thoughts on tech from a tilde perspective

the launch of tilde.wtf

July 04, 2020 — ~cyrus

In 2014, I had come across Paul Ford's post about starting the first tilde.club on a whim. I had applied to join immediately, but never heard back. The train had already sailed, and I missed it. Months later, in December 2014 I received the following email from Paul:

Hello there. Some time ago you signed up to join tilde.club, which is just a Linux server on the Internet. This is great--we'd love to have you be part of tilde.club! EXCEPT for one thing: There are thousands of people on the waiting list now. We can't support them all on one machine.


As a massive unix geek, it was a bummer but I moved on. Fast forward to a few days ago when I stumbled across it again and saw the experiment had continued to grow and expand to an entire tildeverse!

It's extremely refreshing to explore a small weird corner of the Internet that's NOT monetized, optimized for virality, nor imbued with the growth-at-all-costs mentality. The tilde communities are something different, something deliberately slow, and something dorky that live outside the confines of the technology juggernauts that pervade our landscape today. Communities of people coming together online to foster the original spirit of the Internet -- back when its potential was a promise and not a regret.

Even as a full throated technologist, I cannot help but be saddened a bit when I look around the Internet today. Few use anything more than the World Wide Web (WWW), and that WWW has turned into something that is insanely resource hungry.

In more ways than one:

Computers don't feel faster today to most people, despite massive leaps in CPU capabilities, because it somehow became a good idea to build applications that require an entire web browser embedded within each one.

The Internet companies that survived the awkward teenage years of the WWW now actively exploit and harm their own users chasing short-sighted financial quarter growth.

It wasn't that long ago when logging onto the Internet was an exciting thing because it had so much potential. You did not know what you would find -- and what you did find was usually something uniquely goofy because it was made by a fellow human being that surprisingly went through the trouble to learn HTML, find a viable hosting provider, use FTP, and upload their webpage to the exciting WORLD WIDE WEB! But as the WWW continued to grow, things started to head in a different direction. The Internet and the WWW had been designed to operate in a decentralized manner. Despite this, it began to morph into something more centralized and concentrated around large tech companies. We stopped owning any of our own digital space anymore.

The sharp turning point I remember of this was during the heyday of MySpace.com. It was one of the early social networks that rose to massive popularity. It had the now-unthinkable feature of allowing you to customize your own pages with CSS. People spent hours learning, cursing at, and hacking their own webpages. Oh man were most of these webpages awful eyesores! Designs that looked like they were done by someone who just snorted pixie sticks. But dammit, they taught people a little bit of computers! They had charm. They were human. They were fun!

Then Facebook took off like a rocket and stole all of Tom's friends. Then twitter, then reddit, etc. Everyone must now fit into the same cookie cutter textbox sharing the same bullshit over and over again with each other until we die. It's no longer fun to use the Internet. And frankly, a surprising amount of it has become outright toxic.

So I see ~tilde communities as an (albeit esoteric) oasis from the "status-driven guilt-spewing shit volcano" that is the modern Internet. I want an Internet that's weird and fun. Designed and made by people and not large conglomerates.

The launch of tilde.wtf is my attempt at snorting a pixie stick. Join me.

tags: tilde