Landing Pages: The Death of the “Web”
One of the coolest ideas we were taught when learning about the World Wide Web in the 1990s and early 2000s was the fact that sites on the “web” could all be interconnected. The web was going to be a revolution in how we learn, interact, communicate, and share because of that interconnectedness and lack of centralization. From “a series of tubes” to the “networked computers” descriptor to the “Information Super Highway” – the internet being framed as a massive network of interconnected computers all sharing and distributing data to each other across an open protocol specifically implied multidirectional communication. The web of today very much does NOT resemble this. In fact in “Web 2.0” (or Web 2.5 or Web 5 or whatever the hell equivalent we would be in by this point) controlled by corporations and social media hellsites has been built to be kind of the opposite. Social media platforms have transformed from being the cool place to hang out on the internet when you didn’t have anything else to do, to trying to be your entire internet. While virtually every major platform has engaged in this awful behavior – with Twitter and YouTube being other obnoxious and notable examples – Facebook has perhaps been the worst about locking users into a singular platform. [Hell, even just the fact that these websites have gone from “website” to “app” to “platform” give you the hints at these changes in the first place.] Facebook is often heralded as being the entire online experience for populations in many countries – especially those late in getting widespread home internet access. That is fucking terrifying. Between deprioritizing any post that links out of Facebook (or Twitter, YouTube, replace any major platform here) to bullying news outlets and media companies to posting entirely natively on Facebook instead of using their own infrastructure and publications to algorithmically deciding what a user should or shouldn’t like... Facebook tends to be the shining example of everything that can go wrong when someone is stuck in a singular walled garden online. [Thank goodness AOL didn’t stick around and become a retention-focused corporation, eh?]
This problem, however, can be traced to another, much more innocuous, source as well: Landing Pages. Researching anything about marketing online assuredly floods you with tons of blogs, newsletters, ads, and AI-regurgitated nonsense about Landing Pages. They’re a marketer’s wet dream. It sounds fancy, but it’s as the name implies – a page for your potential user base or customer base to “land on” for you to then up-sell them into buying your goods, apparel, courses, or signing up for a paid subscription. If you want to sell things online, you’re supposed to buy advertising elsewhere and make sure you have the most amazeballs Landing Page to ensure whomever lands on it buys your thing. These pages are also a “dead end” on the web. It’s where users go to get cornered into either buying a thing or closing their tab/window. This blog post is an expansion on “Every site needs a Links Page / Why linking matters” via Melon’s Thoughts. Melon describes webpages that link to other websites made by other people as “positive citizens” of the web, and those that do not as “negative citizens” and “dead weight” and I could not agree more. While there are obviously going to be no end of exceptions, It’s pretty easy to tell if a website is there to participate in the web at large or just try to sell you something (even something “free”) by whether or not it links out. Melon writes: “Links are the lifeblood of the web, and linking to other sites is a declaration of independence. [...] Linking to other sites is an act of rebellion; but its also an act of meditation, and of ego death – linking to the work of others is a way of celebrating their achievements and by doing so, gaining dignity for yourself and your work. You deserve to be part of the web, not its final destination; and there is respect in knowing that. Its a two way street, a conversation, and a collaboration.” (Read the rest on their blog, linked above, of course.)
Describing the process of linking out as “ego death” really stood out to me, because that’s ultimately what it is: Ego. Whether you’re an alien with a human mask on running Facebook or a content creator building out a personal page, modern/corporate social media has convinced us all to focus on “me me me”. Describe yourself, link your other profiles on these approved platforms, give us your personal information, upload a photo of yourself regularly. It’s all about the “me” when a website should be participating in the web on the whole. Connecting.
The web used to be optimized primarily for this, too. Search engine performance was, in no small part, determined by the number of “backlinks” pointing to your website or post; the more people who link back to you, the more valuable your page must be for a given topic. Most blog platforms were originally built with this in mind, with Wordpress still having legacy ping/trace back features left in. Tumblr’s entire “post history” is a modern representation of this idea, too, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Marketing ruined this, however. “Number of backlinks” was an easy metric to game after a certain point and thus stopped being a valuable metric. Not being a SEO metric is no excuse to just stop linking to each other, however. As I’ve been exploring the web with new eyes and browsing as much of the “old web” as I can, I quickly noticed a pattern. I get so bored and turned off when everything I find is about a specific person. Context: I really love discovering new, cool shit online. It’s been the biggest thing that kept me glued to a screen since I was a kid. I was a DIGG and StumbleUpon addict. But those kinds of services have gone away, because the majority of the “stuff to find” has turned into “content” locked to a tiny handful of platforms – and thus YouTube and Twitter’s algorithms have supplanted the likes of StumbleUpon, inherent to that shift. Theoretically, places like Reddit could serve as a similar alternative for me. It has much of the required formula for it. The problem is, in the majority of subreddits (at least relevant to my interests/that I’ve found so far) most of the posts are about the poster in some way. “Hey I did this,” “hey guys did you see this, here’s my thoughts” “anger rawr”. Most of the time, I just don’t care. I’m exhausted of hearing about what random people want to argue about online. Thankfully, the about/wiki pages for some of the super-niche subreddits I find sometimes have “the good stuff” in that they link to external guides, blogs, resources on the subject – and those end up being far more valuable and interesting than the vast majority of posts in the sub. [Shouts out to my recent rabbit-holes in r/cyberDeck and r/journaling. Good stuff there.] I felt similarly when browsing many of the pages on Neocities. I’ve been trying to dig in there more, and there are a lot of wonderful pages, but there’s also a lot of “hey this is my page, this is me, here’s more of me, byeeee!” Without linking out to anything else, giving me anywhere else to go once I’ve finished taking in what you’ve said or shown. Sucks. I hadn’t thought about it that deeply before, but it’s genuinely a poor experience when I browse a website and have to close the tab and open up something else, rather than clicking out to a new thing from that webpage, continuing my online journey. That same logic is why YouTube heavily prioritizes long “watch sessions” for viewers and video performance, as videos that keep viewers clicking through to more videos and watching for longer are obviously providing better experiences and thus should get recommended more often. I just want more of that... reaching out to the rest of the web, you know?
Finding individual websites/blogs in this regard can help, especially when you find them in your niche. HackerNews and HackADay are great examples of this for me, and part of what sent me down my renewed CyberDeck obsession rabbit hole. But you’ve gotta be able to find those places in the first place. It’s so much harder to find the cool shit online when everyone keeps trying to keep you isolated to their page.
Even if you aren’t trying to build a community with your particular web page, don’t be “dead weight.” Give a potential reader somewhere else to go. Is your page about your craft or art in some way? Link out to some of the tools you use, outside explainers of the techniques you like, or other people who do what you do. Are you a content creator? Link to other content creators in your niche! Are you hosting a small personal page and blog? Join a webring! There’s always something new you can offer a site reader to keep their web-surfing going. Over on my EposVox site I have some external resources linked on a few services, but then I also have my Cool Tools page that links a bunch of the cool apps and tools that I use for my work and computer use. I hope to do a lot more features like that.
Go ahead. Take the step share something on your website that doesn’t belong to you. Accept that you’re not the most important person in the world and that someone who lands on your page would be delighted to see more cool stuff that you can point them to.
Make the net weird again.