The internet has changed — it has changed a lot. The internet is bigger, but paradoxically also smaller. What was once a big diverse place with a plethora of creativity is now a uniform, drab, and corporatized space with more people concentrated into fewer and fewer places on the internet. The subject here, is the centralized consolidated consumer web which captures over 30% of web traffic. The days of simple leisurely time on the web has been replaced with higher amounts of seriousness and also addiction with the increasing sophistication of algorithms. When you browsed the web before this current state, you felt free, so free that peopled referred to it as the wild west, but now it’s just another area in our lives rather than a secret world to explore. People used to retreat to the internet to escape their lives, but now it is the opposite; People retreat to their real lives to escape the internet!

The interneted life

The internet has indeed become much more serious as the lines between the web and real life became blurred — more serious than the heated flame wars you would find on forums and chat rooms. Before Myspace and other social media platforms took over the web, there was a real separation between the person in the physical world, and the world of the internet. Back in the day, you were actually discouraged from sharing your identifiable information such as your name and face, but those rules have been thrown out the window post social media web where you will find that it is now common practice on platforms like Twitter, Google and Facebook which people do without a care in the world. There, you will find many people with their real names as display names and photos of themselves where their avatars should be. They were never taught about the importance of privacy. This privacy is needed now more than ever as there are even more eyes on the web with the rise of internet usage across the population and is now highly monitored. Now everyone and their mother is online which means more people are watching you. you could be watching you, someone you don't even know could be watching you — watching every update, your every move. If you post something you’ll regret, they will see it and there will be plenty of angry people that will never let you live it down. Get enough attention and your name would show up on search engine results. It could be an edgy post that rustles some feathers, or video footage you wish people couldn’t see, all available to friends, family or potential employers. The lesson here is, you reap what you sow. No one is forcing anyone to post everything about themselves online and so there’s no use in being upset when they suffer from it. In the early days, if you pissed people off, it wouldn’t matter because you were just another username to them. You can’t really blame the platforms themselves for people not understanding the consequences of the irresponsible use of their personal information. They do not realize that everything they upload is a publication which you can’t protect from public scrutiny. People often tell stories of terrible fates that befall people as lessons and the same can be done here. People must be warned about consequences of their actions. We all have a choice not to use social media just as much as parents have a choice in how their children use their smartphones or whether they should be using smartphones at all. The internet isn’t just a secret space anymore, it is now serious business. It is a public spectacle!

Not only has the internet changed, but our usage and the way we think about it too. Browsing the internet used to be just another thing you did. A place you would return to at a particular place at a particular time for most people. It’s what made it special, it was like a treasure. Because our mobile phones got smarter and became pocket computers, the internet is now with many of us. The entire web accessible whenever and wherever we want – it is easy to get internet access with many places offering internet access and through mobile data with our smartphones. And when we have a large supply of something, it gets cheaper and its quality gets lowered. That is the modern internet experience. It is like having a portal machine to a second planet that you could only access at a certain place, but when it became more portable, people could travel to that planet whenever and wherever they wanted – and because people started going there so often, many things on Earth has been moved to that other planet. We now use it for everything and now the magic is gone.

The useful web is dead

The web was always a place to find information when you needed it. A place to freely find information and knowledge. If you wanted to find some information or learn how to do something, you might have found some pages made by people who are knowledgeable in subjects they have interest in and made those pages for the purpose of sharing their knowledge or use a forum dedicated to that interest. Fast forward to today – useful easy to find information has been replaced by clickbait articles on webpages surrounded by even more clickbait articles. Any information that is useful is either behind a paywall, or it’s from a website from the 2000s. People have forgotten that one of the greatest thing about the internet was FREE information. If people wanted to pay for some sort of special membership or package to learn things, they would join a college course, go to a class, or subscribe to a magazine. Go searching for pages today with a search engine and you would find yourself interrupted by intrusive pop up messages asking you to sign up to their newsletter or to consent to using cookies or even autoplaying videos – or you would have to sign in or register to actually see what they have to offer.

Modern BBC news article

If you were to compare old websites to modern ones, you will notice that full paragraphs were much more prevalent in the older webpages as they were oriented around reading; written communication was the priority. Those pages expected you to actually read rather than mindlessly clicking things. Today however, straightforward readability has taken a backseat to fancy graphics, stimulation and distraction. This is because these overdesigned modern day websites are not concerned with giving end users a comfortable and ordered reading experience, they just want more clicks. No longer do we have a functional orderly design with everything clearly sectioned, or small to medium sized images placed to the side – only bland minimal pages stuffed with oversized images breaking the flow of paragraphs that take up double the space of older pages with half the content available in a whole screen making you have to scroll more – why is the web today so deprived of information? It is because the internet is no longer a place to find knowledge, but a place for mindless consumption. The authors of these new websites don’t actually have any interest in sharing knowledge with you, they’re after your attention and your clicks. It doesn’t matter if what they’re giving you is crap, they know you’ll just keep clicking and scrolling anyway.

Uniformity and conformity

What did the aesthetics of websites have in the 2000s? Lot’s of creativity. Not only were the sites and the content available creative, but they allowed internet users to get creative by giving them the freedom to customize their own profile pages where you would find all sorts of different colors and setups. You could set yourself a nice color scheme, or you could have a fancy wallpaper, what ever you wanted. The big sites like Facebook and Reddit does not give you the option because they believe they know more about what you want than you do. What you get now is nothing but white. It’s clean and “professional” because internet has transformed from a creative space, to a consumer space. You’re not meant to do anything, you’re just meant to consume only and let the big guys handle everything for you.

