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Ask HN: Whatever happened to exploring the internet?
320 points by mickjagger on Oct 26, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 268 comments
I seem to have collapsed down to checking 5 to 6 sites.

Where would I even go to find other sites that might be of interest?

I can’t even really think of any other sites to visit.

Whatever happened to the idea of “exploring the Internet”?

You explored it. That's it. Turns out there's less of it than you imagined.

There are, of course, plenty of sites that you could visit. Most of them will be incredibly boring. Years ago you found that interesting just because it was all new, but you don't any more because you've seen similar things already.

I suspect that most of those "5 to 6 sites" are aggregators like Hacker News where people seek out new stuff (or at least, new to them) and post it. Most of that new stuff is dull, because most stuff is dull.

You can always hit up Wikipedia's random link and start galumphing about from there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

I got Guy Nadon, an actor in nothing I've ever seen, though he provided French dubbing for some video games I've heard of. Don't care? Me neither. That's life. The vast majority of it is dull.

That means it's time to turn off the Internet and go outside.

I think this is half the explanation. The other half is that people stopped making cool internet things just out of the passion and craft of it. Now everything on the internet is "content," a hyper optimized form of human intellectual output that is devoid of art, minimal on information, excreted instead of created, measured to the lowest common denominator, monetized yet worthless, just enough bait on the hook for the next lizard brain click. And we ourselves have changed, trapped in this giant skinner box, too hooked on the next dopamine hit to dig deeper for our novelty. Even professional journalism is quite dead and with it went our collective consensus reality; instead we are left in a house of mirrors looking at endless reflections of special interest talking points. The world is an incredibly interesting place, but none of that makes it to the internet anymore.

In the meantime, go read an old gem, seat61.com and reflect on what we have all lost.

This isn't true. Something creative, some web toy, gets linked on HN's front page at least once a day. Usually more often. Even in the hellscapes of Twitter or Facebook, you'll find interesting writing, weird animations, or new illustrations. There's immense creativity released daily. Too much for one person to ever keep up with.

Just because strip malls are plentiful, doesn't mean good architecture no longer exists.

And I remember the old days. For every hand-crafted gem of a site, there were a 100 with little more than a grainy photo of Slipknot and an "under construction" animation.

>This isn't true. Something creative, some web toy, gets linked on HN's front page at least once a day.

it's pretty undeniable that the web was more unique before the tooling and resources existed for laymen to easily spin up a site using an off-the-shelf solution, style-sheet, template, etc.

The grainy photo of slipknot may have been the same one from site to site -- digital media was uncommon and was generally scavenged from band sites and similar -- but many of those sites had hand-written code to facilitate the photo. Handwritten code that was unique and different from site to site.

Yeah, there is more artwork and toys on the internet now -- that's a function of the massive surge in popularity and accessibility and the world's populations finally getting to 'come online' -- but 'uniqueness'? That's way down ever since GeoCities and getting worse every day since.

It's now trivial to go find 1000s of Hugo/Gatsby/Hexo/Jekyll that all use the same exact style sheets and templates, but with different data on each site.

That's nice from an accessibility stand-point, but we lost a degree of uniqueness and creativity without a doubt.

I'm old enough that I had to hand-write all my web code when I started in the business, and I still do. Primarily because I never liked templates or wanted to learn how to tweak them - that's learning someone else's framework and being at their mercy. As it turns out, writing your own code is a lost skill and the companies and individuals who do need that service are willing to pay an arm and a leg for it. So I can charge $200/hr while someone building a template site might be making $15/hr. And my code isn't necessarily as flexible or future-proof. But it's built to do [insert specialized UI/data feature] that nothing on the open market does.

I really miss the efforts of early self-built websites, experiments, online games - even the really bad ones. I also think that having to jump through hoops to publish content made people think harder about what they were putting out in the world. Making the process of publication brainless lowers the bar of entry to, well, brainless people.

> As it turns out, writing your own code is a lost skill and the companies and individuals who do need that service are willing to pay an arm and a leg for it.

Where do you find companies and individuals willing to pay $200/hr for basic, non-templated web code?

(Or is it one of those things where they find you...)

Yeah I was wondering that too. If you worked a four day week & took 12 weeks holidays a year, that's still over $250k annually.

I rely on word of mouth and repeat business. There are a number of sites I've rewritten 3 times since the early 2000s - first in HTML/PHP, then in Flash/PHP, then in JS/PHP or Node. The code isn't (usually) that basic. I got known in the '00s for doing large, complex Flash sites - some fun ones on the art side, for bands and games, but mainly on the business side, doing online stores, CMSs and reservations systems totally in Flex/Flash. These were not what you'd associate with crazy animated Flash pages; my training was in graphic design, and these were pretty glossy, full-page responsive sites. They were also full-stack jobs, so when mobile became a thing and Flash died, a lot of clients came back needing a new front-end for an existing SQL/PHP stack that still worked. Now a lot of those have been refactored again as PWAs.

For really "basic" stuff, like doing a static website with a couple forms for an auto shop or something, I usually advise people to just go with a template solution. But one of the advantages of being solo is I've built up a really extensive set of tooling over the years, including my own lightweight CMS that's applicable for certain things where non-technical users just want to occasionally edit and preview content in-page. So that's deployed in some places.

Really, the $200/hr rate is to keep away cheap clients. It kind of obscures the fact that I work fast, so, if a client knows exactly what they want from a static website with a couple forms, I might knock it out in 8-12 hours, plus another 16 from the graphic designer I work with (who's billed separately at $100/hr). This isn't unreasonable for, say, a lawyer or a mechanic who wants something high-quality that doesn't look like every other site. We're a one-stop shop, so we'll also do logos, print pieces, etc. at the design rate. I also handle all the hosting, server management and domain registration for smaller clients (everything except email servers) and just send them a retainer bill for $400/year that includes all that plus 2 hours of support. On the higher end, there are a few companies whose stores and business apps I wrote way back who just need to keep making upgrades and changes, so I'm usually booked out for six months and rarely take new clients anymore.

I think the pricing works for a couple reasons. Initially I did it because I was tired of clients changing their minds or requesting endless unnecessary features that I felt cluttered up what should have been clean, easily navigated UIs. This was very prevalent in the Flash age when everyone wanted unnecessary animations and crazy splash pages. I would give an estimate for the number of hours involved at the beginning of a job based on the original features they requested, and anything beyond that I would start charging the hourly rate; it dissuaded them from waffling on "let's try this" and ruining their own websites. Over time I came to realize that a certain group of people like to show off a little and say they paid extra for something unique or higher-quality, or from "this guy who's the best" - and the people they bragged to would want to show that they weren't cheap either. Whereas I'm a guy who's like, "guess how cheap I got these boots", CEOs tend to be more of the "look what I can afford" type. And I'm not above tapping into that psychology. An additional benefit turned out to be that as a result of paying more, they actually trusted me more to make good calls about UI/UX, because you trust someone more who comes personally recommended, but also because professionals trust someone more who charges in or above their own income range. I realized this when I found out my in-laws' tiny mortgage office was paying a database specialist $500/hr - back in 2006 - to come in once in awhile and work on their Salesforce installation, back when I was only charging $50/hr for full stack web work. To them, she walked on water. I started raising my rate annually.

One lesson I learned from the art and design world, before I even got into coding, was that under-pricing your own work is the kiss of death. Keeping my rates high enough to drive some clients away has given me more free time and let me shape my career in a direction I actually want.

What I've learned from your (very excellent) post — and this is what I suspected, really — is something you may not like: $200 an hour isn't enough... you're not charging enough. Sorry. And yes, my post was bait in hopes that I would metaphorically lure you out of your lair. Sorry for that too.

You've spent 2 decades building a reputation as "the best guy in the area", you're booked so solid that you don't bother taking new clients, and your rate doesn't reflect your reputation or productivity and your current retainer, including your own labor inputs, is hardly more (probably less) than a basic small-business managed hosting plan.

At $200/hr and your self-described productivity, you're not the "look what I can afford" provider, you're the value provider. Basically, you're doing your "basic", "non-templated" web code (which, oh by the way, includes your own hand-rolled infrastructure) for less than the cost of the template-nonsense that plucky entrepreneurial types are selling to small biz all over the place. (Again, you'd be amazed at what small businesses end up spending just in hosting. It's often as much or more.)

That's what it sounds like to me, anyway. And all this comes with a big fat disclaimer: you know infinitely more about your business than I.


> I realized this when I found out my in-laws' tiny mortgage office was paying a database specialist $500/hr - back in 2006 - to come in once in awhile and work on their Salesforce installation, back when I was only charging $50/hr for full stack web work. To them, she walked on water.


It's possible I don't charge enough, now. I'm cautious about raising rates, and the last time I did was pre-Covid. 2020 was pretty rough, with almost no one interested in building new infrastructure; luckily I had long jobs to carry me through most of it.

The $200/hr rate now isn't that different from a $50/hr rate in 2006. It was about half of what a smaller web bureau or design agency would charge at that time. My selling point was that I had the knowledge and will to do the work, if not the manpower and response time that a full agency could bring to bear. So - yes - it has always been a value proposition for my clients who have to trust that a one-man code show with a couple designers in tow can write software that will last ten years and is worth the technical debt incurred with a custom platform. I always remind them that unlike a company, I can get hit by a bus.

But I also omitted the fact that I really only enjoy writing fun, interesting code now... and there isn't much of that. So I find myself spending half the day on my own projects. I don't maximize my income by working long hours. Typically, I work on client projects 2-4 hours a day unless there's a short deadline. Maybe I should charge more for those hours, but I also feel a bit of moral obligation not to raise my prices too steeply on the clients who've made the decision to put themselves into my technical debt. And a lot of times I just do tech support without putting down a charge at all, if it's not really a big bother to me.

