It’s hip now to lament the loss of some romanticized web. It’s lost. It’s dead. No the same folks say it’s not dead. Wait a minute, in 2015 it is finally dead. We have to save it (actually we do). It’s boring. It’s lost that loving feeling. It needs to be made fun again.

My vantage point is much lower than people who pen for medium and the verge and whatever is the latest hip place to have eyeballs all over your words.

Every day I seem to find, weird, wonderful, jaw dropping, how the ***** did that do that things, ideas that bend my mind… on the same lost/boring/dead/non fun web.

Maybe I am using the wrong web.

That haunting, bizarre image of Baby Jane at the top of this post? The one that is shared on flickr in a form giving me free reign to use it? It found it in less than one minute by searching Google Images for open licensed images matching the search terms “weird wonderful”.

If that does not give you pause, maybe you’re spending too much time debating the merits of web apps versus mobile ones.

Maybe those pontificators have seen every last corner, nook, cranny that is out there on the web, and can make such sweeping generalizations about it being lost/dead/dumb/dull. But as a space nearly infinite in breadth and weird depths I do not see who the ***** can generalize it based on what they glean from their singular perspective.

To make such grandiose claims suggests to be levels of superpowers not possible.

It’s that big. Like Geological Time scale big. It dwarfs our human perspectives.

To paraphrase the great Neil Young from a different context, I think they are looking at the wrong end of the web donkey. Does anyone not remember the Long Tail? All of the lamenting, hand wringing, crying to the moon is focused completely on the head of the curve.

The bag of gold is in the tail.

Who am I to counter? Yes, there are significant threatening issues with the control of the web by the cable lords, and the dangers of running out of IP addresses. There are rampant abuses of our data. It’s a mess. I cannot explain it all.

But as long as I continually find stuff on the web that makes me as excited as that first click of Mosaic in 1993, I think the web is quite fine, way out on the weird tail.

There’s a lot out here besides counting your medium clicks.

Like pixelsorter. Like The Manual. loopfindr. Gitter. No Film School. js sequence diagrams. Hi. Annotorius. Inspirograph. Surge. All Male Panels. Subway map Javascript visualization. Biomorophosis. Almost everything on zurb’s playground. My friend John Johnston’s Audio Gif plugin. Reverse engineering Google Doc’s change history. Open Terrain.

This is the tip of the tip of the tip of the tip of the tip of the tip of the … internet.

The one that bugs me the most is “the web is boring.”

If I ever said that as a kid to my Mom, the door would be flung open and she would say “well go outside and play!” a.k.a. get off your whiney ass and do something.

Or as my good friend Barbara Sawhill noted today:

If you are bored of the web, please get the f**** off of it, you are taking up bandwidth and IP addresses.

There is a high chance I am totally wrong and the web will melt down tomorrow in a giant pool of plasma ooze. And for those who depend on the web to give the experience to them like some magic tv screen, well they will be SOL.

But for those who live for the weird stuff out on the long tail, who get their hands dirty tinkering, it just means putting that spirit into something else.

It’s not the web that’s lost/boring/dying/not fun… it is us.

Or rather, you.

Because I am having a blast on the web. Every freaking day.

UPDATE: Like 30 minutes later
I should not have included Hossein Derakhshan’s The Web We Have to Save in the opening list of complainers. First of all, his perspective having been in Iranian jail for 6 years is more poignant and clear than most, as he is truly seeing a web that has changed. I feel like I have insulted his experience and I have no place doing that. Plus, what he is advocating aligns to my allegiance to a claimed blog space as primary. So I am crossing his off the list.

Also, I in no way am being nostalgic for the web of the 1990s. It was magic, yes, electric, it gave birth to my career, but that is not the web I seek. It’s the spirit of the people in that era I seek.

Top / Featured Image Credit: flickr photo by Bistrosavage shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so)


  1. What a lovely post. You are, of course, yourself one of the most positive nodes on the Internet.
    Honoured to be in the positive list(by itself reducing the net boredom of the Internet) . Well out my league, but that is perhaps the point.

  2. I’m not 100% sure you’re making the argument I am about to critique, but I can’t tell so here goes….

    I think it’s very important to seperate the “loss of the web” narrative from the desire to make things better by recognizing areas where things are not so good.

    Otherwise, well — you could make the same claim about Usenet in 1993. “Usenet feels fine to me — maybe you should work a bit harder at it”. In fact, that’s what the detractors of the net said back then — you want the web because you aren’t using usenet correctly. Or Gopher. Or whatever.

    I’m sensitive of course because I propose a version of the web that operates on different priniciples than we normally see.

    I get that we can make it work as is. We could have made Usenet work too.

    But you can’t analyze an obesity epidemic by saying — well, I have no problems with *my* weight, so therefore the current environment isn’t part of the problem.

    You can’t say “a lot of people seem to think America’s politics are broken, but life seems seems pretty great to me.”

    There is some weird violin-playing that happens, a yearning for an imagined time that I find annoying. I disagree with the sort of Edenic narrative, that we’re a fallen tribe, degraded from whatever the One True Year of the Internet was. That’s ahistorical.

