Keep the Internet Weird
My love for computers began in the 90s, but my love for coding became evident to me in the early aughts. Sure, I had made fanpages for Professional Wrestlers and helped run music magazines for teens, but those were projects for everyone else — not intensely personal sites born of love. It seems that I was not alone in this feeling.
Earlier on in the week, I had been thinking a lot about how much the communities surrounding coding and designing personal domains inspired me to not be afraid to try something new, and I was wondering who else felt this way. I decided to put the call out on twitter, and the response was pretty overwhelming.
Around 2001 I started seeing a lot of other teenagers with their own domains. They had blogs, hostees, guestbooks, blogrolls, custom layouts made with pirated versions of Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, tiny 8px fonts, bright colors, and were all unique. I still remember the one that really made me want my own: gleeb.com. Gleeb was run by another teenager named Melissa. Her layouts were always clean, she liked the same music as me, and had really cool hostees (a host/hostee relationship is where you lend out your shared hosting space to your online friends, giving them their own subdomain), needless to say — I was inspired.
I can’t remember which domain was my first, though I’m able to find a few through archive.org, thankfully. Reading the things I wrote about is pretty cringe-worthy for me to look back on, as it’s typical teenager rants, but the writing wasn’t as important to me as the communities were.
Other than now, as a 31 year old woman, I don’t think I’ve ever had as many friendships with women as I did when I was a teenager spending all my free time on the Internet. Not only were other teen girls super into self-expression via blogging in a pre-WordPress era, they really wanted to help each other out! There were resources on how to get the best GreyMatter layout, how to customize your MegaBook install, how to use layers in Photoshop, plus a ton more. Friendships were made by knowledge sharing and similar interests because social networks were just starting to emerge in a modern sense, and prior to that we just created our own spaces. I realize now how privileged I was to be able to have access to those resources at such a young age. In 2000, only 43% of the population had access to the internet, and in 2016 we’re at 88%! (http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/us/)
Thinking about all the ways I had learned to design and code early on in my life, I had never really stopped to think about how it was because of other women finding their own way and wanting to encourage others. Here at the beginning of 2017, I’m really happy to say that I see a lot of similar things that mirror that same spark I personally felt as a teenager.
If you need some code help, usually the first instinct is to check StackOverflow where you’re often given bad advice coupled with someone suggesting a jQuery solution when you want a vanilla JS answer. There are arguments on r/programming and Hacker News. It’s a cesspool of entitlement and the need to chime in even when you don’t have anything to contribute other than the satisfaction of seeing your own words on a screen. I wouldn’t instinctively turn to ask people I know for help because of the unwelcome environments those type of networks had created, but that’s been changing.
Slack, group DMs on Twitter, IRC backchannels, and groups like wealljs, YourFirstPR, GoodforPOC, and CodeNewbie are making me feel great about encouraging reaching out and discussing code problems or innovative ideas on a social basis for the first time in a long time. More people have access to the internet than they did 10–15 years ago, and I’m so glad that there are more voices being heard. There’s a gap in the ecosystem of effective communication for learners and people seeking out a connection instead of a copy and paste solution — and all of those places are trying to fill that gap by promoting a great space of inclusivity and diversity
For 2017 I really hope that those of us who are trying to make the web / tech / design a more inclusive place will keep on encouraging those just starting out and those wanting to try something new. Don’t allow egos to crush inspiration! Exploration in programming and design, no matter what it is, fosters growth for everyone. Please keep making weird things and don’t be afraid to show the world.