If inflation really goes crazy or if this situation ever began to feel like I wasn't being compensated fairly, I would raise my rates more sharply year to year. But... I grew up in ad agencies since I was 15 and got good at eyeballing the price points that brought in just the right customers. I used to be like a "Price is Right" contestant at that age, with the boss asking what I thought an account was worth, what a job should cost, and what they could afford. I've been accused of being too conservative in my pricing before. And of being too expensive. I don't think, personally, that maximizing the amount of money you can get out of a job is a good strategy for building long-term trust.

I have one client who, I know, thinks they have gotten an unfair and obscene amount of value from my hourly work. At one point when the stress of what they were putting on me was breaching what I could handle, even if I doubled my rate, they perceived this and just gave me a percentage of the company. So I'm of the attitude that if you do good work, and really put your complete attention into it, the world will provide for you. I hate hustlers and businessmen, hungry entrepreneurs, etc. I'm not a competitive type. Good craftsmen will never starve. To some extent, coders overrate their importance as part of a priesthood of industry in something new and poorly understood. We're architects and "engineers" with no real qualification. If the toilet in your small business backs up, the guy who comes to fix it is worth more than re-designing your online store. Or - differently, and I'm rambling here - I drive a 1980 Datsun. The only guy within 500 miles who knows that car is a mechanic who has Datsun tattoos on both of his arms... and lives in his shop, surrounded by Datsuns and charges an eminently fair rate. He built a new engine for me after I hauled him an old block. A craftsman.

Too often I hear, "you could be rich", or this or that. From ambitious people, of course. The truth is, the great thing about this life is that I have no ambition to be rich by working for someone else. If/when/how I get rich will only be if/when one of my own projects makes money. Without investors, who I hate, and certainly not on these clients' projects. I don't want or need to take advantage of them just because I could do so.

/rant - Hey, this just touched off a lot of thoughts and I don't normally explain my full thinking about this.

It sounds like a really relaxing way to make a lot of money

In 1997 a classmate would write HTML on paper with a pencil during class. It slipped my memory until recently & now I like to imagine it worked out well for him.

I learned perl on paper and pen with a copy of Larry Wall’s Perl in a hotel room in Long Beach. (An ex’s business trip, nothing to do during the day and too young to rent a car.) Having to check my own work with no interpreter (until I got home) really made me think both when I wrote it and when I reviewed it. Helped grok the concepts that were new and the syntax.

Looks like I'm going on a similar path. Your comment gave me relief.

I'm a little confused to be reading comments where people are nostalgic for that. I feel like I always have to remind people that the web was horrible back then. All I remember from that era is that everyone used Myspace, which allowed you to load arbitrary Javascript and CSS into your profile page. When you visited a new person's page, it was a crap shoot as to whether or not it would slow your browser to a crawl because of all the auto playing videos and javascript animations. And also it seems to have allowed any number of XSS attacks. So maybe the code was "unique" but it was all unified in its singular purpose to annoy you and crash your browser and get your account hacked.

If you consider Myspace to be the apogee of that internet generation then you could say Facebook was the product that killed it off completely, which now seems to bring its own hell of annoyances, security issues, and autoplaying videos. Maybe not much has really changed after all?

Where are you getting myspace out of that comment? The author seemed to be talking about regular static or semi-static sites with hand-crafted HTML and CSS, perhaps driven by a bit of Perl or PHP.

Yeah, myspace was terrible, but it was the facebook of the time. Very popular with teens and some adults. Not so much with those of us who had been denizens of the net (not just the web) for a decade prior.

I didn't mention that because I think the "website with just some simple HTML and CSS" has moved mostly to Facebook and Medium and things like that. "Small bit of Perl and PHP" has been replaced with Wordpress and Squarespace. Those things are still around in a modern form. Nobody needs to do things the old way so they don't. My observation was just that if you're looking for the vibe of the old Geocities web, to me that disappeared along with the death of Myspace, for very good reason.

The other thing I remember about the web back then is that it seems to have had (relatively speaking) about as many cranks, kooks, conspiracy theorists, and other "outsider" types as it does now. There's still plenty of weird stuff to find. The only difference is they do it with memes on facebook now instead of on a Geocities site filled with stolen animated gifs. Some things just never change.

Myspace was about 5-10 years after the era they're talking about.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I think Myspace was the end-result of that era if you followed it to its logical conclusion.

Smaller subreddits are a great counterexample as well. Many are teeming with user creations, be it art, short stories, personal projects, etc. Just about anything and everything can be found there, and much of it is people just doing their thing for no profit besides an integer counter on their post.

Link us!

Wow, 16 year old me would've killed for this link in highschool. Thanks for this one!

A few more





















It sort of both. There is probably more cool stuff out there today in absolute numbers, but less in relative terms as the businesses pushing clickbait and blogspam come in. The percentage of cool stuff decreases even as the amount increases, so it becomes harder to find even as it becomes more abundant.

It's just that the signal/noise ratio used to be several orders of magnitude higher.

Internet is too damn hard to make these days!!!! When I go back through wayback and look at the sites I was making as an early teenager in the late 90/early 2000s, it was me every month publishing the same thing but you could tell I'd just discovered a new menu in dreamweaver. Tables to tables and frames, tables and frames to some css, css to some dhtml. At some point I learned all the dreamweaver menus I wanted to learn and there isn't any stackoverflow or anything to really learn much more online, so that was that, I moved on to learning linux, and then on to learning irc. I wan't trying to learn to code, I was trying to figure out how to make weird things I could put on the internet. That was fun! I worked on digitalocean, all my friends are in dev tools etc. I think all that stuff is cool, but the idea of me making a fun mess around project to learn web today literally gives me anxiety, hell even using sqarespace is an unrewarding utilized journey.

> the idea of me making a fun mess around project to learn web today literally gives me anxiety, hell even using sqarespace is an unrewarding utilized journey.

I think vanilla javascript isn't too hard, but it is kind of hard to find easy and fun onramps to it.

This reference is what recently inspired me to do some things in vanilla javascript: https://htmldom.dev

github search came up with this which reminds me of retro DHTML sites: https://github.com/Vishal-raj-1/Awesome-JavaScript-Projects

There seem to be a number of interesting things on github, e.g.:



> The other half is that people stopped making cool internet things

Nah, it was always a small group of people making cool internet things. Now they are just drowned out by the commercial internet.

Actually, more people are making cool internet things than ever. The internet is in a golden age of creative expression across every conceivable medium. Anything you can think of - art, music, video, games, ARGs, fiction and unfiction.

But they're not putting those things on quirky hand-coded websites, so Hacker News doesn't care. The idea that most of the modern web is boring, uninteresting and not worth anyone's time is just peak tech-hipster contrarian nonsense. Sheer volume alone would suggest that, even if that were true, the interesting remainder would still be bigger than one could see within a lifetime.

Neat! So uh, where is that stuff? Link us!

Twitter, Youtube, Reddit, Instagram and TikTok.

And elsewhere.

I guess this proves the original poster right that there are only 5-6 interesting websites left on the internet. I also only check these 5 sites+HN.

No, you're missing my point - the best way to find new sites is to check the link aggregators where people post those sites from. The best way to find new content is on the sites where that content gets posted.

I mean, the fact that you only check a few sites and HN doesn't say anything about the rest of the internet. How would you even know if the rest of the internet is interesting or not if you never bother clicking a link out?

Those sites are vast. There are billions of videos, subreddit posts, etc. It's all under one name but so was all of Geocities. You couldn't even begin to consume all of what is produced on those sites.

Most of it sucks, but it always sucked.

They are also algorithmically curated and have a heavy bias towards new content.

Those sites vs the old Internet is basically the difference between a modern supermarket and a flea market, both provide you with lots of stuff, but it's a completely different experience.

Undeserved downvotes. I´d add Discord (not just for gaming, artists, crypto communities and more), Nexusmods and so one. People find or build platforms for their hobbies instead of putting it on their own website. There is so much out there. More everyday. But yeah, just writing websites is not exciting anymore. And why would it?


You Sir, are a Gentleman and a Scholar :-)

>Now everything on the internet is "content," a hyper optimized form of human intellectual output that is devoid of art, minimal on information, excreted instead of created, measured to the lowest common denominator, monetized yet worthless, just enough bait on the hook for the next lizard brain click.

I could not have said it better myself !

The Internet has become a place to publish/share every trivial thought that has ever popped into every mediocre mind. There is no self-regulation/self-censoring anymore. The Noise is just overwhelming and it is extremely mentally fatiguing just trying to get at any kind of Signal. You just give up and start numbing your mind with all the junk available.

PS: Here is Veritasium explaining the insidious effects of "Youtube Platform" Algorithms - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHsa9DqmId8 Now extrapolate the same idea to other dominant platforms like Facebook, Google etc. and you realize that "The Internet" has become a platform for Expression and not necessarily Information.

PPS: The book Networked Life: 20 Questions and Answers by Mung Chiang gives an inside algorithmic view of how the above platforms work.

Thank you! Took your advice, went to seat61.com, and loved it. Could I ask what other old gems I could explore?

> I got Guy Nadon, an actor in nothing I've ever seen

How exciting! You might discover a movie or series nobody in your bubble has ever heard of! It might be cinema of a kind you've never even dipped your toes in!

Whether something is boring or exciting is almost completely subjective and it doesn't really matter how much you already know, since there's just so much stuff.

I remember there was a Spotify playlist of 'songs with 0 plays', so as soon as someone listened to it anywhere it was removed from the playlist. Perfect for 'I listened to this song before it was cool' street cred.

There is nothing new under the sun.

It is a high bar to produce something truly innovative and different, and not just the same old with a shinier interface. Same goes for all the creative arts: television, music, movies, art, etc. You always come up against the law of diminishing marginal utility so very little ever feels as good as it was to begin with.

Do you have a favourite band but now only ever really listen to their first few albums? Do the majority of movie releases basically not excite you? Can you really be bothered to watch season n of some show you enjoyed initially?

