NeoCities and Nostalgia for a Simpler Time

By Deane Barker on June 29, 2013

A friend sent me a post from a guy trying to make another GeoCities, called (awesomely) NeoCities.

His argument boils down the fact that there’s too much structure on the web today, both in the form of rigid social media publishing paradigms and (presumably) hosted CMS solutions:

Instead of having adventures into the great unknowns of the web, we instead now spend most of our time on social networks: boring, suburban gated communities, where everybody’s “profile” looks exactly the same, and presents exactly the same content, in the same arrangement. Rarely do we create things on these networks; Instead, we consume, and report on our consumption. The uniformity and blandness rival something out of a Soviet bloc residential apartments corridor.

He’s right, in a lot of ways. The “exploration” of the web has gone away.  The web comes to you now.  You don’t go looking for anything, due to a combination of social media, link sharing, and the power of Google.

(This, in part, is why I was so interested in Tor Onion Sites.  It suddenly seemed to me that there was some secret, unexplored part of the web, and this was super-cool to me.)

I lamented about something similar, years back in RSS and the Waning Mystery of the Web:

I remember way back when the Web was young, you used to have to surf — go from site to site to get what you needed. It was halfway exciting — you were living on the edge, man. You were surfing the Net. You never knew what you were gonna find.

If we want to publish content we just push it out with Facebook or Twitter or Squarespace or WordPress.com.  This is both a medium and a publishing model.

We don’t have to “create” anything anymore except the content.  Content models, URLs, image handling, etc. – these are all handled. Decisions have been made for us.  We have little rigid CMS boxes in which we organized stuff.

But is this a problem?  While I appreciate the nostalgia of GeoCities, these new platforms were created to solve a problem – people didn’t want to learn anything to publish content.  Yes, even HTML was too much for a lot of people.

In general, people like structure.  People don’t like blank pages.  They like to connect the dots, fill in the blanks, color by number – and this means giving them publishing platforms which are a little rigid, but give them a shell in which to work.

I think NeoCities is a great idea, and I absolutely wish the guy the best of luck with it. But thinking that all the web was missing was free hosting (hint: it’s not) might be a little optimistic.

Some people will do some great things out there, but more won’t because they’re looking for a rich text editor into which they can write content then press “Publish.”

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