The modern web is broken. We live in a series of walled gardens maintained by a handful of giant companies. These remove most of our agency as both producers and consumers by forcing us into certain patterns of interaction. They reinforce the harmful binary distinction between the two, as opposed to the goal of end-user programming.
Modern websites are slow, invade your privacy, and sacrifice usability in all kinds of irritating ways. Their incentives are clear. Usually it’s about money: VC-backed companies must grow users and revenue, must show exponentially-increasing engagement metrics. Other companies must compete with them or be squeezed out. It’s not fully fair to blame individual developers but there’s a place for criticism: they often chase the latest framework even though it doesn’t make sense for anyone other than a giant tech company. This too goes to incentives – if you’re going to be at a company for two years, and then be evaluated on your resume buzzwords, this is individually-optimizing behavior.
But enough has been written elsewhere on the problems. What I wish to do here is celebrate the sites that fight this. The ones that stayed true to an original, small, useful purpose. The ones that remain usable. The ones that haven’t changed in decades, that haven’t gotten acquired and cannibalized, that haven’t given up user control to revenue-optimizing algorithms.
Note, this is not a list of “my favorite websites”, and I haven’t included things like personal blogs.
Hall of Fame:
- Erowid (1995)
- Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (1995)
- Craigslist (1995)
- Etymonline (~2000)
- Hype Machine (2005)
- Bandcamp (2008)
There are also some small useful tools which I like for similar reasons. Dates here are the first Wayback Machine capture of the site.
There are many websites that used to be like this, that I thought would last, but which sold out at some point. I had Boing Boing (1995) in mind as an example, but looking through the Wayback Machine the website actually seems pretty consistent on a first glance. Maybe the content changed? Or maybe my tastes changed. I am pretty sure they were doing “chum” ads at some point… Lifehacker is another where both the structure and content got much worse.