Chris Dixon must know better than this, right?
"I think the simplest way to understand the techlash is that this was the time period when Silicon Valley started being held responsible for the present instead of being evaluated based on their visions of the future."
Man this is so extremely correct.
You might add the following as examples in the section about this sentence "Antitrust enforcement has been critical to the long history of the Internet." Without the Carterfone decision the wizards in Basking Ridge would never have let those noisy modems on their cherished network. And, without the AT&T decree I feel like we'd never have the cheap backhaul that makes the Internet economically work. And last, in my telecom trifecta, the 1996 Telecom Act (I mean really, have you EVER tried to set up ISDN? I did. Verizon billed me for 8 months though it never ever worked).
Killer summary. I've been forced to deal with the WWW since 1995, and while my knowledge of the history is nowhere as deep, everything you say rings true in my experience. I remember browser sniffing. What struck me about Dixon's deck is that it is a very corporate and server-centric version of history, with users being fairly invisible. Blockchain is a very thin reed to build a "decentralized" web 3.0 on. A corporate initiative like web 3.0 takes on a life of its own that can run long past the point where the original rationale no longer makes sense. It's pretty clear that's where Dixon is at.
“They want to go back to being judged based on their ambitions, rather than their results.” I mean, don’t we all...
I do think that there’s a real fear among people in the Bay Area. It’s not just that technological time has stalled. It’s that nearly all the top tech companies have created horrible negative externalities and their executives have become or been revealed as cardboard villains. It seems as if we’re only one more high-profile disaster away, and a clever political entrepreneur, away from a mass movement against the whole industry.
I like your framework. I still recall downloading Mosaic from a gopher server in the school library...
Also, I would consider AOL, Prodigy and Compuserve to be a commercial part of the Web Prehistory era. Ultimately, though, they couldn't keep users trapped in their silos. By the time my family got our first ISP account, the web browser was the only part of AOL that we used.
Dave!!! I'm so OLD. Though I'm not a real techie, I recall all of those early steps with painful precision. At the 1992 annual conference of the American Theological Library Association, the big buzz was a section that organized ATLAntis -a listserv for theological librarians--and it was advanced and radical and filled up our (really quite new) email inboxes every day. The next year, some of the cool kids were talking about the WorldWideWeb & it seemed exotic & far away -and very wasteful of computer memory by using all those graphical thingies to those of us who had to beg our institutions for an UPGRADE to 512K RAM so we could run WordPerfect.
When MOSAIC came out we couldn't get it to run on our wimpy computers.
But your account is extremely good and accurate. During the 90s the digital infrastructure changed radically. In 1990 microfiche was the state of the art in archiving mass text (& as librarians we were very aware that 19th & 20th c books were crumbling away & had to be preserved) by 2000 even underfunded backwaters like theology had most journals and big backfiles available full text on the Web.
But the big thing, at least since Jeff Bezos reared his predatory head, is, as you say lack of antitrust regulation & enforcement and the domination of big money. And it's not that there are rich guys throwing their weight around, but that all the business are reduced almost purely to a finance paradigm--if you can't get ROI than you have no value. Some people try to redefine the returns away from pure cash, but it's a delusion, we've sold ourselves to the investment bankers and venture capitalists.
Spot on. It many not fit neatly into five-year chunks and names, and I hadn't tried to see it as historical phases, but anyone middle-aged can easily verify the main features from personal memory. Obviously Dixon decided how he wanted to characterize his eras and picked out not-particularly-representative moments. The combining of the tech boom and bust years was particularly egregious.
And "open protocols" were not at all characteristic even of the boom years. The profiteers did their best to capture and effectively close the protocols. First, "Enhanced for Netscape" (i.e. using Netscape's HTML extensions and rendering properly only with Netscape) became a badge of honor for websites. Later, websites needed to be designed to take account of bugs in Internet Explorer's rendering of HTML and CSS. Would-be-competing browsers couldn't be designed to Web standards either, or they wouldn't work properly with many big, important websites written for compatibility with IE's bugs. Competing browsers needed to emulate IE, bugs and all.
It's worth noting that everyone near and dear to Andreessen has a stake in forgetting that he made a fortune because Jim Clark rushed out and went to IPO, not because Netscape lasted as an entity. And it's also in their interest to forget the massive role government investment played in Mosaic's creation--without which there is never a popular web anything-point-anything. Don't even get me started about ARPAnet. And now they want you to grow very sleepy and buy some crypto....
Great timeline! I appreciated the link to Michael Wesch's video, but his earlier short "Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us" is the classic distillation of that era's optimism in 4 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE .
What a delightful walk down memory lane, and you even tickled my memories of running BBS's back in the 80's and 90's
Nice. The reference to Hacker News was funny. The idea of dividing into 'who paid for what in each period' could be an alternative way with probably comparable results
the Web2 period is : advertisers paying for data about people'
and that came on top of the Web1 period of 'people paying for access'
the new period (on top of 1 and 2) may become 'people paying for content' (including use of AI generated content) and it has already started years ago, I think. iTunes really started it off (remember Napster?) but Spotify, Netflix, etc. are all in the same bucket. All these periods overlap. I would also let this start in the 1980's, for one that was the time that computers got connected en masse, though at that time inside the boundaries of organisations.
Maybe next to periods we also have a stack? Because, the old money making models don't all disappear when the new ones come along. We still pay for internet access, for instance, it still is a sizeable chunk of what citizens pay for in real money regardig the internet.
The worst part is, platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube are community driven despite massive cash incentives. For every Logan Paul there are 1,000 smaller creators who create genuine content without a focus on monetization.
If any of these massive centralized platforms fail, entire sections of internet history and resources will be erased. Facebook can go fuck itself and reddit mods wield god like power with the ability to censor anyone based on the assumption that something could potentially violate an obscure rule or create backlash for the sub, or even the entirety of reddit. There is also a lot to say about YouTube and violence porn, with animals fighting and police chases and click driven rabbit hole videos with poorly researched copy and paste information from Wikipedia, and a generic "top ten this list".
But at the end of the day there is still a lot of genuine resources that are stuck to these parasitic platforms and cannot be moved unless users create their own sites and catalog all of their positive contributions such as guides, videos on specific topics, images, tools, papers, documentation. Or even shows on Netflix/HBO. The list goes on.
All of these things explode when degenerate platforms like Facebook disappear. It will be like Yahoo destroying GeoCities but on a scale 100,000 larger for EACH platform. The power of the internet is swinging, the internet is in a crisis and few people even realize the extent of the damage a platform collapse will have on everyone's lives.