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Author Topic: Retro Web vs. Anti-Bloat/Minimal Web  (Read 3431 times)
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« on: July 05, 2022 @880.16 »

Hey there,

I have noticed that there are two different versions of "retro web revival" going around at the moment; the retro web revival best exemplified by this site and its community, and the anti-bloat or minimal web (which is not actually the "official" name for it but whatevs) that's a bit smaller but still very much up and coming.

Basically, the retro web manages to be unique in today's internet because of its return to early 2000s/late 90s web design with flashy colors, a plethora of animated images, tangible design, a rejection of commercialization, a more inclusive community built upon friendship and creativity instead of consumption, and so on. It tends to be administered and used by younger people, tends towards a female and progressive user base, and is largely a part of the queer/neurodiverse community.

Built on similar foundations but with a different execution is what I call the minimal or anti-bloat web. It's unique in today's internet because it refuses to use heavy and inaccessible design features and programming frameworks, and instead relies on semantics similar to a forum post: simple, plain XHTML, some CSS, nothing else. It's basically an internet like you get taught to program in intro to HTML classes; simple <h1>'s, <p>'s, without fancy backgrounds, no GIFs, no text in images, and so on.

For examples, see the Gemini protocol (a minimal and very tight knit alternative to HTTP(S) and HTML as a whole), the XHTML club, my own website, the FrogFind search engine, the 1MB club, based.cooking (a recipe site) and more.

This has a lot of advantages to both the retro web and the modern web:
  • Accessible to all browsers: No matter if you browse it on a 1995 terminal in text mode, or on a Chromebook, it will always display and function correctly, as compared to a website with modern HTML5 features, javascript frameworks, embedded junk and so on. I like using text based browsers on computers that don't have a desktop at all, so that's a huge plus.
  • Accessible to disabled people and algorithms: Some people cannot rely on their accessibility software and alt-texts to browse the full internet when, for example, text is contained in images and not as actual text, so an XHTML only website will be understood and parsed well by any decent software.
  • Accessible to bad internet: You can get websites REALLY small. And to people in less privileged countries than ours, that can make the difference between visiting a page and not being able to do so.
  • Customizable: Did you know that browsers used to do all the theming themselves? It was originally up to the browser to make boring old text pages look super fancy, by applying a uniform style to them. Every website could look exactly like you wanted it to, even. This is possible with semantic HTML, because that tells the browser not how to display something, but what it should represent (aka telling it it's a headline, not that it NEEDS to be 15px larger than other text).

On one hand, the retro web such as this site allows for more expression and is simply playful and fun, and it embodies a sense of community and creative outlet that the web has not had in a long time. On the other, the debloated web is more accessible and still has many of the retro web's qualities: nostalgia, expression, anti-commercialization, community, content-based browsing.

Where do you stand on this dichotomy? :O I'd be seriously interested what people think about this development.
Let me point out though that we are allies in disliking the modern web, not rivals, and I'm glad I'm here. :smile:
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« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2022 @946.32 »

Oh I love seeing well written long form topics like this! And its a great topic/observation, so thank you for posting this! :happy:

So a short history is that this split is actually super recent; back in 2016 when I started out in the web revival world, no one had really figured out the difference between retro sites verses minimal sites. It was all one big blob which confused a lot of people, thats totally changed in the last few years.

I think you kinda point out the key difference in your description; it depends what your priority is; are you more interested in expression through design or expression through technology?

If you're into design you'll prob be more into colours, gifs and 3d stuff; so you'll prob end up focusing on that.
If you're more into the technology, making things load fast, being compatible, being as minimal as possible; you'll end up with that kinda site.

They are both totally valid, and they are both forms of expression; one is an emotional expression (the mood you feel on a site) and the other is intellectual expression (the idea of minimality).

Of course its not totally clear cut, we all use a little of both; Im always thinking about how to balance keeping my site fast and clean verses all the junk I wanna cram onto it. A healthy site is like a healthy brain, both sides, logic and emotion need to work together. :tongue:

Although I think the distinction is actually great because in the old days people used to get really annoyed if they liked minimal sites and they saw everyone making retro sites instead! People didn't understand that they could be different things and that was ok.

I'd stress that you don't need to be one or the other, you can be both! The world has so many dividing lines in it right now, so Im into building bridges! :4u:
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« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2022 @47.07 »

I like Web Revival as an umbrella term for the two camps you have talked about plus a third, the Indieweb movement. I also call the Web Revival the Independent Web.

They all are distinct but they all have some broad overlap.

1. All encourage building your own website: it could be static/retro, could be a blog, could be minimalist or not, could be a static site with a blog, etc.
2. All are wary of the corporate silos and "The Man": Google, FB, Twitter.
3. They all value hyperlinks and linking freely.
4. In my experience they are not hostile to each other. It's also not either/or. One webmaster may have several websites that each sit in different camps. You can be in more than one camp.
5. And all are about having fun with whatever they are working with.
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2022 @444.75 »

They are both totally valid, and they are both forms of expression; one is an emotional expression (the mood you feel on a site) and the other is intellectual expression (the idea of minimality).

