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January 31, 2019 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Why isn't the internet more fun and weird?

The internet used to be fun and weird, but somewhere along the way we lost... <blink>something</blink>. Things like Zombo.com.
Jarred Sumner takes a look at the web that MySpace enabled, trying to bring back the same quirky Internet that glitch.com is also trying to bring back.
posted by fragmede (47 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
The internet had already ceased being fun by the time MySpace arrived. Zombo.com is acceptable, however, even if it was done with Flash.
posted by talking leaf at 8:10 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


I was thinking about Zombocom just yesterday (sigh)
posted by rodlymight at 8:11 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


The internet changed from where you met with your special interest peeps to where you just interacted with EVERYONE. Can't be as weird when your mom is commenting on your Insta photos.
posted by hwyengr at 8:12 AM on January 31 [21 favorites]


"I want to say one word to you. Just one word."

"Yes, sir."

"Are you listening?"

"Yes, I am."

"Platforms."
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:12 AM on January 31 [21 favorites]


GLITCH IS GREAT, I LOVE GLITCH, GLITCH CHANGED MY LIFE, I'M NOT KIDDING (glitch previously)

Codeblog looks really cool and I hope something comes of all of this. I worry that most of the people who want to Bring Back The Weird Web (this includes me) are too…nerdy, for lack of a better term.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:13 AM on January 31 [7 favorites]


Thinking of zombo.com makes me happy. You can do anything at zombo.com - the only limit is yourself!

IMHO, the Internet stopped being fun as soon as it became possible to make money off it.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:22 AM on January 31 [10 favorites]


Naw, the internet was still fun by the time Myspace was around. I have most of my fondest fun internet memories from that era. YTMND, Newgrounds, SomethingAwful, AlbinoBlackSheep, HomestarRunner -- and you know what, Flash ruled and I miss that era of webdesign and interaction.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:25 AM on January 31 [15 favorites]


I worry that most of the people who want to Bring Back The Weird Web (this includes me) are too…nerdy, for lack of a better term.

Pls elaborate. How is NerdyWeb a problem? Is it a barrier to entry (where nerdy = comfortable with poking into computer boxen)?
posted by filthy light thief at 8:26 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Vintage Information Superhighway (VIS)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:33 AM on January 31


I miss the days when you had to know some html to have a presence on the web.

Heck, I miss the days when there was no GUI at all, and you had to know command-line shit in order to get to where you were going.

(blah blah gatekeeping blah blah Eternal September blah blah lawn)

The joy of finding some person's Home Page hosted at their hyper-local ISP, which was five dudes with some office space down the street, and then finding their Bookmarks page (remember? Remember everyone used to dedicate a page to links to all of the sites they like to visit right there on the net, and that's how we'd find new places to go?) -- that was the best time.

IMHO, the Internet stopped being fun as soon as it became possible to make money off it.

Agreed.

But those three short years when we had GUI (WWW) but didn't have any people who didn't know how to function on the actual Internet (AOL)... that was Peak Internet.
posted by tzikeh at 8:36 AM on January 31 [20 favorites]


Oh, it's not a problem per se. But I think part of what made things like MySpace, etc., great, is that a lot of people who weren't interested in computer shit qua computer shit ended up learning how to do e.g. HTML & CSS and stuff in service of whatever their interests or priorities actually were. And I'm not sure how that group of users is going to even know that Glitch and Codeblog exist, because those users are all on Facebook and Instagram, and my suspicion is that they don't perceive themselves to be missing out in the way that they would have by not being on MySpace back when it was a thing.

And don't forget that a lot of web nerds were giant (and in retrospect sort of classist) snobs about the folk design of MySpace et al., which is a look that hasn't aged particularly well. I appreciate the extreme swing in the other direction, but it's going to be hard to get people back on board, because—it's harder to convince people now that they have a problem that learning how to make a glittery-ass web page will solve.

But I sure hope we can!
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:38 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]


Agreed hwyengr -- I think the bigger issue is around privacy/anonymity. Weird Twitter is around because people aren't completely linked to their identities. Same for Tumblr, 4Chan, etc.
Weird Facebook.... not so much a thing.

Unless the author is exclusively talking about visual/interactive weirdness.
posted by matrixclown at 8:39 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


I worry that most of the people who want to Bring Back The Weird Web (this includes me) are too…nerdy, for lack of a better term.

I see it more as a desire to bring back the web that had a very low bar for pretty much anyone to get involved in, no matter your tech/nerd chops. HTML of the era was a relatively simple and easy thing to pick-up and use with minimal effort. Hosting was cheap. You could cobble-together a simple webpage for yourself pretty easily. Interstingly, one could say it was the nerds themselves who kept raising the technical bar to the point where regular people have to either pay the nerds large stacks for a website, or opt for pre-cooked things like Wordpress, Facebook, etc.

