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The Web We Lost (2012) (anildash.com)
88 points by raldu 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

Everyone cheered the demise of MySpace for Facebook, but in retrospect MySpace was the last dying gasps of the "old internet" (what I refer to as the "real web"). Sure it was a rough and tumble world that wasn't exactly "pretty". But from that ugliness sprang levels of self expression and freedom not seen today anywhere else, because when you give people total freedom amazing things can happen. Corporations don't like amazing, rare, or incredible things. They like standardized, predictable mediocrity. Which is precisely what they've molded the web into over the past 10 years.

I was actually just thinking about how much independent art, music, video, etc. that I was into back in the myspace days. Now things are very spread out and discoverability is very low unless you're heavily invested in a platform (which can be exhausting across multiple platforms).

The bad news is: users don't like amazing, rare, or incredible things (at least along some axes of those concepts). MySpace was an eyesore of anything-goes color scheme and design that made for a headache-inducing trip. Facebook brought uniformity to that information set that was a welcome change.

There were good things about MySpace, but there's a reason FB and its ilk came to dominate the user adoption numbers.

That's not conclusive.

The primary reason for MySpace's userbase crashing was the founders exiting after the News Corp acquisition.

If Facebook had been acquired instead and stopped innovating at the same time they wouldn't have things such as the like button, status updates, or feeds.

They brought those things in frantically to knock off Twitter just like they've been knocking off snapchat recently.

Users these days seem to be totally delighted by decking out selfies with icons and tacky animations. They seem to be completely alright, and by in large prefer it when videos play at full volume by complete surprise, automatically when scrolling and flipping.

Be weary of projecting your personal aesthetic tastes on the population at large

This era is very very weird. So much capabilities, possibilities .. yet something is off. Facebook added value in my eyes, it add ways to interact through games and shared info whereas myspace was a glorified blog (on top of ugly html). Yet facebook turned sour long term..

Internet was supposed to give everybody a voice and the chance to be heard, a wider open door to whatever information they wanted, it was the global village dream, the digital land of freedom and opportunity.

Ha! we were too naïve, it has just given societies the means to be more dysfunctional than they possibly could with non-interactive media. Information is just money, it doesn't need to be true to have a definite value. Your personal information is money, where you are, who you are, what you're browsing is money. Politics don't matter any more, because they can be fixed by retconning and you won't notice, you won't care, because what matters is the constant flow of shiny glimpses of happiness you could get some day or you simply wish you had any chance to get close to, all at your fingertips waiting for your input. All these interactive ephemera are provided by some corporation in exchange for your consumer profile. And if you feel that there's not much freedom nor much opportunity after all, well there's room at the conspiracists alley for you, you're more than welcome.

The naive information highway still holds but ... 0.1% maybe :)

Somehow it reminds me of noise versus signal. Having "more" doesn't mean having more of what you want, on the contrary. It's an usual system design actually.

Reminds of the notion of price. Price is more than cost of parts and labor. You give a perfect item for free and nobody will take it. There's a relativity to effort. You value what you pay for. And it's bidirectional; people put price at what they value the sale. Then balance occur.

Same goes for communication it seems. You give wikipedia and lolcats for free.. but lot more people don't value knowledge [1] but laughter is always good. Climate allows for this kind of growth.

At the same time, when people have insight and ambition, they'd gladly pay 1000$ for "guaranteed and efficient" lessons because they plan to turn it into 4000$ monthly, so free DIY knowledge is also not really a necessity. Not that I dislike it. I despise information lockdown and like to explain things for free. But there's a tension needed for people to learn and change their mindset (learning is not very easy).

About the journalistic side of information you described, it's all sadly true. We also had a sad lesson with the web. Stored and vetted knowledge means zero in a mob context. Tribal reflexes will win. How crazy is that.

[1] social paradox, society is ignorance and specialization, so knowing more than what gives you your place in society is somehow waste.

What's off is a persistent lack of shared humanity.

It seems like the corporate tech space is full of people trying to be Stakhanovite Heroes of Accumulative Capitalism, where all interactions are valued according to their contribution to the company bottom line, closely shadowed by the company brand.

That doesn't leave much room for the things that make being human fun.

I meant broader than just companies and employees. I don't disagree with your comment though.

Yeah, I made this same observation/lament six years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3876834

Mediocrity? When I think about what I can do on the web today and what I could do in 2008 or 1998 there is no comparison.

If you want to publish your fully static site with a tiny footprint that just displays documents then feel free. I'll be over here with group video chat, collaborative editing, and more.

Which is even sadder, the tools and capabilities are available , but products are shaped by demand. The current market is Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat like products all racing to the bottom. Who can deliver users dopamine spikes while imposing zero intellectual demand? We need comically easy apps, and single button interfaces. 7 seconds before a user loses interest :O.

>I'll be over here with group video chat, collaborative editing, and more.

It's not about the capabilities, it's about the impact they have. Most users today will just opt for the defaults (FB, and other crap).

What amazing things happened on Myspace?

It was an easy way to get "your own" place on the web, and you could edit the HTML/CSS of your Myspace page to some extent. I know a handful of folks who got their start programming by hacking their Myspace pages.

I don't know if this was just an experience that I had, but peak MySpace happened right as I was hitting a point in my life where I really wanted to seek out new music. I found a lot of interesting/local/terrible/excellent music from MySpace band pages back then, and I'm not aware of a platform that I really think recreates the MySpace music experience.

Not sure if that was a very universal experience, but it does give you an example.

