I live in a historic neighborhood in Dallas. The area has a certain charm and character to it quite different that what you find in new housing developments. Most of the houses were built in the 1920s. They have large front porches; many of them have swings.
A few miles away is another neighborhood, almost as old as this one. There are a few houses from the same time period here, but most houses are new construction. The older, smaller homes were torn down for newer, larger ones. It is a nice neighborhood, but it doesn’t have the same character as my neighborhood.
The difference is that I live in a registered historic area. Here, the homes cannot be torn down to be replaced by new construction. All new construction must match the existing style. In other words, significant effort has been put into preserving this part of our history.
The Web is like the other, non-protected neighborhood. Many sites were built in the late 90s and early 2000s, but most of them have been torn down in favor of new construction. In some ways this is a good thing. Most of those early sites were ugly. Bright backgrounds, blinking text, Comic-Sans font, and background music. These are all things I do not miss. But I fear that the character of the Web has been lost to the mass production of cookie cutter websites.
The sameness in design doesn’t bother me as much as the consolidation of the content. When was the last time that you actually “surfed” the web? I used to “sign-on” and then begin a journey of following links deeper and deeper down the rabbit’s hole. The Web was a place where any crackpot with a computer could and would post their thoughts and ideas. You could discover a topic and hit every site in that ‘web-ring.’ Today, one Google/Wikipedia search, and I’m done.
Today, we’ve traded out “Under Construction” icons for “Beta” tags. Our web-rings have been replaced with “social bookmarks”. Our home pages with guestbooks are now blogs with comments. And although it may just seem that we’ve just swapped terminology, I think the Web has lost it’s charm and character.
I think we need a historic district for the Web. A place to encourage new content, but it must match the style of a certain time period. We should also find the old ‘classic’ web sites and relocate them to this district. I also think there’s a place that’s perfect for this: GeoCities. I’ll bet you didn’t know they were still around. This could breathe new old life right back into the Web. What do you think?