Surfing The Old Web

Juan Villela

I was given open access to the internet at the ripe age of 8. Why so young? No idea. It was a mistake that exposed my feeble mind to many mature themes I shouldn’t have been aware of until later 1. At the risk of exposing myself, this was back in 1999-2002; it was the early web. While most people think of a lawless digital land, I recall a digital garden where anyone could express their creativity with a hand-crafted digital persona, often wholly disconnected from their true selves. I guess that’s what made it so exciting. More so to someone as young as I was.

But I also understand that nostalgia can easily be misplaced. While the old web felt more exciting, it was inaccessible to most. Whether it was the cost, lack of equipment at home, or simply websites being hostile towards users with disabilities, the web was reserved for those who could afford it and navigate it with ease. And that’s something I love about today’s internet. Accessibility is championed by many and ensured by governments. The bar for entry is relatively low; anyone can make a website, create a social media account, and publish their thoughts. And it’s not too hard to find free internet access. We are more connected than ever.

As I write this, I understand that the feeling I miss is the sense of discovery more than anything. We are hyper-connected now, and information flows non-stop at every corner. We don’t discover content on the web. Instead, it is shoved into our faces. And while you could say, “Just go offline and outside for a while,” I’ll remind you that local and mainstream news over the air is about 50% Twitter nowadays. Or, you can go outside and talk to your neighbors to hear them rant about something they read on Nextdoor or some shady Facebook Group. Yeah, it’s hard to escape it. But back to discovery.

StumbleUpon was one of the last places where this feeling of the old web was still accessible. It was a toolbar to discover attractive websites reminiscent of places like Cool Site of the Day. You could quickly lose yourself for hours browsing through some of the most obscure and exciting places online. There was no argument in the comments section or Twitter discourse because someone found your interest offensive. It was just you surfing the web. Sadly, these websites eventually fizzled away due to operating costs and desires to break into advertising.

A few years later, someone tried to recreate StumbleUpon: Stumbled. to. Which eventually became Cloudhiker. Instead of a toolbar, it’s a website you can use to navigate through other sites. It works out well and gives you enough options to save a site you like or open it on a different tab. It could be better, but I do love this site. And while I wouldn’t trade today’s easy access to knowledge and information for a messier and far less moderated web of yesteryear, it’s important to try and bring back at least the good parts of what we remember.

So here are some of the interesting sites I’ve found on Cloudhiker:

  1. I know you’re thinking about porn. But no, it was not porn. I didn’t know what I was looking for until I stumbled upon it. ↩︎

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