The past few months have been pretty transformative for the world of Internet culture, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to spend more time indoors and more time online. Social media networks have provided countless opportunities for users to express themselves and connect with others during these unprecedented times, and Tumblr is definitely no exception. The long-running social networking platform has experienced some interesting trends amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including an uptick in nostalgic and comforting pieces of content.
One unexpected extension of that has been tied to the Internet itself, with such as Webcore and Old Web gaining a 300% increase in overall engagements (search, original posts, reblogs, and likes) on Tumblr from July 24th to August 1st. These two trends visually harken back to the Internet of the '90s and '00s, with some pretty epic results. These aren't the only nostalgic elements that Tumblr users have been finding comfort in, with a 560% increase in overall engagements surrounding the now-defunct web hosting platform Geocities this past July. Iconic franchises like Neopets, Club Penguin, and even the Twilight franchise have also had a resurgence in recent months.
ComicBook.com recently got a chance to chat with Tumblr's Meme Librarian and Trend Expert, Amanda Brennan, about this recent surge in nostalgic trends, and what other content Tumblr users have been gravitating towards amid the pandemic. Keep scrolling to check out our full chat, and share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
ComicBook.com: For my readers who might not be as familiar with Webcore -- what exactly does that trend entail?
Amanda Brennan: Webcore is the aesthetic of internet nostalgia. So kind of a Windows 95, web 1.0 aesthetic with chunky GIFs. Even images of old computers would count as Webcore.
What sort of characteristics can people expect to find in a Webcore post?
A lot of kind of cheesy GIFs, I think. I see them a lot. The pixelated "I'm building my website" kind of GIF. But also, just things out of context. GeoCities websites, where it'll be just a snapshot of what was there, as a way to preserve that history and that past. A lot of Neopets will come up sometimes, and fanart of them. RuneScape. Just the way that Windows 95 looked, the definitive Windows 95 look. And Blingees is another one that we see a lot. People are still making them pretty actively.prevnext
I was obsessed with Neopets as a kid, so it's very gratifying to know that that has made a comeback. Are there any other franchises or media properties that have become part of Webcore?
Oddly enough, Twilight. We've been looking at trends through the pandemic, and in the beginning, we saw Twilight really pop off in March and April. It's like that time in 2008, when you were a kid and it was this fantasy that you can dive into. And now, I feel like we've been in this Twilight renaissance for a little bit. The new book has come out, and people are really diving into that fantastical element. So we'll see a lot of "Team Jacob", "Team Edward" kind of stuff. The kind of things you would have seen on an Angelfire or GeoCities fan-fiction website.prevnext
What was the trajectory of Webcore becoming a noticeable trend on Tumblr? I feel like, personally, I've often seen that sort of retro internet aesthetic pop up, but I never would have imagined it becoming an organized thing.
Yeah. And I'm a little older... I say I'm old. I'm not even that old. But I think for younger kids, it's nostalgia for a time when the internet was just less connected. And things that maybe your older siblings were into. That kind of walled garden of the internet, where it wasn't connected to your real-life self. Kids [are] fantasizing about an internet that you can turn off.
When I was younger, I had away messages. And I think away messages are another piece of the Webcore puzzle, because I've seen a lot of people being like, "Man, I wish I had an away message for texting, or some way to put up something on my phone and just let people know I'm not ignoring them." I think there's this kind of longing for simpler times, when the Internet wasn't our only method of communication. Because right now, most of the way we talk to our coworkers, our family, our best friends, it's all online. So a lot of people are yearning for this internet that wasn't so ever-present, where you really could turn it off.prevnext
I find it fascinating that this nostalgia for a simpler Internet has come up during the pandemic, when the Internet is our primary form of communication. Why do you think people have developed that kind of connection with it, especially in the situation of the pandemic?
I think it has to do with a little bit of escapism. Going back to a simpler time. I know for me personally, I've gotten into a bunch of games I used to play when I was in college online, just because it was a simpler time and I have very fond memories of that.