The only way to escape that cycle is to be a creator (with yourself as an audience of one).

> The only way to escape that cycle is to be a creator (with yourself as an audience of one).

Sorry I must've misunderstood: is it a requirement that the audience is an audience of one?

I’ve often thought that some of my favorite artists were completely self indulgent: only making what they thought would be interesting, without caring what other people would think of it. In that way, they only had themselves as their audience of one.

That may not be a sufficient condition for success or innovation, but I think it’s a necessary one.

It can play out in different ways: creating software to scratch your own itch; writing a book to explore a concept that interests you (Tolkien and language is a good example); playing music that you like (and maybe only you will like; drawing, sculpting, painting what interests you.

The idea is that your target audience is yourself and no one else, therefore an audience of one.

My wife tells me: I love how when you listen to music you only listen to the music created by you.

So yes, it’s true, I’m my own audience of one. And I like it that way.

I found the same problem, so I cataloged all of the books in the Library of Congress on archive.org, music, pictures, Project Gutenberg and created this: https://www.locserendipity.com

the random selections button is my favorite part. It's like picking things up in a disorganized pile at a used bookstore

nothing curated, nothing directing you toward a particular book other than the title

it gives you a chance to reckon with something that's not for you, to actually stumble upon something and try to reckon with it as you find it

> That means it's time to turn off the Internet and go outside.

Loved it. Brilliant ending. Sounds almost like a great super short novel.

Also new technology = new plateaus to explore.

Internet really boomed and flourished in mid 2000's, and then the mobile and the app space took off in mid 2010s, where we had new content/ideas/innovation. Even way before then, VHS kicked off a video golden age in the 1980s.

Kind of curious to see the next frontier that gets propped up by a technology this decade. I thought it was going to be consumer robotics but it's probably still too soon for that.

Decentralised apps seem to be a booming 'wild west' creative outlet nowadays. NFTs are popular, but there's definitely potential for more interesting use cases.

The outside world is even more boring. Especially now that strangers no longer talk but pretend to be busy on their phones.

I remember when I first started using the internet, I would be absolutely fascinated searching up totally boring things and seeing the google search results. Finding a new flash game was the best thing ever.

All of the stuff I used to do is still there but it’s boring now. Just like most of the games I used to find fun seem to basic and limited now.

I know Guy Nadon! He was in Série Noire.

Not in my experience. Once in a while i find very interesting sites that has existed for several years and i have found very recently. For example gwern.net schneier.com .

i got this


gonna go for a walk. bye.

I heard about this "Outside". It seems pretty new and interesting, but how do you explore it? I heard it was still slow and expansive?

Most things are boring in general, not just on the internet (https://xkcd.com/863/).

I've put some thought on this topic, and I think the driving force between the Internet seeming so small nowadays is a combination of changes to how search engines work, as well a move from forums to big social media which has meant a shift from organic community discovery to being drip-fed content from based on what an algorithm thinks will be engaging.

The Internet, as you remember it, still very much exists. Some forums have shut down, but there are still small personal websites, blogs, all that stuff. They're just really hard to find with Google and facebook/reddit/twitter.

Here are some cool and creative things I've discovered recently. I have no affiliation with these projects, I just thought they were cool:







> I think the driving force between the Internet seeming so small nowadays is a combination of changes to how search engines work, as well a move from forums to big social media which has meant a shift from organic community discovery to being drip-fed content from based on what an algorithm thinks will be engaging.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Google used to prioritize forum posts in their search results. They even had a feature to limit search results to only forum posts via a "Discussions" option on the results page.

These days, Google prioritizes social media content, click bait and blogspam that has a lot of ads. The "Discussions" option is gone, and even recent forum posts are nowhere to be found on the first few pages of search results.

A similar thing has happened with Google News. It used to be that News was a search engine that basically told you all the latest blog posts and discussions on a topic, rather than trying to provide capital-N News. I was recently looking for that functionality to find discussions on an obscure topic and it's completely gone.

It’s absolutely worth mentioning your search engine, Marginalia [1] as well.

[1]: https://search.marginalia.nu/

Wow, just seeing "pure meat" results like this throws me back to another time...


Lileks... I've been visiting his site off and on since the late 90's. Always something interesting there.

The recommender algorithms cater to the dumbest common denominator, i.e. content with the broadest appeal (no niche stuff) to the most active internet users (people with way too much spare time).

people always go towards laziness and convenience, that seems to be a axiom of life.

I'm not sure I'm convinced about that. The desire for convenience may be a widespread cultural message, but I wonder if it comes from people and not marketers. A lot of people seem to suffer in perpetual convenience, they may not be able to articulate it, but it makes them uncomfortable. After a while they feel restless and crave some sort of meaning in life, something to engage with, an interesting idea, a hobby, a project. Some form of work, not for salary but to create something or learn something or do something. Something real and authentic.

This thread is actually a good example of that, and OP isn't the only one who has noted that the Internet seems to have turned into a soulless mall where nothing has any effort or thought put into it. Well, it hasn't, but when you engage with the Internet through certain tools it sure looks that way.

i agree with you wholeheartedly, nice point. I guess you can liken it to junk food, most people would be happier and healthier without it but marketing and people's propensity for an easy way out if it exists has lead to people being fat, unhappy and addicted to junk food. I wonder who is to blame? People for the choices they make, or businesses who know people's propensity to do stuff even though it goes against an individuals own best interests.

b/w i found your search engine and blog, you are exactly the type of people we need more of, thanks for everything!

Could it be that your over 30?

There is a problem known as the multi-armed bandit problem[0]. The problem deals with situations where you have to chose between different options you could take, but you don't start off with full knowledge of the options. You can spend time learning the options (exploring) or you can spend time using the best option you already know of (exploit). Importantly, you can't do both at the same time.

In general, good strategies start with a phase of exploring followed by exploiting.

Humans follow this pattern as well. For us, it seems we spend our late childhood, thru our teens, and into our early 20's in a heavily explore-biased state then switch to exploit biased for our 30's and later.

So the thing that happened to "exploring the internet" is you got older. Exploring for the sake of exploring is no longer as innately desirable to you know as it was when you were younger. You can still do it now. In many ways there are new tools that make it easier (see other posts) but it will likely feel more like work in a way which wasn't true when you were younger.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-armed_bandit

I think you have a point but could it be that after some age we simply don’t have time to explore because we are required to exploit?

I personally know some quite old people who seem to be into exploring all the time with periods of exploitation and all of them are people with mundane jobs that end when it ends. Their mental capacity is at their hobbies and they sometimes invest into their hobbies a lot, however they would come up with other hobbies all the time.

That’s in contrast to the white collar folks who’s life becomes work and all they do outside of work is to pay for some curated experience like vacation to Paris or Cooking lessons. They never have time for anything, they deeply specialize at something like building systems that catch people engaging in known money laundering schemes.

After some age you are in track to specialize a lot, make a lot of money and spends that money within the acceptable framework with your peers.

Also, the effects of the algorithms could be strong too. I noticed that it has been quite some time since the last time I was bored deeply. At the slightest sign of boredom I find myself getting entertained on one of the few apps and website I visit. It makes me feel like I’m exploring but in reality, I rarely see anything that is not a variation of something from the narrative of the platform.

I'd argue that the explore/exploit model has worked bi-directionally between entrepreneurs and consumers on the internet. The big companies have explored our weaknesses and exploited them in ways to monopolize our time and interests while having a few decades to perfect it. That, and as you mentioned, a growing elderly base on the internet that's settled more on the sources of information they consume.

I disagree that is has to be this way. I am getting older, but still exploring every day. You do need to keep moving on to green pastures as old ones have been chewed over. In 2021 I'll have lived in 6 cities in 3 countries. I've also been going down the rabbit hole on VR which is fresh technology terrain for me and takes me back to when I was 17 and setting up home networks for the fun and awe of it.

Interesting hypothesis.

My personal experience is that I've shifted away from "exploring the Internet" to exploring other domains of lived experience. I suppose in this sense, I am now "exploiting the Internet", but I would not say that I have overall shifted to a more exploit-focused regime.

I just wrote an answer to this post and saw your comment afterwards. I am over 30 and the pattern I explained in my comment all points towards getting older and mature.

Does it mean that young people are still exploring the internet and computer today the way I use to back when I was young?

> Does it mean that young people are still exploring the internet and computer today the way I use to back when I was young?

Yes, but they're exploring TikTok, YouTube and to a lesser extent, Instagram. There are oceans of content to explore on those platforms.

TikTok is the closest thing to the early Internet IMO, although it's becoming much more commercial like Instagram now.

But that sort of democratisation of view points and content is great.

Seems like you could use the same argument to say that the olds are still exploring too. I certainly have a lot of friends that spend hours watching random videos on TikTok and Youtube and they're in their 40s.

Don't forget Discord, Minecraft, and Roblox.

What you describe for humans may be applied to the Internet itself: it turned 30.

I'm guessing there's a more general name for the concept, but drawing a blank.

This is essentially the reason advertisers tend to target the young - those over a certain age are more set in their ways and not looking for new options.

It's called "exploration vs exploitation". Unless you meant the idea that older people need to explore less because they're already done it. I don't think there's a name for that specific idea.

I originally searched for "exploration vs exploitation" but that lead to the "multi-armed bandit problem" on wikipedia, so I went with that on my post above.

I do that "exploration vs exploitation" is a better name for it though.

Yes, the general name is "ageism". This has nothing to do with young versus old. Younger people are funnelled to a small number of larger sites just as much as older people.

Is there a source or research around humans following this pattern?

I first encountered it via this book:


The wikipedia article also briefly mentions that it is observed in animals.

Tons, the book "Algorithms to live by" go head first into this - https://www.amazon.com/Algorithms-Live-Computer-Science-Deci...

It can sound a bit simple at first, but the human - algo stories are terrific.

