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What is the Web Revival?

The main page of Libre.Town states that this site is part of the Web Revival movement. Often enough though, I am asked what that even means, so I decided to write a blog entry on the topic to introduce people who are new to the whole thing to this very complex subculture; especially since to my knowledge I am one of the few people who coined that term for a phenomenon that does not have an "official" name.

There are many names people use for what I personally ended up calling "the Web Revival", and they all mean roughly similar (but differently weighted versions) of the same general thing. At its core, we are talking about a hobby (or perhaps even a loose subculture) centered around internet technology, especially the web. People who are part of it (whether they know it or not) tend to have in common at least that they value personal homepages and do-it-yourself web crafting in some way. Depending on the individual, this might have many different reasons and origins, and might expand into other related interests and opinions as well. That diversity within the subculture also explains the many different terms and ideas presented in parallel to describe what I ended up calling the Web Revival. Henceforth, I will use that term to describe a very colorful loosely associated set of subcultures, not all of which use the term; keep that in mind.

Pixel logo of the Web Revival: rainbow-colored people circled around a rainbow infinity symbol

Common Ground: The Web

The term Web Revival already contains the word 'web', implying it has something to do with that little-known, neat invention called the World Wide Web. It certainly is one of the most influential and significant technological developments of modern history, and has transformed the way most people grow up, live, and spend their free time.

But is it a good influence? Public opinion seems to vary on that. While many feel like the internet and the web have been a boon to society, allowing us to access information in seconds, do our shopping in a fraction of the time, let people in repressive countries access and share subversive information, and socialize, shrinking national and cultural borders and getting to know the points of view of countless strangers all over the world, others feel that the internet and the web have brought forth more curses than blessings, referring to misinformation, internet addiction, cyberbullying, commodification of most parts of life, ubiquitous government and corporate spy programs, the dangers of social media, and the death of a proper child- and adulthood spent socializing with friends outside.

All this is of course nothing new to anyone vaguely familiar with the internet.

The Web Revival (not always, but often enough) tends to take an interesting third position in this debate: yes, the web as it is today is bad, but it can also be a beautiful and useful tool if used properly. This is what most people in this subculture have in common: making the World Wide Web into a great place again. This is why I chose "web revival" as a term: it most accurately unites all sub-communities within this ominous subculture by the one thing they share: a belief that the internet is flawed, but can be a means to a good end, whether it is a political or social goal, a technical ideal, or simply personal enjoyment.

The Web Revival's Many Faces

But beyond that, there are many nuances, reasons, entrypoints and ways people get into what is now the very colorful Web Revival, and therefore some subgroups:

The "90s Web"

Some feel like the early public internet in the 1990s and the early 2000s espoused way more egalitarian, cozy, individually expressive and usable qualities, and that corporate influence, greed and monopolization are the reason for the internet's increasing negativity. The early days of Geocities, IRC, MSN Messenger, Myspace, forums and bulletin boards, mailing lists and so on are considered the heyday of the internet. The experimentation, customization and ability to express yourself are said to have been much higher back when the internet was far less regulated and, for better or for worse, less "sanitized". Tiny communities were more common, and making a website was considered to be a creative exercise with barely any rules. The web was "weirder"! There were less subscription services, social media used to let you customize way more than just profile picture and bio, the hurdles to hosting a website were lower, and there was real diversity in communities out there. People who subscribe to this idea tend to emphasize and imitate the retro aspect of the internet, hacking together your own website, using strong constrasts, color combinations that others would consider strikingly ugly, a plethora of fonts, blinking designs, guest books, automatic music playing, chat rooms, web rings and so on. They tend to revive old messengers such as ICQ or the Escargot MSN Messenger remake, use IRC and other technology now largely considered vintage such as Windows XP. People in this community tend to focus on the artistic and aesthetic expressive side of the hobby, and might come from Tumblr, TikTok or Twitter. "Retro internet/web" or "old internet/web" are common words they describe the subculture, not to forget "yesterweb", which was one of the most influential (and to an extent, infamous) communities in the foundation of this culture.

