18 votes

Have you felt or do you still feel the optimism of the Internet / Web 2.0 in the early 2000s and 2010s?

Title is the question. It's left open for your interpretation.

It'd be interesting to see people's different interpretations and reasons.

11 comments

  1. [2]
    spctrvl
    Link
    I did, but I think it's mostly dead as a phenomenon. Certainly it is to me, here's my post mortem. I think there was reason to be optimistic at the time, the early internet was a wonderful place,...

    I did, but I think it's mostly dead as a phenomenon. Certainly it is to me, here's my post mortem.

    I think there was reason to be optimistic at the time, the early internet was a wonderful place, and it seemed that bringing more people into the fold could only be a good thing. But what we failed to realize was that the platforms that would come to dominate the web wouldn't be healthy forums centered on mutual respect, they'd be sites that gleefully ignored all the lessons of eternal september and earlier efforts at large moderated spaces to chase growth at all costs. Where we expected a lush rainforest, we got a field of kudzu strangling out everything else.

    I also think the optimism was fueled, ironically, by the pessimistic political climate of the era. Specifically, the 80's through the early 2010's are the peak years of the neoliberal hegemony, the era of The End of History and There Is No Alternative. A lot of tech people are (at least culturally) quite left leaning, and I think a lot of them were reacting to the perceived failure of liberation through electoral politics by going hard into the narrative that technology would set us free, by making conventional politics irrelevant through increasing the power of individuals over their environment, and building pseudo-anarchist dual power structures, analogous to the free software movement. The main people I think of in that light are (2000's) Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross. But with the recent-ish end of the end of history, I think this current has largely been reintegrated into the now more mainstream anticapitalist left, and unqualified optimism is pretty much gone in the face of surveillance capitalism.

    15 votes
    1. Eric_the_Cerise
      Link Parent
      Just a wonderful analogy. Thank you for that mental image of the modern Internet.

      Where we expected a lush rainforest, we got a field of kudzu strangling out everything else.

      Just a wonderful analogy. Thank you for that mental image of the modern Internet.

      3 votes
  2. mat
    Link
    Web 2.0? I remember the white-hot we're going to change the worldness of freakin' usenet, let alone the web.. The first time I went "online" was over a home-made radio link which connected to a...

    Web 2.0? I remember the white-hot we're going to change the worldness of freakin' usenet, let alone the web.. The first time I went "online" was over a home-made radio link which connected to a shared dial-up modem several miles away.

    Obviously we weren't quite right then, or web 1.0 or web 2.0 or html5 or any of the other things people mistakenly thought was going to make everything magically better. But I still think the internet is, just about, a force for mostly good. If nothing else, there's a lot of people who have been saved from loneliness not just over the last 18 months but long before that.

    A decent amount of the stuff people thought would happen, did. Access to information is easier than at any point in human history (although information literacy levels have sadly not improved enough). Communications are better and faster than ever before, I have friends all over the world who I'd never really be able to stay in touch with otherwise. Minor revolutions have been enabled by such - the Arab Spring events come to mind, if nothing else.

    There did turn out to be quite a lot of unexpected downsides although in hindsight that was pretty obviously going to be the case. The internet was never really going to change who people are. But back then when most of the people online were relatively smart and nerdy and tended to lean progressive politically it was easy to forget that plenty of people are nasty and greedy and self-interested and will use any tool they can to make a buck or gain power or advance their unpleasant agendas.

    10 votes
  3. EgoEimi
    Link
    I was born in 1992. I started using the internet in the early 2000s. I was raised in a family of computer programmers, so I had access to computers at a young age. I remember the excitement and...

    I was born in 1992. I started using the internet in the early 2000s. I was raised in a family of computer programmers, so I had access to computers at a young age.

    I remember the excitement and optimism. People thought that the internet was going to empower people to organize themselves politically and against oppressive governments and corporate interests. That the internet was uncensorable. That the internet would allow people to access Truth. The future was so bright.

    That all turned out so wrong. It turned out that the nature of the internet made it perfect for government and corporate control. The vastness and distributed-ness of the physical world actually made centralization difficult. But the internet, while outwardly vast, was perfect for centralization.

    The physical world is porous with many 'nodes'. Not even McDonalds can place a restaurant on every street corner. There's plenty of room and niches for resistance, alternatives.

    The internet, while seemingly vast, actually flows through relatively few nodes that can be captured by governments and corporations. Winner takes all effects are strongest. The nature of the physical world makes its domination resource-intensive. But the nature of the internet makes it easy for the well-resourced to scale hyper-fast and outcompete and crush the not-so-well-resourced.

