Before web development was dominated by frameworks-of-the-week or sterile social networks, people spent an unreasonable amount of time making and looking at weird little sites that were largely hobby projects.
I’ve seen a lot of nostalgia recently for this old version of the internet. Old as in CSS Gardens. Old as in IRC and listservs and Geocities. Old as in from before anyone had the capability to track everything you did or an army of data scientists could tweak the product to dominate as much of your attention as possible.
We don’t need to rehash how we got here. But there are a handful of interesting efforts to build the next generation of what used to be.
I know a number of people who’ve gotten into Blockchain and Dapps (distributed apps). The theory, at least the one Mozilla and Tim Berners Lee’s SOLID are pursuing, is you’d control all your own data.1 If it works its very clever.
The trouble with this idea is its so hard to implement. Part of what made www take off, what helped blog software and ultimately social networks come to dominate it, was that these things were incredibly approachable. Anyone, even a 13-year-old in his bedroom in St. Louis who’d never programmed before, could learn enough HTML to ship something simple on the first day, and tinker from there.
Zig Zag (the creators of Note To Self) are working with blockchain people and have gone into detail of just how much background knowledge you need to even start to participate in the distributed web.
There’s also the IndieWeb, which has pushed for Webmentions, a way for you to comment/reply/like pages without a central social site to manage those relationships. I added webmentions support to this site, and will figure out what to do with them if I see any responses.
To me, this can feel like trying to make a technical solution for a cultural problem. If you don’t like what’s happened to your neighborhood restaurants, start cooking. If you don’t like what’s happened to your neighborhood internet, build weird little websites just because you can. Culture is what people do.
It’s in that spirit that I spun up ZiggyForAmerica.com.
In the course of this, I realized I had my own nostalgia. It used to be stupid simple to spin up a site like this. You’d kick off the HTML5 boilerplate and start coding with some PHP includes. These days, step one is to ask yourself “should I use React?” and spent 2 hours fighting build tools.
So I compiled together some of the tooling I like from other projects and standardized a starter kit.
It’s not a yeoman generator because it doesn’t need to be one. Next time I have an idea like this, I can copy it and immediately start making a thing with ES6/SASS/Nunjucks+components and Markdown ready to go that could easily live in S3 or Github pages.
None of this is meant to turn a profit or pad my resume or keep up with the magpies. But I can make something weird and fun and throw it out in the world and see if people like it.
If I have a conclusion, it’s that this is the web we’ve been missing. Go make weird shit for fun.
And vote for Ziggy for DC Mayor. #FloppyEars