The Anti-Capitalists

Some others feel like the main issue is not the modern web in general, but capitalism or individual corporations expanding rapidly into the internet, a space which used to be largely community-run, open-source and led by scientific institutions at best and small businesses at worst. Private capital, especially tech monopolies, owning massive social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter are said to extract as much value out of the internet as possible, and the individual user is the resource that is being exploited; at the expense of privacy, enjoyment, safety, creativity and individuality, neutrality and the ability to socialize with others effectively. Such large internet conglomerates do not have their users' best interests at heart, inject ads, trackers and spy software into our everyday applications, and progressively make sites less usable and fun for the sake of advertiser friendliness and profit. People who adhere to this strain also tend to support community-run, non-profit, open source and libre projects over privately owned services. They will likely emphasize the revolutionary potential of a DIY internet, portraying this movement as an inherently political, anti-capitalist organization, and will have strong opinions on political and social issues. They might also stress how an independent, decentralized web cannot be that easily used for censorship, fake news and artificial engagement, making it inherently more democratic. They usually do not understand or support other parts of the web revival idealizing and using corporate services like MSN, ICQ, Myspace, Windows, Discord and others that are more common in the more art and aesthetic focused parts of the internet, as well as privately owned services pandering to a "retro" or "before-Musk" crowd like Bluesky or Neocities.

The Socialites

Yet some others just do not like the way big social media sites and the web at large work: toxic people, debates and discourse are everywhere and in some cases even encouraged by a lot of the modern internet. Technology like the almighty "algorithm", meaning a content recommendation system that decides what shows up on your front page, are said to make socializing on the internet almost impossible without serious harm to your mental health. I myself have written at length about the topic. Instead, they want to use the web in other ways to socialize and express themselves, beyond what mainstream social media allows them to do. They might like simply hanging out on forums and using e-mail to communicate, using web-rings to discover other people and browsing the web organically. There are also some alt-social media sites and systems such as the Fediverse, Crabber (now defunct), Bluesky or SpaceHey to fill these niches. Sometimes they run fan sites or fanlistings and are really into the aspect of social networking. They have a strong overlap with the "retro" crowd, but more related to usability than that specific aesthetic. Or sometimes both: plenty of people are disappointed by how little they can express themselves creatively on mainstream social media. For them, web making is a community and a hobby first and foremost, and the social aspect is in its focus.

The Artists

Then there is people who feel like the web is an art form or at the very least simply an enjoyable hobby. They might not (but sometimes do!) really care either way about the politics of internet corporations, or about a specific strain of retro design, or about socializing online. Instead or in addition, they most enjoy the process of web crafting, of hacking around in HTML and CSS, creating art pieces within a web browser. Perhaps they come from a general art background and view the web as a medium for art creation, like Melon from Melonking. Maybe they push web design to its limits, making an interactive virtual world; or perhaps they want to publish their writing somewhere, or have a blog or diary without relying on commercial blogging software. Maybe they just want to be proud of having their own little corner of the internet, and think it is cozy to go there and consciously browse the internet as an active activity rather than automatic procrastination. They like expressing themselves creatively on the internet and consider it an arts and crafts hobby.

The Minimalists

Another influential albeit more fringe group are the minimalists; people who reject overdesign and want to return to a web where information takes the center stage, and design is mostly relegated to the most basic elements such as headlines and paragraphs. They decry how large, bloated and unusable modern web pages have gotten for almost no reason but corporate branding. A most enlightening example of this is motherfuckingwebsite, a site advocating simple, content-first design in a rather colorful manner. Some of them also don't like the idea that website code these days is so complicated and full of hacks and workarounds that it is barely semantic anymore, meaning that the web page document consists of a descriptive structure alluding to each element's meaning rather than its look. In the olden days, a browser was actually responsible for the look and feel of a web page, for example its colors or how a headline was rendered, which allowed for a lot of user-side customization and a uniform look, not even to mention accessibility. These people usually don't particularly "get" why the retro web enthusiasts like all of the blinking, spinning, overdesigned style choices of the 90s, and might not consider themselves even remotely part of this subculture; but some do, and they have the web's best interests at heart, so I listed them here.

So, what gives?

All these groups will of course overlap; but the different avenues that people take to arrive at the same place explain the different terminology used. I personally coined the term "Web Revival" because it encompasses most of the above groups: they all care about the internet in some way.