Are there examples that aren't that book (or derived from that book)?

I will sometimes start with a zone file, like com.zone. I search for keywords in registered domainnames. Then I filter by nameserver (registrar). Finally, I run a script to fetch the page titles. You would be surprised at how effective this can be in finding websites that you would never be able to find using simple Google searches. Of course, it is cumbersome; search engines can make this process very easy but they deliberately disable this type of exploration. You can query Google's index for a list of all websites with domain names that contain a certain keyword, but you will never be able to retrieve the full list of results, and certainly not in a "neutral" order such as alphabetical.

Arguably a web comprising a large number small, diverse websites, where each user may be visiting a variety of different websites, is less suitable for advertising than one where all web users are funneled through a few large websites that survive by selling online ad services, like Google. It stands to reason that those large, online ad services sites would have little interest in showing users an undiscovered portion of the web. They want users to congregate on "popular" sites. Good for advertising.

OTOH, using zone files instead of a search engine, social media or news aggregator site in the online ads (or VC) business, one can see all websites that have registered an ICANN domain name. No filters. No advertising-related algorithms. Popularity is irrelevant. The user determines relevance, not a third party.

Is this something that could be scripted with some foo to be a basic search engine in itself?

Anyone know if something like this exists?

What I have wanted to do for some time, well over a decade, is to create a search engine that just searches page titles. Not as a substitute for any other search engine but as a high throughput discovery tool to screen for websites which can then be explored and searched further.

There are, e.g., search engines that search for strings in the page source, e.g., to detect use of certain Javascript files. These are slow and not free.

Wouldn't the Google intitle/allintitle search operators work for this? Or am I missing something?

How can I get a zone file?

Today it is easy to create zone files from free, publicly available internet scan data, e.g., scans.io and censys.io. This is arguably a better solution than zone files. Not every domain name in a zone file necesarily corresponds to a website. Whereas scans allow to focus only on websites.

Requesting zone files from the registry was the traditional method. ICANN tries to require registries to provide them to the public, with limited success. Downloading com.zone/net.zone from Verisign should be relatively straightforward (not sure if edu.zone is available anymore). However with gTLDs there are hundreds of registries now, with potentially hundreds of different rules on zone file access; some registries like ccTLDs never had zone file access programs. Even registries that seem like they would be easy to deal with can have silly restrictions, e.g., the .org registry used to have a requirement that the requester needed to have stable IP address.


You can request a copy from ICANN through the Centralized Zone Data Service (CZDS). It's a pretty neat service and will give you access to zone files for a few months, you just need to file a request to one/multiple TLDs you are interested in seeing.

Sometimes larger TLDs take a bit longer to respond to requests, whereas some others automatically accept all requests.

https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/czds-2014-03-03-en https://czds.icann.org/home

It's because your interface to the internet is not browsing-based.

Back when we used things like the Yahoo directory as our main method of searching, we'd travel down different categories, finding unexpected websites as we went. That felt like exploring, because you were making choices about which direction to go, and that would determine what you saw next.

With a search engine, you tell the search engine what you want, it takes you there. There's no browsing there, so very little discovery.

The other main method of finding things today is aggregation: places like Hackernews, or Twitter. The reason using those sites doesn't feel like exploring is because they're just pushing new things right at you. It's not a matter of you seeking anything out, or making any choices, so it doesn't feel the same.

You can get that feeling of exploration on Twitter or (e.g. YouTube, Twitch, etc.) by using the relationships of individual people or channels as a path to travel down. But, that's not the most common way to use those sites, nor what they're optimized for: they want to show you a list of recommended new things based on an algorithm, and that won't feel like you're exploring, because you aren't; you're on a guided tour.

I think these companies gave us what we want most of the time, and one consequence is that the idea of a directory-based interface to the web went away, along with the feeling that using such an interface evoked.

Wikipedia is one of the only sites many people still use that is still organized like a hyperlinked directory, and meant to be used to serendipitously explore and find unexpected information yourself.

There are other browsing tools besides directories that have “died” del.icio.us and stumbleupon being 2 that spring to mind and hock supporting a true “browsing” experience.

In addition to this, sites are now focused on keeping you on the site, so they can serve more ads. There is no payoff in linking to a lot of other sites, so the web is no longer a complex landscape of interlinked sites, it is field of tarpits that each try their best to keep you from escaping.

Good take.

One thing that can enhance browsing is to look up key terms and concepts if they are not hyperlinked.

I recently donated to Wikipedia. They deserve it.

When I am in that type of mood I just head to my huge uni library and randomly pick a book. No unnecessary jabbering from the chimp troupe to deal with, and no wading thro all sorts of scams, advertising, self promotion etc. Todays internet just doesnt match a nice library.

If I could give you a thousand upvotes, I would. I have spent countless hours in libraries exploring the stacks, absolutely everything was at my fingertips. Nothing can compare.

This is why I was so excited in the early days of Google Books. The digitalization of most written human knowledge would have created a modern Library of Alexandria, a sprawling, perfectly catalogued archive. An open API would make it so you could walk through in a metaverse platform, or scroll through by section, shelf, and spine. A bot librarian could guide blind users through and read books for them, either via BrailleNote or voice assistant.

Instead, copyright turned Google Books into a worse version of Amazon's "look inside" feature, depriving the internet of immeasurable substance.

For some reason this post brought to my mind the website of Fravia [1]. It is defunct now (he died 10+ years ago) but it is archived and various mirrors exist (have a look at the wikipedia page [2]).

I never really got to explore the website in depth but the few articles I've read I remember to have been very interesting. More important he had some tips on how to make better searches to uncover websites that might not be high on the results list. Granted this information might be outdated now but I think it is worth a look.

[1] www.fravia.com

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fravia

There's alternate search engines that prioritize their results differently, like millionshort or wiby.

> Whatever happened to the idea of “exploring the Internet”?

Written content on the Internet are much lower in terms of quality than before. SEO has taken over and so written content tend to be wordy or salesy. There is no mechanism for users to flag low quality content to Search engines or other users, so it is a free for all.

Online forums are long gone. People migrated to Reddit where discussion is much more shallow, or private communities on Facebook.

We could still find interesting stuff on YouTube, for now.

Counterpoint to all the gloom.

Most interesting content is indeed either

(a) on 5 or 6 sites, or linked from there (b) on professional news or media websites

This is because only a tiny proportion of people have the skills, or need, to build their own website with their own domain. 99% of people - including 99% of people with interesting things to say - will say them on Facebook, Twitter, Medium or Substack. Then there are people paid to be interesting. You'll find them on the NYT, or (for my region) the Eastern Daily Press.

This is fine! Web browsers are read-only. Certain websites, built on the web, provide services for writing. People use them.

This also is revealing - maybe it is time to create a blog after all.

Many people do give up on computer problems if they take longer than a few minutes to solve, or do not want to spend time piecing together fragments together, domain, hosting, dns, email, etc.

yes, we just have to accept that those big aggregators won and the idea of truly distributed internet did not become a reality

The entry to my particular rabbit hole is to read any wikipedia article in math and follow the references up to the primary sources. Thanks to libgen and scihub nowadays you can access immediately the whole math corpus. You get to read the first proof of any theorem you fancy in a couple of clicks. We are living in a golden age for historians of math. This is awesome!

It feels really to be "exploring the internet". In a glorious quality and extent that I could have never imagined when my dad brought home a modem in 1995.

1. Many of the creators of web sites and many of the users have changed. The creators often know diddly squat except some framework, they often work for a dullard and produce dull nonsense. The audience is often deeply "consumer" in the derogatory meaning of the word.

Result: When you're surfing you see so much of no interest that it's no longer fun.

(There is good stuff out there it's just so hard to find.)

2. The search engines also actively destroyed all those people who used to list interesting sites. Now the replacement for finding interesting sites is often some half witted algorithm, that's definitely not human, definitely hasn't the slightest clue and won't even let you take charge to get what you want.

3. People used to write their own material, experiment with program driven sites, be interesting. Now so many, even those who used to be interesting, make regurgi-posts all the time. They provide a link to an article that they've often not really read. That article is produced by somebody under time pressure who thinks the web is some text and a stock image or two, but mostly 100 times as much code as anything useful, so they can watch your every move, extract your money.

That's enough for now. If you want you can recreate the web as something that increases your intellect, not this destroyer abomination thing, choice is yours. If you have say five or so friends similarly inclined you can do it. Your choice.

Time for my pet theory!

Search is orthogonal to exploration. At first Google/yahoo/etc we're so bad that improvements in their systems made everything better.

But at some point they started trading one against the other because the easy wins were gone.

Because Google is the market leader (at least by the time this becomes relevant) everyone tried to compete with them and follow their path. Google optimized search really strongly over exploration. So much so that most users only interact with the very first result these days.

And thus exploring the internet is dead because there's not a good way to do it. This had knock on effects where nobody designs to be explored like they used to (or are explicitly hostile to it), so it's probably actually quite hard to build an internet explore engine at this point

This is basically my theory too!

Put simply, the dominating means of navigation and discovery on the internet switched from directories (transparent, easy to explore) to search engines (black box, returns result tailored to your input). And each website you ended up at might have had its own directory inviting you to explore further! Though maybe that bit hasn't changed too much.

I can save you the trouble. The internet is full of people: in short, avoid.

However, the internet is also what you bring to it. I took up playing synths last year and it's a whole new community of makers, hackers, and artists that was invisible to me before participating in that art. The same is true for any instrument. I have other pursuits that are almost completely unrepresented online other than some rich technical how-to's, which are great. Doing things whose online communities aren't representative of the real world activity makes me optimistic that the real world isn't like reddit.

Learn a thing and do it often, if not eventually even well, and it changes the lens you see the world through.

The interesting content is still there, but it is hidden under SEOed content. It is simply not as popular in relative terms.