The other wonderful thing about Ye Olde Webbe was there was still that feeling of discovery any time you stumbled across some odd site. The search engines of the era (WebCrawler, ftw!) weren’t nearly as thorough as they are today, and often gave you some of the weirdest, wonderful results.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


The Internet should be like Animal Crossing. You make your little house and decorate it the way you like. People can come over and visit. You can say hi. You could have a party and invite friends.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:43 AM on January 31 [21 favorites]


Unless the author is exclusively talking about visual/interactive weirdness.

I think one goes along with the other once the purpose of the internet changed from having a personal homepage to just connecting to the standard communication protocol formats.
posted by hwyengr at 8:52 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


What a coincidence, I was at a friend's house and we busted out (the HTML5 version of) Zombocom just last Friday :)
posted by edheil at 8:55 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I think "stories" on Snapchat, Instagram and now Facebook are the new MySpace. The editors are all WYSIWYG, but people are absolutely taking their photos and favorite memes and dropping in glittery GIFs and text in goofy fonts. Some even have autoplay music clips, now with actual licensed music instead of a 15-second bootleg Korn mp3 on loop.

Since they're ephemeral and only show up to your followers and only to those who know and choose to click them, they let you have your staid Instagram for your boss and grandma to find on Google, with your friends-only sparkle unicorn club hanging out just around the corner.
posted by smelendez at 8:59 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


I went into the Wayback Machine and found my homepage (last updated 1996 or so), and checked out my bookmarks (HOT SHEET!). So few of them still exist, even in archive.org.

I did like this little time capsule, though, off of the "Shakespeare Web":

"The Shakespeare Web is listed in Yahoo, still as ever the best topical index to the entire World-Wide Web."

I'd link my Hot Sheet for y'all, but my old homepage has my real name on it (another thing that has changed quite a bit over the years--doing stuff under your name vs a pseud).

Anyone remember The Movie Database at Cardiff? What ever happened to those guys....

Sites that made the Internet for me back in the Before Times:

THE SILLY ZONE!, which is a part of SPATULA CITY, and includes sites such as What's Inside Twoflower's Fridge Today? and The Virtual Reality Staring Contest and The Really Big Button that Doesn't Do Anything.

The vast majority of sites linked on my hotsheet are not even archived in the Wayback. Some of them, of course, have been souped up and modernized, so the clackety old html no longer exists, but I did find the old version of what became weather.com and the old version of FermiLab, and Ultimate Television (they're hiring!).

And Northwestern University's Hotlist, which takes you to their (old) Home Page.

It was just more fun, then. People who were into it were into it because it was neato, not because they had something to sell or had to keep up with everyone else's politics/selfies/etc.
posted by tzikeh at 9:13 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


This twitter thread about weird tiktok memes convinced me that the spirit of the fun weird internet is still alive, if not the part where you copy paste someone's terrible HTML and mess with it until it sort of works.
posted by theodolite at 9:21 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


%100 yes on the first article.
I'm also hating how every single social media platform has decided it needs a Snapchat-ish 'stories' feature. I can't use Instagram or facebook to reliably check in on my friends anymore, because half of their posts were made with a self-destruct button for no real reason.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:22 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]


I always thought that one of the things that made MySpace succeed (well, for a while) was that they provided an easy solution for artists to make a promo page with streaming mp3s, at a time when that was a fairly technically challenging thing to do. And that attracted fans, especially young ones. But there were all kinds of artists there, not just pop - I remember finding Jamaaladeen Tacuma's MySpace page.
posted by thelonius at 9:27 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


The old internet was like MetaFilter: you had to pay a nominal fee (get a computer, get Netscape, get an ISP) to join. Now everybody is here and there is no moderation.
posted by SPrintF at 9:28 AM on January 31 [9 favorites]


I'm going to repeat the same thing I said in the previous thread about the old, weird web: the aesthetics were "fun," but an accessibility nightmare. The sterility of the modern web is a boon for people with limited vision and other issues that glitter text and wild color schemes and backgrounds exacerbate.

We have, however, lost something in making building a web page so ridiculously complex. I learned how to build my first web page out of a book (HTML for Dummies: Quick Reference, which covered HTML 3.2), but I learned even more by checking out the "View Source" option in web browsers. Go to Google.com and hit "View Source," and see if you can grok anything. Then compare that with a "View Source" on DuckDuckGo.com's home page.