When you have communities being made on one big platform, discourse becomes centralized. When you had forums, you had different communities with different rules, different cultures and different beliefs. In the golden age, you would have different people on different areas on the internet. Any new thing with a community behind it would now be housed on Reddit which means Reddit might control almost of all the online communities you are part of. If Reddit wasn’t enough to kill forums, Discord would be what finished the job. More and more people online are moving to Discord which is another centralized platform that wants to monopolize on online communication. The online communities on these platforms will all be subject to universal rules they must all follow which in turn results in conformity. What you end up with is a small number of administrators at the top responsible for thousands of communities. What this means is that it would be much more easy to censor the internet. If a government wanted to censor an idea, they could just have the big tech platforms enforce censorship of anything they want. It would also be useful for government surveillance since many of these centralized platforms store personal data about the users, which makes it easy for the government to spy on you. A centralized internet is much easier to monitor than a decentralized one.

The internet's landfill

You can’t talk about the golden age of the internet without talking about the golden age of Youtube videos which was between around 2006-2013. In the 00s, the internet was full of all sorts of fun oddities and Youtube was no different. It was the place to go for amateur entertainment. You could go to the homepage and have no idea what you would find — it was always an adventure. It was a much smaller place which made it feel more real. You could even customize your own channel profile like you could with many other sites at that time. You would only be encouraged to watch related videos to the videos you were watching rather than some intelligent algorithm designed to keep you addicted with their “suggestions”. Videos were much shorter as there was a 10 minute limit which meant that you had more time to watch even more videos and a wider variety of content. The site wasn’t filled with 10+ minute videos made by thousands of other Youtubers desperate for your attention. The console wars were fun where you had fanboys making videos arguing why their console is better and parody songs rather than hundreds of people reading news articles for over 10 minutes.

It lies in contrast to today where Youtube has now become serious and has gone from a place to share your own videos into a full time job that people rely on it to earn a paycheck. Ever since Youtube video makers went “professional”, it’s been nothing but CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT. It doesn’t have to be interesting, it just has to be more than 10 minutes and have an audience that will be entertained by it; It rewards the uploading of junk. The fun customizable profile pages were replaced by white modernist utilitarian design. What used to be interesting and odd videos on the front page is now news, movie trailers and other content made by big companies. The soulful, became the souless. More people might have the gear, they might have the time, but they don't have the heart.

Videos became work, video channels became careers, quantity was valued over quality and thus we have modern day Youtube, a service that doesn’t know what it wants to be and tries to become everything at once. Is it a place to let anyone who wants to broadcast themselves share videos? Is it a place where people can publish works such as documentaries, news and professional content? Is it a dumping ground? Is it online television? Is it a place for funny videos a bunch of friends made? Or is it a place to watch news and talk shows? Whilst most might think it would be a good idea for one place to do it all, it results in different people with different things they expect from the platform which causes the people managing the platform to be tied up and overstretched where no one will be satisfied with the result. They can’t focus on one type of content, therefore they cannot focus on anything at all. They had a chance with Youtube Red; they could have made a platform designed for professional high quality content that would give creators the right tools and support. A platform for creators that take filmmaking seriously who want proper monetization rather than the unreliable current system on the regular site with its vauge rules and terrible creator support. If Youtube Red offered itself as an attractive platform for content creators, there would be much fewer problems. Instead what we got was just Youtube with no ads and options to download which we can already do for free. Youtube has become too big to handle which will lead the platform to be a victim of its own success. If this era of Youtube were to be named, it should be called undead era; the undead walk as if they are beings that live but have no life. There are still plenty of creative videos on the site, but that is not really the identity of Youtube anymore.

The comeback

It is a tragic reality of something that is universal in all domains. Movements start; then they die – it is no different here in this current state of decadence the internet is currently in. Its decline can be seen in paralell to video games where the 2000s were also thought to be the golden age, but that too has suffered the same fate like Hollywood movies have. There will always be the cyle of creativity and un-creativity. Everything we could possibly want is in our fingertips and internet speeds are only getting faster, so how can the internet be dead? The constant that binds all these things together is that people have stopped trying. Too much of anything devalues it, and that includes pleasurable things. We are spending too much time on the internet because it is now everywhere in our lives. Job applications, dating, socializing — it has taken over our normal activities and has become part of our lives rather than as a sanctuary from to save us from our real lives. The people who were on the internet in the past were not special or famous – they were just people, and these people would only be popular or “famous” within their respected communities or they were well known for running a website, but now the internet is dominated by e-celebs, influencers and other people trying to get internet famous and “viral”. What was once a relaxing space is now a popularity contest for social capital and clout with the currency being “likes”. More likes and social approval to give the ego what it desperately wants. Certain drugs can make one feel great and experience all kinds of pleasure. Are drug addicts the happiest people in the world? No.

Explore the fediverse

Will the greatness of the old internet come back? Will there one day be a renaissance of the golden age? What can be done to make the internet better and make it for the people again? The answer is the same answer to how it works in the real world—by voting with your feet. Many smaller websites will have some way to support them such as donations, monthly subscriptions and merchandise so if you want the internet to stay creative and independent, support them any way you can. Look for forums rather than always defaulting to Reddit and follow blogs. Sadly, many forums are taking even more of a hit due to the success of Discord — which is also big tech — but there will still some out there that could use more users. Support places that share this vision of independence, community and online creativity such as Donate, whitelist ads, buy something, do anything to show that you support the diversity of the web and we can make the internet a place for the people again. Move away from centralized platforms such as google, Discord, Twitter etc and use open source federated services such as Mastodon, Plemora and Diaspora. The future lies in DECENTRALIZATION. There is no need for government to break up big tech when we have the power to do it ourselves through our own will and defiance of their power. If we do not approve of their practices, we shall no longer use them. The power of the internet can only be as strong as its userbase and with the use of federated services, we can take the internet back!