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Why the ‘Weird Internet’ of the GeoCities Era Had to Die

Simple and boring rules the day — for a pretty good reason. But there are still tools out there for the experimenters.

Owen Williams
OneZero
Published in
7 min readJul 15, 2019
Credit: Teresita Chavarria/Getty Images

AAsk any web developer how they first got interested in coding, and they’ll probably tell you something about hacking HTML and CSS together to build an Angelfire page, a GeoCities website, or a killer Myspace profile.

Not so long ago, websites would commonly allow users to add their own stylesheets (CSS) to make their pages look and behave exactly how they wanted. They felt way more personal than, say, your Facebook profile, which looks exactly the same as everyone else’s.

My own story in tech starts here: My earliest memories of web development were trying to get a custom font and an animated mouse cursor to show up when you visited my profile on Myspace.

I remember how thrilling it was when it worked — not just for me, but anyone that visited. CSS let me express myself fully in, well, Myspace. For many developers, figuring out how to do something cool on their Myspace page or building a GeoCities site full of animated “under construction” GIFs was the genesis of their tech careers.

The internet was weirder back then — full of quirky ideas, personal pages, custom blogs, and far more viable platforms to build on than we have on the streamlined web of today. I still run a personal blog on a custom website I built, but every year it feels a bit stranger, and a little rarer. Many people default to Facebook Pages or cookie-cutter Squarespace designs, if they have their own website at all.

In the last two decades, custom stylesheets have become a dying breed. There’s a trend away from customization toward the mega-platforms where most people cluster, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The largest, most popular websites are a one-size-fits-all experience, and the idea of allowing people to add custom code would be considered both risky and too complex.

Sure, you can still build your own website, but why bother when you can just write up a post in the iPhone’s Notes app, take a screenshot, and share it on Instagram?

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Owen Williams
OneZero

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. Design Manager in Tech. https://twitter.com/ow