It is important to note that the Web Revival is decidedly different from just a minimalist, or retro, internet. The old internet had a lot of issues: bigotry was absolutely rampant, harassment and hate was pretty much universally accepted, the demographics skewed white, cis, heterosexual, neurotypical and male American; not because there was no interest in the internet beyond that group, but because others were bullied and pushed into their own corners. The Web Revival on the other hand, even the parts that emulate the old internet to an almost unsettlingly accurate degree, is entirely different: in fact, most of the people within the Web Revival seem to be non-male, queer, and there is a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities represented, including all of the "weirdos" and "misfits" that we had on the old web decades ago. Virtually all spaces take a radically progressive stance on social issues, probably because the Web Revival is now counterculture, and no longer just the bulk of the internet.

So how do I get into this Web Revival?

The answer is simple: ask yourself what appeals most to you about all this. Is it the escape from corporate social media? Try out some federated, open source replacements such as Mastodon or Lemmy, or if you want to go "vintage", look at SpaceHey; if forums appeal to you, try the laid back Melonland. Do you just love 90s and Y2K aesthetics on the internet, or just want to have your own website because it allows you more free creative expression than social media? Try making your own Neocities page and learn HTML/CSS to see if you like it or not, and then consider moving onto your own self-hosted version after a while if you feel up to the task. Are you looking for sites to browse? Feel free to just use the Links page on this site to find other websites, and then follow THEIR linked websites until you lose yourself. Alternatively, look at the Neocities gallery for a searchable list of Neocities websites. There are, of course, plenty more ways to participate that I missed off the top of my head, but the rule of thumb is: get yourself a website and discover cool people and communities! Feel free to contact people if they have contact links listed, and don't be shy.

Beyond the Internet: Toward a Cyber Revival

Vaguely related, I have recently started thinking about where the Web Revival and its values can go beyond just the internet. The desire to live in a less exhausting, less toxic, less corporate and more creative, personal, wholesome world by utilizing the technology of ages past is postmodern (as the term is used in the art world): a remix of old and new to make something never seen before. The revival of physical media such as books, vinyl, CDs, pinball machines, board games and so on are or me closely related to the ideals I associate with my interpretation of the Web Revival. However, these all already exist as their own subcultures, such as the vinyl hobby; and at that point, you might be grasping at straws and include people in your own subculture that do not even know about your existence. But vintage software design is close to vintage web design, and using old computers, soft- and hardware, those are much more related, and deserve their own community beyond just vague "retro gaming" and "retro computers" technology that usually miss the whole "revival" idea of the thing.

That is why I coined the idea of a "Cyber Revival": a term for an already existing (but still budding) subculture that simply expands the Web Revival to all things digital. Not only collecting old computers, but also using them in day-to-day interaction, relying on 90s software to do your planning and word processing and web browsing. Moving from streaming services to physical media. Using old art software to create stunningly retro art. Embracing old software and its design over the minimalism of the present, and appreciating skeuomorphism as a design language. Exploring dark archives of decades past in search for super obscure software and getting it to run and do its part in your day-to-day life; and if you apply it to beyond the digital medium even, bringing hacker culture back into the physical world.

There is a small public Telegram group for the topic, which I intend to expand into a web ring and perhaps even a forum when the time is right (e. g. when I get my legal name changed and feel comfortable to register a website with my real name in the legal section, lol).

Web Revival Logo and Banners

I decided to design a logo for the Web Revival that people who vibe with my interpretation of the subculture can use for whatever they want. It is a circle of pixelated people in a rainbow gradient, surrounding an also rainbow colored infinity symbol. The minimalist pixel art style with its strong colors represents both the rejection of modern design, which itself rejects strong contrasts and pixel art aesthetic, and also the digital nature of our hobby and interests. The rainbow colors represent the diversity present in the community, especially its large queer component, and therefore different reasons and ideals they bring with them. The infinity symbol emphasizes this individuality even more, alongside the immeasurable size and potential of the internet, and is at the same time also a symbol of the autistic and neurodivergent community, who make up a large part of the Web Revival.

Feel free to link to this post on your banner if you wanna!

Pixel logo of the Web Revival: rainbow-colored people circled around a rainbow infinity symbol

Banner: This site is part of the Web Revival!!