Wednesday, November 4, 2009

GeoCities, 1995 - 2009: Hard to Believe It's Gone

"Why did GeoCities close?"
Yahoo! Help

"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. Beginning on October 26, 2009, you can no longer use GeoCities to maintain a free presence online...."

That's the first of over a dozen pages Yahoo! posted in its "Help" section, addressing the closing of GeoCities last month. ("Geocities Closing")

GeoCities Closing: In the News, April, 2009

People with GeoCities pages have (most likely) seen this coming since April of this year. My guess is that most of those who remember - and care about - the GeoCities pages they created got their material downloaded and re-posted in time. Or, that someone who had been paying attention did the same thing.
"Now closing: GeoCities, a relic of Web's early days"
CNET (April 23, 2009)

"Yahoo is closing its GeoCities personal home page service, and with it will go an era of self-expression on the Web that's largely been replaced by social networks and blogs.

"GeoCities rose to power during an era when publishing on the Internet meant setting up your own Web site. GeoCities simplified the process by helping people sidestep the complications of registering a domain and learning how to program HTML, the language that describes Web pages.

"Yahoo bought GeoCities for more than $2.9 billion in dot-com-priced stock in 1999, when GeoCities had more than 1.1 million users. However, while the idea of having a personal presence on the Internet has caught on, GeoCities turned out to be a backwater, not the mainstream...."

I've been online since June 4, 1997, learning HTML as I went along. I've got three websites now, four if you count the 'company' one I maintain as a sort of hub.

The "complications of registering a domain and learning how to program HTML" weren't that big a barrier for me - a couple years of Computer Science; and eleven more of wrestling with assorted software whose manuals were missing, and a company network that had been cobbled together by several different people helped.

After that, learning a few HTML tags and looking up the rest as I needed them was a piece of cake. I'll readily admit that I'm not the average Joe Public: not even close.

Hello Blogosphere, Goodbye GeoCities

A common thread running through 'what happened to GeoCities' posts is that online social networking took the place of GeoCities. I suspect that they're right.

There's a lot more immediacy and (potentially) feedback with a blog - even more with newer services like Twitter (I tweet as Aluwir.)

I suspect that it'll be a while before free blogging services like Blogger (the one I use) will go the way of GeoCities. But my guess is that free blogs will go the way of free websites. Eventually.

Remembering GeoCities

I'll wrap up with a few of the news articles marking the end of GeoCities. And, of course, a little of my take on the situation.
"Ghost Pages: A Farewell to GeoCities"
Raw File, Wired (November 3, 2009)

"Before iPods and Y2K, GeoCities was a quantum leap: The average person could create a web site for free, no questions asked. People took the opportunity and ran with it, building millions of pages –- 38 million at last count, according to Yahoo. They helped make the web a more vibrant territory, no longer the citadel of nerds in the know.

"When news of Geocities' imminent demise hit the web in April, groups of online archivists started downloading pages to their own computers, racing to save as many as possible before midnight Oct. 26, when the lights went off for good...."

An article in Web Host Industry Review, dated October 8, 2009 (I've got an excerpt from it, later in this post), said that an archiving team was downloading GeoCities content at roughly five websites a second.

Time for a little arithmetic. That's about 12 websites a minute, 720 an hour, 17,280 a day. If they had started on May 1, 2009, a few days after the news came out, by October 8, 160 days later, they'd have retrieved 2,764,800 websites. That's an impressive number, but only 7.2% of GeoCities' 38,000,000 or so websites. I hope those archivers had some automated way of prioritizing what they picked.

I'm not all that worried, though. My guess is that individuals here and there with a more personal stake in some of the GeoCities content made sure that 'their stuff' got saved.
"GeoCities' time has expired, Yahoo closing the site today"
Los Angeles Times (October 26, 2009)

"We always imagined how this might end: GeoCities would finally take down all of the animated 'under construction' signs, and we'd hear one last Midi file to the tune of horns playing taps.

"Instead, GeoCities will probably go down with a whimper today.

"Time is up for Yahoo Inc.'s scheduled closing of perhaps the most significant virtual museum in recent history. Years ago a central meeting place for a massive chunk of American Web surfers, GeoCities will lock its doors and take millions of pages offline.

