Was The Old Web Really More Free?

Mar. 30, 2023 [technology] [history] [advertising] [memes]

According to a writing by a presumably younger netizen, the turning date for when the web went to shit was “around 2015”. Almost an entire decade later than when I would have judged it to be. Could it be that the gradual tightening of control over the web is causing each new generation to view the internet of their childhood through their own brand of rose tinted glasses? Or was the web of the 90s and early aughts even really as free as we often make it out to be?

Instead of relying on my own faulty human memory, let’s revisit just what made up the web experience around the turn of the century. I find that we often wash over the fact that:

The ideal web analogy, extended

Some things were considerably better. Centralization hadn’t yet crystalized around cuckflare and massive ghettos like Amazombie AWS, FBIbook and REEddit for “homepages”. I even went through some archived sample sites to evaluate their standing on responsible resource usage.

Site Notes
Yahoo (2001) only one inline script http://www.yahoo.com/{inline_script} , some xhr and no cookies at all. Light and responsible, by today’s standards.
Yahoo (2023) over 100 scripts with goodies such as “wf-geolocation-1.3.0.js” and “wf-beacon-1.3.4.js”, 3rd parties and trackers like scorecardresearch, attempts to fingerprint via basic browser info, querying permissions through APIs, window and canvas info among others.
Ebaum’s world (2002) only http://www.ebaumsworld.com/facts.js , http://www.ebaumsworld.com/index2.shtml{inline_script} and some script relating to phpads. Quick and light.
Ebaum’s world (2023) doesn’t even implement a strong cipher suite, deploys over 30 scripts, now uses a content delivery network, 3rd party CDNs and resources everywhere, social buttons, analytics, massive fingerprinting through font enumeration, time info, webstorage status, canvas, hardware querying, device enumeration and more!

But the one thing that really stands out as better in the before times was the demeanor of fellow netizens. People were much more thick skinned. So on a technological metric, the old web was not very free. But on a cultural metric, it was indeed very free. I maintain that the turning point falls sometime around the emergence of slavephones.

And that old experience hasn’t been expunged from existence. It has simply retreated. It is no longer the dominant norm, but hidden across federated networks, anonymity networks and in those last niche spaces in clearnet where users have outright rejected the NWO (New Web Order). Come and seek it out if you care about these issues.