Most of the popular content you see on FB or other aggregators are simply "preview"s to get your money. A "thoughtful" article that just mentions half-way through a book you should buy. A blogpost on some technical matter that just mentions they are looking for new hires. A funny video to get you to see ads. And so on, and so forth.

It is still possible to find interesting communities, like HN, but you should probably dig around the niche that you enjoy. Discord has some good servers. IRC is still around. It all depends on what you are interested in.

Recently I began "exploring the internet" again with the help of a niche search engine that was posted here on HN not that long ago [1]. Seems like it returns lesser known, interesting, contrarian websites where the authors speak their mind. For example I found websites that: speculate that milk and lactose might be a hidden cause for several chronic conditions [2]; try to re-explain evolution by re-positioning the relationship between life, organism, and DNA [3]; rich homepages like this one [4];

[1]: https://search.marginalia.nu/ [2]: http://www.nomilk.com/ [3]: https://bwo.life/org/index.htm [4]: http://www.valdostamuseum.com/hamsmith/TShome.html

A lot of this was painful. I'll comment on bwo.life, since it is somewhat close to some of the things I know a little bit more about.

> Despite all this life and death, I doubt whether anyone would be tempted to describe the embryo’s cells as “red in tooth and claw”. Nor do I think anyone would appeal to “survival of the fittest” or natural selection as the fundamental principle governing what goes on during normal development. The life and death of cells appears to be governed, rather, by the developing form of the whole in which they participate.

This is precisely the sort of BS you get when you do not participate actively in a field, but instead go off on the side to live in your own world. During development, suvival of the fittest is very much at play; we have evidence for this, for example in the developmental trajectories of stem cell niches. Cells outcompete each other, and make it difficult for other varieties of cells to "live" along side them (this does not necessarily result in apoptosis, it can also cause re-differentiation in the less "successful" cells). A crucial reason for this is error correction: sometimes, new cells are defective in various dangerous ways (e.g. cancerous, or have problematic genetic information), and "survival of the fittest" helps to error-correct for this, as usually such defective cells are "less fit".

What's surprising here is that cells can change their fitness, "on purpose", in ways that do not make evolutionary sense. They might be programmed to reduce their fitness, or entirely explode, if they receive certain inputs. So, clearly this is an emergent process where we must take into account cellular programming along side "naive" natural selection.

"Old hat" to biologists, really, in that they have been studying this. They're studying it until today. New things are discovered all the time. There is no sense of certainty, only that there are some general outlines emerging.

Coming back then to this article: saddening, if not disgusting in its pretentiousness. Link [4]is even more depressing. I don't know if people understand how dangerous quackery is: it destroys lives. Most importantly, it destroys the lives of children whose parents fall into this.

The broader internet (being difficult to explore given how modern internet ecologies box us in) is thankfully not made up primarily of this kind of..."garbage", but it is often painted as being that way.

So, for anyone who came across this: please don't think the un-popular internet is a cesspool of "people speaking their minds, in a convenient vacuum". Rather, there are websites where people who are humble about their understanding, even if it is substantial compared to the average person's. For example: John Baez's homepage (https://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/) is far richer than link [4], and actually gives you useful knowledge.

+Fravia's lore on internet searching (and reverse engineering in general) are masterpieces; showcases of what the internet can produce, while also working as effective vaccination against disinformation: http://biostatisticien.eu/www.searchlores.org/indexo.htm

His strategies for how to search for useful information on the internet remain relevant today.

Regarding website [4] - I agree with you, I just showed it as an interesting example of what might be found.

But regarding bwo.life, I think you are missing the forest for the trees. I read quite a lot of articles on that site and your comment in no way disagrees with anything written there. Honestly speaking - I got the impression you just wanted to highlight some details you happen to know about development due to your field of work. And you disagree in the first paragraph, saying that there is some natural selection between cells. But then, it seems obvious that survival of the fittest cells cannot explain development alone, so you backtrack and say that this is not the full story while somehow remaining in disagreement with the author. I don't get it.

Scientists have never claimed that survival of the fittest is sufficient for development. bwo.life sets up a strawman to tilt against. A waste of time.

Well what do you propose, should search engines be arbiters of truth? That would give them a terrifying power over society at large.

Here's a tortious causal chain that I think explains everything.

Computing evolved up the point of Multics. The military has always been a driver of computing research to some extent. The deployment of computing resources to help plan airstrike missions showed a critical need for developing a system in which a single computer could handle multiple levels of secure data. The research resulted in capability based security, which was in the process of being folded into Multics.

The folks at Bell labs happened to have a spare DEC machine, and having seen the complexity of Multics, decided to eschew capabilities, and instead relied on a much simpler, and quicker to implement system based on group and user IDs into Unix. This quickly spread to be the defacto multi-user model of security across the academic world.

Over time, PCs came to dominate the low end of computing. When it came time to implement multi-user and network systems, the Unix model, or a slightly upgraded model, based on access control lists (as in Windows) effectively ate the world.

Eternal September happened, and the internet went commercial. With this, we now have persistent internet, and are stuck with the oversimplified security model from Linux and Windows dominating everything. As such, no computer is actually secure.

Because computers aren't secure, you can't trust programs that run on them to be secure. Because of this, you can't trust the web browser on your computer to not get you into trouble if you click on the wrong link. This results in a very strong tendency to avoid clicking on links from unknown domains and sites among the general public.

Because the audience has settled into a few walled gardens, most of the authors of content have had no choice but to move to do the same.

And here we are, because capability based security is seen as too complicated (it doesn't have to be, in fact it can be simple to use), we're all stuck with facebook, twitter, etc.

I generally don't like to bring any attention to language, but I do wonder if you mean tortious.

Yeah, I really don't think you should (and neither should I), since we're never as smart as we think we are.

The author did not mean tortious, but instead tortuous. But one immediately gathers this from the context anyway. Who cares what the spelling is?

"Tortious" is just as self-deprecating in that sentence. Is it an unfair slight to identity-based security systems, or a overlong Rube Goldbergian explanation of how the current state of the internet came to be?

> Who cares what the spelling is?

People trying to figure out whether an author means "tortious" or "tortuous."

I think it's very respectful to the author to make sure you're reading what they intended to write. When it comes to anything I write/say, please don't separate the art from the artist - just ask the artist what he meant to say.

Thanks to you I just learned the word tortious!

misspell one word... and it goes of on a tortuous tangent ;-)

It's still out there, especially when you find webrings that are still alive and kicking. I have a links page on my art/personal site that links to easily 200+ other artists, organizations, webrings, and interesting finds. May you find something fascinating enough to click on. :)


the problem is Search engines suck really really badly at finding good sites. I think the war between SEO spammers and search engines has been won by the SEO spammers. And the search engine filters are now so exclusive that 99% of the good content gets filtered out. this has been a growing problem over the last 15 years but it's getting so bad that even technical searches are starting to suck.

Just as an example: in the last few days all i wanted to find was a single Dockerfile setup that worked out of the box. and nearly every single example I could find in the top 20 results was broken.

I mean, try looking up subjects that many people have written about. For example: "Why does climate change matter?" Nearly every single top 20 search result sucks really bad with barely 3 to 5 paragraphs not even going into depth. We know for a fact there are hundreds of extremely in-depth articles that cover this subject with great depth and examples, and explanations.

It’s painful going to a new site, only to be greeted by huge hard-to-dismiss popups telling you to subscribe / disable your ad blocker / enter your email / etc, then a cookie dialog you have to parse and carefully operate in order to not get OneTrusted, then the whole page may refresh and take you back to the top because of these shenanigans. Oh and does this site have multiple video players attacking you from the corners? These days I do feel a twinge of adrenaline as I gird myself to load a new site, so I’ll prefer to stay on the ones I know.

Well for starters, we used to call it "Surfing the Internet" not "exploring the internet".

The modern web was designed to rope you in and keep you there. Look up random stuff that interests you, not using a big name search engine. Then if you find a site on a webring, and look at connecting sites.

A lot of the original metaphors for "using" the internet carry connotations of exploration or perusing, but they've been in use for so long the meaning has sort of gotten worn off.

Listen to these words and think about what they actually mean: Internet Explorer, or Web Browser, even Netscape Navigator with its nautical theme has such connotations.

You can add konqueror, and safari to this list

Haha I'm sure it was "surfing the web" ... I never heard anyone say "surfing the internet"

You're right, it was never internet. For me it was net or web, but it was always surfing.

A little further back it advertising called it the "Information Superhighway"

You might get a kick out of watching old NetCafe or Computer Chronicles episodes on archive.org, fellow netizen. Did anyone ever really use that term? I like to playfully use it after watching NetCafe episodes a few years ago.

You mean Internet Explorer isn't for exploring the internet!

Internet Explorer?

There are a lot of really interesting things on Neocities. Check out their Browse section, enter a tag of anything you're interested in, set the filter, and check out what's there:


I've also been having a lot of fun on minus which is a minimal social network that gives each user a lifespan of 100 posts max:


Check out Marginalia [1] which has been posted about and mentioned a few times on HN in the past. It’s a search engine which aims to show more text-heavy websites. I’ve found it to be very reminiscent of “exploring the Internet” and I have found some truly interesting sites while using it which I would have never found via Google.

[1]: https://search.marginalia.nu/

I'm using rss/news reader Feedly.com to follow > 100 sites daily, most entrys are "marked read" others saved for more close reading. The list of sites expand weekly by interesting links from sites like hacker news &c.

As the Internet grew, businesses built themselves around it. Metrics optimized websites for behaviors that aren't organic. You only check 5 to 6 sites because, either unintentionally or intentionally, for better or worse, they indulge you in ways that the old Internet did not.

Look for communities that are built around the humans in them, vs a single company. Web rings, Gemini, IRC are all great places to start.

Is it even 5 or 6 sites?

"I'm old enough to remember when the Internet wasn't a group of five websites, each consisting of screenshots of text from the other four."