That said, a lot of people want to have a presence and a personal space on the web, but not a lot of people want to do work to create it. Facebook (and LiveJournal and MySpace) succeeded by taking a lot of the overhead and work out of creating that space. How many people created MySpace themes versus how many people just straight up used them? There were almost certainly a lot more people who just copied and pasted code into their profiles than bothered to learn how to write that code.
posted by SansPoint at 9:28 AM on January 31 [8 favorites]


You guys know Zombo.com got bought out by Facebook right? I had to read through three pages of the new user agreement to discover there are now significantly more limits to what you can do than “you.” Unfortunately, Zombo was the place where I could do anything I wanted and no other site has made me feel quite as welcome.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:48 AM on January 31 [5 favorites]


HTML5 is both more accessible and simpler than HTML 3.2, which was a hot mess of trying to reconcile proprietary formatting extensions from the great Browser Wars. Of course you can still do unreadable sparkle text and backgrounds within an HTML5 framework, see many custom Tumblr themes for examples.

You don't really need something driven by react or boostrap, you can still do your stuff with basic semantic markup and buy hosting for $5 a month.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:29 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Teenagers are still finding ways to have a lot of weird fun on Tumblr. Probably other places, too, that I'm jut too old to understand nowadays--TikTok? That's a thing, right?

Maybe we're all just getting old.
posted by meese at 11:05 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Why isn't the internet more fun and weird [than it used to be]?

Because enabling our figurative moms to post Minions memes, and to mine the human propensity for hate and outrage are both tremendous moneymakers.
posted by glonous keming at 11:09 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


The internet style evolution is a little bit like the red carpet's. If you look at pics from 1970-1995, there's a lot going on. The add-on (fashion, cosmetic, whatever) industries weren't quite as good at making money off red carpet appearances. There's a variety of beautiful stuff, hideous stuff, boring stuff, interesting stuff. By today's standards, they look really amateur. We've all been educated by decades of Worst Dressed lists as to what is unacceptable. It's no surprise that stars began hiring stylists to dress them and avoid the bad press...but once the process was properly monetized, with fashion houses started paying stars to promote their brand, the red carpet became a lot less weird.

Basically, I'm saying that the internet isn't ugly-weird anymore because we all know to hate comic sans and laugh at that "Graphic Design is My Passion" frog, and companies don't want to be the Donald Trump ill-fitting suit of the internet. (I have to use Trump here because I honestly can't think of an actor who is Notably Bad at Dressing these days, because none of them are.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:29 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]


> I was thinking about Zombocom just yesterday (sigh)
There's a supermarket chain named Jumbo here, and their website is jumbo.com and every time I check it to see what they have on offer I think “you can do anything…”
posted by farlukar at 11:32 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


The weird internet still exists out there, probably, but people are less likely to pass weird sites around because they get their RDA of weird from other sources like YouTube and social media.
posted by JHarris at 11:32 AM on January 31


Just cuz no one has linked it yet, https://html5zombo.com/
posted by now i'm piste at 11:46 AM on January 31 [3 favorites]


@grandiloquiet

I was just thinking the other day about this phenomenon in the context of baseball where, for more than a hundred years, there was really hardly any money in the sport at all and we had tons of weirdo players/owners/ballparks. Once it became a Serious Business driven mainly by Business Considerations instead of showmen and former athletes, it got rationalized and systematized to the point that ballparks aren't that wildly different, the managers and players rarely say anything super interesting to reporters (ie that hasn't been focus grouped and approved by the PR department), and everybody is just kind of a cog in a machine, fans included, and the whole thing accelerates like a power loom churning out cloth ever-faster.

I wish there was a name for this kind of process, as it gets to the heart of something fundamental about capitalism and the commodification of culture.
posted by LiteOpera at 12:28 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


The internet is gentrified.
posted by klanawa at 12:31 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


meese is right on this one, we're just getting old.
Which means you can recapture weirdness etc. but you can't insist on it being on your terms. The young people who have always led the way in weird media are still doing so, just differently.

Or to put it another way, you can be as weird as you want, if you don't care about popularity. But if you want to be popular too, you have to be current.
posted by bystander at 12:46 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't entirely understand the problem. There's weirdness all around. Even on the hellish corporate environment of Facebook, I'll see a dozen weird memes before breakfast thanks to the people and groups I follow. Maybe the whole thing is the lack of novelty. I expect to see the unexpected daily, which has the side effect of being rarely shocked or surprised. And part of it's aging. Sometimes, nothing feels truly new under the sun.

For those who miss the chaotic folk art aspects of the early web, there's one place you can find it in droves: Itch.io. If you haven't heard of it, Itch.io is sort of a weird combination of Steam and Tumblr. A place where people can distribute their games and maintain blogs about them. Most of the games are free or very cheap. Some corporations have a presence there, but most of the developers are just individuals or art collectives.

