This is still the header! Main site

Why the Old Internet is Not Coming Back


tl;dr: because most people who had blogs didn't want the blogs themselves

This is post no. 53 for Kev Quirk's #100DaysToOffload challenge. The point is to write many things, not to write good ones. Please adjust quality expectations accordingly :)

Once upon a time, the Internet was great. You could send email and there were all the news groups and IRC; great people, interesting discussions. But then... the Eternal September started, and it was all ruined and taken over by stupid web forums instead.

Well, actually, I missed that part entirely (... apart from reading EFFs neat guide on it); I do remember though that even in the early 2000s, I thought that the Usenet made a lot more sense than having to register to 8 different forums that all looked different. Regardless... this was the era when a lot of people had blogs, Google Reader was an actual thing, APIs were actually open (somewhat), and XMPP was the future.

It went downhill a lot from there, too.

There always a group of people who were there when it all started, who are then sad that the environment they loved disappeared. Instead of individual blogs, you have Facebook and Instagram, where everything smells of plastic, ads and auctioning off your eyeballs.

But there is also the counterargument: back then, a lot fewer people had access to all this. Sure, there was a great discussion on Star Trek on the Usenet, but most participants were university students lucky enough to have their schools provide internet access to them. Even I, the slightly computer-savvy middle schooler, didn't have access to any of it yet (lacking a modem to begin with), let alone anyone who wasn't even into computers. So... with all the faults of Facebook and the like, isn't it great that they're more open to people now?

Which openness is, of course, part of the problem. Back when you needed to make some effort to get on the internet (in addition to being lucky to have access), you had a lot better chance for an intelligent conversation than these days, when everyone can just vomit some words into a Facebook post.

Can we just make joining harder again?

After all, the only people who used to be around were the ones who knew how to use all this tech; this (arguably) resulted in better discussions. So... let's just... use more obscure software?

Implicitly, this is how the Fediverse currently functions. By "implicitly", I mean that... it's not a whole lot harder to use Mastodon than Twitter once you get used to it, but... just look at e.g.'s explanation of what this entire thing is: "OStatus", "ActivityPub", programming languages... clearly a "computer" thing.

And yet... I did hear people complain that the main thing that people on Mastodon talk about is Mastodon. Which... I don't think is particularly true, but... there is clearly something about there being a lot of people around who are interested in the tech, software freedom, etc.

It's not quite an exact replica of the Original, Much Nicer Internet, no matter when that idealized state was supposed to have happened.

Which brings us to our main point:

Filters are different now

Originally, people on the internet were there for two reasons:

Of course, "wanting to talk about the tech" is a valid overlap... and there were indeed a lot of those people, too. But, as per my theory, many of the early users weren't only there because they wanted to play around with this fancy new communications technology; they were willing to put in some effort to join the discussion.

They were the less-tech-oriented Lord of the Rings fans on the Usenet. They were the forum users who did somehow manage to figure out how to register to one, to then discuss road bikes or Warhammer miniatures or ask for advice on learning French, because they just didn't have anyone to talk to locally before, and the internet opened up a new world for them.

These users though will not find e.g. federated, open networks attractive just because they are the Obviously Right Way to do things, tech-wise. They will just flock to where everyone else already is, with a mild preference towards systems that are actually good (Discord is a good example: not a lot of freedom but a fairly neat user experience).

As a result... yes, we still have neocities to make your own website. It has a lot of people who are interested in building websites. Especially retro ones.

To be fair, much of the original, early-2000s Web consisted of people who were interested in building websites, too. Still not exactly the same set of people though.

(... there might be a followup sometime on how to fix this!)

... comments welcome, either in email or on the (eventual) Mastodon post on Fosstodon.