Internet access became a commodity, that's what's happened.

Back in the days we had dial-up. I remember the rush. The excitement. The thought that every minute I was paying 6 cents. The monthly bill my parents received, and the (justified!) speech I got for being online too much. I remember downloading entire Usenet groups, reading them offline (cheap!). I also remember my browser crashing after I logged off [from the internet], while it contained various windows (tabs didn't exist yet), and it couldn't handle it for whatever reason. Session Restore? Haha, no, that didn't exist yet. It'd be like a reinstall of an OS: fresh. You'd have to put effort and patience into a post, too. Because you had to dial-in to post it, and who knows what might've been posted in the meantime?

Now we got always-on. Everything is very graphical, Web 2.0. You can get any content you desire. Any movie, any music, any book. Its all available, without any issue. It devalues the works, as does Web 2.0 with templates and what not. Its the same with synthesizer-based music. Everything is VST now. Back in the days, you needed an expensive hardware synthesizer (e.g. a 303) which was a specific investment. Its like the difference between the bioindustry daily and eating a piece of free-range meat every once in a while. Not to mention, search engines have become so good, it defeats the purpose of manually exploring in your own way. Efficiency killed curiosity.

And you grew up. As you grow up, things become less new and exciting. You can still explore though. For example, you could go to HN's newest submits [1] and upvote of the few which were worth reading. If a few do this, and its a match, interesting content gets more coverage on the HN front page. But that's the thing, too: you're doing work for other people. That's also part of what exploring is about: sharing your findings.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newest

> I seem to have collapsed down to checking 5 to 6 sites.

I check about 20 sites regularly even when I have other interesting things to do.

> Where would I even go to find other sites that might be of interest?

Search engines?

> Whatever happened to the idea of “exploring the Internet”?

It sounds like you would like to find lists of recommended sites that people used to have on their homepages. Most people don't maintain such lists anymore, because 1) nobody reads them 2) they are busy pushing updates and consuming those of other people. Most people find more interesting stuff than they have time to consume already. (Who even needs entertainment industry anymore?)

Also I don't frequent social media, unless HN counts.

Edit: Sometimes when I want anything to read, I search "is java dying" or "why c++". There has always been something new, albeit I do it only two or three times a year.

I honestly do think link pages should make a comeback. Websites are really bad at linking to each other. It's like they are trying to trap their visitors or something and prevent them from leaving by having no exits, but no visitor likes to feel trapped like that.

It's fun to assemble link lists, it has a sort of scrapbooking quality to it, and as long as the links are of high quality, they can be very enjoyable to browse through as well. That's the benefits beyond the service they provide for the personal website ecosystem which is really struggling with serious discoverability issues.

I agree in a way, but for different reasons.

The Internet can host public debate where everyone can participate equally well in a way that was never before possible, whereas mainstream media is mostly a relic from a time when writing was ink on paper, and publishing was therefore expensive.

People could commend blogs and articles they think you should read (and publish their own too!). They should be able to do so without fear of losing friends or being kicked from the platform when they find something objectionable in them.

Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. -- Jesus the Christ

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. -- James 3:8

> Search engines

Which search engines in 2021 give you real, interesting websites and not SEO gamed content pages that exist only to serve ads?

> Which search engines in 2021 give you real, interesting websites and not SEO gamed content pages that exist only to serve ads?

You could try https://searchmysite.net/ which only includes user-submitted and moderated websites, and tries to keep out spam by detecting pages with adverts and heavily downranking them in the results.

Shameless self-promotion: https://search.marginalia.nu/

Bubbling can be avoided with something like DuckDuckGo or Startpage, albeit SEO gamed content is still an issue.

Marginal search engines may be better at avoiding it, as optimizing for them wouldn't be that profitable, but I haven't tried any.

You could try checking out lower results, or search the SEO gamed content for hints that help you dig deeper.

Gemini's search engine


Sometimes, I like visiting the older corners of the internet using the above link. I feel nostalgic somehow. It also helps you see how far we've come in terms of web design and development.

In the early days of the internet, search engines (and there were multiple, not just one major one) would show a broader variety of results so it was easier to stumble upon new interesting stuff and small, growing communities.

Nowadays, all the top results of Google are websites which are already popular so it's not possible to 'discover' a new community through Google. Other less popular search engines use very similar algorithms based on backlinks so they all show more or less the same results as each other.

VCs aren't interested in funding Google competitors, unfortunately. I'm sure there exists algorithms which are good at finding relevant websites and which are different than the one used by Google but it would disrupt the current economic order.

> Where would I even go to find other sites that might be of interest?

Here?! HN is a collection of references to articles from the most varied www sources...

n submissions per day over m different sites, from l users which provide partial indirect profiles: you think one may not find new interesting sources? It would be a job in itself, to check where the submissions lead you.

(n, m, l: maybe dang could provide stats, it would be interesting. Edit: since we are here: most common www sources; www sources with the best upper quintile of upvotes in submissions (i.e. when they are noted, they really are)...)

> It would be a job in itself, to check where the submissions lead you.

Most likely, straight to the comments section.

It is easy on HN to focus on the debate part, and forget the referenced article and its own www position.

It's not with technical intention: the frontpage currently open clearly lists, with appropriate highlighting: thisworddoesnotexist.com ; nature.com ; twobithistory.org ; michielborkent.nl ; wired.com ; flowingdata.com ; arxiv.org ; techspot.com ; crunchydata.com ; lukasz.langa.pl ; gabrielgambetta.com ; science.org ; thisiscolossal.com ; lambdaland.org ; sparkfun.com ; rongarret.info ; archive.org ; eetimes.com ; axios.com ; theinformedcompany.com ; easypost.com ; austinvernon.site ; heap.io ; reuters.com ; disneyresearch.com ; leadedsolder.com ; fermatslibrary.com ; cnx-software.com ; medium.com/sequoia-capital. It is one's own internal direction (post-perceptual filtering) to ignore that.

I think the need for AI/machine learning to predict what you want has kind of brought us here.

Imagine a Facebook or Instagram not mining your data to show you what they think you want - the results in your timeline will be a grand hash of all the think that's new and happening.

That would have been a vastly different experience.

Except for perhaps Reddit, every other big site today personalizes your content and this has made the internet boring for me.

The only place i discovew new content is Reddit, but again its front page is full of memes and American content.

> Except for perhaps Reddit

The Reddit apparent algorithms I experienced create a very biased content proposal: browsing its content with an account has the effect of increasing restrictions in the offer instead of its expansion. (Again a huge basic fault: it "corners" you into a claustrophobic virtual reality, instead of enhancing freedom (today this should be a theoretical tenet) and "pluralism with relevance". Not only that: it seems to decide your affiliations with the dumbest prejudice.)

>Where would I even go to find other sites that might be of interest?

Hacker News?

Or Twitter, at least half of my feed consists of people who frequently share links to a variety of tech-related sites. Also many people have an interesting site linked in their bio. (If you prefer just your feed without Twitter's ads and suggestions try https://tweetdeck.twitter.com).

Directory/portal death happened. That together with a good-working (but highly marketed) search shifted focus from exploring some areas to consuming little pieces of information. Sites also changed because to make it to the top of the search you have to produce eye-catching pieces, not a complete theme coverage. All sites are almost identical time-sinks so with time only on few of them you decided to land.

Hey, I have an answer to this!

and its part of a successful assumption I've been able to make for new ventures.

Basically, you do explore and visit plenty of sites, but you click through to them from timelines and what your friends shared in groupchats.

My successful assumption has been this: the URL does not matter. or more specifically, the TLD does not matter. .coms do not matter. By proxy, SEO usually does not matter either.

Your client base is going to click through to your domain name from seeing it shared somewhere else.

Or, lets get even more specific or perhaps grim: if your business model relies on people randomly finding your service from a search engine, or typing in the direct url, you have failed. if "failure" is too strong, then pointing out how much time and effort is being wasted from the strategy and how much alpha is being missed from better more relevant business models is more accurate.

so back to you, you explore from the timelines and chat rooms. if thats not good enough you need more exciting communities to be a part of.

I asked myself this question about a year ago. There are a lot of sites similar to Stumbleupon, but all of them were exhausted quite fast or had the same sites listed. That's why I built my own internet discovery website based on what I remembered from Stumbleupon. https://stumbled.to

I am glad I discovered this today, thanks for sharing.

Thank you! I loved StumbleUpon, so I'm glad to see this around.

This looks/works really well. Good job!

I used to frequent various forums. They all seem to have disappeared.

For some reason, "discource" has taken over as the forum software, but I don't ever remember finding it engaging or interesting.

Sure, the old forum software were kind of "old", pre-ajax. You had to click all the time. But somehow, it was engaging. People would post there, and threads could go on for days, and I would come and check every so often for new replies.

This all seems to have gone. Most programming discussion now takes place on HN and Reddit.

Almost all the discource based programming forums are mostly just Q&A (aka support).

Some discussions happen on Twitter, but Twitter is not really a good platform for discussions. I mean, it doesn't even have a good way of navigating all the comments on a thread!!

I think what killed it for me is that by design, discussions just fade into the "next" page after about two days, so you never see the kind of thread where comments keep pouring in for days and weeks.

I think it's important to ignore the commercial part of the Internet when discussing this, sure, back in olden days, commercial sites interlinked a lot more than they do now, but they had to, now they don't.

There's something satisfying in browsing some site, and following a link to the next.. That's really what I think of as "exploring". Exploring only works when you link to your friends sites (and when your friends has sites you can link to) and they link back.. The interlinking has probably weakened somewhat, I don't know why, but I suspect it to be partly because we've gotten so used to link rot, and nobody wants to have a site full of dead links..

