I joined the Web close to 30 years ago. It was a vastly different place than it is now. It was full of small websites - some were personal, and some were around the subject. The first portals emerged, but none tried to be an answer to all, as it was not possible. Gaming communities gathered around Red Alert or Tomb Raider sites. We discussed on Bulletin Boards, IRC, Email, and early Instant Messengers1.
Even back then, the discovery was difficult. So multiple web catalogs and webrings emerged. The net was wide enough to get lost for days but still small enough for people to see the possibility of making sense of it.
The Internet was a cyberspace of people gathering around their interests.
Soon after, Web 2.0 exploded, and everyone could put whatever they wanted for everyone to see. The niche of niches blogs were the thing. You could find a webpage about anything you imagined.
This is where I started publishing. First, a site about Dragon Ball - then expanding to general anime. I met people online who shared my interest2, and we talked and collaborated. It was amateurish - poorly coded HTML with much too big images presenting texts without any real grammar3.
It was beautiful. You knew that behind any word, any fanart was someone’s passion.
Fast forward a few years, and the scenery changed. People no longer create their sites. Mass adoption added a necessity to allow literally anyone to have a dedicated space. Again, at first, it was amateurish, but soon after, business people discovered that it might be an excellent way to make money.4
But, at the same time, something different started happening. More and more machines began using the Internet. Quickly, API because of the de-facto standard of communication. Machines talked with devices. We shared the same Web. Humans created, while other humans and machines consumed.
And this progressed at a rapid pace. More and more sites are auto-generated. This news article with a much too wordy introduction? It was no longer an intern at a publishing company but a primitive text generator. This comparator of prices? Also not a human-led directory but a machine-generated database.
What made the Web such a beautiful place were the people. Some were annoying and bullish, and some were childish. But everyone tried to express themselves. I had phases where I took each internet persona - sometimes happy and friendly, sometimes simply a troll. I’m sure everyone who was an active participant of the Web for a longer period can recollect things they wrote that make them proud but also of which they are ashamed of.
And now we are in 2023. LLMs are capable of autogenerating texts on any subject within seconds. The texts may be based on factually inaccurate data and be completely void of any human thought, but they look to become the Internet of tomorrow.
The Web was the greatest achievement of humanity.
The same Web is being replaced by soulless corporations.
I don’t want to have anything to do with this Web.
Gmail will soon allow you to auto-generate email, not for someone to read it, but for the same algorithm to create a summary. So why the hell are we still bothering with email, then?
All major text editing services are racing towards the most human-sounding generation of said texts. So why the hell are we still bothering with writing them? You won’t generate anything new or exciting.
AI-powered graphic editors allow anyone to fake reality easily. Some will use them for social media, but those are not your memories. Why the hell would anyone want to remember something that didn’t happen? The sky wasn’t blue on that day.
I see a need for a “Human Web”. The mainstream Internet is filled with all that junk, and it will get even worse. But the soul of the Internet still exists. People still create to convey themselves. Search engines of the past will not help us, as they are a playground for SEO.
We still have (for better and worse) social media, but it’s also plagued with VC-backed companies.
We have blogs, but most of them try to sell you something or recruit you. They don’t express anything, as representing a real thought may negatively impact stock price.
There is Youtube, but its creators are constantly fighting with The Recommendation Algorithm, which, on a whim, may make or break any channel.
What we need is a new way to promote human creation. The biggest problem I see is discovery. We have IndieWeb5, but it’s not widely known as it requires at least fundamental technical knowledge. And even if you follow all the guidelines and ideas, your website may not be known to anyone. People’s internet usage is focused around a few big platforms. Google became useless for searching for information, and it will now become actively hostile by providing yet-another LLM for generative responses.
We need to act quickly. Corporations are already cranked up to 11, some people are on board, some even happily claping. We will lose the Web soon if we don’t find a good way to combat them.