What the web used to be

I admit, I haven’t been working on the web as long as this blog’s main author has — though somewhere in the back of my mind exists the memory of this antiquity.

So I can relate to digital master Anil Dash as he remembers The Web We Lost:

The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we’ve lost along the way in this transition, and I find that younger folks may not even know how the web used to be.

Dash goes on to reminisce about Flickr’s heyday, when links “weren’t about generating revenue, they were just a tool for expression or editorializing,” and when people were more wary of handing their personal information over to companies. That’s changed with the rise of social media giants, Dash says:

… They haven’t shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they’ve now narrowed the possibilities of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.

It’s that last part that resonates with me the most; I straddle that generation Dash mentions. And yes, at their best, those web tools and websites encouraged innovation and creativity. But they also took a lot of work and excluded a lot of people. Even Myspace required/encouraged rudimentary HTML skills; it’s no surprise that Facebook is much more popular than Myspace ever was.

And for most people, I think that’s fine. Not everyone needs to know how to build a website. Us web-heads should remember that the rest of the world has the ability to express itself in other ways. Including, you know, off-line.

I just hope it continues to do that.

— Nate Minor

  • Ryan V.

    I disagree with the “Old days were best” sentiment expressed here. The simple but limited walled gardens of Social networks aren’t a replacement for the more open personal web pages and the like…people can and do still do those. What Facebook/Twitter et al are doing is opening up the possibilities of the web to a wider and larger userbase, and inspiring those enterprising people who want to do more to go do that.

    Facebook makes web applications cool. When I was a kid, the only reason most kids wanted to learn to program was to make games. The programming we actually learned was this data processing stuff that’s important in a business environment. Facebook is the stuff that we are taught combined with cool, so that people want to explore and do more web programming. And the opportunities to do that are much greater than 10 years ago as well.

    More opportunities and a wider audience–I think that our future looks bright.

  • bsimon

    As annoying as the increasingly common ads on Facebook are, the reality of the modern web is one that the early web glossed over: it costs money. Back when the ‘web’ was mostly usenet & gopher, we didn’t see those costs, because they were largely borne by our employers & public universities. Of course, everything was text in those days too; images on web pages were generally kept under 100k in size. Most messages were plain text (what we now call ‘courier’). The bandwidth usage now is enormously larger – and more expensive. Someone has to pay for it – and the people paying the bills want a bit more control on how its used. I don’t worry though – something else will come along.