Originally published at The Atlantic

When the commercial web was new, its acolytes were eager to show it off. The scientific-research and literary communities, where the web originated, envisioned it as a nonlinear platform for authorship and publishing. But the dot-coms and the advertisers and the interactive agencies saw the web as a new kind of billboard or video screen. To them, it was the fusion of the television and the CD-ROM more than that of the computer and the library.

Flash was the ultimate realization of the web capitalist’s dream. The tool made it easy to create interactive animations suitable for fast download online.

It was profoundly overused. Websites became motion-graphics monstrosities when simple text and images would have sufficed. The worst of the era’s ills was the Flash intro, an animated sequence the user had to suffer through before being allowed into the site they intended to visit. Soon, the “skip intro” button appeared—designers’ desperate attempt to show off while also stepping out of the way.

Twenty years later, “skip intro” is back, and in an unlikely place: on Netflix, where it is making television title sequences optional. Revisiting the original “skip intro” offers both context and concern for Netflix’s move. Then, as now, starting up a media experience was sometimes annoying. But that friction also helped isolate experiences in the world from those on the computer or the television.

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published October 31, 2017