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  • Geocities: the end of an Internet era

    By Alex Schneider
    October 23, 2009
    Section: Opinions


    <i>ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot</i>

    ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot

    When the history of the Internet is written, Geocities.com will probably be a footnote. Still, I can’t help but feel regret that Yahoo! will be closing the 15-year-old website this Monday.

    Geocities originated in the 1990’s as a service that allowed members to create and host free web pages. It was a huge success—after going public in 1998 with an initial stock value of $17, the stock rose to $100. By early 1999, Yahoo! had bought the company for $3.57 billion in stock options.

    In other words, Geocities was the Facebook of yesterday. It offered everyone the chance to build an online website with its simple-to-use interface and basic templates. Without paying as much as a dime, users from all walks of life could contribute to the World Wide Web.

    I joined Yahoo! in Oct. 2000 (according to my member profile) and built my first Geocities website shortly thereafter. I still remember how frustrating it was to connect to the Internet in those days with Prodigy (another company that was soon bought by Yahoo!), yet how rewarding it was when after almost an hour of waiting, Geocities’ ‘Page Builder’ application loaded, and I was able to begin to put together my web pages.

    Geocities offered everything that now defines an amateur website: clip art, ‘site meters,’ and mandatory advertisements. Those were the days when websites used ‘tables,’ ‘frames,’ and other basic elements rather than more complex ‘style sheets.’ Unfortunately, as time went by, Geocities never updated ‘Page Builder,’ leaving website designers using its service with outdated software.

    Web design was certainly changing. On Apr. 3, 2006, The New York Times unveiled a website that was more interactive and made greater use of digital media—including video and audio—something that was revolutionary for the time. Other websites soon followed. Almost every major website has undergone a redesign since 2006, attesting to the changing nature of the web. Due to the outdated software, however, websites made on Geocities were already looking ancient.

    Meanwhile, other companies began to compete with Geocities. Google, for one, unveiled Google ‘page creator,’ a “What You See is What You Get” website builder that mimicked Geocities, just with newer technology. Google’s prototype was much less successful, though, and Google discontinued the program.

    Another website, Weebly.com, continues to offer free websites that are much more attractive than their Geocities counterparts. Still, Weebly allows users to publish a blog along with their site, something Geocities always lacked. With blogs more popular than ever before, Weebly promises to last for some time.

    Geocities users were not bloggers. They published ‘vanity’ pages rather than informational sites and focused on layout rather than content. There is an old saying among web designers that “content is king,” and this idea certainly applies: Geocities content was home-made, unedited, and unattractive. It was raw, amateur stuff, and no one seemed to care, no matter how amazing the clip art. While Twitter, MySpace, WordPress, and Facebook allow users to interact by creating interfaces conducive to discussion, Geocities was simply a bad monologue. Anyone, even an eleven-year-old kid, had a voice on Geocities.

    That said, Yahoo! should not abandon Geocities. Every page hosted on that website is a piece of history, representing a simpler time on the web. Removing all those pages from Yahoo’s is akin to burning books and ought to be re-considered.

    That said, the fall of Geocities is a reminder of just how fast the Internet is changing. Imagine Facebook closing or Google—with its $500 stock—folding. It’s unimaginable today, but as the story of Geocities teaches, entirely possible tomorrow.


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