Oh I gotta say though that designing websites such as yours with all the fancy stuff on it is super impressive and much much more technically and intellectually advanced than something like mine, which is literally only simplest XHTML
! :grin: Browsers take care of the rest for me.
 
I actually think it might be the other way 'round: the retro web requires a much deeper understanding of technology and design and programming and scripting and browser technology just to make things work, while the minimal web mostly is an expression of an emotional desire for simplicity, customizability and "wholeness" if you get what I mean.

But I guess it's all intertwined and just different kinds of expressions for oneself. x) I feel happy in either!
And I have a retro web styled website up and coming anyway sooo x)
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« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2022 @747.12 »

tends towards a female and progressive user base, and is largely a part of the queer/neurodiverse community.

Off topic but I only just made the correlation between demographics, I wonder why it is.
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« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2022 @963.15 »

tends towards a female and progressive user base, and is largely a part of the queer/neurodiverse community.

Off topic but I only just made the correlation between demographics, I wonder why it is.

I guess it's a combination of the following:
  • Queer people tend to be outsiders due to the feeling of being different, outsiders tend to become queer/discover their queerness due to contemplation. Outsiders want to discover communities beyond the mainstream to find welcoming and acceptance.
  • There's a huge correlation between autism and queerness (I think the figure was 40% of autists do not identify as cis?) and autism attracts niche topics, and the yesterweb is one such topic.
  • Feeling like you are different usually makes you seek out likeminded people on the web and obsessing in front of a screen all day, which is a good prerequisite to become invested in computers and tech, which leads to a DIY and general nonconformist attitude
  • People who are queer tend to be politically active and politically active people tend to oppose big social media sites and look for alternatives.
  • Mainstream culture is very targeted at cishet neurotypical people and can sometimes even be hostile to others, and any alternative subculture definitely does not meet on Facebook and Instagram, so those bring people here too
  • People who are very much into their own identity also tend to obsess about aesthetics and bigger identity packages (I am going to convert to this religion/occult/obscure hobby I saw online because it comes with a new set of labels to apply to myself), which leads to them identifying more as fringe microlabels and applying aesthetics to identity, which leads them down this path.
  • Neurodiverse people sometimes like things like categories, customizing worlds and spaces, daydreaming into their fantasies, which is pretty much not possible to have an outlet for on mainstream socials.
  • Traumatized people tend to try and relive their lost childhood, and many of our (Gen Z) childhoods were spent on the retro web.

I think there's a lot of factors at play. I think my points are pretty solid indicators.
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« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2022 @450.45 »

I guess it's a combination of the following:
  • Queer people tend to be outsiders due to the feeling of being different, outsiders tend to become queer/discover their queerness due to contemplation. Outsiders want to discover communities beyond the mainstream to find welcoming and acceptance.
  • There's a huge correlation between autism and queerness (I think the figure was 40% of autists do not identify as cis?) and autism attracts niche topics, and the yesterweb is one such topic.
  • Feeling like you are different usually makes you seek out likeminded people on the web and obsessing in front of a screen all day, which is a good prerequisite to become invested in computers and tech, which leads to a DIY and general nonconformist attitude
  • People who are queer tend to be politically active and politically active people tend to oppose big social media sites and look for alternatives.
  • Mainstream culture is very targeted at cishet neurotypical people and can sometimes even be hostile to others, and any alternative subculture definitely does not meet on Facebook and Instagram, so those bring people here too
  • People who are very much into their own identity also tend to obsess about aesthetics and bigger identity packages (I am going to convert to this religion/occult/obscure hobby I saw online because it comes with a new set of labels to apply to myself), which leads to them identifying more as fringe microlabels and applying aesthetics to identity, which leads them down this path.
  • Neurodiverse people sometimes like things like categories, customizing worlds and spaces, daydreaming into their fantasies, which is pretty much not possible to have an outlet for on mainstream socials.
  • Traumatized people tend to try and relive their lost childhood, and many of our (Gen Z) childhoods were spent on the retro web.

I think there's a lot of factors at play. I think my points are pretty solid indicators.

Wow, what a well-written list of reasons for this! :omg: I can definitely see myself in many of these, haha.

But to add to the question about retro web revival itself, I personally prefer the creative outlet it offers. But I think ultimately simple, minimalist sites are a part of that, because is that also not a way to express yourself and your preferences? But yeah, even with minimalist sites, I prefer something that has maybe at least a beige background or something, because the white-on-black websites actually remind me too much of the modern sterile corporate websites that I'm trying to escape @_@ But that's just my personal association with that. Inherently I'm just glad you have the option to choose what kind of website you want and there are no limits to it.
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« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2022 @535.82 »

tends towards a female and progressive user base, and is largely a part of the queer/neurodiverse community.

Off topic but I only just made the correlation between demographics, I wonder why it is.

