As I get older, I'm reflecting more and more on how different things are today compared to my childhood. One of the biggest changes I've observed is to the World Wide Web. What was once a Wild West of individuality and self-expression has been largely abandoned in favour of restrictive walled gardens like Facebook and Twitter, and the Web is worse off for it.
The Web was very different when I was a kid. It was smaller, and more intimate. The social networks of today were basically non-existent. Instead, users congregated and exchanged ideas on message boards, Usenet, or IRC. If one had something more substantive to share, such as essays or artwork, one could create a personal website—often through a free host such as Geocities, since self-hosting in the era of dial-up Internet was impossible for most1.
Back then, nobody really had a concept of what a good, well-designed, and accessible website looked like. Unencumbered by the shackles of modern design sensibilities, people let their imaginations run wild. Tacky GIFs, tables, and frames were abundant. It was weird and it was awesome.
Even in the days of MySpace, users enjoyed a level of control over their personal pages not seen today, with the ability to change the CSS and background image to their liking. Unfortunately, those times are largely behind us now—lost somewhere in the mid-2000s. In the Facebook era, everybody shares the same sterile profile, with the only avenues for self-expression being the photos and comments that they post.
But the Web doesn't have to be this way. In fact, there's a growing number of people dissatisfied the state of the Modern Web and looking to the Old Web for inspration:
- Rediscovering the Small Web (and companion article Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web)
- Rediscovering the Beauty of Text on the Internet
- The Web is Fucked
- The Internet has Changed
Some of that Old Web magic can be reclaimed for yourself by creating a personal website and truly making it your own space. Go crazy and make something unique!
- Find a host. Neocities has filled in the vacuum left by Geocities' demise. It offers a generous 1 GB of storage and no ads whatsoever—all free of charge. If you need a bit more flexibility, Nearly Free Speech offers a pay-as-you-go FreeBSD environment for pennies on the Dollar2.
- Make friends and explore. There are several communities of like-minded people out there, such as Yesterweb, or Neocities itself.
My site is hand-coded HTML & CSS, with a bit of PHP to automate the index, Atom feed, and page templates. Give it a try for yourself and see what you come up with!
1 Dial-up Internet used the phone line. Unless you had two phone lines at home, you were unable to make or receive phone calls while connected to the Internet.
2 I've been a happy customer of Nearly Free Speech for 10+ years. The cost of hosting this website is less than $10 USD/year.