"GeoCities allowed anyone to build a custom Web page for free and reserved a small amount of virtual storage to keep pictures and documents. It was perhaps the first mainstream example of an open, participatory and personal Internet...."

That "with a whimper" is from T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" - the line is "This is the way the world ends [repeated three times - this is serious poetry, folks] Not with a bang but a whimper."
"Yahoo! shuts down GeoCities"
AFP (October 26, 2009)

"Yahoo! on Monday closed GeoCities, a free Web hosting service that it purchased for over three billion dollars at the height of the dot-com boom.

" 'We have enjoyed hosting websites created by Yahoo! users all over the world, and we're proud of the community you've built,' the California-based Internet pioneer said in a message at the GeoCities website.

" 'However, we have decided to focus on helping our customers explore and build relationships online in other ways.'

"Yahoo! said GeoCities would not be available after Monday and recommended GeoCities refugees set up new online homes at its paid Web hosting service, with an introductory offer of just five dollars for the first 12 months...."

Five dollars for 12 months hosting is a pretty good price - and the higher price that's projected is still not at all bad. Still, there have been times when my house hold wouldn't have been able to justify an expense like that - summer of this year, for one. People with GeoCities pages had to decide just how much they wanted to keep their content online.
"Say farewell to GeoCities, the vintage Web-hosting site"
CNN (October 26, 2009)

"The flashing banner ads, questionable color schemes and omnipresent 'Under Construction' signs of GeoCities are no more.

"The personal Web-hosting site, launched in 1995 and owned by Yahoo Inc. since 1999, was to be shut down by Tuesday.

"It's a move that will scrub from the Web a significant, albeit dated, piece of Internet history and the pages where millions first tried their hands at coding and designing...."

"...Carrie Musgrave, a professional photographer from Toronto, said she got two Web-design jobs by showing off her GeoCities creation: a U2 fan page she coded by hand in her college library in 1998...."

Any time you hear "vintage" in connection with something involving information technology, you can be almost certain it isn't good news.

I picked this CNN article partly because it included a specific example of someone who made good use of GeoCities' service.
"Free Web Hosting Service Geocities To Close This Month"
Web Host Industry Review (October 8, 2009)

"Yahoo ( posted a 'final notice' on GeoCities (, reminding users that the long-standing free web hosting service will be closed towards the end of the month.

"In July, Yahoo announced it would be closing GeoCities on October 26, 2009, offering displaced users a variety of paid hosting plans. The GeoCities website advertises a $4.99 per month for a year and $9.95 per month afterward hosting plan to which users can port their GeoCities site. These plans, unlike regular GeoCities accounts, do not display mandatory ads.

"GeoCities saw a significant decrease in popularity over the years, partially due to the development of social media community services.

"In an effort to save the thousands of animated GIFs, blinking text, web rings and even useful websites from going offline forever, Jason Scott's Archive Team ( it currently migrating GeoCities sites to preserve them as historical evidence of the early Internet. Scott estimates that his team is archiving the web's adolescence at a rate of around a gigabyte every half-hour, or about five websites a second...."

And that's an advantage of websites where you pay a service for hosting - any ads on the pages will be ones you decide to put there. No complaints here: somebody has to pay for the technology and people it takes to run those "free" services, and advertising is one of the major ways this culture has of raising money with information.

Finally, the Start of GeoCities: 1995

"Beverly Hills Internet, builder of interactive cyber cities, launches 4 more virtual communities linked to real places; SiliconValley, CapitolHill, Paris and Tokyo offer free homesteads to residents of BHI's 'GeoCities' "
Business Wire (July 5, 1995), via bnet

"Beverly Hills Internet opened today four additional virtual communities based on real-world locations, raising to 10 the number of interactive 'GeoCities'(R) BHI has established in the past five weeks.

"The new cyber cities -- named after SiliconValley(R), CapitolHill(R), Paris(R) and Tokyo(R) -- join BHI's GeoCities of Hollywood(R), RodeoDrive(R), SunsetStrip(R), WestHollywood(R), WallStreet(R) and the Colosseum(R) in offering cyber citizens the first homesteading program of its kind on the web, according to BHI president David Bohnett...."

1995 - 2009. That was a long, long, run: by Information Age standards.

Goodbye, GeoCities. We'll miss you.

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