The internet today looks a lot different than it did 12 years ago. If you go back another 12 years before that, you will discover a world wide web that is, at best, rudimentary. This period, now called “Web 1.0”, was characterized by crudely designed web pages, hand-countable pixelated images and personal blogs. However, the stark difference in how the Internet looked and operated during this time compared to today presents a sense of nostalgia for many – a feeling that reminds them of the Internet before it was commercialized. While marketing and the advent of “Web 2.0” in the early 2000s began removing this magic, the growth of social media into a few distinct networks eliminated the few remaining elements that made the original Internet so unique.
At the turn of the millennium, the Internet was still in the middle of what I like to call “puberty.” During this period, the web was anonymous, unmoderated, and unregulated. Websites usually consist of tiled background images, contrasting colors, sinister fonts, and poorly imposed images that can only be seen if your download speed is faster than your patience. These annoying and disorganized web pages are the hallmarks of an Internet that was, at the time, full of personal blogs intended for a small circle audience.
During this time, social media existed almost exclusively as forums and chat rooms. The forums are hosted by a few big names, such as Usenet, Metafilter, and Newgrounds. Chat rooms were similar, with America Online’s instant messaging service cementing itself as the go-to during this time. Forums and chat rooms are generally devoted to an interesting topic – such as bodybuilding, video games, and movies – to attract an audience of interested people. In essence, it existed as a small section of the Internet where like-minded individuals could talk to each other directly, away from a growing number of Internet users.
Fast and instant communication was still unprecedented in human history up to this point, so people were understandably taking advantage of it, interacting with each other as if they were true friends. In 2022, this is nothing new – communities are still online in greater numbers than ever before. The difference was that each community coexisted in its own corner of the internet, never bothered by members of other communities looking to wreak havoc for chaos’s sake.
When social media started to boom in the late 2000s, forums and chat rooms lost the spotlight in favor of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. While they persisted through the 2010s, forum use has understandably declined over the past fifteen years. The transition from the decentralized realm of social networks to a few major premium platforms specialized in different media of content eventually eliminated the need for forums and chat rooms.
Of course, modern social media has its benefits. It is much easier to edit and publish content faster and there are more opportunities for content to reach large audiences. Communities still exist due to modern networks that offer to link content through hashtags or Facebook pages. Reddit, one of today’s major social networks, is essentially a collection of thousands of sub-forums, with communities bordered by “subreddits”.
However, across all the major platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Reddit – content from all kinds of topics, relevant or not, go to your feed. Algorithms computes and forces content you might want to see, even if you don’t, allowing you to see other people’s sometimes correct or scandalous opinions without asking. The ability to hack an online community is now easy, and only requires one hashtag per post. And if we’re dealing with the tricky stuff, the colorful and brutal web pages of Web 1.0 have been replaced with dry, boring designs that just so happen to work just fine.
There is no denying that marketing has been beneficial not only to the Internet, but also to our lives and the world around us. But with that came the organization that forced the social media landscape to relocate to a few distinct niches. Gone are the days of dial-up internet. Gone are the days of all-day upload and download speeds. Gone are the days of hopping on a forum early in the morning and using perhaps the only communication tool with your online friends. Gone are the fun and simplicity that existed in early social media.