As the Web turns 25, it seems to be the moment when old-timers (myself among them) look around and ask, “Are things getting better or worse online?”

The original sin of the Internet, Ethan Zuckerman writes in the Atlantic, is the underlying business model. Advertising and intrusive surveillance allow users to access services like Gmail and Facebook for “free” – quotes used here because they’re obviously not free – rather than simply asking customers to pay.

The Internet with a Human Face, which I linked to a few weeks ago, is really worth reading if you haven’t taken the time. Maciej Cegłowski, who founded Pinboard (which I highly recommend in my recent Cool Tools interview), delivers a strong indictment against the harmful effects of Google’s business model on the user experience online.

Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet, writes Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic. Not only is it not dead, as people have predicted, but it’s proven surprisingly resilient on mobile devices. (There’s still the question of how to manage your email, a skill which you can learn in three bullet points.)

Doomed to repeat it, writes Paul Ford, referring to programmers’ recurring attempts to “fix” email and todo lists with an endless series of new apps and platforms. (Personally I prefer my own todo list, Good Todo, which solves both problems – and as it turns 10 years old this year, has longer usage than any of the tools mentioned in the column.)

The bad customer experiences from Comcast and Time Warner are likely to continue, I argue in this Huffington Post article by Tim Stenovec.

On the other hand, today we have Wikipedia, and Meetup, and Duck Duck Go – all services that didn’t exist 25 years ago. There’s plenty to improve online, but plenty to celebrate as well.

  1. With the exception of web site speeds getting better, I think in general web experiences have worsened.

    It’s the Walmart clean aisle example in reverse. Pages have become so junked up to try to sell.

    I think the worst culprit is personalization. It’s almost always done poorly. I listened to a pitch from a known vendor in this space. Then they shiwed me three sites using their system. They, for the lack of a better word, sucked.

    I wonder if they included their customers?

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