    But I think the point of much of the current spate of analysis is to say look the web has some system-level stuff that results in people on average behaving in ways that may not be pro-social, or pro-innovation, etc. A lot of that is in the design of HTML, the protocols, the client-server model. Decisions were made that were perfect for 1992 that are not so perfect anymore.

    In what kind of world do we decide that we can’t make the platform we live half our lives on better? Someone said at one point “The Web is Broken because you can’t interact with it. We need replies like on Usenet” And so they invented the comment box I’m typing in. Dave Winer said the web is a mess because it doesn’t allow syndication so we got the RSS that lead me here. Someone said look, blogging is too hard, so we got the blogging engine you published this on. Etc. The web you praise is in reality the collection of inventions built by people who said the web is broken, not by those who said things are fine as they are.

    Why stop that process now? A date at which the web is now fine for all time is as artificial as a date where the web was an undisturbed Eden.


      Ok I probably swept a bit more into the pan, this was really triggered by (a) those series of nostalgia pieces, I totally agree that the answer is not the web that was; and (b) that one about the web being boring.

      It’s more my gut feeling that people expect a passive web appliance like experience, it should provide them something, instead of the one where they are part of it. It’s the fatigue of people really not understanding, or seeing the importance of its history or how it works. And its all of this thing that everything seems to be wanting the web to Stuff That Scales and Makes Money.

      Oh, and its the idea that anyone person can really paint a broad single brush stroke over it all.

      So true, I am not claiming everything is alright for everybody in my “web is fine” rose glasses as much as I am saying no one can say all the web is shit.

      Maybe it’s not that people invent because something is broken, but because they can see a different or better way.

      Damn you! You got me thinking again.

      1. The nostalgia pieces annoy me too, a lot. The reason we got Facebook in the 00s was the web didn’t do certain things people really wanted to do (consider that unlike Usenet the web has a native idea of servers, but no standard view of a user). If we “lost the web” it’s not because we didn’t hold on hard enough to the past, but because we didn’t embrace the future people wanted fast enough. If we even lost it, which, I agree, is in dispute.

        Ultimately it does come down to what you’re going to do about it. You’re right that if the web is boring, make something interesting. And if the energy of the web is being bled into the black hole of mobile, siloed, apps, then give people a reason to stay with the web.

        It’s absolutely true that much of the direction of the web is set by corporate powers, but it’s alternatives to that direction that will win the day, not nostalgia. I think on that we both agree.

      2. My take is that, to some extent, the Web/Net is a whole world, and overall can seem a mess, but you can find/make beautiful neighborhoods and sub-economies.

        So it’s worth noting patterns/GameRules that we might slide into by default which are un-generative. And conversely identify holes that it would be nice to fill to support generative patterns…

  3. Followed your blog via Delicious and just wanted to let you know that I love your style of writing. Its great 🙂

  4. It feels to me like it could be two paths/experiences. They may be diverging. I don’t really know. I don’t trust my memory of the recent past.

    Once upon a time, perhaps, the difference between a general web denizen and a more sophisticated user was smaller. The experiences more common. The skills/understandings were more shared. The population smaller and more homogenous.

    Now . . .

    For those interested in certain things and who have (at least portions of or the desire to get) certain skills, the web is only becoming more powerful and more interesting. I imagine there’s a sociology term for this.

    But for most of the (increasing) number of people on the web who have neither those interests nor those skills then that web is increasingly something else. I’m not sure what that is exactly but it’s probably run by companies (rather than humans) and the way it’s constructed is likely to be much more opaque than in the past.

    No clear lines for me in any of this but, like you, I find a never ending font of awesome stuff and people. At this point the internet is likely too big to really be categorized in any one way. It’s a bit like trying to put a blog in a box . . . only times a billion or so.

  5. Every so often I get “bored of the web” and “lament the things lost”. But I think this in part is born of the sense the tools that help me bootstrap playing with the web are no longer available, even if I personally stopped using them a long time ago and moved on to other things. (Toys today are not like the toys we had; people don’t play outside anymore with bits of stick and a tin can etc etc.)

    So for example, GUI tools for doing programming like stuff without the need to write lines of code (whereas now I just write lines of code; and don’t choose to spend my time looking for bits of the web that do the things I used to do without code…).

    That said, the tools I used to look for were in some sense general purpose information processing tools built around general purpose technologies (so for example, feeds/syndication and things that could process the stuff flowing through them) that supported end-user application development. They were tools that let me participate in the construction of more tools, and help extend the functionality provided by the web in my own small way, or at least, explore possible extensions to that functionality.

    But the web I played with then has moved on to now. And the things I played with then have got more complex. The web using community is bigger, and it’s perhaps harder to find some of the smaller more playful things, things that are still in the process of being invented and/or made up for the first time.

    The problem with general purpose technologies is that they require you to be able to play in an imaginative way and to put the time in actually playing with them to see what you can do with them and how you can appropriate them (which is to say: how imaginative you can be). The Lego I grew up with was just basic Lego blocks; it wasn’t specifically moulded pieces that don’t plug together or branded Lego kits, pieces that encourage you to play in a particular way and maybe even try to lock you in to playing in a particular way (so you keep on buying more ‘single-use’ blocks, rather than making do with a set of general purpose blocks).


    (Bah, humbug, kids today, web is not what it used to be, etc etc…;-)

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