A Reflection on Neocities as an Artist
it's better than instagram, that's for sure

Author's Note: While I'm no longer hosting my site on Neocities, this article still touches upon the overall benefits of having a personal website instead of relying on social media platforms.

A year and a half. That's how long I've been maintaining this site, and to be honest it feels weird. It still feels like I've only been on Neocities for 3 months at most, but I felt a really large disconnect seeing the art I made when I first started this site late 2020 compared to now in 2022.

With this, I thought it would be fitting to make what is essentially a sequel to my first article where I reflected on how atrocious Instagram is as an artist, and I'd say that it's a very fitting sequel considering that I'm still here. This has probably been the longest I've lasted on a public platform without losing my mind too many times, or going nuclear and deleting the whole thing.

I'll be mainly talking about my experiences on having Neocities as my only online presence and posting my art on here, as well as other stuff like writings, web design, and all of that shenanigans.

No Expectations

I think with places that are heavily populated with people like IG or Twitter, there's this sort of inherent expectation to get at least some engagement or attention. You see all of these big names with tons of followers and likes and you have this subconscious prospect of possibly getting that same level of attention, or at least just a little bit.

But of course, reality sets in and you get absolutely nothing. Zero. Likes aren't even the main concern, you're just wondering if anyone has even seen what you posted. And this can obviously get very discouraging. I mean, could you really blame people for wondering if they should even post their work if posting to the public yielded the same results as not posting anything? I might as well keep everything to myself if what I was doing came out to be entirely inconsequential.

When I started my Neocities site, I already had this idea that I wasn't going to get anything. Popularity on Neocities doesn't mean much, if anything, to be completely honest. While views trickled in and I could possibly latch onto something, there wasn't any sort of prospect to "go viral" or "get my lucky break". None of that. Neocities, despite being around 8 years old at the time of writing this, is still very secluded from the mainstream.

But this lack of a possibility of being spotted or noticed I'd say is a really good starting point. There's no point in being motivated by extrinsic goals like gaining views or followers or anything, because compared to everywhere else it's nothing. I can guarantee that someone will get more views on a YouTube video after 2 minutes of posting it than the amount of views my entire site has gotten in a year and a half. So what?

Maintaining a site here means that you have to be somewhat intrinsically motivated, ie. you update things because it matters to you, not because it'll be popular, because nothing is really "popular" or "trendy" on here. And even if you did things that are trending in the mainstream here in Neocities, you'll get absolutely nothing for it, which to be honest is a comforting thing to me.

A License to Experiment

Because there's no real incentive for pandering to the masses on here, I could do whatever I want in terms of my art. And that was being able to actually develop my art.

I mentioned in my Instagram article that social media prefers those who are consistent. And it's not necessarily because of the platform (though they somewhat push you towards that direction), but because of people. People like consistency, because in a way it gives a sense of familiarity and comfort. If you don't provide that, then people will push back against you because of the contrast between what they expected you to post and what you actually posted.

Of course, there are times when it can get agitating when there are wild deviations like suddenly posting your breakfast in an art-related account, but even small branches like an art experiment or dabbling in something different but still art-related could rouse that same sense of unfamiliarity leading to discomfort. There can be one-off cases where people don't engage with your stuff and that's fine, but social media often takes these fluctuations of attention as a bad sign and punishes you because of it.

This can especially hit hard to those who create a variety of artwork that can wildly vary in terms of target demographic. There's often a clear divide when a person posts fan art compared to when they post their own original work. It can be almost tempting to go for that more popular option, with the possible risk that you double down on something that you (and possibly everyone else) will lose interest in at some point in the future.

Since I'm the type of artist who only really likes doing original work, and who likes to do all sorts of sometimes unrelated work, I'm the antithesis of mainstream social media art accounts. It's not because I don't like fan art as a concept, but I'm simply not interested in making any. I've always been only interested in developing my own ideas so that's what I've stuck with, and because of that in the social media sphere I'm already at a disadvantage so to speak.

Not to mention, the things I post can vary quite a bit. Could be a doodle one day, some janky sketch the next, and then some super polished painting from out of nowhere a day later. I mentioned it in one of my articles how the idea of the "content stream" and "feeds" ruined a lot of things that ought not to have adopted that style of media output and sorting. It heavily favours consistency and artwork that has a lack of categorization since it's so linear, and as a result my workflow just never worked with it. Ever.

Having the option to sort my artwork into fitting categories helped a lot with being able to gauge progress without feeling like a disjointed inconsistent mess. I didn't feel like I was constantly betraying or sabotaging myself by going in many different directions in terms of style, and I could develop my sense of self-expression without having the prospect of attention interfering with it.

Taking My Time

I simply like how I can post and do things at my own pace here on Neocities. I can accommodate easily if something more important pops up, but even then I can post stuff whenever I have something ready, instead of constantly feeling like I'm falling behind some sort of arbitrary schedule.

Now, you could argue that the same thing applies to social media, but I'd argue that it doesn't. You could do things at your own pace there, but not without repercussions.

