MySpace, StumbleUpon, GeoCities, LiveJournal, Tumblr — the early internet thrived on user-driven, customizable experiences that, while rudimentary in design, clunky in function, and altogether useless for major brands (i.e., not monetizable or targettable), offered humans some of the earliest opportunities for representing themselves online.
Two decades later, across multiple transformational eras of the internet (more on this below), what can we learn from these now archaic — and predominantly extinct — platforms? To start, let's set the stage of the golden age of the web and the subsequent erosion of online customization that followed.
These early platforms referenced above were among the first to offer users a customizable digital sandbox that lacked the restrictions — and intrusive, expensive, increasingly ineffective advertising practices — that is now commonplace across tech. These were platforms on which people created, not platforms on which products were sold.
FAANG companies undoubtedly standardized the internet user experience. These companies built easier ways for people to create and disseminate information while creating the ability for the world's biggest brands to reach these new, content-craving audiences through new experiences and digitally-native business models. However, FAANG-style companies have also contributed to the flattening of the once-loved, now-nostalgic digital aesthetic, eliminating (or narrowing) users' ability to find customization online.
Example: go to StumbleUpon right now, and you'll just get dragged between identical Pinterest boards.