Letters from Somnolescent April 1, 2023

mariversary 4.0: Revisiting Nostalgiamining

by mariteaux

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have enough to talk about for a fourth Neocities retrospective post. I was only on that site for about ten months, for God’s sake. I covered the year afterwards, I covered all my old Supporter’s sites, and I talked about my very first site design in years past. What else could I possibly revisit?

Passion. There’s two essays I wrote back then that somehow, somewhere, continue to get found, circulate, and stir people up. They’ve taken on a life of their own separate from me. People I’ve never met somehow find these buried deep in the Somnolescent Archives and pass them around, sometimes agreeing, sometimes arguing. I’ve yet to retell the story, so let’s return to nostalgiamining, forging the future, passion, Neocities, and why all this shit still matters to folks.

The preamble

Neocities is long in my rear view mirror. I joined the site at 18 and left it at 19; I’m going to be 24 in June. I can only retell the stories of meming on Hyperlink, having Districts stolen from us by what was essentially a (one-sided) jilted lover, getting banned, and establishing Somnolescent for real so many times. I joined the Quake singleplayer mapping scene for a beat in 2018 too. I shut down VDU in 2018! I went to college for a bit in 2018! You never hear about that stuff because I don’t think about it, because it’s almost five years old now.

Still, let me set the scene. It’s September 2018. I was already known as an argumentative sort, a lot of strong opinions and insults to dish out, but a lot of care too. In full disclosure, I was still hanging out with some truly awful people at the time, and I wasn’t good at taking care of myself. I was an asshole. I promise you, though, every step of the way, it was heartfelt. I wasn’t shy about tearing down what frustrated me, but when I saw stuff I loved, I wanted to celebrate it.

That’s where my frustration started. Neocities felt like a mess of very impersonal personal sites. I would find a page of cloud backgrounds, 88×31 buttons, and “under construction” GIFs, and I’d come away cold, nothing learned about who made it and certainly nothing there to love. I never thought it looked any good (not that those things can’t look good), but most of all, it felt like a put-on.

It was never about tearing down people who aren’t good at HTML or people with no aesthetic taste, as people seem to erroneously think sometimes. We all start somewhere. It was always about those things being used as a substitute for personality, and seeing the biggest sites on the platform (your anlucas‘ and melonkings) be of this ilk made me feel like Neocities was one big ironic joke, shorthand for “cool” and “retro” without being either.

I could ask myself why I gave so much of a shit about what other people were up to, and I could say this entire crusade says as much about me as it does about them. Needless to say, I try my best not to be a gadfly these days, because it is obnoxious and I think it looks better on an 18-year-old with too much free time than a 24-year-old looking to move on in life. Either way, I opened Notepad++ and took aim.


Nostalgiamining refers to the cherry-picking of arbitrarily defined “retro” elements in an attempt at revivalism. Rather than do anything unique with or make some kind of commentary about these elements, nostalgiaminers haphazardly stick shit together in an attempt to be charming or to mask a complete lack of creativity. This can affect any medium, but it’s rampant on Neocities.

I’ve always believed, if you’re going to complain about a problem, you better give a solution as well. “Nostalgiamining vs. Forging the Future” truly was one-half complaint and one-half solution. I raved and even called people out for doing this exact thing, but then I shouted out five sites at the end that totally bucked the trend in various ways, being ultra-modern, being ultra-minimalist, or being ultra-handcrafted. I reminded people that Geocities, even at its tackiest, had more to offer, collections of game mods or people’s fanfiction. What made it so special was the love and genuineness put into it, something Neocities felt sorely lacking.

These days, I’m ambivalent to the idea that Geocities was much different than Neocities. From what I’ve seen of the backups and of places like Restorativland, you get the “I’ll update this soon” blank pages about as much as you do on Neocities. It was a different site with a different dynamic. Neocities is still used as a self-conscious revival of tackiness, whereas Geocities was a lot more genuine in its love of tack, but it doesn’t pan out much different on the whole. (Geocities walks still rule though. That one diamond always makes up for all the chaff.)

The post is kinda blowhard; both of them are. I had a belief (and still do) that opinion writing should be used to challenge people. I was very confrontational. I don’t think that was necessarily a bad thing in that time and that context. After the post came out, I was seeing people inspired by it, people who pushed past the frontward spikiness and built new sites about their hobbies or things important to them. I was also seeing a lot of people offended. I probably would lay off the insults now, but if you get past those, I think my point holds up reasonably well.

