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Thoughts on the web

Physical metaphors

I miss when we treated the internet more like an extension of real life and less like a separate, disconnected realm. I see people expressing the opposite viewpoint: they miss the sense of exploration and mystery that lens can provide. I get that, but I think there's a cozy element that's missing, too.

The whole concept of visiting a site is physical, but that's been lost. Now we just browse. I don't know where else we "browse", apart from in shops if we're people and in fields if we're animals, but I don't like the metaphor either way. "Surfing" is a better one. It has the same sense of surface-skimming, but at least it's active and sounds fun!

Guestbooks were better than comment sections. A guestbook is clear about its purpose: it's for the owner of the site to see comments from the guests. Nice comments. It's not a place to drive traffic to your own site (unless you really truly believe the webmaster will want to have a look) or to pick fights with other visitors, just because other visitors can read it. It's definitely not a place to act ungrateful. If you wouldn't write it in a real guestbook, it's not like anyone could stop you writing it in an online one, but I think the name was helpful to guide people's behaviour a little.

"Bulletin boards" and "forums" suggest sharing information with your community and having discussions. Does "comment section"? It sounds like a smoking section or something. The idea that we're invited to comment on literally everything is bizarre, too. I see more and more sites without commenting and it's refreshing. But kind of disturbing that it's often accompanied by a notice that commenting is "disabled". I know it's generally because people are working with websites that make them do it that way (already very strange!), but I've seen it as a disclaimer, too, as if it needs apology.

Then there's the big one, "social media". What does it even mean? And why do we have "profiles" and not "pages" on which a profile might be a part. Are we supposed to believe we're being profiled like celebrities, and not potential shoppers? (Or... criminals!) There's no physical metaphor for any of this because it's insane. Not just ugly like "comment section".

A lot of people used to really lean into the idea of the web as a physical space and style their site like a building with rooms. It used to be common for sites to have entrance and exit pages, too. I don't think we all need to do that - I certainly don't do that, though I've dabbled with it in the past. But I hope my site feels like a place you visit and leave, with an owner that cares about it.


Navigating sites

Site maps have gone out of fashion. I don't know if that's good or bad. Good: better web design renders them less useful. Bad: the average website nowadays seems designed to funnel you towards sign-ups and checkouts, if not to simply keep scrolling down, down, down. They don't want you to be able to navigate easily. I think websites should be laid out in ways that help visitors get around, and, if it's possible that they'll be looking for something in particular, to help them find it.

There is no particular page of this site that I'm desperately trying to get you to visit or stay on. The closest I come is wanting you to look at my mods and fanfiction... but I really don't mind if you do or don't. I don't think this is only because I make no money off it, but it's a factor. I've been to plenty of online shops and service providers who respect their visitors, so it's not a necessary part of making money. Just one we've tolerated.


Navigating the internet

I have no idea how to surf the web any more. Occasionally I wind up on a page with useful links, and enough of those sites were here on Neocities that it helped influence me to sign up (the other thing was that there's a Petz community here, and making my own Petz site on Geocities was my entry to all this!)

For many years I made use of sites like Fark, Reddit and sometimes Metafilter, but something happened to the quality across the years. Fark and Reddit got so commercial - Reddit and Metafilter got so hostile. And good links were so rare. Almost everything was to mainstream news sites if not to one of those awful news regurgitating link chains. That's on the occasion that the whole thing wasn't just a thinly-veiled advert. And these are the only places google will return in results nowadays. So I started typing all of my search queries into DuckDuckGo instead (a totally different approach!), and the results are a little less samey, but it's only like google 10 years ago IMO.

I've learnt about a lot of interesting small search engines, and discovered the world of new webrings, but it's nothing like it was before, and I miss it. I think that web is gone for good. Everything is too big, now. That's nice in some ways. I'm glad more people are able to get online, and so long as sites are real, it's the more the better. But I do feel lost.