Free the Web.
I kind of jumped onto the Indie Web bandwagon a while ago. The Indie Web movement, in a nutshell, encourages all of us to break free of the shackles the tech giants have offered and that we have willingly worn, and to start owning our data and identity. It even offers us tools to help us make the leap. (Although they are admittedly a little hard to implement.)
Of course, owning your own content is critical. (As opposed to, say, having WordPress.com shut down one day and all your content gone the next.) And having our own identity, too, is important, at least as a creator and producer of content. I, for one, would really prefer to have people find me at uebyn.com rather than at, say, twitter.com/uebyn.
But really, the one principle that I really dig on the Indie Web official site is this (and which I quote in entirety here):
Have fun. Remember that GeoCities page you built back in the mid-90s? The one with the Java applets, garish green background and seventeen animated GIFs? It may have been ugly, badly coded and sucky, but it was fun, damnit. Keep the web weird and interesting.
Oh yes. How long has it been since too many of us had fun on the Web? Especially for those of us who work full time in the industry, web design and development is starting to become uninteresting, even a drag. Everything is about efficiency, predictability, patterns and “usability”. And so we use standard templates or semi-templates, make use of frameworks that are built based on the assumption that all websites are structured in the same manner, and we start worrying too much about “standards”—so much so that the Web is starting to look more and more homogeneous and less and less fun.
Fuck it, I say.
Fuck the standards. Fuck the design trends, fuck the frameworks, fuck the best practices.
Seriously, where are the days when I’d visit a Flash designer’s portfolio site over and over again just to explore his spectacular animation and, more importantly, his personal creative vision? What’s wrong with the terrible MySpace pages that looked hideous but spelt personality? What’s with people trying to manage and contain everything so that everything is manageable but monotonous?
Sometimes, I feel like blaming money. When money comes into play, people start to fear. They fear losing their money, and they fear losing their visitors. And so they focus on making buttons easily clickable (which inevitably narrows down places where they can go), and they focus on making sites that are safe but predictably usable.
But of course I’m not naive. I know, that while money is an important factor that made the Web more boring by the day, it is also human nature at play. Humans are, by default, afraid of change. Visitors are afraid of websites that look so different from one another they don’t know how to navigate through them without spending some time experimenting. They want to feel safe and happy, knowing that the navigational links are always at the top, and the logos always on the top left. Managers of websites are afraid of changing their site structure and information architecture, because it spells more work. It means rethinking their site and content, at the risk of losing their visitors with the new design or being criticized. In short, they are afraid of failing.
And so, without realizing it, the entire humanity is, with tacit understanding, moving towards one single corporate Web, both in terms of content and in terms of creativity. Think about it—how amazing is it that a US owned—say, PC-selling site, looks exactly like that of its Korean competitor? How boring is that?
Free the Web from Monotony.
In the older days, one has a good chance of seeing an amateurish but highly personal homepage of a teenager who knew her way around HTML. Now? Every teenager is on Snapchat or Instagram, and their profile look no different from one another’s.
I like to think that the Indie Web is one important step away from this boring Web that we’re starting to build for ourselves. First, own your own domain and data with the help of those hacker mavericks. Next, please, for God’s sake, inject some personality into your own site. And stop pushing that ‘sign up for my newsletter’ button in our faces because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Please, please give back to the Web your own personality. We don’t care to see yet another recycled design, we want to see you. And you don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs or whatshisname (can’t remember the Facebook founder’s name, can’t be bothered to Google) to be on the Web, you just have to be yourself.
And the Web is supposed to help you with that.
So help the Web help you, and start building your own identity, all over again. Start off with the Indie Web if you want to (which is exactly what I’m doing now), but most importantly, start now, before it’s too late.