Come on in, loser, we’re going back to Web 1.0. We have an opportunity to get out from under the algorithms. So maybe it’s time to think about what a network of people looks like now.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while: the decline of Google Search, and with it the ability to find footage; the destruction of Twitter by the cowardly Elon Musk; the waste of AI that pollutes the open web; unnecessary login requests. The era of Web 2.0 is coming to an end.
One of the key markers of Web 2.0, in retrospect, was not the adoption of mobile devices, although that is certainly part of it. It was, instead, brokering most of the interactions by algorithm. Before social media, going viral was much more difficult; real people had to pass on your site or video, usually via email or chat. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and, later, TikTok made becoming famous suddenly child’s play, so much so that people began filming strangers in public to gain influence. In the beginning, algorithms made things easy to find! That was the original purpose of Google.
Suddenly, being online was more accessible than ever.
There wereAt first, many advantages of Web 2.0. He made a lot of the internet more useful to the average person, and phones helped with that too. Sites like Facebook (and MySpace and Friendster and Diaryland and LiveJournal) took off because it meant you no longer needed rudimentary coding skills to build your own website. Suddenly, being online was more accessible than ever.
At first it was fun! Because most of these sites were more concerned with scaling than monetizing, there were few ads. And that made it feel better than the regular web, where popups and popups were a scourge and banner ads were everywhere. But then, of course, things started to change.
As social media goes into upheaval, I want to address my fellow sufferers at Too Online. The web looks like Blade Runner hell, but we already know how to build our communities because we’ve been doing it for a long time. We also know how to moderate our communities, because we’re not doing it at scale and because we’ve seen some bullshit in every online community we’ve joined. More people than ever are online and have the kind of rudimentary skills they didn’t have at the start of Web 2.0. maybe it’s time us scaly.
Google is rotting? Bring back the web ring. Broadcasting to the whole world sucks? Fuck it, group chat. Facebook? Honey, it’s easier than ever to build your own website, and you don’t even need to know the basics of extracting someone else’s code.
There is certainly a change taking place, and it is not yet clear how it will play out.
One of the great things that the platforms offered was an audience. That’s really a plus if you’re trying to build a business as a content creator. The problem, as all creators now know, is how beholden they are to the algorithm. Take YouTubers, who over the years have had to adapt their content to the whims of Google, or Instagrammers, who have had to dance to whatever new song Mark Zuckerberg is playing. The problem with building your business on a platform you don’t own is that the foundation is never stable; you have to be able to constantly move with the new currents of whatever is going on there. And what’s good for Google or Facebook isn’t necessarily what’s good for you.
Certainly a change is taking place, and it is not yet clear how it will play out. The retirement of group chats (Discord, iMessage, Telegram, WhatsApp) seems, from where I stand, like a return to old-fashioned messaging and chat room (RIP Firefly). Mastodon and Bluesky are pretty specific, Threads is probably DOA, and Reddit seems to be fueling its own exodus.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Silicon Valley, it’s that you don’t have to be smart to be a programmer; Anyone can learn to code. There are plenty of free resources online now, and if you don’t use social media that much anymore, I bet you have a lot of free time.
In old cyberpunk novels, the outside world rots away as the online one becomes a never-ending spectacle where you can fade away. But if you look around you, the world itself is still quite vibrant, while the web looks like the set of Bounty hunter. Outside of our little bastions of humans, there are tumbleweeds and garbage. Forget about VR headsets. If you want to make the internet good again, it’s time to go rogue, and many of us already know how. (Of course, there are people who would suggest we move to Web3, which is cryptography. I really don’t think that’s a solution, mostly because of the usability issues and general regulatory turmoil. I don’t envy people their hobbies, but I don’t think cryptography will solve this.)
What would the web look like if we decided to erase everything we’ve done since the dot-com crash? What kind of communities can we build with the people who have connected since then? It is certainly possible, even delicious, to teach them the old ways. But more and more, I think I don’t want an in-between experience; I am not interested in your algorithm. I have loved online because there are people there.
Companies have taken over the web, but that doesn’t mean they can keep it. Sure, there will always be some casuals who never look deeper, but for the really sick fans of the internet, well, you can do whatever you want. Maybe now is the time to do it. Many of you already have, I know because the old men keep sending me emails. Now is the time to teach the children of the algorithm the old magic because you were there when it was written.