The World Wide Web Is 30: Here Are Some Things We Love — And Hate — About It


Thirty years ago this week, Tim Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, released "Information Management: A Proposal." While the capital-I Internet had been around for nearly two decades when Berners-Lee submitted his proposal on March 12, 1989, he laid the foundation for the World Wide Web — though in his own appraisal, he was merely taking existing technologies like the Internet Protocol, Domain Name Service and Hypertext, and organizing them into a unified system.

Depending on the context, the World Wide Web has either been around forever, or not very long. It's old enough that the largest generation on the planet was just being born as the World Wide Web took shape. Millennials grew up on the web, and yet in 30 short years the industry that popped up around it has crashed once, revived itself, and spawned companies so large and so influential that it's nigh impossible to live without dealing with one or all of them.

This week, as more and more folks share their fond memories of a World Wide Web running three-decades strong, you'll probably catch yourself pining for simpler times. A time before your personal information was forfeit; a time when browsing the web wasn't idly thumbing through a feed; a time when buying something online didn't mean perpetuating awful working conditions; a time when a single website didn't encourage genocide and sway presidential elections.

It's easy to reminisce on what was. But for what it's worth, on the 30th anniversary of his creation, Tim Berners-Lee is not looking back. In his annual assessment of the state of the web, Berners-Lee is cautiously optimistic. "Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it's understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good," he writes. "But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can't be changed for the better in the next 30."

Here in the year 2019, the current mood of the web is, arguably, slightly depressed. It's hard to watch just about every bad actor on the planet (arguably motivated by nothing more than The Free Market) take the thing that has brought you so much joy over the years and twist it into something ugly. It's hard to witness something that is undeniably a boon to society — the free and open flow of information across the globe — turn into an inescapable oppressive force. It makes you want to log off.

So in that spirit, we'd like to celebrate the World Wide Web turning 30 with something of a memorial. A remembrance of the things we love, and hate about online. And, hopefully, through that land of contrasts, we can find a new way forward. Because is a website, and if we don't find one, we're all out of a job.

LV Anderson
Love — There is nothing I love more than depositing a check using my bank’s mobile app. Remember when we all had to go to the bank (or at least to our bank’s ATM) to deposit checks? Now I can deposit checks whenever I damn well please! On a Sunday! At 11 p.m., or even 2 a.m.! In my underwear! I’m pretty sure mobile check deposit is the only truly good and pure thing that has come out of the internet. (Actually, you could argue that it’s not pure because it represents the automation of formerly decently paid middle-class bank teller jobs, which is a fair point, and I guess brings us to the conclusion that nothing that has come out of the internet is truly good and pure.)

Hate —The internet’s quantification of my self-esteem has been a huge bummer. Tweeting something and gluing your eyes to your notifications column to see if anyone likes it or retweets it is a fundamentally degrading experience! The other day I made a joke on Slack, and one of my colleagues laughed out loud at it, and instead of feeling good about myself I yearned for him to emoji-react to the joke, to prove that he found it funny. I’m certainly not the first or most insightful person to criticize social media on these grounds, but I genuinely dislike it and often wish I could retrain my brain to care less about what internet strangers think about my dumb jokes and banal observations.​

Joey Cosco
Love — The internet has always been a place full of rabbit holes and weird information dumps. But depending on how obscure your hobbies are, the best place to dive into your interests and fascinations often used to be internet forums. All around the web, you could find anonymous people nerding out at the highest level over things you cared about even though no one else in your everyday life did. Discovering this over and over while growing up made me feel validated and less alone countless times.

This democratization of information has also led to cool and previously inconceivable developments in weird hobbies, like this 20-year-old kid stomping the world’s first ever double backflip on flat grass in his yard.

Internet forums have, for the most part, quieted down in the last decade. But you can still find those helpful, informative and affirming voicing in communities in subreddits, Instagram comments, YouTube vlogs and even — if you’re lucky — in real life, too.

