You Are Allowed to Build a Website and Put It on the Internet

It used to be easier to build a website. It's still not very hard, but it's harder than it needs to be.

Back in Ye Olden Thymes of the Internet1, my dial-up connection came with a stingy generous allotment of a few megabytes where I could put whatever files I wanted, and I could tell people to go to and they might take a look. There were a few HTML tutorials out in the world, but I eventually bought a book on HTML so I could pretend like I knew what I was doing, and also so I could learn about this HTML stuff without being tying up the phone line all night. I read the book from cover to cover2.

That book turned out to be a decent introduction to how web pages worked, but I learned a lot more by just jumping in and trying to do something. This worked out pretty well since basic HTML isn't all that complicated, and web browsers are forgiving enough that you can make a lot of mistakes and you'll still get something resembling a web page, even though it's maybe not exactly what you wanted3. Basically, it turns out that with a little elbow grease, you, too could make a few web pages about your favorite topic4 and you could put them somewhere that someone else could get to them pretty easily.

HTML was also simple enough that if you went to a page and the author did something particularly interesting, you could look at the source of the website5 to not only see how they did it, but also copy it, change it, and integrate it into your own web pages if you wanted. That's how I did a lot of my early web design, such as it was. Somewhere along the way, though, ISPs stopped giving out web server space as part of thier services6 and hosting at home became a chore, so I eventually moved to a hosting provider to set up my web presence, then another one, and then too many more7.

I think about this chain of events a lot when I look at most of the Modern Web™. I put myself in the shoes of a neophyte to the whole World Wide Web experience that wants to make their own website or even a few web pages for whatever reason. I've maybe even heard about this View -> Source trick so I look at my favorite website to see what the code does that generates the page... and... oh, dear.

I'm overwhelmed by what I see. I see an impenetrable mess of garbage that doesn't mean anything to me at all. What are all of these weird characters and what looks like computer code that I can't read. I decide pretty quickly that web pages are really complicated and I'd have to be some kind of computer-programmer-genius or something to do this stuff. It's way too complicated for me to bother with.

Maybe I take a different tack, though. Maybe I haven't yet heard of View -> Source and I decide to search for 'how to make a website' and I find a few tutorials. As of this writing8 nearly every tutorial I find tells me that I should use something called Wordpress or Drupal or some other software to make a blog9, but precious little information if I want to make something that isn't a blog10. Do I even realize that I can make something that isn't a blog?

I'm getting close to ranting here, but my point is this: it should be easy to throw together a few pages to show off whatever it is you want to show off11. And you can make it look reasonably good with really not that much effort. But where can you put it so that other people can see it? Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and et cetera usually win by default because they're easier.

Of course, this whole discussion might be moot anyway. Do many of your friends and family (or even you, dear Reader) visit sites other than Facebook or Twitter or some other news aggregator? On purpose? How often do you get an itch to find out something about something, and you go somewhere besides Wikipedia or Google first? Or do you go to your favorite search engine and end up on Wikipedia anyway? I'm not saying that these things aren't useful, but the way the Web was structured allowed unprecedented access to a worldwide platform where you could take a piece of it and make it into whatever you wanted. We've taken that idea and turned it into a place where the perception is that unless you have a lot of technical knowledge, a team of programmers, a whole lot of money, or some combination of all those things, then all you get to do is to make your thing on top of what someone else already made. It's roughly like saying that you want to be a writer, but the only way to get published is to start a publishing company or send it off to Reader's Digest12, who prints nearly everything they get in a way that maximizes their ad revenue, which they get to keep. You get nothing.13

The landscape of the Web has almost completely changed due to how people use it. That was expected and is inevitable. I'm not complaining about that14. But I do think that we, as citizens of the Internet15 have a duty to keep the ideas of the World Wide Web and the Internet alive. To educate people that it is possible to carve out a niche on the Web and put up a poster of whatever thing you want. That you don't have to rely on some other website being up for your content to still be there. That you're absolutely allowed and encouraged to make your mark on the Web in the way you want to, if you want to. That the web and the Internet are absolutely not exclusively the domain of companies with millions of dollars or techno-wizards. That, for a few dollars, you, yes, you, can create a space that is yours to do with it (mostly) what you want. If you're smart enough to be able to get to this web page, then you're smart enough to put together a basic web page that tells your story in exactly the way you want it to be told.

There's value in that. Value that we shouldn't lose. The Internet should16 be a vivid tapestry where as many participants as possible add their unique colors and patters to enhance the beauty of the whole, not a featureless grey mush designed by committee to maximize the extraction of ad revenue. And I'll do everything I can to make sure that at least one tiny corner of the World Wide Web lives up to that ideal for as long as I can17.


  1. For the purposes of this article, we're talking about the 1990's
  2. For some reason
  3. It turns out that computers are really good about doing exactly what you tell them to do, and not what you think you told them to do
  4. It was not uncommon for most of the web space that ISPs gave out to be full of pictures of cats or humblebrags about the user's family. Basically longer-form Facebook posts but with more sparkle .gifs and eye-searing color schemes.
  5. By using the cleverly-hidden menu option View -> Source
  6. Which I didn't notice because I decided to get a broadband connection, bought a domain, and started hosting my own website from a server in my kitchen*
    • They hate that, and it's now against the terms of service for most residential internet service providers.*
      • It was technically against the terms of service then, too, but it wasn't really enforced
  7. Some old habits die hard, I guess
  8. July 2019
  9. Most websites now are blogs of some kind, which is disappointing for a whole host of reasons I won't get into in this article
  10. Heresy, I know
  11. Which you can do right now on your own computer with tools no more complicated than a text editor and a web browser*
    • Unless you do something foolish like decide to make a website using XML, then you find out that Chrome hates you*
      • It turns out that Chrome hates you anyway
  12. Not that I have anything in particular against Reader's Digest, of course, this is just a hypothetical example.
  13. <img src="WillyWonkaYouGetNothing.gif" />
  14. Much
  15. Or, 'netizens', if you will.
  16. In my opinion, of course.
  17. I encourage everyone to join me by going to, going through the tutorials, and showing me what you've got.

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