loads quickly, and makes your readers happy because there are no ads or trackers or the other usual crap.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:32 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


But if we can simplify a bit then rolling your own is achievable.

Yes, and in effect web design also becomes more shareable and open source. It's much easier to cut and paste some snippets of basic HTML, as you know pretty much what they do, and even if this breaks the rest of the page, it's relatively easy to figure out why.
posted by carter at 3:33 PM on November 16, 2015


Whenever I feel particularly nostalgic for the early web, I go over to bash.org and remember that every fifth joke over there is about black people.

The past is not and never has been a shining example of morality. What we need is to take the plunge and come up with something good to call "Web 3.0" before corporate takes that too.
posted by brecc at 4:31 PM on November 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


honestcoyote: You're probably not going to do anything with javascript. You'll use CSS only to setup basic margins for the page, standardize on a font or two, and set colors for a few simple elements.

Probably? No, I'm 100% sure, most certainly NOT going to do anything with javascript. And I won't use CSS because I don't know how. Sorry to disappoint. *slinks away and crawls back under rock*

Disagree all you like, but you can't build professional looking webpages in tables anymore. I do it if someone in the family wants to sell their boat. But for a business? No way.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:37 PM on November 16, 2015


Old school themes, private CMS, simple triggering to keep static public site up to date.

MoveableType's CMS worked that way (or at least it did 10 years ago when I last used it. You defined templates for blog posts and category indexes and monthly indexes, etc. As you wrote your posts, MT would rebuild files on the file system for relevant posts and indexes. Now they included cgi scripts and stuff in the default templates to support commenting, trackbacks, etc. but you could certainly edit the templates to remove all the dynamic stuff.
posted by mmascolino at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2015


A few years ago I put together a short-lived, deliberately low-fi blog using Jekyll - partly for nostalgia (I went with the old Netscape grey background and bright blue/red/purple link colors), partly for performance (cheap shared hosting) and partly because my problem with CMSes is that I find it way too easy to spend more time tinkering and tweaking settings and templates than generating content.

Jekyll is a couple of steps nerdier than the old Dreamweaver template engine or MovableType's old publishing model, but the idea is the same; merge plain content and templates into the static HTML files that make up your actual live site. It was novel, but I spent just as much time screwing around with Jekyll's template engine as I would with any given database-driven CMS.
posted by usonian at 12:11 PM on November 17, 2015


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