If you’ve been on the Internet for a while – in my case, something like 25 years – you know that the Web of today looks very little like the Web of yesterday.
In some cases that’s a good thing. I don’t think many people miss blinking text, or “under construction” icons, or auto-playing MIDI music. On the other hand, Web pages are a lot larger than they used to be, packed with ads and interstitials, and I’d rather have auto-playing MIDI than auto-playing video.
If you’d like to take a step back in Internet time, to when Web pages were smaller and less advanced, check out Wiby.me, a search engine that launched at the beginning of October. It’s designed to find only smaller Web pages (which usually means older Web pages.)
Even its front page will remind you of Google’s earlier, spartan beginnings. There’s a search box and a “surprise me” link, with two links on the right for submitting a page and settings. (There’s only one setting that I saw: the option to filter out adult content. It is on by default and I left it on.)
Possibly for the first time ever I’m going to advise you not to start with a search when playing with Wiby. Instead, hit that Surprise Me link, because you’ll be off on a wonderful wave of nostalgia. You might get this:
You’ll see this last screenshot is not an old page at all. It’s just a small, fast-loading page. That’s why I noted at the beginning of this article that Wiby’s search usually means older pages, but not always.
But a lot of the time it does mean older Web pages, and a Web you don’t see as much anymore; people building Web sites for things they love and find interesting, not for sites they want to game to the top of Google results for tons of ad revenue. Not for selling items they’re getting dropshipped from Alibaba. Stuff they love and want to share.
Geez, any minute now I’m going to tell you to get off my lawn. Let me throttle back and talk about Wiby’s search.
Wiby’s search has no instructions and I can see no advanced options. So I did a search for cows.
The results, as you can see, are all over the place. Belly dancing, “yo mama” jokes, paranormal topics, etc. A bit on cows, but not much. (For comparison, do a search for cows on Bing or DuckDuckGo. Your results are going to be wall-to-wall bovine.) Also, that page of results in the screenshot? That’s it. There are no more results for that keyword search.
Normally when I check out a search engine I run a search for strawberry shortcake because I want to see how the results are divided between the strawberry shortcake the decent dessert and Strawberry Shortcake the relentlessly twee and irritating 1980s cultural element.
(Maybe I am going to start telling you to get off my lawn.)
Doing this for Wiby seemed pointless since a single-word search was so off-base. But I tried it anyway.
All the results for this one, but even with only half-a-dozen results the pages managed to be all over the place, from recipes to redneck jokes to strawberry Pop-Tart blow torches. (And from what I can see, no mention of 1980s Strawberry Shortcake.)
There doesn’t appear to be much in the line of search modifiers for Wiby. Searching for strawberry -shortcake provides the same results as searching for strawberry shortcake. Searching for “strawberry shortcake” brought zero results, and searching for “three * mice” also came up zero.
It became clear to me after playing with this search engine for a bit that it was not going to go on my “useful search engine” shelf. It was not going to become part of my search tool box that I could go to when I had a tricky search problem.
But this is a heck of a resource to use when you’re just poking around, want a better sense of what the Internet used to be like, or you want to surface things you’d be unlikely to find nowadays. How else would I come across a page from 2001 about 14-year-old Zack and his pet corn snakes? When would I have noticed the online glass museum, via its page on glass fishing floats? How would I have found that article about Heraclitus of Ephesos?
I cannot recommend Wiby as a tool for serious search. I can, however, recommend it as a tool for nostalgia, exploring, and creativity. Have fun.