I'm 33, so I was 14 in 1994, the first time I got onto the web. It was as bare bones as it got. I think I beat the IMG tag by a few months, maybe. Anyways, don't hold me to facts here, I am just imparting a general time frame.
The idea of the Internet, and the world wide web, was terribly abstract, new, confusing, delightful. It made wizards of us that could navigate it. As a burgeoning geek in desperate need of a personal identity, this digital playground was an infinite resource to push against. Each chance encounter with an online stranger a blank slate. It was exotic and alluring and exciting.
During this era, a huge swath of us all were experiencing this at the same time. It was an overlap of our youth, the loss of innocence, and the explosion of this new universe. It was a hell of a drug.
And we got addicted to the newness of it all. There's a word for this.
And this concept, I feel, best describes the ennui I have felt for years now, the booming homogeny the web has turned into. The web has long since succeeded, but we were children of the laboratory. We lost our home and we've been trying, in vain, to find a new one ever since. I can't believe I am alone in this sensation.
Not to say the internet , or web is or has gone wrong, just kinda forgotten something very important, very vital.
What Neocities is doing is good, and I hope it works, but I'm not sure how this addresses that our, er, alienation (not sure if that is the right word) though. I read that they want to, and that is good, but I don't see anything they offer that really does that.
What if we had some sort of SubWeb (have I just invented that word? I really like the sound of it!!!) which you have to use the command line to access? :)
I then think is it a generational thing? But only yesterday was I sat there on that genetic car racing site watching live as people tried to hack the chat box. Command line again. I assume these were kids. Yet there they were in 2013 excitedly hacking away using the keyboard.
To tangent even more.... That was great to watch. Kids (I assume) excitedly trying to hack the chat box, by typing stuff, while the admins updated and updated them away. A wonderful race and frankly a joy to watch. YES hacking and defacing is bad, it even pissed me off to start with, but then I realised that there was something so energetic, or alive, about it. It was like sort of watching life or something. It reminded me of one of those movies where we see the "geek hero" furiously typing away at a terminal trying to stop a nuke launch or some such. Dunno how to describe it really. Anyway, the admins won easily and quickly, and that's as it should be.
Edit: All that waffle and I forgot the point...
Basically, those kids reminded me of back in the day. I guess the spirit me and the OP were talking about. So, IMHO, it is still alive. Heh, unless such kids end up in US jails....
I still see a bit of that in the pirate Minecraft servers that my little brother sometimes plays on. Micro-communities with their own rules, custom mods and settings, and kids horsing around and building their own flights of fancy. That's the kind of organic exploration and worldbuilding I'd really like to be involved in eventually.
I think I'd like to build a connectable MOO-like world in which people could set up their own areas/rooms and connect them to a limited number of neighbors. Give them item creation and scripting capabilities as well. Simple, hackable, and almost completely user-created. Woops, that'd just be text-based Second Life. Maybe with some unusual features like a resource/power grid that varies according to the average amount of players in each room (to incentivize building interesting, entertaining scenes and scenarios). Or maybe the initial set of rooms could be all these NeoCities pages converted to ASCII graphics and randomly connected. Who knows.
Let me know if anyone's building a fun interconnected playground along these lines and is looking for contributions. I'm probably not good or energetic enough to do it alone.
This sounds a lot like LambdaMoo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LambdaMOO).
An interesting write-up of one's experience in the game: http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/mytinylife.html.
..."It's not your fault," he said. "But after you came looking for pelts, and traded trinkets with us, the covered wagons of conventional reality followed along the trails we'd blazed. The trails were cut by animals, the animals have been driven out by suburban sprawl. . . . How could it be otherwise?"
Not surprisingly perhaps, Horton's fellow anarch and rabble-rouser Finn is also unimpressed with Lambda's current state of affairs, though his complaints, typically, are a little more down-to-earth. "There's nothing you can sink your teeth into these days," he says, pointing to a general absence of the sort of MOO-engulfing controversies he once thrived on. "Politics I guess is dead. People have settled into the arbitration disputes; they get a kick out of that for a while, but they're mostly frivolous disputes and people just wanting to get attention." Real life, meanwhile, has taken on more interest for Finn. He finally moved out of his parents' basement a couple years ago, setting out for Rochester, New York, to found an Internet software business with some other MUDders he knew, and once he got there, he also ended up in a serious RL relationship with a woman he had previously known only as Aurea on LambdaMOO. Two years down the road, both ventures appear to be going swimmingly. His company isn't the next Netscape or anything, but it's landed some respectable gigs, including a contract to run the official _Sally Jessy Raphael_ chat room; Finn and Aurea remain happily involved. His days as an online Casanova and all-around firebrand are pretty well over, but if he misses them much he doesn't show it. He still MOOs daily, but he mostly just sits idling in Lambda House's smoking room while he goes about his business at work. "I've still got friends on Lambda, and it's still fun," he says. "But it's not as much of a stage where you can play out your political ambitions and real arguments. It's no longer really a metaphor for real life. It's just not as passionate, I suppose."