I soon realized that the issue wasn’t so much the look, but how it was being used. I made hints towards it in the nostalgiamining essay, but in thinking about it more, I realized that it was less an issue with animated GIFs and 88x31s (which I love, honest) and more an issue with people not using their sites for anything new or interesting. In my view, even personal sitebuilding is still making something for an audience. If you do the safe thing everyone else is doing, talking about coding and being self-deprecating, it starts to feel…dispassionate.


Too many people on this platform see the terminology—”new Geocities”, “free web page”, “creativity”, “beauty”—and immediately make an account, never once stopping to think if they have anything to actually offer the site or its users. This is a common issue among the early adopters of any medium: you’re here because it’s new, it’s shiny, and it said “free web page”. Once the novelty began to wear off, I’m sure many of you hit a rather familiar wall: “what do I do with my site?”

“Neocities and a Lack of Passion” is the more remembered of the two essays, and it’s the one that still rings the most true to me. I put it nicer these days, but I’m still allergic to irony. I still think people should push themselves to be more genuine, to love things without conditions, to be true to themselves regardless of how it looks to other people. Someone will always have an issue with what you do; honestly, even at the time, I considered someone being more genuine to spite me a win, because I was that committed to this cause.

It wasn’t long after I wrote this that I started work on the original Neocities Districts with caby and dcb, and in months, we had hundreds of really cool sites banked up and linked out. I think the issue was more discoverability than anything else. Back when I used it, Neocities ranked the browse page by default by most followed, meaning the people you first see on the site (and are most likely to follow) are the ones who already have the biggest audience. New sites needed to be aggressively active in the community, either onsite or offsite, to gain a foothold. That was partially what Districts was built to address.

If I had to criticize anything with what I wrote, it’d be my use of the word “passion”. I think it’s a fine word for the topic, but there’s a lot of, again, blowhard-y connotations to it, like you have to put your actual blood, sweat, and tears into some goofy free web host. If I were to rewrite it now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d probably use the term “fun” instead. That basically gets across the same idea, that these sites aren’t particularly interesting or memorable, while admitting that, yes, like folks tried to tell me time and again back then, this is all for fun.

mari’s essays live on

I got plenty of reaction to the posts when I wrote them. Some people started new sites, people agreed with me, and some people started to see me as their mortal enemy. It’s really the reactions I got long after I left that intrigue me. A couple times a year, I still get emails about these damn essays. I’ve gotten people seeking out my Discord tag because they read my essays and want to talk about it. The most recent one was February of this year.

The reactions range from glowing:

Hi! I just finished reading your essays “neocities and a lack of passion” and the followup “revisiting passion” while working on my own site and oh my gosh i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I felt so strongly that I had to be one of those “i like javascript” kids because it’s what everyone else did. I was so hung up on getting this piece of code “looking” perfect that i had entirely forgotten why i wanted to even make a site in the first place. I’m genuinely still shaking as I write this, your essays were amazing !!

To decidedly mixed:

Since you said in one of your essays that you appreciate honesty, I’m gonna be completely honest here: I would not be friends with you if I knew you in real life. You seem like one of those obnoxious assholes who use “facts don’t care about your feelings” as an excuse to say unnecessarily mean and hurtful shit because it makes you feel smarter than everyone else.

That being said, I’m writing this because I just wanted to say thank you. It was interesting to read all your rants and hear your opinion about what a good Neocities blog should and shouldn’t be. Your arguments have given me some useful advice that I’ll try my best to follow when I eventually create my blog.

To, well, I don’t think they like me much:

Seeing as how Mari wrote those articles around the time he was about to enter college, I can only assume that he was a disgruntled “just-turned-18” adult who thinks they’re smarter than everyone else. I don’t blame him, though, because I used to be like that as well. However, at least I was smart enough to not say Neocities was “filled with autism”, or call the Neocities founder a “faggot” who hopefully gets AIDS. But sure, Mari, it’s the users here who are being unreasonable, surely not you! Heavens, no! *end sarcasm*

(In fairness to that last person, I did reach out and explained where I was coming from and the circumstances around the posts, and they posted a follow-up in reply to our chat. I just found the original response amusing and quite apt.)

And that’s really my reply to any reaction you’ve got to these posts. It’s probably apt. I had good points, but I was a teenage edgelord and that turns people off. Back then and still now, if people like it, hate it, disagree with it, agree fully with it–I think that’s totally fair. I don’t regret them, though, to be clear. I have nothing to regret about them. I’ve grown from the way I presented myself in them. They were written that way on purpose, and while I wouldn’t put it like I did nowadays, I feel like it’s more than understandable for a stressed, abused teenager to have written what I did.

