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My Thoughts on Yesterweb
November 23, 2022
Since starting my photo blog, I've been looking around at various sites on Neocities. For those who don't know, Neocities is an attempt to revive the spirit of GeoCities which was an icon of the early web. The Yesterweb is one such site that dedicates itself to the mission of resurrecting the culture of the old web, sometimes called Web 1.0.
I am partial to this mission. After all, this very site is very much in the Web 1.0 style. I also actively avoid social media sites. About the closest I get to social media is reddit, and I also occasionally use a Mastodon instance dedicated to the toki pona conlang. However, Yesterweb has a few shortcomings. Some of these are situational issues that could be fixed, and others are fundamentally in conflict with its stated goals. In this article I will enumerate the issues I see.
This is largely a personal gripe but I think it deserves a mention as a real issue because I think it is counterproductive to their own goals. It is clear that they want to introduce more people to the web of old. I use the word "introduce" because most people online today started using the web well after the dawn of Web 2.0.
One of the most overt instances of socialist leanings is found on their webring info page:
If you believe that the internet is being wrongly controlled by capitalism, or that social interaction online should be more than it currently is on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, then you belong here.
The "or" in this sentence gives an exemption for non-socialists to still be welcome, but there is a very clear suggestion here that the problems with the modern web are the fault of capitalism rather than, say, ignorance of the old web or the possibility that most people actually prefer the modern web.
Another instance that at first seemed like an oddity is the "anti-capitalism" tag in their web directory. For instance, one of the entries in their directory is a site dedicated to listing alternative online stores to Amazon. I am absolutely on board with avoiding Amazon and supporting small businesses, but this site was tagged as an anti-capitalist website... even though its primary goal is to direct you to stores that operate for profit.
It seems to me that the people in charge of the Yesterweb are bitten by the socialist memes that all the worst parts of our society are the core tenets of capitalism, and resisting huge corporations that are in bed with the government for unfair advantage is somehow anti-capitalist. It's weird, and I think it attracts similarly confused socialists into their fold and repels people who would otherwise be interested in participating but don't appreciate the politics.
Like any good community, the Yesterweb operates on many auxiliary platforms where a plain old website isn't sufficient. Among these platforms is Discord for real-time chat. The folks at Yesterweb are so embarrassed by this decision that they even wrote an article attempting to justify their choice.
tl;dr: most internet users are already using it
Isn't that true of all the other online services that Yesterweb is trying to retreat from? The obvious choice for a real-time chat platform for a community whose goal is to return to the purer net from the 90s and early 00s is IRC. In their justification article, they acknowledge the existence of IRC but write it off because it, among other decentralized platforms, allegedly are bastions of hate speech, because that's what free speech is, apparently. Never mind the fact that they could run their own channel or even their own IRC network with their own set of rules if they wanted.
I see this as a cheap compromise on their principles that could be easily overcome if they weren't more interested in political grandstanding.
A Fundamental Meta Issue
As much as I like hearing other people express their nostalgia for the web of yesteryear, I can't help but notice a glaring problem with Yesterweb: their very existence is essentially to complain about the modern web.
Yesterweb has published a quarterly zine for about a year now. In their fourth issue, there are still multiple articles which are essentially someone telling their story about the early days of the web and how the modern web doesn't live up to it. The article I read was well written, and I enjoyed reading it, but I think the main reason I enjoyed reading it is because I hadn't read any of the other issues or articles. I don't see myself clamoring for the latest issue of a zine going over the same old things forever.
Really the fundamental issue is that Yesterweb does not really contribute to the thing it is trying to promote. The best it offers is its site directory which at least points people to interesting sites to explore, but the old ways aren't going to be accepted unless there are more interesting things to do! It reminds me a lot of many atheist and anti-feminist YouTube channels from years ago: they have a message for people who haven't heard it before, but you quickly exhaust everything they have to say. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for one simple fact: they keep saying it!
It is a double-edged sword. On one hand, they need to continue putting out new material for people to stumble across, but on the other, they neglect their existing audience's wishes for something new to hear about. Yesterweb faces the same issue. I see them continuing to be a gateway for new eyes to see that people long for the net gone by, but they will be quickly forgotten except for things like the directory which are genuinely helpful.