Hate — The internet is great because it connects the entire world but unfortunately the world is full of people with shit morals who don't mind pillaging work/content/ideas from others in order to make a quick buck. Theft is rampant on the web and as more people are making things and putting them out there in the hopes of impressing our friends, participating in communities and maybe even earning a living, there seem to be an equally ballooning amount of folks trying to snatch those things up. At least some of these dickheads are getting caught.

Dan Fallon
Love — Remember the Weather Channel's "Local on the Eights?" Or, more specifically, remember having to wait 10 minutes to hear your area’s weather report? Crazy, right? The weather app pretty much made that obsolete. I’m an obsessive weather checker, and it’s bizarre to me now to think back to the days when I couldn’t do it at the flick of a finger. I don’t know if it's necessarily good for me — opening up Dark Sky on a Wednesday and seeing that the Saturday forecast has suddenly turned rainy will immediately put a damper on my day — but I love that that information is just there. The internet has delivered whole truckloads of crap to our doorstep, but this is one of those places where it’s made our lives easier, full stop. Now if you'll excuse me, I’m going to go check what the current temperature is in my part of Brooklyn.

Hate — CAPTCHAs are a necessary evil on the internet, but in a world where we’ve figured out how to make them completely innocuous and simple, it’s absurd that Google insists on keeping around those "Select all images with a [item]" quiz CAPTCHAs. Get a load of this garbage:

This new captcha that loads another picture when you select one.

It annoys me to no end that Google — a company with practically infinite money and resources — has decided to use my time and mental energy to train its image detection algorithms. You’re already collecting every last bit of my data every second, at least let me click a simple checkbox to prove I’m a human rather than squinting at a grainy, zoomed-out picture of an intersection to try to find every damn street sign.

Pang-Chieh Ho
Love — I spend a lot of time commuting. In fact, there was a year in my life when I spent at least three hours a day commuting between my home and work. Podcasts saved me from the drudgeries of my long commute during that time and helped keep me sane every time an MTA conductor blared out, "there's a train ahead of us, but we should be moving shortly." If that's not love, I don't know what is.

It's a media that, perhaps due to the fact that it's still fairly new and relatively small, seems to be filled with possibilities. It's also just wonderfully weird. It's a space that has allowed me to listen to a man narrate an erotic novel his dad had written to his two friends as well as hear a person interview a can of soda on his fears of mortality. And who doesn't want — and need — more of those two things in their lives?

Hate — The current thing I find irritating about the web are the notification requests I receive when I visit websites, asking me to allow them to send me notifications. No, sir, I have to respectfully decline and block. The last thing I want when I have my browser closed and my phone set to the side on silent is a notification from a website I've probably only visited once to come crashing into my desktop home screen. Sometimes a girl just wants to be left alone.

There are, of course, ways for me to have these notification requests blocked in my browser settings. But my bigger beef is probably just with push notifications in general and how, while I loathe them, I can't get rid of them entirely. I've allowed push notifications for my social messaging apps, because if I don't, I would most likely respond to my friends and family days too late. After much soul-searching, though, I've finally had the courage to turn off notifications on Gmail, because it was making my heart rate spike every 15 minutes. So at least that's something.

Mat Olson
Love — I cannot think of anything I both love about the web and that's hardly changed in the decades since I first logged on than the humble plaintext video game strategy guide. Even though I had a meaty Prima guide for "Pokémon Crystal," I'm fairly sure I referred to this GameFAQs-hosted guide by "Donald" as much if not more than the licensed book. Even the most obnoxiously written, "random" humor-ridden guides are palatable next to any view-chasing YouTube explainer.

People are still cranking out text guides today, all for… the glory, I guess? The satisfaction of knowing you've helped other frustrated players? Newer guides have moved away from the strict .txt presentation, but I suppose I'll take some useful hyperlinking and the occasional helpful screenshot or video clip in exchange for the once-ubiquitous ASCII word art headers.

