I don’t miss everything about the Internet of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, but there’s a lot to miss about it.
My family bought our first computer in 1996, I think. It was somewhere around there…between ’95 and ’97 at least. I know we were living at Eglin AFB when they bought it. Anyway, ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I don’t think a day has gone by in which I haven’t actually used a computer. Maybe a day here or there, but computer usage has been a major part of my day for the past twentysomething years now.
So I remember how the Web was like back then. I remember our computer had Windows 95 on it, and that version didn’t come with a default browser, so the first browser I ever used was Netscape. Google didn’t exist back then, but I can’t remember the first search engine I used. I do remember the first search I did – ‘sailormoon’ was my first search term. I found an English-language site hosted on Tripod and proceeded to print the entire site.
Things were very different then. People communicated via email, newsgroups, chatrooms and message boards. If you wanted to express yourself online, you created a home page. You could pay for hosting, or you could get free hosting from Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, Bravenet, etc. Hell, this was before ‘weblogs’ became a thing. Yeah, before they were ‘blogs’ they were ‘weblogs’, sites that developers used to document their process.
You could use the hosting provider’s built-in page building tools or you could build it yourself using HTML or some WYSIWYG editor (I did all three).
The reason I bring this up is that back then, nearly anything was allowed. If you wanted to post a page about how much of a famewhoring skank you thought the late Diana, Princess of Wales was, you could (remember the ‘misanthropic bitch’?). Of course, you had to find someone willing to host such content, but most people could. People had home pages about all kinds of random shit. This was the beginning of online fandom, as people who were passionate about something, be it a movie, TV series, book, musician, etc could build and host a fan page. I eventually built a few fan pages about Sailor Moon. They were all garbage and had repetitive info you could find on better sites, but they were mine.
If someone came across your page and wanted to offer feedback, you’d probably have something called a guestbook. People would enter their name, email address and URL and a comment about your site. Guestbooks would often be host to vicious flamewars, depending on the fandom. I participated in some. I was a little defensive about Sailor Moon, which I find embarrassing now, but I was a kid back then.
There weren’t many bannings or anything like that. You had to do something seriously bad (illegal) or share warez to get your page taken down. I remember getting into a vicious and nasty flamewar with some chick whose page I didn’t like, and it spilled over into email…and neither of us got banned from anywhere, nor did we lose our sites or email accounts. I can’t remember how it ended, but despite the nasty things we said, it’s not as if we actually carried those threats out. Back then it was all about who could be the nastiest, meanest, etc.
The first blog I ever had wasn’t actually called that – it was a diary hosted at Stories.com (of which is now called Writing.com). As the new millennium dawned, the Internet became less about information (less fan pages, for example) and much more about documenting one’s personal life. The ridiculous clown world we find ourselves in can be traced to the rise of blogs, which, in my memory anyway, probably began around 1999 or 2000. I remember discovering LiveJournal and being so upset that you had to either pay to have an account or get an invitation from an existing member. I had no friends, so I couldn’t have one for a long time, but LJ was forked by several other sites, and I had my first LJ-style blog on Blurty.
Then there was EasyJournal, and Xanga, and Blogger…when Stories.com decided to keep free users from having journals, I moved. I wish I still had access to those early journal entries, but they’re all probably hugely depressing. I was seriously unhappy back then.
But even then, this censorship culture didn’t exist. People would fight with each other about anything and everything under the sun, and it’d spill over to other sites, and nobody got banned or disciplined or punished.
I think I know where things went seriously wrong. Things went wrong when certain social media networks ended up being hugely popular.
Before Facebook there was MySpace. I really hated MySpace because the site design was hideous. MySpace profiles were customizable – you could change the background color, you could change the color of the table borders, you could change the font color and size, and you could embed sound files (which was SUPER annoying…just like the autoplaying MIDI files of the late ‘90s…ugh). Teenage girls would make hideous looking profiles with clashing neon colors, zillions of sparkly animated GIFs and autoplaying music, usually garbage pop. It was kind of like the freedom allowed by free hosts like Geocities with the uniformity of the social networks we all know of today.
MySpace really changed things. Even the early blogs of Web 1.0 were still somewhat informative, and reasonably well-written. Then came MySpace, and everyone got on it because they could find their old high school friends, or whatever. Having a MySpace profile was a lot easier to build and maintain than a home page on Geocities or Tripod.
But people posted their pictures on MySpace, and wrote about their lives on MySpace, and communicated with their friends on MySpace…all of this was consolidated into one place.
Then Facebook, a networking site for college students, opened its site to everyone, and since building and maintaining a Facebook profile was even easier (plus, easier on the eyes – no hideously clashing colors or obnoxious music), people gravitated towards that.
And slowly but surely more and more people used Facebook for all kinds of things, including the sharing of links. You didn’t need bookmarks or RSS feeds or whatever – if you wanted to know what was going on, just look at your Facebook feed.
More people were online and communicating than ever before, and with that came oversensitive babies who can’t handle being challenged or offended. Back in the old days, you’d just fight it out on a message board or over email, but nowadays, if someone hurts your feefees, you report their post.
Part of the problem is that these days, people post using their real names. You can find someone on Facebook rather easily just by using their real name, and not everyone is smart enough to keep certain details private, like the city one lives in, etc. And, of course, their picture is helpfully attached to said profile. It’s far easier to stalk someone these days, thanks to Facebook and the demise of online anonymity.
The same could be said of Twitter. A few years ago, I really got into it with some stupid leftist hag, and she threatened to come to my house and kill me. According to the rules of Web 1.0, I dared her bitch ass to come get me and told her that I’d probably kill her first.
Not only did that get me a freaking ban, that got me a phone call from the freaking FBI.
So yeah, I guess I come across as a psychotic asshole, given today’s sensibilities. Back then, however, nobody really took these kinds of “threats” seriously because, well, we didn’t know each other’s real names, nobody knew what we looked like and therefore nobody could actually find out where we lived, unless they traced our IP address or something. One chick I had a serious rivalry with discovered my real name and said, “Elaine, what kind of name is that?” It spooked me because I had always been so careful to keep my real name entirely out and separate from anything I did online. I guess I screwed up somewhere along the line.
This is already way too long and way too rambling, so I’ll wrap it up with this. One of the big problems is that everything is so centralized these days. The vast majority of people use a handful of services and networks – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, etc. Back in the day, it was no big deal if you were banned from a message board, or Tripod or whatever. You could just set up shop somewhere else. Nowadays? Get banned off of Twitter and that’s it. You can go to Parler or Gab but your reach won’t be as big as it was on Twitter because everybody else is on Twitter.
People need to realize that there’s alternatives out there. There’s other networks and services that not only won’t discriminate against you due to your politics, but that also respect your privacy. Facebook doesn’t respect your privacy. Everything you post there becomes fodder for their advertising business. Besides, is it even really yours once you’ve posted it there? What’s stopping them from using your content? And what if they’re handing it over to the government? Oh, and let’s not forget that for a long time, Facebook stored all user passwords in a freaking TEXT FILE!
Even if politics had nothing to do with it, these companies are not trustworthy at all. The price you pay for using these services is your digital life – your words, your photos, your browsing history. That’s something we should all worry about, and it’s what I miss about the old Internet the most.