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Number Four

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I'm on vacation, and while I'm gone, with computers and Net connections in short supply, I'm counting down the Ten Greatest Crimes Against Humanity Committed By The Internet. The series begins here.

At number four, we have a bit of an odd duck. Normally, I am not a huge proponent of what I might call killing the fish for swimming. Certain things have certain natures, and hating them for expressing that essentially hard-coded nature strikes me as unnecessarily cruel.

However, there is one particular ecological niche on the Internet that drives me up the fucking wall. I understand that the system, as it exists, will inevitably lead to the creation of web sites that fill this niche, but the same is true of wasps, and I'll swat those fuckers too.

So while the Internet always has, always will have, and always will need a place where fourteen-year-olds can make the world's ugliest and most obnoxious web pages, that doesn't mean the rest of us should go anywhere near them.

First, there was GeoCities. Before GeoCities, if you wanted to make an ugly web page, you had to learn about FTP, pretend you had a rudimentary understanding of HTML, and most importantly, pay for web hosting. All of these things were well out of the reach of the average fourteen-year-old, which is where GeoCities stepped in. They provided the hosting. They provided your choice of ugly-ass templates with which to make your ugly-ass web page. And yeah, I know everybody's web page was ugly-ass in 1997, but GeoCities web pages were extra bonus ugly. Quasimodo with burn scars ugly. Blink tag ugly.

It got to the point where you'd click on a link, realize it was going to a GeoCities page, and throw your computer out the window before the page could finish loading. This, of course, fueled the massive growth in PC sales in the late 90's. Or something.

But GeoCities was still pretty complicated. For example, you had to come up with an idea for a web page. You had to decide what animated GIF to tile as your background. This wasn't inclusive enough for some people, and thus, the early 2000's were owned by LiveJournal.

Yes, with LiveJournal, the Internet's fourteen-year-olds could make ugly webpages without the hassle of coming up with a core concept. All they had to do was pick an ugly-ass template from a list of ugly ass templates, type up what they did that day, mention what was on the stereo while they were typing it, and wham, bam, thank you social networking! And it had comments, so other people could provide the content FOR YOU. It was perfect.

At least, for a while. Unfortunately, fourteen year olds don't stay fourteen forever, and LiveJournal's user base began to age. Goth free verse about freshman year became goth free verse about senior year, and the fourteen-year-olds needed a hangout yet again. So one company looked to the past, and remembered what made the old Internet so awful in the first place: ugly backgrounds, and horrible music playing automatically as soon as a webpage loaded.

They took those lessons, applied them to the LiveJournal model, and voila! MySpace was born. And that's where the fourteen year olds, along with the huge multinational corporations who feel it's in their best interest to be mistaken for fourteen-year-olds, have taken root. Eventually, MySpace will lose its spark, someone will come up with helper software that will allow non-nerd fourteen year olds to build structures in Second Life, and the cycle will repeat itself all over again.

And no, I don't want to hear about how your GeoCities page has carefully hand-coded HTML and no blink tags. Nor do I want to hear about how you use your LiveJournal account to manage your hectic social schedule. For that matter, if your MySpace page allows you to make important connections to your artistic community, keep it the fuck to yourself. You're still hanging around the edge of the playground where the fourteen-year-olds go for recess, and it's still creepy.

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