So farewell then, Geocities

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be online was very heaven.

Three emails arrived today reminding me that the plug will be pulled on Geocities on the 26th October.

Longbridge, Bristol Road, Birmingham. As was.

Longbridge, Bristol Road, Birmingham. As was.

This is shocking if you have any sense of history, like razing the New England colonial towns. Geocities was one of the seminal online communities – not as hip as The Well, not as well branded as CompuServe or AOL, but important nonetheless.

It was founded in 1995. It’s hard to remember what the web was like in 1995. Internet Explorer was launched in August and Amazon, MSN, Yahoo and Craigs List were clunking clumsy startups. Geocities was one of the first consumer hosting services. It was a combination of ISP, chat forums and bulletin boards. It was folksy and homely and friendly: users were exhorted to ‘have fun and be nice to each other’. The Wayback Machine has captured some of the early sites. Take a look: they are vigorous and naive like children’s drawings pinned to refrigerators by loving Moms.

Geocities - October 1996

Geocities - October 1996

According to Wikipedia by June 1997, GeoCities was the fifth most popular site on the Web. Yahoo bought in January 1999 and idealistic Homesteaders (‘Homesteaders’!) resented Yahoo’s clumsy attempts to moneterise the service. It is Yahoo, now, who have emailed me saying:

We have enjoyed hosting web sites created by Yahoo! users all over the world, and we’re proud of the community you’ve built. However, we have decided to focus on helping our customers explore and build relationships online in other ways.

Put like that, it sounds almost like a good thing.

Web communities are real and vibrant things, and the older ones like Geocities can have more duration and closer ties than many real neighbourhoods. How many places have you lived in since 1996? Members of these early on-line communities were aware that they were right at the start of something cool and planet-changing, and we’ve already outstripped all but their wildest dreams. Those early communities felt special at the time and are special now, not just for reasons of online-archaeology and social anthropology, but because many of them now host decade-long ties and friendships

So although it isn’t my own online neighbourhood I am unsettled that the plug will finally be pulled on the servers on October 26th.

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10 responses to “So farewell then, Geocities

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for So farewell then, Geocities « Thinking about it… [] on

  2. Hi Ben,

    I’ve been lurking for a while – so nice to de-lurk.

    Ahh I remember those golden Hayclon days when Men were men, women were women and small furry creatures from alpha centuri were..

    Yes, I remember the early days of geocities, just before it was taken over by yahoo. In those days you could make a webpage and say stuff. It was like a poster you put outside your house, a one off event. A couple of my gay friends started websites about coming out as gay teenagers – starting to reach out to the gay community and post a message. One of my friends wrote some softwear and sold it to a man in America for £200.

    This was the internet of the boom, the internet of the gold rush where it seemed that anyone could make a million if they were just lucky. I remember reading a newspaper report on a paper newspaper when the headline was ‘man meets woman on internet and starts a relationship!’

    I think to have a site back then you needed to know HTML pretty well. There was a time when the young things were comparing what tricks you could do with HTML.

    I used to worry that the young things were concentrating so much on HTML that they weren’t thinking about what they were saying. I was in the socialist workers party back then. I thought HTML was distacted the students from the revolution.

    Hmm they all use WSIWIG now – or wordpress / my space, etc, and they still don’t want a revolution. Mind you I’m not a revolutionary any more.

    Thanks for a interesting and thought provoking read.

  3. It’s easy as a user of these things to wonder why they have to be removed at all. It’s easy, sitting at home, to think “Come on, why not just leave it? What can it possibly cost?”, without thinking about the fact that these ‘places’ exist in serried ranks of servers sitting in air conditioned rooms and consuming electricity that someone, somewhere, somehow has to pay for.

    Equally, however, it’s probably easy as a suited desk jockey who only discovered social networking since Twitter to wonder what the fuss could possibly be about. Why, such a person might wonder, would you care about something that was happening in the 1990s? That’s, like, SO last millenium. Can’t be anything up to the minute and happening, like Facebook. Ho ho.

    Such an attitude is lamentable from both ends. On the one hand, yes, Facebook is the default application du jour, but it’s not up to the minute. I’m frankly now too much of a techno-fogey to know what IS the Next Big Thing (audioboo? Even guessing is pathetic), but I know enough to know Facebook was old news by the time I joined. Indeed, the fact I joined could be taken as evidence it was no longer cutting edge. Equally, it’s tragic that there are so many people who think Facebook, or possibly MySpace, were the first services doing what they do.

    I’m frankly surprised that there’s nobody at Yahoo! sentimental enough to successfully argue for keeping the geocities servers alive. Then again, in the current economic climate, perhaps I shouldn’t be.

  4. The library’s first online presence was on geocities. Brings back memories, that’s for sure.

  5. geocities servers is the big deal for Yahoo now ))

  6. There were active online communities even before Windows — does anyone remember the DOS version of Compuserve? And whatever became of that horrid yellow Prodigy interface?

    I was a happy camper on Compuserve until AOL took it over, which sent me into the arms of Sprynet, which was taken over by Mindspring, which was then taken over by Earthlink, but by then every local phone company was also an ISP and we didn’t NEED those national portals.

    *sits in her rocking chair, overcome with nostalgia*

  7. Hi Steve – I think you’ve picked on an interesting paradigm shift there with the information on Geocities sites being one-off. It’s RSS that’s changed all that. (Put in your feed reader boys and girls). It’s hard to remember when the problem was having something momentous enough to say for a website. 2.0 suits our trivial minds much more.

    SoRB, you are right. Yahoo they have no duty to be a museum for the rest of us and I understand why they are doing it, but it’s a shame when decision-makers have no sense of heritage. Years ago I went to the corporate head office of a global engineering firm, and they had a map of the world with pins and strings and teeny tiny pictures around the outside. It turned out they were stamps issued by countries around the world of dams and bridges and roads and airports that they had built. It was clearly a labour of love by a retired member of staff, and it wouldn’t have taken much for the MD’s PA to keep it up to date, but no-one had bothered. Thank goodness for the Wayback Machine.

    Sue – it does bring back memories doesn’t it?

    Brad – I’ll check them out.

    Lil – So few people know that there was an internet BB – Before Browsers. When I was writing this piece I looked up “Browsers” in my 1993 edition of The Internet for Dummies and there is one referece to Lynx and that’s it.

  8. Pingback: ‘Things done’: as important as ‘Things to do’ « Thinking about it…

  9. – a map of internet communities, and geocities isn’t on it. I can’t decide if that’s appropriate or inappropriate, what with geocities being an attempt to give internet communities a sense of place.

    It is shocking to see geocities go, but at the same time it’s not (yes, I *am* always indecisive). The internet is ephemeral – you started me on a fascinating journey back through sites that have been in existence for a long time, and what I realize is that the sites that still exist today are nothing like they were way back when. The ones that are, for instance, are relics and museum pieces. Yahoo is shutting down geocities, but didn’t geocities die when yahoo took it over? Yahoo itself is one of the oldest sites around, but is it anything like the yahoo that I first saw (a hand-edited list of a few hundred sites)? Absolutely not. They have all gone, and they’ve been gone a long time.

  10. I know what you mean about it being shocking and not shocking, Joe. I think that was the point I was trying to get to in fact.

    Thanks for taking the time to drop by, and thanks for the XKCD link. That boy is indecently clever.

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