See, social media really doesn't like it when you take breaks, especially when it's out of line of one's "updating schedule". The moment you stop posting on social media is the moment you become entirely irrelevant and you stop appearing to anyone. And let's not think of a situation where you even take an unsolicited break for an undetermined amount of time on there. You'll come back, and it will seem as if the platform has erased all of your progress in terms of engagement and you have to start over back at square one. Do things at your own pace, sure, but you're going to get punished for it. The fact that the system favours more frequent and consistent output on there means that they're already marginalizing those who don't want to become what is essentially a sweatshop worker.

At least on Neocities, it's founded on websites that don't, you know, suddenly disappear from view when the owner doesn't update it for more than 2-3 days. People can still see my site when they browse around Neocities, or on the rare occasion that someone searches something and my site pops up in their search results. Websites facilitate discovery, regardless if the content is being updated on a daily basis or not. I could leave my site for a month and I can come back and not have everything be a smoldering pile of ash because I didn't appease Mr. Gram or Blue Bird.

Contrast this to every other social media platform ever, where discovery is near impossible because discovery is founded entirely on the algorithms, and you can't search for anything specific asides from tags or a specific account name. The fact that the search function is heavily gated in their app and modern search engines can't really access the stuff inside those platforms says a lot. Good luck getting discovered through tags after getting buried by a landfill of other stuff within 5-10 minutes.

There's no repercussions in taking your time here on Neocities. Heck, people who haven't posted for years and years still get discovered on here, which already says a lot about how timeless the website medium really is. Platforms may die off, but since the Internet has built itself around websites and not walled gardens, it's not going to go away any time soon.

Leveraging Web Design

The fact that a website is really flexible means that I could stand out in other ways that may not have been possible had I been restricted to a handful of platforms.

I'd say that probably the large reason why people even visit my site and possibly stick around is because of the web design. From a qualitative standpoint, my work (both writing and artwork) don't stand out enough on their own to warrant any real amount of attention, but the fact that they're on a website that is designed by me can make visiting here a bit more enticing. Or at least, that is what I think is going on.

I could also leverage the fact that my site holds a variety of stuff instead of say only one thing like art. I knew that art on its own is quite a hard thing to get attention on, especially when there are so many artists out there that are orders of magnitude better than I am. But how about writing about art? Or writing about anything for that manner? You have plenty of people doing one or the other, but there are less people who can do both. I like doing both, so why not capitalize on both? This site is better than me having articles on say Medium and my artwork on IG and getting nothing in both of them and being miserable.

Being able to emphasize and include the things which I value on here also means a lot, and it helps to remind myself that all of this is intrinsically motivated. There are some things that I update on here that may not appeal to a lot of people, but people still visit the site not necessarily because they like what's in it but because they're curious as to what's in it.

Websites don't show everything upfront, you have to do some digging for yourself to see everything. With social media profiles you kind of visit them, see at a glance what they're all about, and if you don't want to follow them then you leave and never come back. This entire evaluation could last like 10 seconds at most. When it comes to web browsing, at least there's some level of intrigue when you're digging around, even if the things stored inside don't necessarily interest you. I've visited plenty of sites that had stuff that didn't interest me, but browsing the site itself was an engaging experience.

Authentic Connections

I feel like I've seen more genuine and authentic people on Neocities than I have anywhere else. And it's likely because of what I mentioned earlier: no real expectations, and there's no real incentive to appeal to a mass audience.

I don't have to get those aggravating "please look at my profile" comments that you typically get on social media from people who are a tad bit too desperate on getting some attention. You don't have people leaving comments because some external system told them that it would boost their favour in the algorithm. And it's not like I'm not guilty of this myself. I feel like I've left more disingenuous comments when using social media because I felt like I had to play the game instead of actually being honest. It feels sickening looking back at my own behaviour during those times.

At least here, guestbooks are the norm and anyone can leave a comment, without even a mere smidge of a website or contact information. It could just be some anonymous visitor wishing someone a good day. No business formalities or transaction of follows, likes, or comments can really occur in that case. Comments are left for comments sake.

Of course, people being more genuine could be a double-edged sword. There are some sites which I'll simply describe as "distasteful" at most, and others I simply don't agree with their opinions, but there's nothing I can do about that. And if they disagree with me then they can't do anything about that either. At least we have set this freedom as the standard instead of some passive-aggressive cancel-crazy culture that has become the norm in major corners of the Internet; places that advocate for free speech unless they disagree with you, in which case you get silenced. Just how hypocritical is that?

Concluding Thoughts

The site itself has grown a lot since I've started, both in terms of the things that I have displayed on here and the amount of people who have visited and followed this site. Funny to think that I've gotten more attention on here than any other social media platform I've been on, even though it isn't much.

All in all, I wouldn't say Neocities is the perfect platform by any stretch of the imagination. It still has its issues, but it's certainly one of the few places where I don't feel like ripping my hair out when it comes to actually interacting with it. I feel like if I were to take a substantially long hiatus from here for any reason, I'd still come back. And that's saying something.

Neocities is a solid "not Instagram/10", which puts it pretty high up there compared to everywhere else.

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