Why I Love the Tiny Internet

September 27, 2023 · 6 min read

After recently recreating my personal website from the ground up, I’ve been reflecting a bit more on blogs and the internet more broadly. As someone born after 2000, I never really got to experience the internet in the same way that many talk about what “used to be”. I never experienced AOL chat rooms, IRC channels, or when forums used to dominate the internet. The internet that I came to know was one of centralized platforms: Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, you name it.

As much as these companies have come to control the modern internet, it’s refreshing to interact with the side of the internet that’s more immune to this influence. I’ve heard this part of the internet referred to as the “blogosphere” before, but I much prefer calling it the “tiny internet” to convey the endearing feeling associated with it. The tiny internet is comprised of small personal websites and blogs created by individuals. Most content on the tiny internet is focused on tech (since setting up such a website might require some slight technical knowledge), but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

The tiny internet’s focus on longer-form content (blog posts) and decentralization is exactly what makes it so great. Reading through content on Twitter might give you some short bursts of dopamine and have a low bar to entry, but at least for me, it’s not very fulfilling in the end. I never close Twitter and think to myself, “Those last twenty minutes were a good use of my time”. Contrast this with stumbling across a new blog post about an interesting topic, where you get a much more in-depth understanding of the topic and usually end up feeling grateful to learn about something new or to hear about someone’s opinion.

This brings us to a big question about the tiny internet: how does discoverability work? On Twitter and other social media platforms, finding content is never something that you have to worry about. There are always going to be more tweets, YouTube videos, or TikToks whenever you open up their respective apps. But with the tiny internet, finding content isn’t quite as easy.

I’m phrasing this as a problem to be solved, but it’s helpful to take a step back for a second. Is worse discoverability really a bad thing? We’ll get into how to find content on the tiny internet in a second, but it’s important to answer this question first. After being accustomed to large social media platforms, it seems like anything that strays from endless streams of content is somehow wrong. Instead, by rejecting this preconceived notion, it shows us that the tiny internet is actually doing us a favor in this regard.

The tiny internet doesn’t try to exploit our deepest human tendencies. It doesn’t have a profit incentive to increase the time we spend on the platform. It gives us a chance to consume content that we view as valuable, rather than whatever is thrown on our screens by an algorithm.

Now, this all sounds great, but how do you get started with reading content on the tiny internet? The tiny internet uses a tool called RSS to allow us to curate the content that we want to read. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it’s an open standard for exchanging web content in a structured format.

Most websites will provide a link to an RSS Feed, which lists the most recent posts on that site. These RSS feeds can be interpreted by an RSS Reader, which will display the RSS feeds that you pick in a simple user interface. I’ve enjoyed using NetNewsWire on MacOS and the iPhone (it’s free, open-source, and it even syncs with iCloud), but there are many other options out there for other platforms. Many sites will even embed the link to the RSS Feed into the HTML of each page, so an RSS Reader can automatically detect the feed.

Being able to “subscribe” to different blogs using RSS is great because it allows you to be updated when one of the blogs you’ve picked posts new content. But how are you meant to find websites to subscribe to in the first place? Occasionally, I’m able to find new blogs from ones I’m already subscribed to. It turns out that the good ol’ hyperlink is pretty good for discovering new websites to add.

Alternatively, it helps to use a centralized platform to find new posts on the decentralized tiny internet. Because I usually enjoy reading tech content, I tend to look for articles that were posted on HackerNews, and if I end up liking the post and the blog as a whole, I’ll add it to my RSS Reader. Even though the tiny internet might be a contrast to a platform like Reddit, I can imagine that it could also be helpful to find articles from blogs that people have posted there. If you’re trying to still feel like you’re not using some giant social media platform, it could help to stick to small subreddits and use the old version of Reddit. If you end up starting a website, you may want to consider posting links to your new articles on platforms like these to get the word out.

Many social media platforms support RSS Feeds as well, though you might need to do a bit of googling to find out how to do this easily. Even if the site doesn’t support RSS directly, there’s a pretty good chance that there are 3rd party services out there that will work just as well. For example, you’re able to get an RSS feed for a specific YouTube Channel, subreddit, or Twitter user.

If you’re considering starting a personal website or blog after hearing about the tiny internet, there are a few easy ways to get started. Many services that will help you create a website, while still preserving the decentralized aspect of the tiny internet. Bear Blog has got to be the simplest way to spin up a new website, and its creator has written at length about how the platform was designed for sustainability and longevity from the start. You’re even able to set up your own domain name to point to the domain that it automatically creates for you. WordPress is a classic option that might allow for a bit more customization, albeit at the cost of the simplicity of other platforms. And of course, you can always create your own website from scratch using web frameworks like Astro or Hugo if you want the greatest level of customization (this is what I did a few months ago, and the code is open source).

I hope that you’re able to see why I’ve come to love the tiny internet. It’s a refreshing change from the social media platforms that we’re used to by providing longer-form content, decentralization, and freedom from algorithm-driven content curation. Even if you’re not convinced to spin up a website, you still should consider downloading an RSS Reader and getting started exploring the tiny internet.

See also

Discuss this post on HackerNews: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37684566

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Zachary Robinson

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