Early next month, a handful of those who remember what the web was like before Facebook will gather to furiously code good ol' fashioned, Geocities-style websites.
It's easy to assume that those attending the Web 1.0 Conference in Portland, Oregon are caught up on an obsolete era of the internet. The conference's organizers, however, think the lowly HTML website may very well be the future of the web.
"There's this notion now that making websites that don't have complicated backends is this anachronistic, old idea that's dead," Kyle Drake, one of the festival's organizers, told me. "I think this is forward looking."
Drake says that decades-old websites built in simple HTML still function perfectly, whereas sites and forums built on PHP, certain iterations of Flash, or older plug-and-play systems like WordPress have been broken as new things replace them. Social networks come and go, and with it, whatever we've put on them. HTML is forever.
"You look at sites with those backends and it's a super complicated pile of code that becomes obsolete in two years or it gets hacked and goes away. If you make a static website, it lasts like, dozens of years," he said. "There are websites out there that are 20 years old but they still work. You can still look at them."
"You look back and every site looks totally different. There was this creative aesthetic that was really beautiful that made it fun to surf the web," he said. "We've gone from perfect creativity to 140 characters and the only change is it'll track your location so the NSA can spy on you. It's a little text box and we call this progress."
Drake deeply believes in the utility, aesthetic, and future of HTML websites. When he originally founded Neocities, a Geocities replacement in May of 2013, I thought it was something of a gimmick, an attempt to cash in on the web community being shuttered by Yahoo.
Talking with him now, he notes that more and more people are ditching Facebook; some people are eschewing social networks altogether, preferring to keep in touch with web 1.0 services like websites, newsgroups, and email newsletters. More than 55,000 people have now made websites on Neocities, and Drake says his service will soon become one of the first to decentralize itself onto various servers of its community members, meaning it should survive even if something happens to the Neocities server.
"Static websites are just better [than social media profiles]. They're better for expressing humanity—we're all quirky and different and weird," he said.
And so, the Web 1.0 Conference. The two-day conference on November 6 and 7 will feature informal discussions of people's favorite websites from the old days, presentations from Drake and Amber Case, a "cyborg anthropologist" who regularly explores the future of web interfaces, and a "real world domain exchange," where people will swap their old domain names. The second day of the conference will be almost entirely dedicated to helping people build and host their own websites.
"It's incredibly easy to make a beautiful website now. It used to be hard, but the technology caught up," Drake said. "What we're trying to do is express that a website can be a beautiful modern thing. I think it's the future of the web."