When I joined Neocities back in 2019, one thing I noticed about almost every website I came across is that, no matter how simple a page was, it always had something unique to bring to the platform.
Maybe that's because back then, Neocities was only known to people who had a prior knowledge of Geocities, and missed the freedom it gave web designers.
But recently, Neocities has gained a lot more attention. So much so that it even experiences frequent downtimes from the amount of people trying to access it.
And with new users comes unfortunately, bad people.
and I don't mean bad as in evil or predatory, I mean someone who goes against EVERYTHING this site is and what it's community stands for.
Originality, expression, and passion.
Now there is another popular and well written blog post talking about Neocities' issue with a lack of passion, but I want to talk about one thing in particular. The real problem with stealing that has been going on in this platform.
A little background as to why I'm writing this.
Aparently a few weeks ago my website blew up on Tumblr. Bringing a lot of kids to Neocities whose only experience with the old web is "webcore."
I don't think I need to mention the fact Tumblr is... Tumblr. One of the most toxic circles on the web. A place where art theft and harassment runs rampant.
Of course not everyone was old enough to experience the old web for themselves at the time, so it's really great that a lot of younger folk are interested in such obsolete technology.
After all, most of us miss when everyone had their own little corner of the web.
So why gatekeep from those who are interested in having their own?
Personally, I think it's nice that a lot of younger people are interested in web design, and particularly HTML. It's most likely the freedom that comes with coding a website yourself. Or just the free nature of places like Neocities.
However, because of how accessible generators and templates and tools are nowadays, most people turn away learning HTML because it's too daunting. So why not just let the computer do it for you?
Let me start by saying, there's absolutely nothing wrong with using templates and tools. My very first website back in 2019 was built using a free-to-use template I found on Github.
It's hard to know where to start when you begin with nothing but an empty text document. It's so much easier to study how other people do it and learn what methods work for certain things, instead of starting completely from scratch.
...but there is a difference between learning from other people, and just leeching off their work because you don't want to learn how to do certain things.
Unfortunately, because so many people are being brought to Neocities from social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr recently, they're already used to using premade themes, or not having any customization at all.
The customization features that most social media provides are taken for granted. Most people dont think twice about the designer and programmer behind it.
When you're young and coming from a place where it doesn't matter what assets you use, and your profiles are built upon the same code, it's easy to assume it's just a standard practice.
But I can't blame them. These people most likely grew up on the social media we knew today. Myspace and Geocities were long gone by the time they were old enough to use the internet. The only thing the web serves as today, for these people, is a space to share and recieve images with a couple taps of a button.
Why learn how to <img src="picture.png"> when you can just hit send?
Back then, there were no profiles, and search engines were in their baby state or didn't even exist yet! You had to manually seek out people. You couldn't just scroll through a suggested list. That's what encouraged people to make their website a reflection of themselves, and customize it to their hearts content!
When people hear "HTML allows you to build a website exactly how you want it with no restrictions, rules, or guidelines" of course that sounds amazing!
But... learning a coding language is SOOOO HARD.
So what do we do if we want a super cool website without doing the hard work?
Hmm.. well this website generictitle.neocities.org seems like an awesome site! Maybe if I snatch their stylesheet, they won't notice! And I will have my own corner of the web without having to do ANY hard work! None at all! and I can just replace the images with my own... and BOOM. I'm an awesome coder developer guy! I have my own website. How COOL is that!?
I get you're excited. but this isn't social media.
These personal websites you spend no effort clicking through, are created by real people with real feelings.
and these people pour their heart and soul into making a website that is the truest reflection of who they are, with little guidelines.
When you steal, it shows how little respect you have for them.
DOKODEMO has been around for 2 years, and I have spent countless hours, days, WEEKS making this a unique and enjoyable experience for you.
I didn't have to put it out on the web for you. I dont owe you to view my hard work.
But I do, because I want to inspire people to make their own websites. and just because I'm one of the most popular Neocities sites, doesn't mean I'm not a person.
I'm 18 years old, I'm barely an adult. This website I have spent so much time and dedication on isn't worth less just because it's popular. I'm not some rich kid who went to school to learn how to code websites, this isn't my job. This is my hobby, my passion.
So when you think it's okay to steal my hard work, it shows how little respect you have towards me.
But it's not just me, it's everyone. And i've seen countless personal websites get stolen by people, regardless of it being popular or made 5 days ago.
Just because you see a cool website layout, doesn't mean it's free for you to use.
"Well, it's on the internet so that means it's free to use!"
Every single website on the entire internet has its source code available to use. And there is nothing we can do about it. That is how websites work.
But you wouldn't say the same for someones drawing, would you?