I think these essays were important, and given that I still get mail about them, I still see them linked to, and given that the term “nostalgiamining” got posted to goddamn Urban Dictionary by someone I don’t recognize, maybe they still are important. Outside of the two Deluxe mod projects I was a part of (their sites now shuttered), I haven’t seriously used Neocities since 2019 or so, so I can’t say what the situation looks like these days–and anyway, I’ve been trying to work more on myself and what struggles I have before I point more fingers.

You can get the word I made up on a mug! A MUG!

Either way, happy mariversary! (Coincidentally right around the one year of me being employed mark!) I did want to order that mug in time for this post, but I forgot this was coming up and got blindsided this morning when Caby mentioned it. I’m sure I’ll buy it sometime, just because.

About mariteaux

Somnolescent's webmaster with way too much to write about and a stack of CDs he'll never finish.

10 comments on "mariversary 4.0: Revisiting Nostalgiamining"

  • Jacob says:

    mariteaux, the inventor of the neocities red pill. i have also seen it linked around. even if you are embarrassed of your old writings, they do still have their charm whether you can see it or not. it’s a product of it’s time and that’s all right.

    • mariteaux says:

      Not embarrassed at all, even said that in the post! Nothing to regret, nothing to feel ashamed about. Wrote ’em exactly how I intended them, just don’t think I need to go that hard these days if I were to write another essay like that. Absolutely products of their time, and fuzzy in that sorta weird way.

  • dcb says:

    This was a lovely read. Nice to see a post on the legacy of those ol essays. Fun and genuinity, the ‘1.0’ web lives or dies with that. I could point at specific things but it’s not necessarily about what elements are being used, it’s how they’re employed, if it’s coming from the heart,,

    And it really was about the friends we made along the way, huh

  • lime360 says:

    this essay is epic.

    i mostly see personal sites from tech specialists that use an ssg and put this on github pages (some on neocities) and that what my current site layout is inspired by!


  • Slimy says:

    Years after you left, the nostalgiamining essay somehow managed to be one of the first things I found on Neocities after joining and suddenly realizing there was a “community” tacked onto the free web host. I didn’t know you wrote a bunch of retrospectives about it, I guess being siloed off in an archive obscured that.

    A new(?) Neocities trend is to use a popular template without even changing the colors or header picture. I don’t really care if a bunch of teenagers mess around in HTML and post it, but I do wish they’d put in more effort than that. Maybe people below a certain age are used to the idea of a website being a no-content profile, but it’s true GeoCities wasn’t any better in terms of empty sites. What’s GeoCities walks by the way?

    • mariteaux says:

      Yeah, I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me to edit the retrospectives in as a preface to the text until fairly recently. Probably would’ve helped a lot of people not think I’m just out to pee in people’s potato salad if they got to see all the navelgazing I did afterwards. I have heard from other people that templates are largely what people do on Neocities now–why not just stick with Carrd in that case? Kids these days.

      “Geocities walks” takes off of “Wiki walks”, where you aimlessly browse various Geocities sites as opposed to looking for something specific. The journey and what sites you hit along the way become the thing you’re there for. Restorativland is the best for it because you get thumbnails when you’re scrolling through a neighborhood, which helps increase your odds of landing on something that isn’t completely dull.

  • Josef says:

    Personally, I think this (and all of your essays) are one of the most important things I’ve read. It generally made me stop worrying about looks and trying to capture that *nostalgic feel* when in reality, what made web hosts like these great weren’t aesthetics but personalities. Granted, I haven’t done much in terms of web *anything* lately but it leaves a great mark in what I try to share to the world.

    Also, GeoCities walks seems like a fun idea, as is doing it on modern day NeoCities though I’ve scrolled through the “Explore” page and found lots of either barren websites or some that have not seen the light of day in months (definitely not me either). I’ve found some real nice gems though.

    • mariteaux says:

      Hey, sorry for the late validation, was on vacation with my GF…

      I have peeked through your site a little, and I definitely would like to see you do more with it. Just a matter of putting yourself into your sites, and a lot of people are too scared to do that. Understandably so, but it does make for rather depressive browsing. Hell, even time can be a struggle in that sense; I have so much to do for cammy.somnol, graphics to draw and now a trip diary for the three weeks I spent in the UK with Caby, but that’s what hobbies really are. Gotta make time for them if you love them.

  • Bird says:

    Congratulations for your articles.
    If all those kids want to be little artists, they have to deal with the critiques as well and refine their reasons, what and why they do.
    Keep your sharpness! People can learn from it.

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