I used to be a huge fan of Spiderman when I was a kid. The Sam Raimi movie was my first introduction to the character, as well as one of my first exposures to what comic books could be (the DVD release came with a digital copy of Spider Man Blue #1 and Black Cat #1, both of which were quite a shock to the system). My family never got the newspaper, but when we would visit my grandparents I would always have a drawer full of comic pages waiting for me (my grandma, bless her heart, would collect them and set them aside) and I would spend hours cutting out the Spiderman strips and pasting them into a handmade paper album. Maybe it was just a combination of my general attraction to comic books and the fact that Spiderman was the only example that was remotely accessible, but the mythos had its hooks in deep for quite some time.
I had a favorite website around this time. I can’t remember for the life of me how I found it in the first place, but I still remember the url offhand — “alaph.com/spiderman”, aka “Eric’s Spiderman Homepage“, as preserved by the miraculous Internet Archive. It wasn’t even a dedicated site — the actual homepage appears to be some kind of ecommerce site or consultancy business — just a subdomain that some guy decided to devote to writing about his interests.
I think about Eric’s site from time to time but it really came back to me recently thanks to Wordle. It’s currently somewhat of a sensation, which is in no small part due to the clever way in which it displays your result when you solve a puzzle, which starts off inscrutable and quickly strikes home once you play it for the first time.
Something I found fascinating about Wordle is that it in less than a year since its launch, it had managed to become a daily routine for a huge number of people worldwide. Less than a week after I personally found it, @wordlestats was reporting 80k players, and two months later that number is over 300k. In an internet which has become so commodified and platform-driven, it’s amazing to see a subdomain on some random guy’s homepage become so huge.
Of course, as I write this, the link above will instead redirect to the New York Times, who purchased Wordle for a “low-seven-figure sum” and no doubt plan to monetize it or at the very least leverage it to attract a new audience to their other word games. The creator says it’s a perfect fit, and I have to say: props to him for getting his payout. But I feel a bit disappointed that this is the way things have gone. Wordle was a small independent website that managed to permeate the zeitgeist for a few months before being gobbled up by a big company and consolidated. The fact that the thousands-long word list had to be audited to remove potentially offensive words is just the icing on the cake.
There’s a lot of buzz these days about how “decentralization is the future”, which is one of those statements where I agree with all the words but not what people mean when they say it. This kind of line is always tied up with the push for Web 3, which is of course in reference to the distributed redundancy features built into blockchain applications. There might be some use case for a massively redundant database (blockchain or otherwise), but just because something is widely distributed around the world doesn’t make the internet more open or more interesting. In fact, the distributed nature of Blockchain is, is for my money, the single least interesting and desirable type of decentralization.
I’m certainly no hardline social media zealot (I spend a lot of time on Discord and stay somewhat active on Twitter), but the universal move towards centralized platforms doesn’t strike me as such a great thing. I’d like to see more Wordles and Eric’s Spiderman Homepages out there. I have a few blogs and webcomics I check daily and I wish that list was longer. Keeping a blog is a lot of fun, even if nobody reads it. It’s nice to be in charge of when your website theme changes and it’s empowering to know that you retain full ownership of everything you post.
The old internet was weird and interesting. I wish it would come back for real this time.