The nostalgia that many feel for Suck is not the commodified early-web nostalgia frequently geared toward millennials—e.g. “15 Reasons We Miss The Internet Of The ’90s,” a piece of branded content on BuzzFeed, published in 2015 and paid for by Google U.K.—but something a little more soulful. As someone with no nostalgia for Web 1.0 (when Suck launched, I was 8 years old, learning how to touch-type with a cardboard box over my hands) my interest comes from a suspicion that Suck represents the web at its best, when an independent online publication could control its own narrative. Suck wasn’t trying to game its analytics, or optimize for anything, or bait-and-switch its readers for clicks. Even so, it quickly reached 10,000 daily readers, and boasted a budget large enough to pay contributing writers $1,000 per post. Reading it now, I’m struck not by nostalgia, but envy for the particular freedoms afforded to early online publications.
Suck emerged at a time when nobody—publishers, marketers, readers, or writers—really had any idea what they were doing on the web, or what the web would do for them. “Stumbling on this sly, skeptical voice in a sea of repurposed press releases was so refreshing,” Havrilesky wrote. It still is: These types of voices still exist on the Internet, but they are a minority and can be harder to surface, surrounded as they are by optimized, data-driven content.
In my email exchange with Steadman and Anuff, I asked about the viability of Suck—or something Suck-like—today. “Today’s media outlets are increasingly content mills by, of, and for social media,” Steadman wrote in response. There are upsides to the current web, of course: accessibility and diversity being just two of many. “You wouldn’t want a handful of white geeks defining online culture forever,” Havrilesky wrote. “Online culture would be pretty goddamn dull if it were still that monotone.” Still, Suck’s impossible resuscitation stands as a reminder of what online culture has lost.
Mark Macdonald, the 32-year-old developer at the helm of the “Suck, Again” newsletter, seems to have felt this loss acutely. For him, part of Suck’s appeal is its singular editorial vision. (Appropriately, Macdonald is building a website called Gazet, a platform for assembling and dispatching “hand-picked digests of stories and videos.”) Macdonald uncovered the site’s archive using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and his newsletter is copy-pasted verbatim from the original versions, including images and links. “Suck, Again” is neither monetized nor advertised; it has several thousand subscribers. “It lives or dies depending on whether people tell each other about it,” he said, but regardless of subscriber numbers he intends to send out the full archive—all 7 years of it.
Reading Suck highlighted, for me, the scarcity—and importance—of insightful, informed critical discourse about the tech industry. (Breathless tech press, on the other hand, we have in abundance.) Suck’s critiques of the tech industry—its products and constituents—continue to resonate. If Suck is any indication, culture—at least, tech culture; Internet culture—runs on a twenty-year clock. The first missive from “Suck, Again”—a Suck post from November 2, 1995—excoriated a winter issue of Spin, summing it up as such: “Every half-baked cybercraze from the past five years is regurgitated here as a shocking new breakthrough, from cryogenics, ayahuasca, and Extropianism to digital tattoos, e-cash, and Fruitopianism.”