Long Live The Yesterweb!

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The year was 1999. I discovered Hotmail and MSN Messenger. I chatted with the few friends that liked me while downloading MP3s from OC Remix at 9 PM when no one used the phone. Listening to those remixes got me into producing music after my dad started to experience mental health problems. I wanted to make my own website so I can share my music with the world. I took my MP3s of self-made music to school, and in the library, coded a little Angelfire site/blog of my life and interests while taking most of the 15MB hosting space for my demo songs recorded in my aunt’s basement. It was a basic HTML site with no CSS or Javascript. All the colours and styles were bunched up in the head before the body tag. On top of hip-hop beats and rhymes, web development for me was creativity heaven.

As I created more music for people and realized the potential of the internet to reach new people around the world, I wanted to take my songs and my blogging further. I didn’t like MySpace because I could only put up a few songs instead of my entire first album I created. This lead me to YouTube, Facebook, and eventually Twitter for sharing my tunes with anyone who found what I did relevant. What I did not expect was that my friends on Facebook got into my music, I preformed for a few local crowds here and there, but YouTube and Twitter only got me haters outside my in-crowd of friends and family.

I discovered a huge problem with the modern internet over the last decade: the issue of content collapse. To sum it up, content collapse is the flattening of multiple audiences into a single context. Content that is intended for one audience finds its way to another audience (in most cases an audience that is offended by the content). Content collapse has been screwing with our mental health for over a decade and it’s getting worse. This happens when a post, meme, or video ends up being seen and commented on by a large group of folks that no one anticipated would see the content. In my case, my Christian friend’s support for 45 end up on my feed and mutual liberal friends’ feeds just because we had a connection years ago. In most cases, especially in polarized political content commentary, trolling comments dropped and everyone that we used to get along with are now blocking or unfollowing each other left and right. The problem here is that we’re talking to too many audiences at once and it’s really bad on Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok. We find ourselves speaking to our friends, family, and if we live in a small town, our entire community all at the same time. Back in the day, if you were inviting everyone into an MSN Messenger chat, many friends will be rejecting the invite or leaving quickly. But on social media, this seems to be a cool thing because, well, acceptance and diversity is what makes the public square interesting. Everyone will read the exact same words but with different lenses which makes conversation and engagement lively. The idea of the niche is there but it’s built on a damaged foundation.

So let’s say some random girl on Twitter named Jennifer who likes what you say retweets a post you wrote. It goes out to Jennifer’s audience. Jennifer’s friends have no idea who you are and they’re going to make assumptions based on why she retweeted what you wrote in the first place. Going viral can be both good and bad depending on who is connected to Jennifer and the uninitiated who see Jennifer's content. Social media has given every single person with an account influence, which can be used to show how to cook a lobster or what a lobster sounds like on video while it’s being cooked alive. The problem is that the context in which to use social media for either purpose is unclear. Everything becomes blurry because most of the time, how Jennifer’s friends react to the post you wrote may or may not be how you intended for them to react in the first place.

That lack of clarity leads to another issue. The platforms that host our content we share are owned by companies who make money using algorithms designed to keep people rage commenting or checking out other posts that bring more engagement, shares, likes, and views. The algorithms mission on social media are to show people more ads so money can be moved around and more data can be collected in order to keep social media sites running. Gotta love surveillance capitalism.

Tik Tok has made content collapse a much bigger issue because when a video’s posted, it doesn’t go out to people following their accounts. It’s like Stumble Upon. It goes out to random people who know nothing about the person or company who created the video in the first place. Depending on where we post on social media, we find ourselves having to strike a balance between posting for a new audience and posting for people who are following what we do. And yet, going viral is the aim of everyone with influence on the internet these days.

Communication, movements, and even livelihoods are now being built using tools in the form of apps, sites and programs offered by a few major corporations who own the entire digital world. I've realized the error in my ways of using tools for creativity and “community building” that I do not own. I’ve realized how much of my data I’ve given them (and how much data I can never get back). I've fallen for the cookie cutter templates of minimal web design but feel that there needs to be balance between load speed, creativity, and responsive delivery for multiple devices.

I soon discovered the Yesterweb, where individual creativity and communication lives again. With that Geocities and Angelfire brought back to life, I feel like there's sanity and individual novely in the internet again. And so I've created this page with the 90s net pastiche many know and love from the era of Netscape and Dogpile.

Neocities gives us the best features of the early internet: fun, creativity and independence. Like Geocities, it's free to make your own site from scratch which can easily be shared with fellow creators. This community is full of innovators who build any kind of site from music/blogging sites like mine to cute furry webcomics to video game fan pages. Neocities distances itself from the commercial Web, content collapse, elite greed, and commercialism. And I'm on board with the ideology as I break free from a corrupt digital system. Long live the Yesterweb!

Want to join in? Here's what you can do:

  • Learn how to surf the web well and teach others to do the same.
  • Reduce screen time and activity on social media. It's not healthy for you.
  • Only use your phone when you really need to find information or communicate with someone instantly.
  • Speak out on social media about the harms of surveillance capitalism via social media while offering to build community.
  • Speak out about why the structure of social media & SEO is ruining the internet.
  • Build a space for yourself online. Help others do the same!
  • Build community & collaborate with other webmasters & artists.
  • Write a manifesto to the Yesterweb when you're ready.
  • Most of all, keep coding and making new art while making new friends online without social media.

When you’re offline, here’s how you can also live out this ideology:

  • Take the time to travel to as many countries as you can.
  • Learn from other cultures outside of your own.
  • Set tables with lots of food and invite those who are marginalized to eat.
  • Look for and take up hobbies that don’t have a monitor or a touch-screen.
  • Enjoy performances people put on for you.
  • Reach out, give to neighbors, and build community.

You may or may not change the world, but I guarantee you'll brighten someone's day.

This entire post is a work in progress and will change depending on how things happen in the cyberspace world. Take some time to explore this page further and if you want a challenge, try to figure out the secret code that will take you to a cool page not found in the normal navigation!