That said, I still link to others. And I must shamlessly plug https://geekring.net/ as a tool for exploring (though, it's only about a hundred pages), you could add yours! :)

When I was first using the web, it was largely via Yahoo! directory [1] results. Most of the interesting sites were people's personal sites (with lots of URLs like something.edu/~user), and most people maintained a list of links to other sites they found interesting -- chances are if you liked their site, you'd like most of the ones they linked to as well.

Pretty much all that stuff is just gone now.

The closest thing I do like this today is probably Twitter: follow someone interesting, and you'll start discovering people/projects/sites/etc they find interesting. Similarly, HN/Reddit are maybe the closest thing to randomly browsing the "directory", but otherwise everything is via organic search results for a specific topic.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahoo!_Directory

Number one: In 1945, corporations paid 50 percent of federal taxes. Now they pay about 5 percent. Number two: in 2004, 90 percent of traffic went to small websites; now it’s about two percent.

It’s called consolidation. Strengthen large corporations, weaken individuals. With internet advertising, this can be done imperceptibly over time.

The internet is bigger and contains more information than ever before.

You can't passively explore. You can't go to one or two sites and just consume a feed.

Think of interests you have, things you are curious about, cultures you want to know more about - and seek those out. That is what exploring is: navigating the unknown.

Can I equate this with "exploring the computer"?

Windows 98 was the first OS I used, played games on and explored internet on. At that time exploring the windows itself use to feel fun let alone finding all those new websites. Yahoo and MSN were a thing back then for the same reason I think. They were big and each had so much to explore and enjoy.

Now days with improved search experience and better internet speeds everything is more accessible and there is more of everything. You don't have to stick to one thing and explore it from A to Z.

I use to explore features of Windows 98 even XP but that all stopped and now I don't have those interest anymore.

Maybe your idea of why we are not "exploring" is just maturity and growth in this domain. We now don't need to explore like the way we use to because we have probably grown out of it.

What was that interesting Microsoft program where it was based on data vis, pixel?

Basically the premise was it was a new way to explore the web. An actual web. One topic lead to another, not just a series of web pages. See data stats, zoom into high res ads; zoom in further for what print could never give us.

Pretty sure there was an impressive Ted talk on it, at one point.

Edit: it’s called pivot https://www.ted.com/talks/gary_flake_is_pivot_a_turning_poin...

May have gotten it confused earlier with a ms photosynth talk.


Seems like we just have a better "map" now, but I don't otherwise agree with your idea at all.

HN has 30 or so unique sites linked from its front page that constantly are swapped out for other ones. You probably have never heard of many of them before. Why isn't this "exploring"?

Everything posted on HackerNews has an agenda.

Not strictly everything, but this rings very true to me, especially for the front page.

I find new stuff all the time via HN, friends, etc. Today I saw this


and I stumbled on this (no idea what it really does)


and from HN this




I don't find that any different than it was 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago really.

Odd thing to post on Hacker News -- a website dedicated to links to all different kinds of websites.

Most of my exploring happens on Youtube these days: mostly DIY videos from people explaining how to do certain things like home improvement, woodworking, etc. My assumption is that a lot of the interesting sites have moved from text to videos on Youtube.

This is a good point, but still most creators are professionals in the sense of trying to make money out of it (not necessarily a bad thing), whereas in the early web most people with websites were hobbyists eager to share what they know.

Long before MS deprecated "the blue E", you could still "walk the web" with Yahoo Categories. Yahoo shut down dir.yahoo.com years ago:


I don't know if there are any replacements for it.

Most of the archive.org links are still working and the directory is still worth exploring:


>I don't know if there are any replacements for it.

There was DMOZ (which Google has previously used to seed it's crawl) and now there's https://www.curlie.org/

Nice find! This is a great answer to OP.

What I've been doing recently, is exploring Anonymous FTP sites again.

Backing the late 1990s, I was lucky to have (although I didn't appreciate it at the time) an unfettered always-on internet connection at work. I had to jump through some hoops to get it[1], but it was there, and unmonitored.

I spent most of my free time, wandering around FTP sites seeing what was there. It was a magical doorway to so much random stuff; source code, images, text documents... Most of which has now been lost to time.

I even managed to get a the source of Mosaic for VMS, and then compile it so I could use it on a VAXStation that was also in my office.

Anyway... So I've been exploring anonymous FTP again... They are a shadow of their former selves I think. There's a few nice nuggets out there, but mostly it's just mirrors of Linux distros, and fragments of the old SIMTEL and Walnut Creek collections.

What I did find out is that there are no Archie servers anymore. There's a few Web based FTP search engines, but that just not the same. So I'm toying with building one.


[1] Crawl under the floor of my office, splice a CAT3 cable to another one, then configure SLIP on my Windows 3.1 PC using Trumpet Winsock.

Disappearance of RSS.

So a rotation of a small number of sites. Because who wants to click through hundreds of bookmarks when 99% of the time there is no new content. Not a complaint, just that most sites don't update every day.

> Disappearance of RSS

Some daily download feeds from hundreds of sites: it's not really a «disappearance». Where there are lacks (some sad cases are surely there), one should probably push and be vocal to request the service.

Good aggregators came along that basically perform this function.

Since the signal to noise is higher than just manually going over search engine listenings you have fallen into the pattern of just checking the same websites over and over. I’m sure the fact that this is more time efficient has reinforced this behaviour.

The disadvantage is that others are effectively acting as gatekeepers to your knowledge acquisition now. There might be things on the internet that you find incredibly interesting but will never see because the majority of other people don’t find them interesting.

A few years ago a few links on HN talked about "the small web", webrings, and drove me to a trove of amazing original little websites exploring the possibilities offered by the web 1.0 mostly. Just like back in the days. And some of them were real pieces of art. I never managed to find them again. For example I remember a website that told a story in the form of a calendar you gad to scroll down, it found it so creative that I felt the same amazement as my first steps with the web in '95.

This was my latest comment on HN, when, 5 days later, I stumbled upon this comment at the top of a random dicussion, and it was exactly that calendar story I was looking for all these years. So here it is for reference, if anyone happen to be interested :

HN comment : https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29071855

calendar story : https://www.sbnation.com/a/17776-football

Indeed, webrings and 'blogrolls' were awesome - a great way to share the web.

Then google came in and started penalizing web sites for outbound links.

Then everyone stopped the blogrolls and the webrings disappeared - and people even got stingy with linking to a site in a blog post.

Sure, blame 'shady seo' or what have you - and yeah that became a thing, but the real blame is google. Pushing sites down google was such a scary thing that wordpress took the previously-in-core linkroll out in future updates - even if you have a blogroll with just friends - it was removed - many did not know - and if you did, you had to go install a plugin to bring the functionality back.

Of course the better options would of been to just auto-nofollow tag all the blogroll links - share the web and not to worry about a google penalty or being associated with 'spooky sounds "bad nieghborhood" in google's alog-eyes'

I'd love to see web rings brought back with auto-nofollow added - and a stats system that was open to all who installed / used it for webring X Y or Z - and blogrolls that are easy to nofollow.. better with hover preview / a note about why you love site Y or what have you.

It would be better for the web, but it's not easy to do currently and not a big benefit for the work right now.

Anyone remember when the search engines had a web ring to try the search at other engines at the bottom?

Web Mentions are kind of a replacement for webrings. The problem with web mentions is that it takes one or two manual steps and might as well be link-only comments.

Google are practically unqualified to separate genuine content from spam. What's their reason to serve users who can be endlessly contented with externally recommended content? That's effectively ad-blocking at the mental level to them. If we could invent some ubiquitous on-page discovery mechanism we'd have big tech over a barrel.

Maybe the web 1.0 was for exploring ?

Maybe the web 2.0 changed that ?

I thought web 2.0 was supposed to be easier sharing,

I'd say it was what, web 2.5 (?) where many started raising the drawbridges and closing off the wall gardens; making it harder to explore / share.

google, fbook, even insta, and I'm sure others purposefully making it harder for the little sites to be discovered, kind of the opposite of what web 2.0 was supposed to bring.

There are more sites than the ones you find on Google. Some sites don't have the Google Juice SEO power and fall to the last page of rankings.

For example I tried to find a video of Dave Chappelle talking about Hollywood forcing black actors to dress in drags for some movies. Instead I get a lot of the Dave Chapelle on Netflix making fun of Transgender people. It is all in the SEO.

Then again there is a lot of crap on the Internet it is better to avoid with fake news and silly videos so you stick to 5 or 6 sites you know are good.

Fond memories - things like geocities, IRC, forums, and yes even web rings were a great way to move around the internet.

I feel like web rings or something like that could be a nice thing to have again. I am not sure what format it would take these days, but I like the idea of sets of curated sites that are "opted in" to being part of a collection.

Apart from that though, I personally find that Hacker News itself is a great source - either from the stories themselves, or usually the individual comments have some great links.

you can still find curated lists especially on github, eg: https://github.com/jnv/lists

From my side, I'd say "I have better things to do". If I can find interesting things here, or another aggregator, then I can more than fill my time exploring already at least somehow vetted articles rather than aimlessly browsing. Kind of the same thing that happened (for me) towards exploring books. If I have a backpile of dozens or hundreds of books that I know have some chance to interest me, there is no need to actively look for more, it's just more efficient.

I read a lot of personal blogs. Bloggers tend to link to other blogs, so it's somewhat self sustaining. I've seen modern approaches to webrings and other reinventions of Web 1.0 sharing tricks, but none have really adhered to my habits.

All of that to say: I think it's more about habits (and breaking out of the search engine hole) than anything else. It's still very possible (and easy) to explore the World Wide Web; you just need to overcome the gravity of the big sites.

How could I start to do this? HN sometimes has interesting blogs but I don't get caught in a sustained loop of interesting things. That sounds nice. I'd want to join.

Check out the "bang" operators on duck duck go.


When I search, I no longer default to Google. It's great for some things & awful at others. I try & think what communities might be better to search. I read random blogs or forums & those (even the popular ones) often lead me to additional niche (but still large) communities.

