Contextual data: the modern web's joker
It's easy to confuse a desire for simplicity with a return to the old days before several important innovations changed our expectations of what the internet could do. The chief culprit here is the smartphone with GPS, a device that continues to define how the modern web is used – it's become completely mobile. With the creation of apps, there's an expectation that websites must be fast and responsive to all kinds of inputs – and especially geographic location.
"Web 1.0 was less complex, but also offered less contextual information," says Byrnes-Fraser. "Citymapper is more complex than any way-finding application of the old web, but is significantly more useful … people now expect the web to respond to their location, device, preferences and update dynamically." In that sense, the yearning for Web 1.0 only goes so deep.
Ello, and Facebook's Rooms app
Ello is a social media network built on the freemium model. Created in 2014 as a response to Facebook and Twitter, Ello doesn't feed data on retweets and 'likes' to advertisers. Its one million plus users also get a minimalist design that recalls the early days of the internet. "Ello saw an opportunity to design a clean user interface with a minimal feature set," says Byrnes-Fraser. "Making it ad-free is a nod towards some people's desire not to see ads."
If Ello could be considered a Web 1.0 fashion statement, so could Facebook's latest app, Rooms, an anonymous message board where people can connect with others all over the world. However, Byrnes-Fraser also argues that it's exactly the proliferation of user-data collected about people's online behaviour – and its analysis – that is behind a new desire for simpler, more tailored websites, and the birth of niche apps, that can all be mistaken for a revival of Web 1.0.
"Facebook must have seen specific use-cases in their current groups functionality that led to a decision to split-out a separate service," says Byrnes-Fraser. "Isolating use-cases of activities makes sense on complicated service," he adds. "Facebook did the same with its Messenger application."
Put simply, user data is allowing developers to identify specific kinds of users for the first time; all we're seeing now is new services being developed in response.
The problem with Web 1.0
Put down those rose-tinted spectacles – Web 1.0 was an impossible maze. "Things might have seemed simpler in the days of Web 1.0, but finding obscure content online was an uphill battle," says Mark Thomas, Managing Director of DeepCrawl, an auditor of website architecture. "Search is key to the modern day web experience, and search in 1.0 was virtually non-existent."
At the core of the modern web is the desire to create a simple user experience where search is effortless, but doing exactly that often relies on complex website structures. However, it's a two-way street. "This 'connecting' and 'sharing' has created a web that allows mass user collaboration, but has had the unintentional by-product of building an environment that can sometimes feel unnecessarily intrusive."
It may seem a lazy distinction, but the web can be divided into two main eras; pre-Google, and post-Google. Search was impossible, and now it's easy… too easy? "Web 2.0 has ushered in an age where we can reliably find obscure information, but we must deal with the reality that we ourselves are more susceptible to discovery," says Thomas. "Perhaps the desire to go backwards comes from a fear that we have shared too much of ourselves online, especially when using social networks and search engines."
The search for simplicity
There may be a growing demand for 'retro' web frameworks, but the yearning for Web 1.0 – for the 'quiet internet' – isn't really a movement. "Simplicity isn't a movement," says Byrnes-Fraser. "The web will evolve to adapt to people's understanding of it … as a user uses a service it will adapt to their level of understanding."
The desire for simplicity will never go away, thinks Thomas: "The challenge lies with web builders to balance the need for a more complex and connected web with the psychology of the humans who will use it."