He'd left his lousy secretarial job as well, his RL in general was gradually getting happier, and the happier it got the less he felt like spending time in virtual reality. "In retrospect," he says, "it's evident to me just how much the misery of my real life (and not my intellectual curiosity, or my gender-role issues, or whatever) was the thing that made VR seem so dazzling back inna the day.
"Then there was also the fact that VR had started to seem tacky," he adds. "By '96 it seemed like every yutz in the world was on the Internet, 'living the fantasy.' Whatever elitist pioneer spirit had seemed to me to permeate Lambda back in '91 or '92 was completely gone. I missed that, and Interzone was marginal compensation at best."
And so he just stopped going, basically. He let his spares die out, reaped one by one as he let them lie, and he now logs on to Lambda once a month, at most, to check his MOO-mail. It's enough for him. "I'm teaching prep-school English and living in Austin with a woman I really like," he tells me. "My life is pretty simple now. I feel like I've grown up a lot."
Weary though she may be, however, she doesn't regret her involvement in the political debates that ultimately exhausted her. "I'm way beyond sick of theorizing about cyberspace," she says, "and have become completely anti-utopian about VR, but all in all the experience has been good for me. It's made me a much better writer . . . encouraged me to go out and get myself published. It's also given me a social presence IRL in a way I never used to think I had. After all the practice I got taking stands, making points, influencing audiences who were sometimes incredibly hostile, grad student seminars, for instance, came to seem comparatively amazingly easy places to formulate and express arguments."
Here we see the end of involvement (or infatuation) with a virtual world playing out: with finding real life more interesting and enriching. Maybe that's the lesson of virtual worlds - whether MUDs or EVE Online - you eventually tire of them and leave, but they change you and set you on new paths (to another career, or a business).
I guess I need to take the nostalgia goggles off and realize things won't be the same the second time round.
Eventually there will be someone posting on HN about how they built a GUI to make to the SubWeb accessible for everyone. :)
What are you envisioning for the SubWeb? A geek-only web? Just curious.
But I suppose something like sort of modernising the old method of firing up a terminal and issuing manual GET commands. So, have something called a command line browser, and sites that only work with it. Not to keep any one out, just simply to do it another way. No practice purpose really, just fun for old guys!!! Very silly and point less, of course!!
Floodgap, which you link to via the meulie proxy, also offers a gopher proxy. http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/ (that's the intro page, with links into the gopherspace).
The original UMN 'gopher' client (and gopherd server) are available under the GPL now. http://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/gw?gopher://gopher.quux.or...
The client at least is available Debian and Ubuntu. Regarding the client, it's amazing how productive one can be without one's fingers ever leaving the arrow keys. The gopher killed the mouse! There are also other servers available such as bucktooth (perl) and pygopherd. Port 70, baby!
Im going to do some revision reading.
If you could find a medium that has the same sort of DIY/frontiersman feeling people will flock to it. Having a new world to explore and having constraints to overcome are the things that made the internet great.
There are still a load of great communities below the 'surface' of the web.
Private torrent trackers are a good example. The good ones are invite-only, limit the number of members, or at the very least require a degree of technical knowledge to gain access.
Access is treated as a privilege, and members act accordingly.
There's also a site called Telehack that's an attempt to simulate what the internet would have been like for the typical user about 25 years ago - pre-web.
There's a lot of stuff like this out there that satisfies itches for nostalgia, creativity, and an open frontier all at once.
 http://www.telehack.com/ (or, for a more authentic experience, telnet in with SyncTerm)
We live in the world where newness is absolute truth criteria. Those who don't want to know history filter content by freshness. Now, there are so many of them that applications have to constantly redesigns themself. Changing back and forth, catching trends.
I know cause I've also believed in novelty, all old looking content was in my blind spot. Things changed once started to read academic papers. It appeared those who are confident don't use distraction to share thoughts.
You're not alone. I'm feeling the same. That's why I'm "exploring" TOR, I2P and the CJDNS mesh net nowadays. Because it feels like something new and unknown. And it certainly is more exciting than visiting Facebook & co.
