Surfing the Net
Published by James Gallagher on .
This article takes approximately 13 minutes to read.
What did you do yesterday James? I ate breakfast and went to work, as usual. I spent some time with family. Oh, and I surfed the net. It was quite casual. I was just looking around, seeing what I could find. There wasn’t any particular goal that I had in mind. I was bored and went on a search for new content.
I used to think that social networks and feeds should tell me what to read. I would go onto sites like The Atlantic every day in search of their newest content. I waited for other people to share interesting links on social media for me to read. I signed up to a number of newsletters that aggregated links so that I would never be short on material to read if I was bored. It was an addition. I was always looking for more.
I expected content to be there for me. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find interesting links on The Atlantic. That’s what prompted me to take a different approach. I have been trying to surf the net a bit more, and venture further afield. It turns out that the web is bigger than I thought. There are communities out there for almost anything you can think of. You just need to go and find them.
joining the indie web community
My journey surfing the net began by learning about the indie web. I’m not exactly sure how I came across them. I’d say that it was a link from Hacker News or something, but I cannot say that with any conviction. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. The Indie Web appeared to me as a new frontier on the internet. There was a community of people who were actively looking to take back the internet. What was particularly interesting is that they weren’t just complaining about the status quo. Indie webbers – I don’t know if that’s an official term, probably not – were building technologies.
The Indie Web community is filled with interesting technologies and tools. There’s a group of people working on something called Microformats, which is a new way to share information on the internet. I’m thinking about starting a web page where I outline my demand for a Magic the Gathering Microformat. I don’t play the game anymore, but that’s only because not many people in my hometown were players. James, your monkey brain is getting distracted again. Back to the point, and maybe you can have a biscuit later. There’s also a group of people working on Indie Auth, a tool that allows you to sign into websites using your domain name. How amazing.
Discovery after discovery has made me realize how many people there are out there that are interested in bringing back the old web. When I woke up this morning, I went on to Hacker News to discover yet another blog post about bringing back the ’90s web. It was a good read. Check it out here. The author was making a case for how many trends from the ’90s are resurging today, albeit in different ways. No code is like Dreamweaver. Server-side rendering is making a comeback. Seeing posts like this show how many people are thinking deeply about this issue.
The Indie Web has been a springboard for my journey back into coding, but it is definitely not a means to an end. I love what they are doing, but perhaps the greatest gift they have given me is a new perspective on how I should use the web. The web is for surfing, not for waiting for other people to tell me or show me what to read. It’s also reminded me about the fundamentals of the web. The good old TCP/IP. I didn’t even know what that meant until this morning (I just didn’t make the connection between TCP and IP).
While I was on my exercise bike yesterday, I was surfing the net. I didn’t have much that I wanted to look at online so I decided to go to my site and click around my web ring a few times. For those who are new readers, a web ring is a type of online community that binds websites together. If you’re passionate about the indie web, you can join the Indie Web web ring. It’s free. All you have to do is sign up and upload a line or two of code onto your site then you’re done. You are a member of the web ring.
What I love about web rings is the serendipity. I’ll never know which blog I will run into next. I’m somewhat sad to admit that I have been around the Indie Web ring so many times that I am seeing sites more than once, but on the other hand this has been an important process for me. I am discovering new worlds. Ones that I otherwise would not have seen.
Web rings have turned my online experience into a more intimiate one. I am not just reading journalism. I am reading people’s thoughts and perspectives. I don’t know many of the people whose blogs I read, and I haven’t been around long enough to want to develop relationships with anyone. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a connection to the people whose content I consume. I feel connected to the people who write personal blog posts about their experiences as a human. That’s the best way to describe it, even if it sounds quite mundane. I am learning about people and their thoughts and feelings. Some people get really personal on their blogs. I love it.
It’s been a blast to click through web rings and see other sites. The serendipity doesn’t stop with the members of the web ring; it keeps going. I’ve discovered interesting lists of links for me to follow. There’s so much on the web out there that I would like. I can’t believe that I was restricting myself to a few sources like The Atlantic only a few weeks ago. That’s the thing. When I was young, I liked to explore the web because I was still trying to find my interests. I’m still trying to find my interests today, but some have stuck. Those got me into a rut with the content I consumed. I didn’t want to try new things. I was the person eating the same breakfast every day when he could be trying something different.
On a quick tangent, I do eat the same breakfast every day. Two slices of brown bread on toast, liberally coated with peanut butter. Accompanied with some fruit. I’m really into grapes right now. Although I am considering a switch to almond butter. This internet discovery thing has given me the bug of trying new things, within the limits imposed by the world in which we live right now. What was I going to say? Oh, yeah.
Web rings have uncovered new worlds for me, and I love it. To you, maybe reading over people’s blogs is procrastination. To me, it’s an art. It’s great to see the creativity that people are expressing on the web. There are really personable creators out there on the web. You just need to hunt for them.
