Time For The Retroweb Reboot?

In a landscape of intense platform competition, relentless growth, massive scale and an overwhelming flood of apps and tools all offering similar features, does the megatrend of rebooting and revival extend to Internet 1.0 “Classics”? Perhaps it should.

It’s true to say that old-school tech is back. In the cognitive dissonance between our hyperdigital lives and our need for nostalgia and digital detoxes, there’s a move to seek out the simplicity and freedom of low-tech alternatives and digital culture archives. There are sites that show comparative images of old-school video game visuals on modern displays. There’s an extraordinary archive of early 2000s mobile phone wallpapers that’s been published as a book.

There’s even “Wierdcore,” an art movement on Reddit and Discord, influenced by the general look and feel of images shared on Internet 1.0 that splice together basic graphics, low-fi photography and image compression to trigger “nostalgia from an unknown place.”



But what of those early stops on the information superhighway that so captured our imagination? I’ve been thinking about a couple of sites that felt homegrown, hopeful, free-form and experimental, and how they could be rebooted for the 2020s.

MySpace: MySpace is still live, but it’s lost its purpose, which in contemporary terms, is all about supporting creators (rather than its current state as an average entertainment portal).

Let’s not forget that Panic! At The Disco, Calvin Harris, and Adele  all got their start on MySpace, so what if the site really offered THE home for creators -- not to sell their commodified self, but to express their artistic point of view, their collaborations, values and other tenets in a raw, simple way?

We all want to know the stories behind the manicured images we’re being sold on other social sites. MySpace could be that source. Plus, the original MySpace already has a clone -- the fabulously low-fi SpaceHey.

Delicious: The OG of social bookmarking, offered a super-simple interface for saving links and was a vital research tool that some say heralded the start of Internet 2.0. Its avoidance of images, comments and voting made it pure and simple.

And as much as Pinterest, Evernote, Pocket and others provide a highly visual, organized interface, I think there’s still opportunity for a super-simple bookmarking tool that allows for taxonomy and sharing, but with no need for opinion -- just pure references that can support insights and show the breadth and depth of discovery. After all, aren’t we constantly being asked to cite our sources?

These are just two examples, but there are others that we look back on fondly and pine for. These brands still have equity, and as audiences take major steps back from digital intrusion, there’s an opportunity to reboot these brands and their aesthetic of as little design as possible. It’s also an opportunity for us to return to the vibe of the early internet -- a time where we did indeed “surf” the web, riding freely on currents of curiosity and exploration, rather than the spearfishing behavior of modern digital life: calculated, insatiable, intrusive, and, yes, nihilistic.

I for one welcome the Retroweb. Any takers?

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