I'm constantly finding new niche communities.

The Internet is not limited to websites.

I find the resurgence of newsletters really interesting, reminds me of fanzines/textfiles from years ago.

Some subscriptions I find interesting:

  - Stratechery
  - Suma Positiva (Spanish)
  - The Pragmatic Engineer
  - Unsupervised Learning
If you want to discover publications, Substack would be a good starting point: https://substack.com/home

IMHO search, hyper-centralization of content creation, and dopamine addiction to bite-sized content happened. You can no longer see new things you don't know about. You no longer want to explore, since search is faster and more rewarding.

My suggestion to refresh the feeling of wonder is to go to site directories instead of the search engine of choice, like: https://dmoz-odp.org

Quite a few people thanked me for recommending: https://theuselessweb.com/

I miss webrings, those were nice for taking random walks through related sites. Blogs don't do this much anymore, and outlets like Medium and especially Substack keep you inside the walls of their author. Browsing geocities or angelfire used to be like taking a wiki-walk back in the day.

RSS is still viable, combined with link aggregators and newsletters for discovery of new material, but it's a very different experience.

Before search engines got good, websites had a links page they used to link sites about similar content. I used to play a game with friends to find something first by following a chain of those links. That was exploring the internet and that was what we had to do instead of googling.

I also visit only a few sites nowadays but I jump to dozens of random sites with either Google, DDD or HN.

I've recently read a first-person account of working with Naval blimps in WW2, researched RC blimps, read an article about a recipe for Russian marshmallow treats made out of apples, found a solution for repairing a set of vintage speakers, learned about Aztec gods, read a list of vintage sad Mac codes, and got clues as to what predator killed one of my chickens.

This is a great question.

The Internet to me does seem to have settled on an equilibrium level of variety which is quite narrow and perhaps to some degree stagnant, whereas in the past it seemed to represent a universe of more opportunity.

This is not dissimilar to how markets can sometimes price in the value of optionality. For example, I remember reading somewhere that the share price of a pharma co which has a wide pool of R&D avenues available for further investment can actually shrink when the co settles on a particular choice, setting its budget and strategy for the next few years on following that single (hopefully) star even though this is a necessary step for latent potential to actually be realised into practical reality.

The Internet has collapsed into a tool which serves the functions that are most in demand for the audience, and to some degree it has sacrificed possibility (who pays for that?) for utility.

Even the appetites of the masses (who provide the demand for what is most prevalent on the net) for fresh content are perhaps stabilising around particular 'centres of mass'. With large numbers of viewers, patterns and uniformity are now predominating which may have been muted when the internet was a platform for explorers and non-standard viewers.

The same thing could have happened with other forms of media, too. For example, movies now seem to increasingly rely on special effects to the extent that I sometimes now find it more of a disappointment than otherwise. Sure, it might be pretty to see whirly colours of space or magic, or fascinating to see buildings and glass facades bursting under shockwaves, or planets colliding, but only for a while - we can move on now. Even literary fiction quite often starts to feel same-y when browsing.

Also, it takes more work now for content providers to produce something that can escape from the gravitational field of established content platforms. Newness and optionality has value (ask Black-Scholes), and when it does raise its head, it is quickly mopped up by 'fast followers' with deep pockets.

A consequence of this, too, is that the reticence of content providers to share anything new without a pay wall has also increased.

Unintuitively, it may be that tides of people and attention associated with a platform's maturity tend to homogenise and flatten the landscape of original thought (even making it harder to find valuable newness).

We could always go back to the 90s when they printed out the Internet Yellow Pages. Just pick a random page, point and go check it out. Apparently you can still buy it.


Shameless plug but I built https://theforest.link precisely to try tackle this problem.

I want some randomness back into my internet browsing.

Another excellent place where you can start your exploration is https://are.na

Check out Gemini.


I was going to say that the death of StumbleUpon really closed off whole portions of the web for me. Their algorithms were really top-notch and the replacement service isn't worth checking out.

Does anyone know why they killed off StumbleUpon? It was probably the best part of 2005-2015 for me.

Edit: I like your link but it seems to lack the interest-targeting algorithms that SU used to have.

I cite my comment from Reddit I posted some time ago explaining what happened to SU:

> Stumbleupon had a declining user base because more and more spam flooded the site. Moderation couldn’t just keep up to it. As a result, advertisements were increased to keep up the profits from the remaining users. As you might imagine, this pushed those remaining users off the site even more. At some point, the management decided to put effort into a new platform: Mix.com. The CEO also spent a lot of his time building Uber (yes, the taxi company).

I miss k10k[1]. They had always something new to explore.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20030207162038/http://www.k10k.n...

Beautiful, so content dense in those days

Here's one I found recently:

You can go to John Deakins' website and talk about cinematography. No money, no subscriptions, no ads, just make an account and log in and he talks to people who have an interest in amateur photography and film about his tricks and gadgets in his forum.

That would depend on your interests. Try to explore themes in the internet instead the internet itself. There is always something to discover


When your definition of 'the internet' is websites, the limitation is probably you. There's so much going on that I consider websites to be the least interesting. There's social media, games, virtual worlds, commerce, art, events.. and so many more.

We think alike. Watch this space in coming months for announcement of a Alpha test of a solution. Code is running apparently as intended and currently am collecting the initial data, uh, a lot more than the 6 sites! Solution is novel in several important respects.

The difficulty in finding interesting internet reads has opened a niche now filled by content curators. My personal favorite is the Thinking About Things newsletter [0]. Another great one is Findka Essays [1]. Would love to hear about any others.

[0] thinking-about-things.com

[1] essays.findka.com

The Scout Report has been around almost as long as the Web - I visit it occasionally for new inspiration https://scout.wisc.edu/report/current

You might get a kick out of this website: https://usefulinterweb.com/ It curates a list of 1000s of interesting websites, and adds about 3-4 new links daily

I found the idea of this promising, but the first link I followed took me to an Amazon page to buy a book. I feel like that's directly taking me out of the useful internet experience, as I was expecting content on the topic.

I wonder why no1 makes social network just for links, like i honestly don't care about other people's inarticulate opinions i constantly get on facebook and twitters. I do however care about links some share.

I think that's the first form of reddit - link sharing.

Web sites and forums of old are mostly gone. Everything is centralized on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Discord and similar platforms. Really hard to find niche sites and independent groups on the web now.

If you want to "recreate wonder of exploration" I recommend getting VR set (Oculus) and installing RecRoom or something similar. At least I get the sensation of "earlier internet"

The web is in a race to the bottom. Most websites are bloated, ad-driven, content spam, crashing, slow, or borderline malicious. I’d rather check 5-6 places and go to sites vouched for by others.

There is still plenty to explore when you stop using mainstream websites. The internet is a vast place but most people box themselves into a worldview that doesn't allow for exploration.


This website has helped me find new and hidden gems. It was posted to HN last month.

We need the quirky geocities pages back.

You might like this. https://twitter.com/wayback_exe?lang=en

Blogs don’t make money, that’s about it. They don’t rank and content is paid for by interest groups and corporations.

If you want interesting stuff you’ll have to go to the fringe.

There’s still plenty to explore. Social media profiles, YouTube content, there’s a lot of stuff out there it’s just not in traditional website form.

You could always visit https://stumblingon.com and see random indie pages.

Webrings are still a thing: https://geekring.net/list.txt

Some fun sites to explore: https://neocities.org/browse

Really don't know what some here are talking about, you don't bookmark things that you have no time to look at anyway?

My exported bookmarks.html is 4 MB and that's probably on the small side, because some I lost, some I went through and deleted a few years back. There's also a lot that I saved on Reddit.

But it's pretty apparent that proper blogs a few and far between now and if you have some obscure knowledge, then you're better of writing Wikipedia pages about it, not starting your own site.

It's still there. It's just not popular. I spent quite a few hours on IRC when Freenode imploded earlier this year.

it’s like broadcast cable, the signal has become too strong from the major players that it has demoralized the rest

I feel I still explore the Internet. Sites like HN introduce me to new sites all the time as does Google search.

THat feels different to me. You're being fed a continous drip (or firehose!) based on a cohort of people probably much like yourslef (HN) or an algo desperately trying to shovel you more of the same (Google). Exploring the Internet IMO is more like clicking down the wikipedia rabbit hole, or evry link on those old email lists of "cool stuff this week", then every link on those sites. Or web rings!

I miss sites that aggregated links to various other sites. Nowadays I read comments etc. to find new stuff

Other networks still have some of that feeling of exploration. I2P feels like the 90s web in a good way

I agree with most of the opinions in the comments. Might be you, might be the internet might be both.

Might be you: You're bored and you're searching wrong. For a feel similar to geocities try the 'gemini' protocol. Its a text-only web that really feels like the 90s'. Lots of personnal passionnate content, new world to discover !

Might be the internet: There is a classic article "Geeks, MOPs and sociopaths" that present a classic subculture cycle [0]. 1:Passionate people start it. 2:It gains traction and looses some of its original taste. 3:Someone finds a way to make a profit out of it and optimizes it for money. Maybe the internet is just in stage 3 and we're going to move forward ?

Might be both: There are websites that still have this old feel. I discovered some niches where things are like that. (Banjo playing, forging, local botany, local archeology) The common factor seem to be that the authors are usually neither young, nor technologically oriented. So they tend to do old-looking websites and cross referencing SPIP pages instead of "creating content" on a famous platform.

[0] https://meaningness.com/geeks-mops-sociopaths

The internet became too risky and aggravating to explore randomly a long time ago.

What does “exploring” even mean?

Can someone explain how one used to “explore the internet?”

Surely you will be familiar with the term 'navigation' to "land" on websites. (Main example.)

Follow hyperlinks to unknown destinations.

Right but how is that different from now?

I do that every day on HN

Shit(or really effective depending on perspective) search engines.

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