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Rejecting Web 2.0

Published Friday, November 05, 2021 at 08:29am

As I've mentioned before, this website is largely the product of a Linux shell script that takes a bunch of text files, tacks on headers and footers to turn them into HTML, and adds the connective tissue to turn it all into a website. This is all more complicated than you might imagine, but I'm thrilled with it. As someone who used to design a lot of shareware games (remember when shareware was a novelty and not just The Way Things Are Done?), this is probably the single most complicated programming task I've ever completed. The script itself is ~1,500 lines at the moment and far from the longest program I've ever written, but that's because Linux does a lot of the heavy lifting; I could write this whole thing in a different language but I can imagine giving up on it or working on it so sporadically that I never finish.

Anyway, since I'm DIYing everything, it has occurred to me that I really don't need to make use of any of the vampiric data collection agents masquerading as services and amenities on the modern internet. This site involves no cookies at all, no tracking pixels, even the Creative Commons image at the bottom of each page is hosted by me rather than on their site. Nobody's collecting your data here. Not even me, other than the most basic metrics collected by my hosting service.

The old-school Internet user in me feels very proud of this, but I can't imagine anyone else cares. In fact, it's probably a liability. I used to use Google to collect metrics but... that just doesn't seem like an important idea anymore. I have no idea what all this will do to my search engine rankings; I used to be the first Colin Gagnon who turned up in a Google search for my name, but now this site isn't even in the first couple of pages of rankings. That happened when I switched to WordPress in 2018 and the recent changes might doom me to even more obscurity; I really don't know. In fact, I'm well aware that personal websites like this are a dead method of self-aggrandizement now that everyone has migrated their online presence to social networks. God knows if I'm reaching anyone who's not a bot anymore, but I'm so enjoying the process of developing the script that generates this website... And blogging. Blogs are also dead, basically, but I miss LiveJournal and would rather host my own stuff than go back.

I used to roll my eyes at cookieless, "unintegrated" websites like this one, all but disconnected from the rest of the internet, and now I find myself one of them. There's a purity to it that feels good, but I'm sure it comes off as luddism.

Anyway, more luddism: I keep fighting the urge to run fake banner ads at the top of each page. The oldest version of my website, last touched in the '90s, was full of fake banner ads, but I don't know that they were as entertaining to anyone else as they were to me. If they ever show up here, you'll know I lost the fight to myself.

Also, blog comments. Part of me feels that you can't have a Real Blog without audience interaction. It wouldn't be hard to add that. My old site from high school had a guestbook (my God, remember guestbooks?) and I don't see that it would be hard to modify something like that into a comments mechanism. On the other hand, having to moderate hundreds of thousands of bot-originated comments is what soured me on WordPress. Designing my own comments feature would recreate the same problem, and adding, say, Disqus integration would undo all that stuff I was saying a couple of paragraphs back about no one collecting any data here.

And I'm okay with that. I fully understand the value of Web 2.0, but I never dove into it headfirst. I'd rather lurk in online forums than participate, and my social media participation is more casual than most. I don't mind the web being a mostly one-way street.

Still, I'm toying with the idea of super-basic social media integration. Namely, "share this post" buttons linking to Twitter, Facebook, and email. This can be done without phoning home to those services until a link is clicked. I'm also thinking about adding a "Join the conversation on Twitter!" link to the bottom of blog posts which would be a link to a tweet. That might be a pointless exercise, given the low volume of traffic to this site, but it's been a long time since I programmed anything more elaborate than simple shell scripts, and this process is scratching a long-neglected itch. That comment mechanism is going to be cumbersome, though; the tweet has to exist before I can link to it, so that means generating and uploading the webpage, creating the tweet, providing the script with a link to the tweet, then re-generating and re-uploading the webpage. I might be designing a tool that no one ever uses, but the process is a great deal of fun.

EDIT: Welp, "comments" works, and sharing to other sources works. Onto the next thing, I guess...

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