Letting Go of the Old Web

Last year I wrote a thing on Automattic’s design blog about something I keep noodling on, which ultimately boils down to what makes us creative. What gets us to build a website? What the hell is a website today?

I don’t mean “Us” the web community, or tech industry. I mean “Us” as Humankind.

It started off as thinking through what gets a person to Post, or Build, or Edit, or Publish something to the web. At work, we had invested in a big user research initiative, and there was a decent pattern of people feeling much more confident about the idea of making a website on a desktop/laptop versus a mobile device. Tweaking content, checking activity, sure. But not the big stuff. Not the upfront stuff. The decisions felt too big, or their idea of how that would work on a phone was too overwhelming. Tactically and strategically, as a designer, the take-away could be, “Ok, we don’t have to worry about making a 100% parity experience for mobile. Sigh of relief.”

These last few days I’ve been forcing myself to post using my phone, mostly because I need to enforce my work boundaries right now, and want to finish this 100-day project on a strong note. But I haven’t been able to shake that research. Knowing that the rest of the world is coming into the web on a phone, (not in their basements), and for reasons other than sheer Awe and Wonder—that this is something important to keep in mind. It’s not even an emerging markets product thing or a mobile-first web standards thing. Just something Important.

These things are what separate the good research from the meh research anyway, right? Things that still make you think months or years later. Sometimes bringing the giddiness that you’re on the cusp of that exciting “Aha!” moment—or the unease of that dreaded “Fuck.” moment. By then it is probably too late to choose which one.

It was fine blogging on my phone. Awkward, at first, like being abruptly asked to switch from speaking one language to another. It’s so cool how all five senses have to recalibrate to reach an equitable state from which to proceed. I think I still prefer to have my writing in a sort of sandbox. I always used client back in the day when auto-save was not a thing, and once hand-coding blog posts became a glorified thing of the past.

My client/sandbox/writing application of choice across all devices is Ulysses, and I am so excited to share more about it. I have been testing different writing applications for years now, and can now confidently say that I Have Chosen.

But I will post that one from my laptop 😆.

Regarding that nagging research, I still think there is a crucial distinction—that it matters whether people can reach a “Create” mindset versus Edit/Build, or Post (which only connects with bloggers), or Publish (the scariest one). For us, the makers of these publishing platforms, or, The Folks Formerly Known as the People Who Make Websites, we can get ourselves to put something out there easily no matter what mindset we’re in. It’s work.

But not everyone else. Yet, we implicitly still hold them to our standard, expecting them to discover the joy of the web, or come to see our esoteric tools and frameworks charming and endearing? When they really just want a place on the web to display something about themselves that reflects the actual world they live in.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re not aware of how much we’re shutting them out. We live in this interesting time in the web’s history where more and more people are making websites, but they are not coming to it with awe and wonder, like we did. They are not about to find a new hobby. They have already found their passion and it’s not this. And it’s like we’re interested in making it easy for people to make a website, or learn how to code, but so long as they’re coming to church on Sundays.

In glorifying our past, we delight in still being able to do it the hard way. We’re still making it about us. We can’t fully set our users up for success this way. Moreover, we are perpetuating the very walls that keep people from discovering the joy of the web the same way we were so fortunate to experience.

It’s taken me a while to make peace with the reality that most new homebrew websites today aren’t people’s first transformative experience on the web: that first foray into Geocities, or first post on WordPress, or saving a text editor file as .html and opening it up in a browser. More importantly, accepting that has made me understand that it’s not that people have stopped caring or don’t want to express themselves on the web. Or that we’re on our phones now, and you can’t Make a website the same way. Or that the walled gardens have hijacked our desires to create something on our own terms.

We miss the old Web and we miss Making Websites. But that time has gone and passed. The future web can only hold as much wonder, discovery—and community—as it did back then, when we let go.

By Desiree Zamora Garcia

I like to eat, think, and take things apart.