What do you think is missing from contemporary platforms?

for my contemporary listening pleasure, if Spotify had chatrooms I would be in them with my best music sharing buds all day.

likewise, shared/live-playlist making would be very popular among my friends.

MP3 upload

To me, and I never was a heavy user of either myspace or facebook, was the human lightness of it. It wasn't political, regulated... it wasn't a brick on top of which serious thing should develop.

The same could be said of FB early on. It just got bigger.

so maybe it was just a byproduct a new fad in our society to reimplement itself on top of the web (social, commercial, ...) which distorded the original thing.

Tila Tequila and Millionaires

More nostalgic sentiment longing to be reactionary without any balls to do so. Rinse, repeat. Wake me up in 10 years when the neo Luddites are clamoring for the web of 2018.

Nope. We’re building a very forward-looking business around fixing these bugs, with Glitch. You can go ahead and sleep for 10 years, though. We’ll be making the web better.

Yeah, because progress (outside of tech) is always increasing /s

Needs a 2012 tag, particularly given the relative dates provided in the article made it quite confusing.

Thanks, we've updated the headline.

The URL seems to have the correct date, strange.

Its kinda poetic that this page is down right now.

I can't help but think there's more than a bit of rose-colored glasses observation in this story. To highlight a few things popping out at me:

"The web was an interesting and different place before links got monetized, but by 2007 it was clear that Google had changed the web forever, and for the worse, by corrupting links."

This ignores the backroom deals that were happening between orgs to cross-link to each other even before concerns about SEO (and the original algorithms sensitive to link-frequency that were game-able by adding bunches of links to a page) became significant. There's always been some flavor of pay-to-play and favor-exchange in links (though there are certainly also people who would link to things because they believed they were good or useful, but of course, that is still true today).

"In 2003, if you introduced a single-sign-in service that was run by a company, even if you documented the protocol and encouraged others to clone the service, you’d be described as introducing a tracking system worthy of the PATRIOT act."

We've had thirteen years of experience since then to show us the risks and failure-modes of every service on the planet trying and failing to get secure authentication correct. If anything, the modern web still has too many sites trying to handle username and password when they should be using one of the SSO options instead.

"In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity."

First of all, I'm not sure what we mean by 'social web' and 'own identity' precisely here, but every email address I owned through college and after was provided by some @corporation.com provider (up until I registered my own domain backed by Google Apps). But if Anil is referring to the notion of personal pages: unfortunately, people don't want to maintain their own infrastructure. I still have my own personal page, but its uptime is not as reliable as my Facebook profile. Nobody wants their personal page to be unreachable when a potential employer is trying to check on it. This nice-to-have runs afoul of the general issue "Not everyone is a sysadmin or web developer, so someone is probably maintaining your service for you." The social networks just moved the maintain-for-you question from the service layer all the way to the application layer.

"Five years ago, if you wanted to show content from one site or app on your own site or app, you could use a simple, documented format to do so, without requiring a business-development deal or contractual agreement between the sites."

I'll have to take Anil's word for this; this is the first time I've ever heard of oEmbed. That leads me to assume it was never widely adopted, but perhaps I am wrong. AFAICT, it's not a w3c standard, so I assume Anil's using some creative license with the "you could use" notion here. I think he may also be loosely applying the concept of "user experiences weren’t subject to the vagaries of the political battles between different companies," since nothing in the spec suggests to me that a content provider couldn't sniff the requester and respond with "LOL, no", but perhaps I'm missing something in the details.

"they’ve now narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be"

I think Anil may be committing the sin of assuming users are like him, the web developer. Users aren't. It's entirely possible and extremely likely that what we're pointing to here as errors in the development of the web were features that enabled a hundred million new users to come online.

Most of my relatives were not going to configure their own website to host their profile or skin their own Myspace page. Most of them don't know HTML. Most of them have a Facebook account because FB doesn't require any of that from its end users; it just works.

I think you pretty much nailed it. Whilst I look back with a certain - undoubtedly rose-tinted - fondness on the days of chaotic and garish Geocities sites, and personal homepages with endless "under construction" images, the fact is that the people who built that sort of thing were very much in the minority relative to the general population.

Now, a much larger portion of the general population is online and, whaddya know?, the internet is dominated by a few big players great at exploiting a large market who have catered their offerings towards that very large non-technical majority. The web has been ruined only in the sense that everything is ultimately ruined by over-popularity.

It's certainly a shame, but is it really a surprise?

What I am quite enjoying nowadays is the resurgence of a more creative side to the web amongst people beginning to react against the dominance of social media sites. The pendulum always swings the other way eventually.

"resurgence of a more creative side to the web"

So glad to see some hope here. Would you have any good examples of this trend you describe? I'd like to be more familiar with the space, like Mastodon, numerous libraries of decentralized, distributed, privacy-conscious, user-centered, self-hosted approaches..

Yep, we’re betting on exactly that as the opportunity around Glitch. And the whole point of OEmbed was you didn’t have to know what it is — you just paste a YouTube link into your blogging tool & it does the rest.

I think this page is getting the HN hug of death right now... :(

Noticed the same, here's a link to the google cache: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http:/...

Seemed to work well enough there.

Whoops! Sorry, was messing around with my blog while apparently everybody was trying to read it. Should be fixed now.

Love Tantek's point, and all the indieweb efforts, but the fact that the existence of these technologies needs to be pointed out, even on HN, kind of illustrates that they're currently "lost" from the standpoint of mainstream internet users.

Perhaps you could link to the indieweb page above from your post, Anil? Or implement webmentions to show replies.

Here's a table showing the "old" lost technologies with the new ones that have been replacing them https://indieweb.org/lost_infrastructure

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