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Unraveling the web's story


Reversing the boring web


I am a bit distressed about the web. Sometimes, I panic about it. And it’s why I look back so often to try and capture the long view. But when I peak up to loo around a lot of what I see—or rather, what is surfaced to me by broken down algorithms that hides beneath the surface a much longer tail that sadly most people never see—is all buttoned up and plain and unadorned and professional and (frankly) boring.

Maybe that’s just the web splitting in two. The web is over thirty years old, basically an elder millennial if we want to call it that. And at some point, it was going to need to grow up, develop some consistency, and figure out a way to make money. But I didn’t think we’d have to ditch our punk rock digs, unique interests and unconventional spaces for a suit and tie and a job selling ads.

I started thinking about this more this week when I pulled from some archives a site called Rotten Library. It was an offshoot of rotten.com, an early web purveyor of morbid curiosities and vulgar fare. The Rotten Library was a unique take on Wikipedia, offering detailed and lengthy encyclopedic entries on a variety of topics from the rotten.com domain. These entries were often written in a playful and casual tone, and they inspired many.

I mention Rotten Library, not as a delightful nostalgic throwback, but because it effectively illustrates a simple point. On the fringes of the internet, where things are small and specialized (even when they’re grim or shocking), there’s something far more captivating than the sanitized, controlled environments we’ve established on the modern web. And it is still very much out there, and I believe it is growing.

I hope to turn my attention there for the near future in my research. It is utterly fascinating.