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Old Coot Hates Modern Internet

There’s been no end, in the nearly a quarter of a century since the modern internet began, of detractors talking about how wonderful things were before it existed.

People were smarter before the internet.

People had to stop and think.

People knew things, rather than how to look something up.

… and so on and so forth …

You can find an old coot to complain about any aspect of modern life, and not just the internet, but today we have hit a new milestone.

The internet has now existed for long enough that some old coot is complaining about how much better it was when the internet first began.

Amy Hoy writes that the internet was great back before everyone was using it all wrong:

I first got online in 1993, back when the Web had a capital letter — three, in fact — and long before irony stretched its legs and unbuttoned its flannel shirt. Back when you could really say you were surfing the net.

And the first thing I did when I logged on line, every single time, for years was to load up Netscape’s What’s Cool.

What’s Cool billed itself as the best way to learn what cool new web pages had appeared… across the WHOLE (Earth)Internet. And for a time, it truly was.

Apparently it all went wrong when Movable Type was invented:

Movable Type didn’t just kill off blog customization.

It (and its competitors) actively killed other forms of web production.

Non-diarists — those folks with the old school librarian-style homepages — wanted those super-cool sidebar calendars just like the bloggers did. They were lured by the siren of easy use. So despite the fact that they weren’t writing daily diaries, they invested time and effort into migrating to this new platform.

They soon learned the chronostream was a decent servant, but a terrible master.

The potato gun girl and gerbil genetics guy found they didn’t want to write updates. It didn’t make sense. Their sites should have remained a table of contents, a reference tool, an odd and slightly musty personal library… the new “posts” format simply didn’t work for what they wanted to do. It felt demanding, and oppressive.

But they’d already switched. They’d already spent all that time and energy and optimism. To switch back, they’d have to go through that process all over again. Only worse, of course, because they’d have to build the new (old) site completely from scratch. They had no tool to give it shape.

And once you’ve had a taste of effortless updates, it’s awfully hard to back to manual everything.

So they didn’t.

And neither did thousands of their peers. It just simply wasn’t worth it. The inertia was too strong.

The old web, the cool web, the weird web, the hand-organized web… died.

There are no more quirky homepages.

There are no more amateur research librarians.

All thanks to a quirky bit of software produced to alleviate the pain of a tiny subset of a very small audience.

That’s not cool at all.

Yeah, that’s a load of nonsense.

I read that piece on Saturday evening, and I am till not sure how to refute it.

I could argue that when you have years and years of even occasional writing on a site, it makes sense to organize them both chronologically and by subject, but then Hoy’s complaints would look as silly as complaining about sorting paper copies of a magazine by date.

I could argue that I know of ten thousand websites on a thousand subjects that are organized hierarchically, not chronologically; I could argue that there’s nothing stopping people from using platforms like WordPress to build the homepages Hoy yearns for (I have made such pages); I could argue that the homepages of curated links continue to exist on services like Pinboard – but then Hoy would look ignorant of the modern web.

Or I could argue that the noxious confines of chronological order, when used by sites like Facebook and Twitter, makes for the basis for discussion, debate, and conversation, but then I would have to point out that the amateur research librarians Hoy yearns for now take questions on Twitter (including me).

But I don’t think it’s really worth the time, so instead I will note that Hoy is just another old coot grousing about how things were better back in her day.


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MKS July 2, 2017 um 2:01 am

I miss Compuserve’s moderated investment forums…. *sigh*

Bill Smith July 2, 2017 um 11:09 am

I miss the *blink* tag. And GeoCities. And find the spam.

And auto startup sounds and images that takeover your screen and you can get rid of and then, after they have deigned to allow you to use the site, you find a nightmare of moving backgrounds created while the designer was on acid. (well, at least we still have that. They’re called advertisements.)

Meryl Yourish July 2, 2017 um 12:05 pm

Feh. I got my first modem in 1986. The internet is WAY better now than it was then. 1200 baud modem speed? No thank you.

Also, there are plenty of quirky pages on the internet. You just have to find them.

The one thing I do miss is a search engine that actually gave you search results, not paid placement results. I use DuckDuckGo now. Google only when I can’t find what I want.

Rebecca Allen July 2, 2017 um 12:35 pm

I’m still quirky. I still write each and every web page on my site the old fashioned way. In VI. I didn’t go anywhere.

Thanks for the kook sighting!

Mackay Bell July 2, 2017 um 4:38 pm

Anytime you see a phrase like "They were lured by the siren of easy use" you know you’re dealing with an old coot grousing about how things were better back then.

Randy Lea July 2, 2017 um 7:12 pm

The key feature of the Internet is RSS. That eliminated the need to go to a web site altogether, unless there was a new post with interesting content. RSS is still used today, but its a shame that now its common for sites to just tweet out the title of new posts, with a link to the web site. Twitter is terrible for this application, which is why some web sites repeat tweets on like an hourly basis, incredibly annoying. With RSS, the article is posted once, and you never see it after you read it.

I access this web site from the RSS feed, which works quite well. I see new article titles once, go to the site if it looks interesting.

The best organization of any web site is publishing an RSS feed for readers to take advantage of, if they choose.

Chris Meadows July 4, 2017 um 11:01 pm

Sometimes I still miss the days before the Eternal September.

Not very hard, though, given how many nifty tools have been created since then that I wish had been around back in the day.

Bob Tudley July 5, 2017 um 10:04 am

I started a couple of primitive websites in the mid-1990s for fans of a couple of obscure things. In one case, for a friend’s band, the band broke up, so that ended that one except as a historical archive. In the case of the other, which had taken a lot more work, a lot of the info I’d painstakingly compiled for years was being swiped wholesale by wikis, and my site was getting less use. Didn’t see the point in doing wiki editors' work for them so I quit. The thing is,
I’d love to find sites similar to my old ones for other subjects.

Wikis are great for some things, but the reliance on a large crowd of people who may not each add a lot and the various wiki rules mean that sometimes a site compiled by a single-minded and dedicated obsessive can be a lot more useful, whether it’s set up in a modern CMS or really simple hand-coded HTML pages that don’t even use CSS. Google has made those sites harder to find, though…

Johnf July 5, 2017 um 9:01 pm

I’m with the old coot.

Nate Hoffelder July 5, 2017 um 10:53 pm

get off my lawn!

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