I speak about web rings as if they are the only way that I’ve discovered new content. I’ve also been intrigued by the idea of the blog roll. Blog rolls are lists of other blogs that you enjoy.
My problem with the blog roll – and the reason that it wasn’t mentioned ahead of web rings – is that it can feel quite intimidating to navigate through all of the blogs on someone’s blog roll. I don’t have that many blogs that I follow now, but I expect that I will in a while. What’s held me back about having my own blog roll is that I don’t want it to get too long. That will only make it more difficult to discover content. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’ve got an idea about how to solve this. I’m going to build it later today and show it off this weekend. Oh, but I’m working on another project. We’ll see when it ships.
Blog rolls have been great because they are just a list of links. There’s nothing much to them. You don’t need to read through paragraphs about why each blog is great. You can click on a few different ones and see which interest you the most. So far, I’ve discovered a few interesting sites through a blog roll, and I think I’ll discover a lot more. Going down this rabbit hole further has opened my eyes to how many people have blog rolls. It’s amazing to see.
One commenter on the Hacker News post for the 90s web article I linked earlier made a point that I really liked. They said: “What I miss most from the early days of the Internet is the content. It was all created with love.” That’s what my experience on the internet has been missing. Love.
Authenticity is one of the defining characteristics of personal websites. When I read a personal website, it is just that: personal. People are talking about their lives. They are not doing so in the context of “Look at me, check out how many likes I deserve!” They are sharing what they want to share about themselves and the world. I’ve been trying to put more love into my content by mostly ignoring who is going to read it. I considered adding a hit counter to this site, but I don’t think that’s the best idea. I don’t want to know how many people read this site. It would be nice if people did, but I am writing this content to share my thoughts online, not for any particular audience.
Before writing this blog post, I found an article on personal web directories that I intend to read when I get a moment. What appealed to me about it was the design of the website. If I think about it, I think I’ve been on the site before, although last time I was a visitor I didn’t think about the design. When I look at the site, I see love. That’s it. I see someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how they can create a site that reflects them. That’s what I want to see on the internet. More love put into content.
I’m going to admit that my content is not perfect, but I have fun writing it. I really do. Do you want to know a fact about me? The first cup of coffee I ever had was made by my father and I didn’t like it. Then I started drinking tea. I loved it. I went to coffee for a while, then I gave up caffeine, and now I am back on tea. I really do love tea. I even wanted to become a professional tea taster a few years ago, although that didn’t work out. If I do recall, there is actually a social network on the web for tea. Anyway, the point: personality is what matters.
I’ve written about this a lot lately and at risk of repeating myself I’ll say it again. It seems like the modern web has lost some love. Designers are creating websites that can only be rendered on the latest and greatest technologies. Companies are prioritizing profits over user experience. A lot of content out there is written on the premise of SEO. One question I have is: how much of the content online really needs to be written? If all a company is doing is competing with others in search, then do they really need to be around? What value are you adding? Those writers could be employed doing much more interesting things, and at the same time not trying to capture the attention of a user who only clicked on your content because you went after a featured snippet and got it. Content should matter most.
Love is out there on the web. I came across a site called Glitch yesterday and I was astounded. Glitch is making it really easy for you to create your own website. I’d heard of Glitch before, but their value proposition didn’t quite click until yesterday. The make it super simple to get started coding. I mean really simple. They’ve built a great community of people who are just starting out and of experts who are sharing their code. It’s amazing to see, and the platform has a lot of personality out there. There’s also a – I think – growing number of personal websites out there. Maybe I’ve been in the indie web bubble for too long, but I’d say that there are so many more personal websites out there than I had ever imagined.
a lesson in rediscovery
This hasn’t so much been a lesson in discovery. I have been rediscovering things that I lost on the web. I didn’t know that web rings existed or blog rolls. Maybe that shows my age, or maybe it’s just because they didn’t take off sufficiently. I’m not that young though. I still remember Club Penguin and how much time I spent playing the minecart game. I accrued so many coins. Oh! how I wish Club Penguin was still available to play online. My point is that although I didn’t know about things like blog rolls, I am discovering them now. People thought they were lost; it turns out they are still here.
It’s humbling for me to go to people’s personal websites and see old features of the web. Some of them are there for nostalgia. I’m not entirely sure how many websites need a public hit counter anymore. The intent doesn’t matter. People are just really into some of the old features of the web. I’m rediscovering what it feels like to be outside of message-based communities. My next adventure should be into the world of forums. I didn’t contribute to many when I was young but I did read quite a few. Forums are still out there, it’s just that newer technologies have more bells and whistles.
I’ve got a lot that I want to work on this weekend but don’t think for one second that I am not going to find some time to surf the net. I’ll randomly click through web rings and blog rolls and see what I can find. I may not find anything, but I’ve been having a lot of fun and that’s all that I care about. The old internet is already out there. We don’t need to bring it back. It’s just that we need to reconnect with it.