People are looking for a more tangible kind of fantasy. In the beginning of the pandemic, I know I mentioned Twilight, but we also saw peaks in Oceancore and Mermaidcore and that kind of fantasy. Now, the fantasy seems to be like "Oh, let's go camping!" "Let's go to Maine or Vermont." These things that you can actually do because the pandemic doesn't show a sign of stopping. This is our normal now. And people are reaching out for these escapist ideals, and being able to experience that escapism in a way that's, it's tangible. They can go to the woods and be isolated for a few days.
I think when we think about old Internet... some of the stuff still exists. I'll be totally frank, it was MapleStory I was playing, and it still looks exactly like I remember playing it in 2006. The thrill of being able to log in and remember what all the buttons are, and remember the quest. It's this feeling of "Man, I remember doing this, and life was so much easier then." I think that's why I've seen an uptick in Neopets art. People are so excited to - if they remember their password - log in and all their pets are there. They have all the same games that they can play. And some of them have been revamped, but the things that are fond to them are still there.
When it comes to GeoCities, even though most of GeoCities is gone, there's a lot of people sharing screenshots on Tumblr. One of my favorite Tumblrs is called One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age. It's just a GeoCities research blog by these two researchers, and they're automatically generating screenshots of GeoCities homepages rescued by the archive team in 2009. You can't go in to look at the website anymore, but you get these screenshots and these snapshots of this liminal space that just doesn't exist anymore.prevnext
I find the aesthetic of Webcore to be fascinating in and of itself. In my time on Tumblr, I've seen so many people try to have the prettiest, sleekest, most modern possible theme and the most color-coordinated blog, and it feels like Webcore is both an extension and a subversion of that. I was wondering if that's something that you've noticed as well.
Yes and no. I feel like, because you can theme your blog on the web however you want, there are these subsets of Tumblrs that have really beautiful Windows 95 themes. One of my favorites - I'm sorry, I love dropping blogs - but dialup2002.tumblr.com. If you look at it, it's just all Windows 95 as the theme. So you'll see the GIFs that bring you straight back. There are userboxes that are very reminiscent of Webrings. I think there is no one aesthetic when you think about Tumblr as a whole. We've got a little bit of everything, you just need to know where to look for it.prevnext
I know you mentioned playing older games, but have you found yourself participating in, or growing fond, of any of the Webcore trends?
Yeah! I've seen a lot of memes lately that are a photo of someone looking super scene and it'll be like, "What are you talking about? A pandemic? We're about to go see Limp Bizkit at Warped Tour." And they all look like they were made in MS Paint. I think, for me, seeing that has been just that nostalgia boost. I love the aesthetic. I love digging through these blogs. And Tumblr is so wonderful because it's like digging through my own personal archive as well. And everything from 2008 on my Tumblr is just like looking at a diary and seeing how I've grown. I think there are a lot of Tumblr users that have been looking back at it, too.prevnext
When we last talked, it was about the ships that Tumblr predicted would be the most popular in 2020. Obviously, with the pandemic, some of the properties that were tied to those ships are delayed and might not actually come out this year. Have you seen any additional ships rise in popularity, which you wouldn't have expected at the beginning of the year?
Yes! There is a show called The Owl House. The main ship from the show, I believe it's Lumity. Luz Noceda and Amity Blight. Lumity is the ship name from Owl House. I think that ship has just kind of exploded on Tumblr over the past month because it, I believe, went canon, or they had a moment on the show that really asserted that the ship is going to happen.
If you've seen The Old Guard on Netflix, Joe and Nicky. There is another ship name that's really cute, "Immortal Husbands", I think it is. That ship has really, really blown up, along with all of the ships from Avatar: The Last Airbender. When I sent you the ship list, I didn't know that Avatar was coming to Netflix. That really, we've seen upwards of three to four Avatar ships on our ships list per week, which is wild.
Oh, wow. That has to be crazy, with a property that, like you said, entirely because it's on a streaming service, it's now getting this entire new fandom and this new uptick in popularity.1comments
Yeah. It's wild to see how people react to seeing it for the first time too, just because it's on the streaming. I think we've seen that with this Avatar fandom. Because everyone's at home and everyone's streaming, they're being reintroduced or introduced to these new things. And we've seen a huge spike in all of our streaming properties.