Hate — There will surely be a few of them on this page, and like all ads they help keep the servers up and the lights on, but from personal experience making them I can say that banner ads piss me off to no end. I'm specifically referring to actual banner-shaped, short and wide ads, not their square-ish cousins. Like any savvy web user, my eyes just sort of glaze over them 99% of the time, but whenever they do stop on a banner ad, I start thinking about just how annoying they were to make. I'm sure it's easier when the ad is for a brand, but at an old job I had to pump out banner ads for car dealerships.

When you've made your 500th variation on an ad that has to jam the name of the business and a few OEM-approved shots of cars into an 80 pixel-tall space, you start to hate whatever conglomerate's responsible for standardizing those sizes. A lot.

Steve Rousseau
Love — The web these days is one that over-promises and under-delivers. Everything is fake. Which is why I've found solace in websites and accounts that do exactly one thing. A website that will (poorly, beautifully) erase things from your photos? Wonderful. A Twitter bot that tweets out nothing but images of three colors? Incredible. A website that will let you explore video game maps? Brilliant. A page that is only there to convert strings of text into various cases? I use it every day.

While I would love to see a web where it's just people posting their weird passion projects, I also recognize that people must eat, pay rent and dress themselves. The internet of old may have been the domain of weirdos — compared to today, which is the domain of billionaire weirdos — but they were largely privileged weirdos.

Still, single-service websites give me some faint hope of what the future might hold. What if people were free to pursue their passions? What if your Soundcloud didn't need a viral tweet to find an audience? The solution, I think, will need to be found offline.

Hate — As someone who grew up gleefully chatting away on AIM, it is truly a bummer that the web has made us more connected to our friends. I am starting to hate group chats. It's not because I hate my friends. I love them very much! But I'm beginning to realize that the ability to be in contact with them at all times, everywhere is a mistake.

We all talk to each other so much that sometimes, when we do actually get together we've pretty much exhausted what there is to talk about. And even when there's nothing to talk about online, someone inevitably fills the dead air with a dumb post, a meme, or anything to elicit likes or just acknowledgement from other members of the chat. I want to go back to a time where you could think things like, "I can't wait to tell my friends about this!"

Claire Shaffer
Love —I could bring up one of the many online inventions that has become complimentary to and inseparable from contemporary life, like GPS or TurboTax or swiping through Tinder out of boredom. But instead I’m going to celebrate mash-ups. Out of all the Internet content that gets fed to us on a daily basis, mash-ups appear to come from a very pure and selfless form of artistic expression: some online stranger gets bored, notices that two songs have the same BPM or share the same chord progression, and spends the next nine hours splicing it all together, for no particular reason other than to share it out into the world for free. Half of the time, we don’t even know the name of the person who made it! That’s truly losing yourself to music.

My all-time favorite mash-up, and one of my favorite Internet time capsules, is 2002’s "A Stroke of Genie-us." But please leave your "mash-ups haven't been A Thing since the mid-2000s" discourse at the door; every time a new mash-up goes viral these days, such as this recent Justin Timberlake/Tame Impala gem or any of the hilarious Left At London creations, it feels like going back to a slightly happier, slightly more naive time in the web’s existence. But only slightly.

Hate — Not to ruin the fun, but it'd be great if we could reduce the time spent dunking on inconsequential things en masse that are clearly stupid/bad. There are admittedly times where the web's outrage-object of the day has actual ramifications, like a highly misguided national magazine cover story, or where the Internet can be a chaotic good force against evil, like ratio'ing someone's unbelievably exploitative “freelance” job listing to the point where they’re forced to add benefits. But making the same cycle of bad jokes on Twitter for faves or RTs calls into question why we're really paying attention to idiocy in the first place. Does a balding middle-aged op-ed writer who drones on near-continuously over the death of civility really have that much influence outside the tri-state media sphere? You'd think the last thing standing between us and the sky falling was some Twitter guy in Douthat's mentions making a 69 joke.


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