    Everywhere walls and moats are being erected by product manager types. Interoperability is used parasitically: it's granted when it's favorable for growing one's user base, and cut off when the host is no longer useful. Everything lives in proprietary formats in the cloud, gated.


    I'm a designer. What makes me happy is designing and building quality software that is morally positive or at least morally neutral. But I get discouraged about striking out on my own to try to build something new — the threat of a giant stomping on my creation looms, especially in the minds of others.

    There's a cultural imperative in the tech world to build fast, grow fast, and cash out. But what if I want to grow slowly, genuinely care about users, and... not cash out? I'd love to be — in 20 years — reading and responding to user emails or meeting up with users over coffee to listen to them. I don't want to build a garden only to sell it off and let it rot under someone else's exploitative stewardship. What if I want to carefully cultivate?

    But it doesn't seem possible in this eat-or-be-eaten world.

    7 votes
  4. onyxleopard
    Link
    I always felt like "Web 2.0" was something of a marketing bubble hyped by corporations or those drunk on the corporate kool-aid. It was all anticipating a day when the web would be standardized so...

    I always felt like "Web 2.0" was something of a marketing bubble hyped by corporations or those drunk on the corporate kool-aid. It was all anticipating a day when the web would be standardized so people could build what they envisioned with much less friction. We're much closer to that ideal in 2021 than we were 10 or 20 years ago. I think the fundamental issue is that as the web has been commoditized, the promise of democratization, with everyone who wants to having their own individual platform, has been eclipsed by the prospect of individuals clambering on top of corporate platforms instead of building their own. There are pockets of the web/internet that I think have basically fulfilled the promises of the early 2000s and 2010s. Funnily enough, I think those exemplars are decidedly not "Web 2.0"-ish, but much more aligned with "Web 1.0" or even the pre-web era, e.g.:

    Wikipedia, Craigslist, eBay, IMDB, email

    The corporate parts of the web/internet have been wildly successful, and that makes me pessimistic in so far as I hope that the web itself doesn't become corporate only.

    Sites/services/technologies that were not possible during the early internet era that still make me optimistic are:

    GitHub, VPNs, bittorrent

    These make me optimistic because they are fundamentally things that primarily empower individuals, rather than corporations (even if GitHub and VPNs are operated by corporations).

    6 votes
  5. rmgr
    Link
    The Gemini protocol and the Tildeverse capture that optimism for me! Both Gemini and Pubnixes are about rejecting the corporate overlords and building awesome stuff for the sake of building...

    The Gemini protocol and the Tildeverse capture that optimism for me! Both Gemini and Pubnixes are about rejecting the corporate overlords and building awesome stuff for the sake of building awesome stuff!

    4 votes
  6. knocklessmonster
    Link
    I actually feel like HTML5 killed the web. I came onto the internet in 2005, well after Flash had been the dominant content framework, and not too long before HTML5 was the new standard, IIRC. I'd...

    I actually feel like HTML5 killed the web.

    I came onto the internet in 2005, well after Flash had been the dominant content framework, and not too long before HTML5 was the new standard, IIRC. I'd had dialup up until that year, so I wasn't online much, but once I got DSL it was impressive. And then cable internet was better.

    The reason I think the internet died is it slowly turned into what we have today: A series of webapps designed around a common runtime, rather than web pages for most things. I get things like email having web clients, but YouTube provides a nearly identical experience to its app, for example. I had a net book in 2009, and by 2011 it was practically useless for the internet because the browser became a bloated runtime instead of an application to serve webpages.

    I wouldn't mind having an open standard for plugins, and even a default set of plugins for maximal compatibility: HTML5 Media Player, HTML5 DRM, WebGL, etc, that I can add in a modular fashion to my browser, so I can run a stripped down, but still Javascript-parsing Firefox on said netbook, but instead we get the entire capability of the Internet loaded into our browsing application.

    My main beef seems to be with browsers, but I think it starts with how we started shaping the internet as users and developers.

    3 votes
  7. [2]
    mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Before I had internet, I used videotexto, a text-based communication platform. I only used it for chatting. It was pretty cool! When I got the internet, there were lists containing literally all...

    Before I had internet, I used videotexto, a text-based communication platform. I only used it for chatting. It was pretty cool! When I got the internet, there were lists containing literally all the websites you could visit. No need for a search engine, it was all there.

    The web was, for me, entirely read-only. That was true for most people.

