As a warning, there is something you need to know before you read this rewrite of an article from my old blog:
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, remember GeoCities? For those who don’t, it was a website builder that was popular in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
For old people like me who were alive back then, some of us mock how blindingly bad many of the sites made in GeoCities looked, but others of us feel nostalgic for an internet that wasn’t tracking our every move.
No matter how anyone feels about GeoCities, it was a great introduction to web coding and page ownership at the time and it paved the way for the many website creation sites and social media platforms of today.
According to The David Bohnett Foundation, the foundation’s namesake was the founder of GeoCities and created it in 1994. Co-founded with John Rezner, the platform was originally called Beverly Hills Internet, but the name was quickly changed to GeoCities in June 1995 when it was released to the public according to New York University’s Dead Media Archive.
According to a capture of the original GeoCities “What is GeoCities?” page as it was on October 25, 1996 on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the main feature of the site was letting users choose “neighborhoods” based on what they wanted to make their site about and then get a “street address” number for it.
The same GeoCities page’s rationale for this states “Our philosophy ha[d] always been that locations on the internet become easier to relate to when they are rich with content and closely identified with an actual idea or location.”
In non-PR talk, the creators of GeoCities felt people couldn’t understand how web pages worked without winking and nodding to the real-world. This assumption was reasonable since the world wide web had only begun to take over the planet when GeoCities first launched.
For example, on the GeoCities 1996 neighborhood directory on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, people who wanted to make a site about movies would sign up for a “Hollywood” address whereas users obsessed with science-fiction would move in somewhere at “Area 51”. Because of this system, URLs created on GeoCities between 1994 and 1999 would look like this:
NOTE: This URL does not link to an actual GeoCities page. When clicked, it will lead to a page where Yahoo! details its small business web hosting service.
The Acquisition by Yahoo!
As GeoCities climbed to become the third most popular site on the web, the company was bought out by Yahoo! for $3.6 billion dollars in 1999 as reported by CNN Money. Once the company had acquired GeoCities, they changed the name to the imaginative “Yahoo! GeoCities”.
This acquisition started to effect GeoCities when Yahoo! removed the neighborhood system. Internet archivist Jason Scott wrote that the neighborhoods were foreclosed on because they had become too cumbersome to manage and too long for most users to quickly type out.
Even though removing this quirk made GeoCities less unique, URLs were now a lot easier to type since the only thing after the GeoCities domain would be the user name of the person that made the site. These addresses often looked like this (this link only leads to the page for Yahoo! Small Business site registration):
Just like our previous example URL, this link will also only lead you to a page where Yahoo! tries to sell you web hosting for a small business.
This is the version of GeoCities that existed for most of its 15 year lifespan. Yahoo! owned GeoCities from 1999 until its demise ten years later, making Yahoo! GeoCities the most familiar iteration to many internet users.
Prototype for Social Media?
I coded my first website in 2004 on Yahoo! GeoCities dubbed “Ethan Trains”. This site might’ve been nothing but a mass of Christmas-colored pages with trains, Thomas the Tank engine links, and Tom and Jerry cartoons, but seven-year-old me saw it as a magical space on the internet where people could see how much I loved all of these things.
Like many other users, I used GeoCities not only as a way to build websites, but as a form of social media as well.
Most sites that were created on GeoCities were personal places where all sorts of people could share or discuss anything from Girl Scouts who want to trade patches to William and Mary graduates linking to their resume after pretending to be Marvin the Martian. No matter what interested you, all were united in the endless parade of animated GIFs and weird typeface choices.
This quality has lead writers like Dennis Berman of the Wall Street Journal to describe GeoCities as a low-fidelity prototype for modern social media in an 2007 article about how Facebook could learn from its mistakes.
Berman’s article states that when Yahoo! took over GeoCities, the company shaved the GeoCities staff to “a skeleton crew” as their focus shifted from innovation to click-through rates.
This would cripple the platform as social media and Web 2.0 took over as the main frameworks of the internet in the mid-to-late 2000’s.
By the mid-2000’s, GeoCities looked ancient when compared to the likes of Facebook and YouTube, with nothing being done to refresh it for a glossier era according to TechCrunch.
The rise of easy-to-use site builders like WordPress and the fact that the official page detailing what one got with a free GeoCities account from the Internet Archive saying that the user was limited to 15 megabytes of data only helped in speeding its death.
With these factors making GeoCities obsolete, Yahoo! announced in early 2009 that it would no longer allow members to create new GeoCities accounts or sites as preserved on WebCitation and on October 26, 2009, GeoCities’ sites were turned into ruins.
While many consider GeoCities a punchline today because of how woefully outdated it had become throughout the 00’s, it is still remembered and preserved fondly by many internet archivists who remember how influential it was in creating the internet as we know it today.
For these people, it is a part of internet history and where they likely created their first site according to Jason Scott’s blog post from the day Yahoo! announced GeoCites’ closure. In this post, Scott tells users that he and his team were going to start saving the sites on Yahoo! GeoCities.
If you want to visit actual GeoCities sites for yourself (or if you just want to wallow in some nostalgia), Oocities is a site that has archived hundreds of them since GeoCities’ closing in 2009. On Tumblr, the “One Terabyte of a One Kilobyte Age Photo Op” blog is dedicated to sharing 72 new screenshots of every page from the 1 TB archive of GeoCities’ websites daily until 2027 according to its official research blog.
If you just want to remember the animated GIFs, the Internet Archive’s GifCities Search Engine has 4.5 million of them extracted from their expansive collection of GeoCities sites. To thank you for reading to the end, here is this button I made in the spirit of the GIFs many of us remember from the old internet:
Had any fun experiences with GeoCities? Let me know!