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i really love the (hipster) internet
They say the internet didn’t show up in productivity numbers, but have you tried measuring the leisure ones?
The web is not what it once was.
What started out as a way to put text documents on the web, an effort based upon a marvellously simple maxim: all you need is links, has long outgrown that particular paradigm. Now full-blown apps run in your browser. Despite being sandboxed by it’s APIs and limited by the DOM, they’ve somehow become the dominant way to build applications in the 21st century. And how.
You can, in the next ten minutes, set up a place on the internet that is your own, and have it be instantly accessible to everybody who dares venture online (4 billion of us at last count). And there’s more. You could also add pixels to a global art board, patch together a mmm.page, or dump a bunch of your favourite photos onto the interwebs.
I love the web enough to get slightly annoyed when people say they want to “fix” it (usually with a piece of technology that they have vested interests in), or complain how things suck so much now.
I will grant that the tech is not as simple as it once was. But “once was” is referring about hypertext, forms and background colours. Now we run apps from a URL, that used to be bleeding-edge, experimental ideas during the Mother Of All Demos. Everything that was easy is hard again, but that’s how it goes when you build really complex software. Deal with it.
I’m doubt that this is how Dylan ever imagined his song being played. And I’m sure that it wasn’t what the inventor of the electric guitar was imagining it would be used for.
And like, nor was Tim-Berners Lee thinking about create-react-app when he literally invented the web. No matter how elegant his solution was, the we’ve had to patch on a million tiny hacks to get where we are now. There exists a theoretical model of this perfectly standardised, pristine web, and there’s the web that we use everyday.
I might get heckled for this, but I think one of these “Hendrix moments” was when the “cloud” became a thing. Wikipedia is cool, but people were already thinking about collaborative, networked information when they were building the web. The idea that most of your information could live anywhere other than your personal computer was weird in a way that’s often understated (and hated on).
In my post on good things and why we don’t have more of them, I mentioned that new stuff often seems weird enough to seem not worth trying in the first place. All things were once new.
Public libraries were probably seemed pretty stupid when they started out. What if people stole the books? Do you really think people who can’t afford books of their own are interested in literature? Don’t you want to have a scared bond of ownership with the books you read? Why are we letting the librarians control what books are on the shelves, isn’t that thought-policing?
The cloud has its tradeoffs, but it’s here to stay. Because it’s useful, and it works. Heck, Twitter happened because of the cloud, and is probably the reason you’re reading this now. I’m not sure what the next step-size change will look like for the web, but I don’t doubt that it will seem pretty weird too. But that’s not really what I’m thinking about today.
I also want to talk about the “hipster internet”.
“The Small Web is a reboot of the Internet as we know it. No, it’s not going to replace the Big Internet, but rather to create a niche for enthusiasts where people can freely express themselves, the tech stack is simple and transparent, where publishers have all the freedoms and consumers have a choice what to read. A place where time goes slowly and the content is created just for fun.” - serge
Usually, this love stems from nostalgia, for the days when the web was text and links a marquee tags and glitter effects on myspace pages. I wasn’t around then. I only came online in like, 2019, and missed most of the big eras of the web before then. What I love is something slightly different, more akin to a hipster colony.
If the Small Web is the tech nerd side of things, the hipster internet is where the people carve out their own little corners of the web, with personal sites, and blogs, and independent apps.
I love it because I love when people care about things. I love when their personal websites are unreasonably over-engineered, and beautiful. I love when they spend months building them, and/or try to make them as minimal as possible. I love clicking through all the carefully-crafted Jekyll sites. I love when they write about stuff they care about.
I’m not alone here, of course, some people have tried to collect this entire part of the web, in the hopes of keeping it alive in the current meta of corporate dominance.
It’s not a coincidence that the majority of people here are designers of some sort, or other connoisseurs of what could be called “auteur software”. They make things like read.cv and val.town and their own reader apps. They can’t be stopped, the internet is open, and they want to build.
Here are a bunch of other things that seem to exist mostly because someone thought they’d be cool:
special.fish: myspace? but basic?
widget.json: send updates from the web to iPhone widgets
micro.blog: blogging, but make it more social
Careful Words: A thesaurus, but…nicer?
tldraw: Open-source browser-based whiteboard
window-swap: views through other people’s windows (not the creepy kind)
Quartz: Backlink-based wiki sites
nateparrott.com: Personal website that is also a game
kognise’s webring: a webring for makers of technology, music, art, or writing
Kern Type: A game where you practice spacing letters (kerning)
None of this stuff is particularly “useful”. But for once, I don’t care about the impact on GDP, I want to know that people are having fun online.
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Yeah, I know this letter is 4 days late. This is how I live sometimes, okay?