Rediscovering Discovery on the Web

When I was a kid, I loved exploring the World Wide Web. There was just so much to discover, and I was on a mission to find it all. Unlike the homogeneity of the modern web, back then everything was unique.

Every web site (that's right, we put a space between the words "web" and "site") was lovingly hand-crafted by amateurs and hobbyists to share the things they felt most excited about. Whether it was South African bird watching or collecting 18th century porcelain toilet seats, every site oozed passion and creativity.

Instead of feeds and walls, algorithms and search-engine optimization, we had webrings and links pages. Like-minded people created their own communities, rather than joining one that already exists. We connected through guest books and chat rooms, trading the gems we discovered with one another like baseball cards (which were also far more interesting at the time).

As the web grew up, and the personal home pages were replaced by Myspace pages, and then eventually Facebook and Twitter and <insert service here>, discovery became more difficult and less spontaneous. For a time, we had services like StumbleUpon that allowed us to still be explorers, but the "web site" eventually transformed into the "blog," which itself became a "profile."

What's Old is New Again

I know I'm painting a pretty bleak picture, but the reality is that the old web isn't lost.

It's just buried.

Hidden beneath layers of new growth, waiting to be re-discovered. Just because the noise has gotten louder doesn't mean the signal is lost, you just have to look a little harder. The old web—lovingly called The IndieWeb now—is still alive and kicking, and thanks to some wonderfully crafty creators, it is waiting to be discovered.


Believe it or not, webrings still exist—my website is actually a part of one. While there are still a bunch of different ones out there, if you are looking to join one (or just discover some new sites to explore), here are a few places to start:

Search Engines

It's been a long time since Google took over the internet search game, and even before that there was Yahoo, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, and a bunch of other services that aimed to consolidate the web and make it searchable. Well, thanks to Search Engine Optimization, modern search pretty much sucks for discovery now, but that doesn't mean all search is dead. There are a handful of great vertical search engines that focus on unique, niche categories:

  • Old'aVista - built using archived websites, Old'aVista is the gateway to the old internet
  • Marginalia - a search engine that favors text-heavy sites and punishes modern web design
  • Wiby - search engine for the classic web

Page Stumblers

In the same vein as StumbleUpon, there are some newer sites that are dedicated to completely random discovery. These are experimental pages that will randomly load a website from The IndieWeb, and I use them both often when I'm looking for something new and unique.

Start Somewhere

While the services listed above are great tools for rediscovering the art of discovery on the web, they are simply starting points. Once you find yourself going down a rabbit hole, it is often worth it to see how far down it goes. Links pages and blogrolls have made a comeback, and with just a little bit of digging the creators you like will link out to the creators they like.

All it takes is to begin. Close your social media app of choice and embrace the personality and excitement of The IndieWeb. Go get lost somewhere on the web—but don't forget to leave some breadcrumbs so you can share what you discover with me later.


This is post 009 of #100DaysToOffload


If you like this post or one of my projects, you can buy me a coffee, or send me a note. I'd love to hear from you!