Though it's nowhere the same like back then when I hooked up the modem in the night (when my parents were sleeping), put it under a pillow to muffle the dial up sounds (going online was so expensive that I wasn't allowed to do so without supervision) to explore the internet.
Part of it is HOW you explore the onion network: via links, often subtle, from other sites. There's no Google or Reddit to aggregate all the content; you need to know where to look. That's exciting and fun (although stumbling on illegal content isn't ):...). Feels almost like a game, with the whole idea of discovering hidden content in dark corners.
I think what happened to the internet in the past decade or so could be described as gentrification. The "discovery" period began to fade, and we started cleaning up, resulting in the "suburban internet," as posted above. I feel like oftentimes this can be compared to the process of gentrifying a sleazy area in a city: early adopters move in and make interesting things, causing more people to come and try to participate. As more people move in, the early adopters are crowded/priced out, and the things that made the place interesting begin to fade out in favor of more bland/easily accessible things... Just some food for thought.
At this point the web is so interwoven into our daily lives (hacker or otherwise) it has become mundane. In many cases the Internet is not the new way or an alternative way, but the only way to do some thing. I am occasionally delighted by a burgeoning site or idea, but these moments are further and further apart.
The homogeny of today's Internet feels stifling. Not convinced I am a full on Neophiliac, but I do long for the sense of discovery and anticipation that accompanied waiting for your modem to finish its handshake.
I love the Internet. I have a career in a field that did not exist when I was born and because of this have had the unique opportunity of helping to define what it is. Not something afforded to many "classical" professions.
When aviation was new, in the 1900s and 1910s and 1920s, the technology of flight was growing at an incredible pace. Flying was new and sexy and constantly changing. And you didn't need to be a "professional pilot" to get in on it; all you needed to do was to find someone with a plane and convince him to let you take the stick.
So kids who fell in love with the romance of the skies would hang around their local airfield, running errands and doing odd jobs, basically whatever it took to ingratiate themselves with the people who used it. Because any of those people could be their gateway to their own flying career.
Eventually flying stopped being sexy, though. The seemingly infinite possibilities of the early days of flight got reined in by cost and regulations and simple physics. Educational and career paths for pilots settled into a few profitable grooves. Flying became safe, cheap, routine. And the airport kids disappeared.
They disappeared because kids want to be where the action is. And the action isn't in mature industries. It's in the new, because the old is already hemmed in with grown-ups' restrictions, which slow down the pace of change. Those restrictions are usually put in place for good reasons -- lots of inexperienced pilots back in ye olden days got themselves killed by pushing their machines or their bodies too hard -- but the kids don't see that. All they see is that it's safe, which means it's boring.
You and I (I'm a couple years older than you, but not much) were the airport kids of the Web. We gravitated to it because it was, as you say, a blank slate. You didn't need a degree or a certification or to even necessarily know what the hell you were doing. All you needed to do was find a computer lab somewhere that was hooked up to the Internet, and be willing to learn.
That low barrier to entry meant that we made a lot of dumb, pointless, sometimes even dangerous things. (I came within an inch of getting drummed out of my university in the mid-90s for helping build a site where students could rate their professors; the professors came after me with torches and pitchforks because the results were accessible outside the campus network.) But it's also what made it exciting. Exciting places are dangerous by definition. But to a kid, the part about it being exciting is a lot more interesting than the part about it being dangerous.
Eventually the Web matured, of course. Now it's Critical Infrastructure, which means it's important enough to be hemmed in with those grown-up rules and regulations. It became indispensible, and therefore boring.
So now there are lots of online-technology majors, but not so many airport kids. The airport kids are somewhere else, waiting for the next Wild West. This one's gotten all civilized.
These days even a static website can be jazzed up nicely with some JQuery and/or HTML5. I'd like to see this develop.
I think that's why I was so intrigued by what NeoCities is trying to grasp.
It's also why I looked desperately for old C64 BBS's a couple of months ago, but alas none seem to exist anymore. Who uses a phone/modem (in the city)? Remember, when the internet was new, everyone was on dial-up. I guess I don't entirely miss that part, but when you were hitting a BBS it didn't take long at all. This harkens to the terminal/command-line thread below, I suppose.
I could try to use a VOIP phone to hook it up somehow, but there's no one to call...
I digress. Perhaps this is part of getting old. Some grow weary of our current tech (or other work/interest/etc.) and look backward, when things were new and exciting to us.