I guess it's a combination of the following:
  • Queer people tend to be outsiders due to the feeling of being different, outsiders tend to become queer/discover their queerness due to contemplation. Outsiders want to discover communities beyond the mainstream to find welcoming and acceptance.
  • There's a huge correlation between autism and queerness (I think the figure was 40% of autists do not identify as cis?) and autism attracts niche topics, and the yesterweb is one such topic.
  • Feeling like you are different usually makes you seek out likeminded people on the web and obsessing in front of a screen all day, which is a good prerequisite to become invested in computers and tech, which leads to a DIY and general nonconformist attitude
  • People who are queer tend to be politically active and politically active people tend to oppose big social media sites and look for alternatives.
  • Mainstream culture is very targeted at cishet neurotypical people and can sometimes even be hostile to others, and any alternative subculture definitely does not meet on Facebook and Instagram, so those bring people here too
  • People who are very much into their own identity also tend to obsess about aesthetics and bigger identity packages (I am going to convert to this religion/occult/obscure hobby I saw online because it comes with a new set of labels to apply to myself), which leads to them identifying more as fringe microlabels and applying aesthetics to identity, which leads them down this path.
  • Neurodiverse people sometimes like things like categories, customizing worlds and spaces, daydreaming into their fantasies, which is pretty much not possible to have an outlet for on mainstream socials.
  • Traumatized people tend to try and relive their lost childhood, and many of our (Gen Z) childhoods were spent on the retro web.

I think there's a lot of factors at play. I think my points are pretty solid indicators.
Hmm I guess that makes sense, I am gay but personally I didn't get into the old web for community but for the novelty of having a website all for myself. I do love the community though.

Edit: Also it just occurred to me, why would women be so prevalent here when they are on normal social media aswell?
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« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2022 @582.69 »


Edit: Also it just occurred to me, why would women be so prevalent here when they are on normal social media aswell?

I suppose it's mostly because creativity for the hell of it tends to be a "feminine hobby" while creating for profit and success is stereotypically a "masculine hobby". Nerdy women who can't draw or make music but still want to express themselves might become web designers for their own homepages while you see a lot of techbros with their own glorified CV websites on the other side.
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« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2022 @584.14 »


Edit: Also it just occurred to me, why would women be so prevalent here when they are on normal social media aswell?

I suppose it's mostly because creativity for the hell of it tends to be a "feminine hobby" while creating for profit and success is stereotypically a "masculine hobby". Nerdy women who can't draw or make music but still want to express themselves might become web designers for their own homepages while you see a lot of techbros with their own glorified CV websites on the other side.
I guess that's a culture thing but its fascinating.
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« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2022 @585.76 »

I guess that's a culture thing but its fascinating.
Definitely a culture thing! These are all based on stereotypes and these probably shouldn't even exist. But cultural stereotypes tend to have an effect on identity, so the statistics still hold up largely. Plus other spaces tend to be unwelcoming to alternative people. The retro web definitely is a very accepting and cozy place to be.
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« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2022 @749.57 »

Hey all, I'm new here, but I've been lurking for a while and I too find this topic fascinating. One thing I feel I ought to point out is that if you're into coding, you can definitely take part in both movements if you want. One of the examples of the minimalist web I often see crop up is the text version of NPR's site. Obviously they have a modern, complete site, but they host a text version at the subdomain text.npr.org. You could always create a separate text feed along with your RSS feeds and the like for text only viewers. I've been considering doing this for my blog eventually, since I'm pretty sure there are several ways to do it programmatically. Creating a text version statically is also an option, but you'd need a good workflow in order to make sure there are no discrepancies between the two.
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« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2022 @779.80 »

Creating a text version statically is also an option, but you'd need a good workflow in order to make sure there are no discrepancies between the two.

Oh don't tempt me, I already do everything statically in the most impractical way possible. :tongue:
Now excuse me as I open up the Mousepad text editor to continue my XHTML-only static blog I wrote from scratch and copy-paste my CSS from one document to another so I can then upload it via SFTP to the server so I can debug the changes I made. Ahem. After that I need to refactor a little piece in the layout so I will open up every post I have ever written to make that change in each. :pc:
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« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2022 @794.55 »

Oh how I remember doing this...good times, good times! Just kidding, I was not fond of it myself, though it's a totally legit way of making a website! I did it that way for YEARS :grin:
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« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2022 @800.02 »

Oh don't tempt me, I already do everything statically in the most impractical way possible. :tongue:
Now excuse me as I open up the Mousepad text editor to continue my XHTML-only static blog I wrote from scratch and copy-paste my CSS from one document to another so I can then upload it via SFTP to the server so I can debug the changes I made. Ahem. After that I need to refactor a little piece in the layout so I will open up every post I have ever written to make that change in each. :pc:

This is probably why it's more common for retro websites to have a unique design on every page or to use frames. Personally, separating content from the template is a luxury I won't give up. As soon as I learned about Server Side Includes, I abandoned the old ways. I'm still working on plans to create my own retro-style site, but I'll definitely be using PHP or Angular when I do.
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