The counterintuitive, GIF-tastic plan to redeem the modern Internet

The counterintuitive, GIF-tastic plan to redeem the modern Internet

- in Internet

Nostalgia for a purer, simpler time has already brought back the flip phone and the cassette. So it was only a matter of time, really, until someone attempted to revive the ’90s era Internet.

You’ll find their communes clustered on the edges of the modern Web, just outside the glow of Twitter and Facebook: static homepages built entirely in HTML, or social networks running off a single Unix computer.

They’re not sentimental, the old-timers argue; they’re not pining for some dial-up past. Rather, they’re pretty sure the modern Internet is screwed — and they’re reverting to its last, truly viable version.

[The rise and fall and reincarnation of the beloved ’90s chatroom]

“The Internet has become a conspiracy to get people to consume,” said the computer programmer Kyle Drake, who — with anthropologist Amber Case — just wrapped a sold-out two-day conference on the glories of the early Web. “There’s a shift from creation to consumption … Frankly, it’s become oppressive.”

Drake likely wouldn’t put it this way, himself — he’s pretty grandiose in conversation — but when he says “oppressive,” he actually means big. Big tech, big data, big business: Where Web 1.0 was niche and intimate, the domain of certain tech-savvy nerds, Web 2.0 is a massive capitalist endeavor with no less an ambition than to monetize every last person on Earth.

Few people saw this coming in the early aughts, when blog platforms and social network began popping up and the Web 1.0 era drew to a close. (This is admittedly an inexact term, but most people agree that period spanned from the early ’90s to roughly ’03 or ’04.) Web 1.0, as we think of it now, consisted of an endless maze of linked, static Web sites: garish, goofy things, often, limited by the slowness of pre-broadband Internet and the primitiveness of Web browser tech.

As a lay user, all you could do with your browser (Netscape!) was navigate straight to a site you knew or meander, through links, from one site to another. (This, the pre-search era, was the height of the webring: Internet alliances that funneled people to sites they wouldn’t otherwise see.)

Because publishing pages on Web 1.0 required some degree of Internet savvy — not to mention a pretty expensive machine — the only people with profiles or pages were early adopters and corporations. Normals had forums and newsgroups, of course, but those weren’t exactly the same thing. They definitely weren’t as zany or expressive as the sites the nerds were making: starry fan pages with side-scrolling “welcome” messages; tiled backgrounds competing with neon text; a virtual tsunami of “under construction” GIFs