There are several relatively easy kits for making games. Lots of people of all ages have taken those kits and given voice to their inner weirdness. Like any folk art, the quality is going to range dramatically. But if you're looking for that early Internet feel with people throwing their heart & soul into something without expectation of financial reward, you can't go wrong exploring the depths of Itch.io.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:47 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


As others have said there is still plenty of weirdness to go around, but a slightly different thing that I do think has declined is mystery, because mystery is less compatible with commoditization than weirdness, and because the expansion of advertising into everything means that anything appearing mysterious is simply assumed to be a covert ad.
posted by Pyry at 3:18 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


This thread is inspiring me. I have to go make the thing that I want to have on the Internet. We must all make our thing or help others to make their things.

Kit-built geodesic dome type shit. I’m not going to be happy until I can do some kind of real counterculture on the Internet. Not just political commentary or activism (the Internet seems to be pretty great for that), but whatever the internet version of the Merry Pranksters would be.

Now that I think about it, the Internet meme folks who I find so funny on weird twitter etc. are all highly surrealist. There’s some way to use this stupid advertising machine to make art. There must be. It’s there but it needs to be further explored.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:30 PM on January 31


Hmm... internet will be weird as long as Everlasting Blort still lives.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:41 PM on January 31 [9 favorites]


Maybe "peak weird" happened a long time ago and just can't be repeated. I mean, who can surpass Time Cube or the Walter Miller Home Page? I dare you!
posted by sjswitzer at 4:07 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I still remember the first time I saw a banner ad on a website. Talk about a WTF? moment.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Problem the first: Confusing fun internet with world wide web in the first place.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:16 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Problem the first: Confusing fun internet with world wide web in the first place.

Yeah, I think there's at least a couple of things going on here. I think the main link is talking about a very particular kind of "fun and weirdness on the internet" where the fun and weirdness came about by messing with the medium of the web itself, i.e.: tinkering around with HTML code to make your MySpace profile (or Geocities/Angelfire site or Diaryland blog or whatever) look how you wanted. And, I do think that we did lose something when we moved from the more open-ish web of Geocities and MySpace to the more controlled, sanitized, walled-garden model of Facebook. I mean here is an article where the author talks about how her first introduction to coding was messing around with her Neopets profile. The move from the web itself towards app-based interactions with the Internet have only further closed off this kind of tinkering. I'm glad that codeblog and glitch.com are trying to bring it back, though it remains to be seen if they can achieve the same kind of reach that MySpace, Geocities, or Neopets had.

On the other hand, it's not as if fun and weirdness have left the internet altogether. I mean just this past week there was a run of "Shaggy from the live-action Scooby Doo movie as some kind of omnipotent god creature" memes. I think that was plenty fun and weird. Also, Tik Tok is definitely where the kids are at nowadays. Sure, a lot of it is fairly conventional stuff (e.g.: lip-syncing, dance challenges, dumb pranks, art time-lapses, cute animal vids, etc...). But there's also lots of truly weird and baffling stuff. I've only been looking at it for a couple of weeks now but I'm already itching for an excuse to post up some of my fave Tik Toks.
posted by mhum at 10:25 PM on January 31


Maybe we're all just getting old.

Definitely we’re all just getting old. The whole point of Zombo.com was that it was a satire on the (first) dot-com bubble where companies were getting multimillion dollar valuations based on a blank webpage and empty promises. People back then were already bemoaning the loss of the “good” internet.
posted by joedan at 11:28 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


I'm proud of a lot of the technical stuff we did.

I'm much happier about how it opened the idea of customizing web pages to many people. How democratizing it was. How many of those people ended up learning to code beyond just hacking up myspace layouts.

I'm very glad I'm not part of what the business of social media has become.
posted by flaterik at 12:12 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


One of the earliest spatula city pages that tickled my fancy was the Really Big Button That Doesn't Do Anything. It was just a (still) GIF of a badly-rendered red button with the word "PUSH" on it in raised yellow lettering. Clicking on it would reload the page, driving up their hit counts.

Like many early Hypertext pages on the World-Wide Web, it had a CGI "guestbook" where you could submit feedback. I believe this was largely moderated by the page's maintainer and good responses posted by hand. One in particular sticks in my memory. I don't have the text any more, but it went along these lines:
This page is absolute nonsense. I clicked the button and my stereo immediately fell off its shelf, killing my cat. I don't know how you did this, but I will get my revenge on you!
I'm still giggling, 25 years later.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:45 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Advertising fucked it, just like it fucks everything else.
posted by flabdablet at 6:46 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


rum-soaked space hobo: One of the earliest spatula city pages that tickled my fancy was the Really Big Button That Doesn't Do Anything.


I linked to the Really Big Button upthread!

And I found the quote you're thinking of right there on the page:
Patrick Legg warns, "It's not true that the RBB doesn't do anything. I pressed it and my stereo fell off the bureau, practically killing my cat! I don't know how you did this but I'm not going to press it again, thats for sure."
posted by tzikeh at 8:14 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


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