Something like a Web Revival Manifesto

I never had a personal website in the old web. Even though I did grow up in a passing awareness of it, I never really took part in it. Not enough to say that I miss it. It's more like a longing for something that I never had, that most likely is somewhat idealized in my mind. But isn't that how things work all the time? Things get lost and brought back all the time, and the thing that comes back is not quite the thing that was lost but something similar in spirit at least, if we are lucky.

I do remember growing up in the times of AOL and the World Wide Web. The first internet service my parents hired actually came with a map of the internet, showing every site known to man, and how they linked to each other. But I was probably 8 or so then, even if it looked somewhat intriguing, I didn't really make much use of it.

I remember watching some cartoon and there was a url in the bottom of the screen during the opening credits, so we rushed to write it down, and and then later connected to the internet and went to the site to see a page about the show.

I remember when my big brother's friend came home and had a url written down in a piece of paper, so we went to the computer, connected to the internet, typed the url, and the computer took about 5 minutes to load a rather inappropriate picture from a comic book we were keen on. We all laughed, promptly made sure my parents weren't around, closed the site and never saw it again.

Then I remember the search engines before Google too. Altavista, for a time it was the king and it barely even gets mentioned today, and Yahoo. Though mostly I just used them to do homework.

I never had MySpace, but I had Hi5, kind of the younger dorky brother of MySpace. And then I used to spend whole afternoons, sometimes late nights, chatting with my friends from highschool on Messenger.

And then came Facebook. I might say that's when the old web really died for me. It's hard to describe it but it feels like there was something freer about the old web. Even for those of us that only experienced it at a distance. I think a big part of it was anonymity. In the ye olden days of web 1.0 most the services that were common then like IRC chats, forums and RSS, didn't even ask you to register with an email account. You just picked a nickname and a password and used them. Or not even that, you could (still can but it's not that common) follow a site's updates using their rss feed instead of having to "subscribe to our newsletter" by giving them all your information just so that they can send you endless spam marketing emails and the occasional useful article.

The other big part is decentralization. I think Facebook (Meta) and Google (Alphabet) together probably own something like 90% of internet traffic (don't quote me on that). Both try actively to be more that just a website, they try to be THE internet.

The internet used to feel like a bigger place, but not because there was more in it, but because you wouldn't spend all the time on a single site, instead you would jump from one site to another one that had nothing to do with the first. Each site's content, design, structure, could be radically different from one another, now it seems like even independent sites all look and feel exactly the same.

Of course, there were downsides to it as well. Like it was much less secure in many ways, or every other search in the original search engines yielded nothing but porn. I realize a lot of what I'm saying is completely subjective or is in many ways an idealization since, like I mentioned in the beginning, much of my experience with the old web was at a distance, or comes from more recent depictions in movies and books, or from reading some other manifestos from web revivalists. But I don't mind. We're not actually trying to resurrect web 1.0 exactly as it was, are we? But it does seem like we all agree there used to be a certain spirit with it that sadly is lost now. It's hard to define and everyone will have their own experience of it, but in any case that is what this is all about.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope you found this meaningful and that my ramblings at least made you think something new.

- Pablo S G. 02/25/2024

Background photo by Chris G