I miss the old internet

February 15, 2021

My head is a shambles. Talking to a friend over dinner last week, we circled around the topics of the day which lately all seems to include, algorithms, truth, miss-information, governance, cancel culture, censorship, power, free speech, etc., etc., etc.

In the last couple of years, it feels like these conversations have leapt from the corners of the internet into the mainstream. I saw a video once of some young people chanting "fuck the algorithm" in the streets of London.

I think about this stuff a lot. Too much probably. I published my first website with some friends in April 2009. That was a magical time to be online. The consumer internet was in its infancy and things felt fun and exciting and good. Good isn't the right word. It just didn't feel fucken gross.

A handful of people I knew had the first iPhone, but mostly the internet was something you browsed at home on your laptop or in the office. Importantly though, and this was the big difference, none of the VC's that had invested in the early consumer internet products had started demanding that their investments start making a return yet. There were very few ads in products. Display advertising was a thing, but it was pretty shit and it didn't have the impact on a products experiences that it does today.

Of course, later, the feeds moved from reverse-chronological to ones based on 'what you wanted to see first', and that's probably where the problems started.

The internet of a decade ago was better, but it wasn't real, right? All these fantastic sites and services and products, all FREE! And with no ads or money changing hands. Just you and your new friends chatting away and making things. It was never going to last, but I didn't know that at the time.

The change was slow, though I do remember people making a big fuss when Instagram switch to an algorithmic based feed. Eleven years later and Instagram is a shit show. The whole internet is a shit show.

I can't afford a subscription to every news site I land on, but I can't not afford it either. You're a double negative.

In rants like this, it's mandatory to quote: "If you don't pay for the product, you're the product". Mind. Blown.

The internet is gross and messy and not in a good place. It should enable communication, connection, collaboration. That's when it's at its best.

Is the advertising business model to blame? Should these tools be a 'common good' that our taxes pay for? Then how do shareholders buy Teslas?

Should we build new tools that do everything the shit ones do today, just get individuals to pay for them? Wont that create an echo-chamber for The Left? What if I can't afford a subscription? Who plays god?

Fuck it. Let's lobby the government and make some substantial change, slowly.


Every week I find pockets of wonderfulness online that make me remember why I love the internet so much and give me hope that things will improve over time, because if this the peak, I don't like the view.