    IRC was pretty awesome and, unlike web pages with images, did not require a lot of bandwidth. I spent a lot of time there.

    Back in late 90s/early-2000s, adverts for broad-band showed an experience that was very much like living in Second Life or in a cyberpunk universe. That primed me for disappointment early on hahaha.

    My first taste of internet 2.0 was the rise of blogs and fotologs. Are those 2.0, though? Not sure, but they certainly democratized access to content sharing and production. I was very active in the blog scene, had quite a few blogs, made some long-lasting online connections, and, dare I say, even friendships. I initially wrote short stories, and later on film reviews. It was awesome. To a certain extent, that is still going on today. Blogs and blog-like platforms are very much a thing.

    I never liked fotologs. A lot of what I didn't like about them is what makes me stay clear from Instagram and other social media. Digital cameras were suddenly affordable, and people took pictures like there was no tomorrow. There were even local "celebrities", and the atmosphere was of vanity and competition. Just like today. My girlfriend at the time got a camera from her parents, and I couldn't stand that my life was now an endless photoshoot.

    There are definitely great things going on today, but I think the direction taken by the major platforms largely negates any utopian hope. The idea that the internet would somehow counter corporate control of our lives was naive from the start. Capitalism is a snake with infinite heads. I don't think I ever had such hopes, to begin with. So I guess my answer is that I was never that optimistic, really

    2 votes
    1. elcuello
      Link Parent
      Aw man this makes so sad. Maybe you're right but hope and change often start with bold naive ideas and people. Maybe I was just naive and caught up in the feeling too but I genuinely felt we could...

      The idea that the internet would somehow counter corporate control of our lives was naive from the start. Capitalism is a snake with infinite heads.

      Aw man this makes so sad. Maybe you're right but hope and change often start with bold naive ideas and people. Maybe I was just naive and caught up in the feeling too but I genuinely felt we could do this and I personally was very focused on the distancing from corporate control. Therefore it hurt so much more when I see my internet shrunk to 5-6 major sites. I absolutely hate how commercialization ruins everything and to see how it overtook even the internet makes me wonder if change is ever going to happen unless we do something drastic and revolutionary and that encompasses doing not so nice things I have come to accept.

      2 votes
  8. Eric_the_Cerise
    Link
    FWIW, I'm still hoping for a real Internet 2.0. I'm not exactly optimistic about it, but there are many little, semi-revolutionary efforts out there to develop a literal 2nd global Internet,...

    FWIW, I'm still hoping for a real Internet 2.0. I'm not exactly optimistic about it, but there are many little, semi-revolutionary efforts out there to develop a literal 2nd global Internet, either piggybacked on the existing Internet with new-and-different encrypted protocols baked right in, or with new hardware, new/different backbones, anonymous-mesh, etc. Tor is probably the best-known and most successful example, but there are several others, more radical, more alternative, more idealistic ... less realistic. I revisit one or another every year or so, just to see if anyone is making any significant progress ... and, like I said, I'm not optimistic about any specific project I've seen yet, but I am hopeful.

    2 votes
  9. cardigan
    Link
    I have always been optimistic about what it can do for myself, and pessimistic about what it can do for others. Being someone of a certain era, this clip from Boy Meets World comes to mind when...

    I have always been optimistic about what it can do for myself, and pessimistic about what it can do for others. Being someone of a certain era, this clip from Boy Meets World comes to mind when considering what the Internet could have been, and what it became for most people.

    The main conceptual problem with Web 2.0 is that it supposed users would be interested in making the flow of culture and knowledge a reciprocal one. This has never been the case. The overwhelming majority of users do not want to create or contribute, nor to record their ideas or experiences in a meaningful way. They want to sit slack-jawed in front of a television, and in this sense, the Internet serves them well. I don't mean that as a value judgment; that's just how it seems to me.

    For those with the right disposition, the Internet is absolutely capable of being the utopia it was lauded to be. In an instant you can see the great masterpieces of visual art, download the entirety of Shakespeare, or begin learning a language spoken by people on the other side of the world. At the same time, you can reach out: writing a blog entry to see if others feel like you, share the song you've just recorded, or comment on a film that struck you. But the Internet cannot make you an individual, and in fact, being exposed to the Internet too much or too early might prevent you from becoming one. For the web can provide things so instantaneously, and in such overwhelming quantities, that the space and silence necessary to forming a deep personality or thinking independently is gradually eroded. The path of least resistance is always easier, and indeed, already taken for you: "This video will autoplay in 10 seconds."

    2 votes