Why The New Old Web Matters And Is Also Cool


As the title of my entire website might tip you off, I am a liberal.

As a part of this, I think a mental environment where people do not feel incredibly self-conscious and eager to fit in is good. The fear of not fitting in is something that is sometimes potentially pro-social (generally where it stops people from doing actual serious crimes), but is mostly something I regard as extremely harmful, with some of this coming from ideology.

It is one part of why I am very into the idea of the new-old web, with its ethos of creating one's own aesthetic and a community that genuinely welcomes the outcomes of that.

The movement of which I speak does, admittedly, tend towards the 'Geocities' style. But I don't think it has to, and that is a very important difference.

For example, there are some people who prefer the so-called 'CERN' style of pure HTML - less 1999 and more 1989 - and even weirdoes who insist on relating everything to their probably-idiosyncratic interpretation of an unfashionable ideology, with websites whose aesthetics even they think are a bit of a confused mess, feel sufficiently welcome to manage to make a second post! (... eventually)

Genuinely, the stranglehold of Mac aesthetics is not completely without benefit (e.g. for accessibility, and theoretically for website sizes but generally modern websites are bloated to heck), but it makes the world a less colourful and varied and interesting and human place and that alone is enough to support a peaceful rebellion against it.

But there are other factors too.

Most obviously, and related-to-the-above-edly, there is the issue of the future of the internet, and what it should look like. In the big central platforms, it seems to involve a shift towards computationally intensive VR 'metaverses' and somehow even more computationally intensive 'verified' links to pictures of chimpanzees.

This is a bad idea during the climate crisis - aiming to reduce energy consumption is pretty handy if you want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions - and it creates further barriers to competition by making things more complex to create and maintain, and, y'know, is tied mainly to introducing financial barriers to accessing the free flow of information and just basic rights to self-expression and representation.

Regardless of your thoughts on paywalls more broadly, this is not a good thing (unless you hold shares in a big tech platform that stands to theoretically make money from this, or if you own a lot of so-called 'NFTs').

There's also the question of content and censorship.

The general question is... fraught and, as such, I am declaring it out of scope (beyond briefly noting that anti-censorship methods that require you to have and sort through a petabyte of storage for short strings of text are not very good ways of avoiding censorship, cryptographic security or not).

But there is the particular issue of platforms rendering 'content' inaccessible. Some of this is down to overzealous regulation, particularly in the UK and EU, but also in the USA with FOSTA, but a lot of it is simply based off platforms thinking that advertisers don't like certain topics, and so seeking to squirrel them away out of sight.

Non-commercial personal sites that link widely (and the ethos does encourage linking widely) help with some of the 'discoverability' issues associated with this, and do introduce some resillience to platform censorship.

While, right now, 'deplatforming' seems to be done to people everyone really should actively oppose, like literal actual fascists, it's something that can be applied more widely and having a back-up seems handy for if a platform does stuff that affects us. (indeed, marginalised people are already being hit by 'deplatforming', but it generally just isn't openly called that)

This is less tied to the 'Old Web' - theoretically Neocities could go down at any time (which is why it's good that it allows you to just download your whole site) - but this movement has also been exploring other alternatives to WWW.

(The exempli grata at the minute is the Gemini Protocol, which I do not presently partake of, but does seem pretty neat.)

Finally... I want to loop back up to that point about 'competition'. I think that was a sensible framing for that paragraph, but I want to note that I wasn't just thinking on the corporate money-making side (as much as I think monopolies in this sense are a general bad thing and 'hard' monopolies like water supplies should probably at least have someone we can vote out involved somewhere).

There is also the personal side of things - the idea that individuals can make something. That climate of fear of not fitting in does not just affect what gets produced, but whether people feel able to produce things at all.

I am a liberal and, as a part of this, I do believe in individuals. I think that everyone has the capacity to share something, even if it is as simple as a log of funny things their pet did today. I think that everyone should be able to exercise that capacity, to as great an extent as possible. And they should feel ownership of that, in an 'I made this' way.

It is easy to overmythologise the pure HTML era. Learning HTML is a barrier (I can at least read HTML and I would have struggled to make this site in the absence of (link to Zonelets)a template to go off), and web 2.0 did at least give people an easy way to share specific things.

But other aspects of 'Web 2.0', the corporate secrecy which makes it harder to learn how things are put together or whether or not you're missing something, the fact that the lovely custom header you made featuring pictures of your family can get messed up by a no-warning update or a bad 'content ID' algorithm, the way that platforms continually mess with their own usability to push more and more advertising (or just in general - seriously try using Facebook Messenger on the web sometime), the way that stuff just isn't meant to last there and so slinks beneath the metaphorical waves, and the fact that stuff this 'big' inherently starts to 'creak' and split at the seams...

Well, that stuff is a big, intractible issue.

But I think decentralisation - true decentralisation - and the ethos thereof of the Yesterweb is one small part of the solution.

Also, seriously, I do love the aesthetic, even as I personally stick to, uh, whatever this is.

I feel like this is the part where I link to a whole bunch of other manifestos, but I also want to get this out, so I'll link to the Yesterweb's own list of manifestos instead.