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.
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.
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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