When I was a child, the first wave of the internet was kicking into gear. You could practically feel it taking off from under your feet. Everything was going online, nobody knew which way was up, and there was this new world to be explored. At first I was confined to the walls of AOL and I don’t remember knowing much about the web. I loved to chat with strangers and download new programs to try. But I never had any way of creating something myself; it was all consumption. Maybe a year or two later, web browsers were starting to get good. I remember figuring out how the web worked and being quickly drawn into this wider world to explore. Things seemed limitless, but it was still all consumption. But then I discovered FrontPage. While before I was content with consuming the web, now I realized I had a way of making my own website. I could feel my mind whirring at all the possibilities. The idea that I, a 12 year old, could have my own page and anybody, anywhere could see it felt like unbelievable power. From that point, I spent months crafting my very own site — making graphics, finding good links, researching aliens and calculator games, making a guestbook. It totally changed my perception of what the web could be, and it was my masterpiece. It didn’t even matter if anybody went there, it was good enough that it just existed.
Today feels different. There are endless ways to share, and you can count dozens of profiles as home. Every day a new app comes out and people cultivate ever expanding audiences around the world. But as we’ve moved to more structured platforms which make sharing easy, we have also effectively commoditized expression. It’s harder than ever to make things which are uniquely you, and carry some personality. If somebody wants to find you, or any version of you, there are countless places to choose from - but only insofar as it fits within a neat square and provides a few seconds of entertainment. This has all been exacerbated by the move to mobile — now the bar to create something of your own has gone up immensely. Before I just had to figure out Frontpage to make my own site. If I were 12 today, I doubt I would have figured out how to make my own app, let alone get past Apple’s review process.
I think things can be different. We have the means to let people create a digital home for themselves, and I think people crave that ability to express themselves in ways that far exceed what we currently call the norm today.