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 made aware of until later on1. 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 completely 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 that 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 quite 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.
So as I write this I begin to 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 just to hear them rant about something their 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 used to discover interesting websites, reminiscent of places like Cool Site of the Day. You could easily lose yourself for hours just browsing through some of the most obscure and interesting 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 the advertising space.
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 pretty well and gives you enough options to save a site you like or open it on a different tab. It’s not perfect, but I do love this site. And while I wouldn’t trade the easy access to knowledge and information of today for a messier and far less moderated web of yesteryear, I do think it’s important to try and bring back a least the good parts of what we remember.
So here are some of the interesting sites I’ve found on Cloudhiker:
- 100,000 Stars
- Midnight Pub
- Library of Babel
- The Cube Rule
- One Million Tweets Map
- Git: An Interactive History
- Why Do Cats & Dogs…?
- Star Wars: An Interactive Galactic Experience
- Seeing Theory
- Nuclear Bomb Radius
I know you’re thinking about porn. But no, it was not porn. I didn’t even know what I was looking for until I stumbled upon it. ↩︎