I built my first website circa 1998.
Back then, the internet was a proper playground. I taught myself HTML and CSS by reading other site's source code. While my skill was rudimentary by today's standards, it was enough to land me a job building a resident life site for my university.
The layout was designed in Photoshop and coded by hand in Dreamweaver. All of the graphics were original, and the images were photos of my friends hanging out in the dorm. In hindsight, it was ridiculous that the university gave me that much freedom and paid me a few thousand dollars.
On the very smallest of scales, my story is similar to the internet boom of the 00s and early 10s. Anyone who knew a little bit of code could stake a claim in the internet age. That began the era we now call Web 2.0: the social era.
The social era of the internet is a bit ironic in hindsight. A generation of coders and tinkerers led to the creation of platforms. While it opened up web tools and connected the world, it also took away a lot of the creative expression that made the early web fun.
For over a decade, the web has been relegated to similar-looking boxes. It seems that, in addition to trying to kill personal websites, the social web also tried to kill personal expression. Sure, MySpace, Blogger, and Tumblr let us tinker with our site designs, but most sites gave us what they wanted and called it a day. As much as I love Medium, they, too, removed the ability for writers and publications to tinker with the designs of their corner of the platform.
While Web 2.0 opened up the world, it took away a lot of the joy of being online. Frankly, what's the point of creating if it's not any fun?
Thankfully, everything is changing. Web 3.0 is being formed right before our eyes. And, no, it's not some scammy crypto thing. Early signs are pointing to a resurgence of personal expression online. Personal websites are making a comeback, as is platform-independent social media. Frankly, things are getting really exciting.
There have been so many amazing articles this past week about the changing face of the internet. I'm going to link to and quote from a few of them below. But, as a creator online, there's never been a better time to explore and cultivate your own corner of the online world. This new era feels a lot like the early days of the web, just with much better technology at our fingertips.
I couldn't be more excited about what comes next!
Don't Take My World For It...
Here are a handful of articles from the last few days about the changing face of the internet that are completely worth your time:
How To Fix The Internet by Katie Notopoulos (MIT Review):
The fix for the internet isn’t to shut down Facebook or log off or go outside and touch grass. The solution to the internet is more internet: more apps, more spaces to go, more money sloshing around to fund more good things in more variety, more people engaging thoughtfully in places they like. More utility, more voices, more joy.
This entire article is pure gold and aligns completely with my thinking. It's one of those that completely captures our current tipping point. My commentary above doesn't hold a candle to the depth that Katie shares with MIT. But, based on her thoughts, I think we'd be friends.
Mastodon Is The Good One by Jason Koebler (404media):
I’m writing this because it has been weird to watch some journalists and people who are fully aware of Facebook’s catastrophic history with things like disinformation, algorithmic dark patterns and ever-shifting reward systems, user monetization and tracking, disastrous forays into the news business, shoddy content moderation, and complicity in a genocide become the world’s largest Mark Zuckerberg / Threads simps because he’s a little less awful than Elon Musk. These same people who are chit-chatting with Mark about his MMA are chastising their colleagues who choose to stay on “Xitter,” “the Bird Site,” “the hell site,” etc because their audience is there.
Jason wrote his article in response to Katie's. Did I mention how good her's is? Anyway, Jason nails exactly why Mastodon is the best social media option out there. It's easy to join, and you can even own your own corner, like I do with holonet.social. Why let a billionaire own your social media when you can run it yourself? Plus, it's so much more fun!
Issue 1: Your Superpower by Matthais Ott (Own Your Web):
Having a personal website in 2023 is a superpower. It’s a place to write, create, explore, and share whatever you like, without limitations. It’s a playground to try out new things, tinker with new technologies, and build something beyond the ordinary. It’s a tool to make yourself heard, to participate in online discourse, create community, and make new friends. And, it’s a place to truly own your content and tell your story. It’s your personal home on the Web.
I've been saying for a while that your website should be the hub of your creativity. Own Your Web is the aptly named newsletter seeking out how to do just that. It was an instant subscribe for me, and I look forward to what Matthais shares in the coming weeks.
Speaking Of Owning Your Web...
If you haven't noticed by now, this is the first issue of This Week In Writing sent completely from my website. I've left the platform constraints and questionable practices of Substack behind.
The beautiful irony is that I made the decision to fully move to my website this week, before all of these amazing articles shared above hit the web. They served as encouragement and validation for my choice.
Shifting my entire audience to my website is scary. I'm still working to move all the paying subscribers and know there will likely be attrition. Plus, sending mass emails safely is not cheap.
The trade-offs are worth it for me, though. I'm no longer worried about what happens if the platform tanks. Plus, I'm slightly kicking myself for the two decades of my personal website history lost to platforms in the social web era. Instead, I'm looking forward to the future of truly independent publishing online.
It's an exciting and optimistic time for the internet. I hope you'll continue to join me as we enter this new era.