I mean, the png is right there, just right click and save-as! Right?
Yes, but that doesn't mean that you should.
To me, web design is no different than any other art form.
When you think of art, the first thing that comes to mind might be drawings and paintings.
But I believe art encompasses anything someone is passionate about creating. Something someone spends hours upon hours practicing, just so they can share their creations with other people.
Art is the skill itself, not the outcome. A horrible song is still art if it's created with passion and love.
So why is website building an art?
The web isn't important for your survival. You can live without the internet.
The internet could've been nothing but a few plain lines of text without any personality.
But we wanted personality. We wanted to have fun on the web.
That's why HTML allows you to customize your website to be whatever you want.
Coding is something that requires patience, skill, time, effort, and passion. It's not just pressing buttons and letting the computer do the work for you.
Even a webpage with a couple paragraphs and images could still be hundreds of lines of code that someone typed all by hand.
and to all who aren't convinced that code and website building isn't a real art medium, I still encourage you to curate your website to be the truest reflection of who YOU are.
I won't know who you are if you're just a copy of somebody else.
And isn't that the whole point of having the freedom to build your own website?
What's the point of putting it out there for others to see if it's just like everyone else?
"So what's the problem with stealing on Neocities specifically that this whole blog was about?"
It's not just Neocities, but I find with Neocities completely free service and easy to use tools, it's one of the most popular places in the 2020's to host your website.
but that's it.
I'm tired of people coming to Neocities because fools on Twitter are tired of having their little Carrd bios locked behind a paywall. They come to Neocities because it's free, but aren't willing to put in the effort that actually goes into building and maintaining a website.
I will gatekeep from anyone who inserts themself into this community, calling themselves a "webmaster" when all they've done was CTRL+C their Carrd and CTRL+V onto their Neocities.
Carrd is a fairly large company and I hate capitalism just as much as you, but you're not just paying for a website with Carrd. You're paying for the tools someone slaved hours building for you to use.
The least you could do is support them, and not leech off their work.
If you're unaware, Neocities was founded by a man named Kyle Drake, someone who cares deeply for the free web.
In his own words,
"We are tired of living in an online world where people are isolated from each other on boring, generic social networks that don't let us truly express ourselves. It's time we took back our personalities from these sterilized, lifeless, monetized, data mined, monitored addiction machines and let our creativity flourish again.
That's where Neocities comes in. We provide a canvas for people to make any web site they want. Whether it be a web site about something they're good at, something they love, something they hate, or their own completely customized profile where they can introduce themselves in a way that actually matters to them."
This is what Neocities stands for. Creativity, and freedom. This is not simply just a free website service. It is owned by a passionate man paying for the freedom for US out of his own pocket.
If you don't support that, then you have no business using his service.
So of course, that's what a lot of us stand for.
When you join the community with the "Neocities is a Carrd alternative" mindset, you've already fucked up.
Technically, yes, you can make your Neocities website be whatever you want it to be.
That includes stolen code.
But don't you dare try to insert yourself into our tight-knit community of artists, expecting praise and success if you're just going to steal from us.
"So what about free-to-use templates or themes?"
As I said, using a template is completely fine so long as you're not taking credit for it. But a trend I've noticed recently (especially with newer folk) is removing credits from those themes and templates and passing it off as their own.
Which makes them a piece of shit.
They are free to use. COMPLETELY FREE TO USE! So the LEAST you can do is respect them for their hard work by linking to them. Credit is literally nothing but a link! And you can't even do that!?
"But I really, REALLY like DOKODEMO's layout and theme, and theres nothing on his website that says not to steal. So it's his fault for not telling me!"
I think its common sense to know that you shouldn't take something from someone unless you're completely sure that they're okay with it.
It's not my job to put a big red flashing sign on my frontpage that tells you not to steal.
I sound like a huge jerk for gatekeeping Neocities from everyone just because a handful of kids have stolen my code. After all, it doesn't matter right? It's just a website? It's not that important.
It's not important, but it's extremely disheartening.
Not just to me, but to everyone you steal from.
If you're interested on reading more of my rant, or you're just not convinced that this is important, I've spoken to a handful of other well-known Neocities sites and asked for their opinion on the matter.
Here's what some had to say:
“have you ever heard of the phrase ‘stealing like an artist?’
artists often tell you frequently to use references, to frankenstein and trace your favorite styles because thats how you best understand what you personally want to see in other peoples art by projecting it through your hand. but it’s also a given not to post traced art or unedited references online because its wrong to claim other peoples work as your own.
web designers are completely underappreciated and grow more obsolete as the corporate web obscures the concept of accessible homepages. we unify closer because of it. so how would you feel if in your little niche of html artists, you found out that someone was claiming your own efforts as their own? thats just another layer of petty chaos that we shouldnt have to deal with.
i think that we can prevent our fellow webmasters from getting offended and html newbies by showing them the basics of getting an editor to practice in the privacy of their desktops and to learn what is‘F2U."
- Friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous
“I think my opinion on the matter is a bit split. For me personally, the appeal of coding is the creation of a webpage from a blank page, built with your own hands to the best of your ability. At the same time, I'm super grateful for the existence of templates and free-use code that help beginners and people who don't like the headaches of diving deep into coding. Since coding is such a 'dry' sort of medium, it can sometimes be hard to tell when something is general knowledge, or if it was pieced together with time and a specific person's creativity. For example, do I need to credit a site when I borrow their code to make something stick in the top left corner, or a Stack Overflow page that explains how to track mouse position on a page? With small chunks of code, it can be difficult to determine how 'important' it is in the greater context of a website or application.
Transformation - Much like rephrasing information in an essay, or YouTubers who comment on media and video games, I think using an existing material to create something new is a valid form of use. There's no exact percentage or amount to cite, but I think it's the sort of thing that you can kind of tell intuitively. If I copy your layout line for line but turn the blue into pink? Probably not cool. If I code my own layout and borrow your float code to make the base for a sidebar? I don't see much wrong with that.
Credit - Keeping credit where credit is due. I even struggle with this one a lot, especially with small graphics when I grab them and forget the source, but I do try! And if something requests that you link to their work or credit it specifically, I think it's your responsibility as an Internet citizen to do the right thing and respect their wishes. It doesn't take much work on your part, and you get to benefit from their creativity and generosity!
Respect - The last step, and probably the most important. Treat people how you would want to be treated. If someone approaches you about how you're using something they made, you ought to hear them out. If you follow the first two rules, this probably won't come up too much, but it's still good to keep in mind. At the end of the day, we can't stop strangers on the Internet from behaving the way they choose to, but it makes it a nicer place for all of us when we treat each other kindly."
- Pepper from Koinuko
"Getting inspiration or checking someone's code to figure out how they did something is one thing, but straight up yoinking a site design and 'changing a few things' and calling it good is not cool at all. Part of the point of Neocities and personal websites in general is the fun of learning to code and design and create your own thing. So just copy/pasting someone else's code and making minor changes and not even crediting where you took stuff from is just... lazy? I mean we all start somewhere--my site layout started with code from eggramen, though I've done a ton of changes to that code over time to make it work for me--but I also credit eggramen despite my code looking little to nothing like their original code now, and they offer that code up for free in the first place. Free layouts are everywhere and a great way to learn in my opinion; there's really no reason or excuse to just steal it from someone else."
- Key from Key's Klubhouse
However, not everyone agrees with me completely. I will still include their responces, because they make their own great points.
"['Do I have an opinion on stealing site designs and assets?'] I think this is the web; my site started by copying code from others, my gifs came from dead sites, my design was imitating others who came before me. The web is about copying and recopying infinitely; so I don't think you can stop people taking things you created and I don't think you should try; in fact I think you should help people to take your work and evolve it. That said I also think it's important to respect to the sites you copy from; link back to them, follow them etc.
['What about stealing from people who ask their work not to be stolen'] I think you’d have to put a big red flashing banner saying “Don't steal” on every page to get that message across. If someone has made it clear that you should not copy their work then you should respect that. HOWEVER I also don’t think that it's really in the spirit of the web to request this.
['What about stealing people's art (drawings, things they've made by hand, etc)?'] So this is quite a different matter! But its also suupper esoteric. If I post a picture of my socks on my site, and you search socks on google images and find my socks, and then use that image on your site.. have you stolen from me? Did you even know? This is not a new issue, I found this page from the 90s about the same thing http://www.tim.org/wizhats.html So its like.. when you save an image, do you actually know who made it? Was it made by the site creator or did they just copy it before you? If you are very sure the site creator made it, and does not want you to take it, then DONT TAKE IT!! But.. it's not often its that obvious. It becomes a matter of personal ethics.. My own response is to say “sod it all, everything I put online is free for everyone”.. although Id be super pissed if someone claimed to have invented one of my characters… I guess thats another question. Are they claiming to have made the thing they copied? Or are they just using it because they like it?"
- Daniel, the Melonking
If you have anything you'd like to add to this, please E-mail me. I'd love to add your contribution.
"You've changed my mind. I'm going to remove my stolen code right away!"
Well that's great! I wish you the best luck on your website, I'm sure you'll do great.