Before social media accounts, making your own website was the only way to publicly share your content with the rest of the web. One of the easiest ways to do this was through the free web-hosting service known as GeoCities.
Created by David Bohnnet and John Rezner, GeoCities began in November 1994 as Beverly Hills Internet. The BHI name was short-lived and was soon changed to GeoCities. The service was released around the same time as other early free web-hosts Tripod and Angelfire (both of which are still active today). As GeoCities and the world wide web as a whole began growing in popularity, the site was purchased by Yahoo! in 1999 for $3.5 billion USD. For ten years under Yahoo!’s ownership, the service stayed mostly afloat for the first half of the new millennium, but eventually declined in popularity until its closure in 2009.
Freedom of content
Whether users wanted to showcase their passions, thoughts, creations, families, pets, or anything in-between, a free GeoCities site provided the opportunity to make their wildest dreams come true.
Websites created on GeoCities were organized within categories called “neighborhoods”. Originally starting with six neighborhoods, then growing to 41 by 1999, they served as an easier way for users to categorize their pages, and discover pages created by others with similar interests.
In addition to the 41 neighborhoods, sub-neighborhoods were created to classify pages more specifically. Neighbourhoods and sub-neighbourhoods were placed within site URLs. An address such as “www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/Delta/6865/“ would indicate that the site was submitted to the BourbonStreet neighborhood, and added to the Delta sub-neighborhood. The “6865” in the URL represents an assigned ordered number used to differentiate sites from one another within neighborhoods.
The concept of neighborhoods was removed once Yahoo! purchased GeoCities, replacing the often-lengthy URLs with shorter vanity URLs. For example, “www.geocities.com/yahoousername”.
Eye for design
GeoCities was one of the best examples of Web 1.0 aesthetics, as time and time again its elements were featured in GeoCities sites. A single page would often be a goldmine of animated GIFs, annoying MIDIs as background music, (too much) freedom with fonts and colours, guestbooks, and just about anything else.
In terms of web page appearance, GeoCities was a learning lesson. For many, like myself, it was our first opportunity to have our own website, and we took full advantage of the “artistic” (I use that word loosely) freedom it provided. Over time, some of us learned how to evolve our design skills, while others were content with leaving their layout abilities alone.
Though the customization of many sites were often hard on the eyes, GeoCities provided a nice opportunity for anybody to create their pages to suit their personal styles. What also made GeoCities so user-friendly were the options to use either templates, HTML editing, or Yahoo!’s Pagebuilder program to design websites. Users of every skill level had something to work with.
The nearing end
As the late-2000s came along and Web 2.0 had changed the way websites were being operated, GeoCities was on the decline. Falling from 18.9 million active users in 2006, to 15.1 million in 2008, to 11.5 million in March 2009, Yahoo! announced the closure of GeoCities on April 23 2009. GeoCities was officially shut down Oct. 26 2009.
While GeoCities was on its way out, its Japanese counterpart, GeoCities Japan, showed no signs of impending death, and remains in service today.
What was most heartbreaking was the major loss of web history that came with the end of GeoCities. Instead of only shutting down the service, Yahoo! also deleted all of its estimated 38 million user-created pages. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the Internet Archive, Archive Team, Oocities, Reocities, and Geocities.ws, most people’s beloved pages were saved and put back online for the world to see.
Life after GeoCities
Since its closure, many of the mirrored pages from the service remain hosted on the specialized archive websites. One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age created a Tumblr which posts daily screen shots of every single GeoCities site saved, ordered from oldest to youngest. Humour websites such as The Geocities-izer have kept the Web 1.0 aesthetic alive through its design generator.
Personal pages are (mostly) long-gone due to social media profiles, but during the GeoCities years they served as the ancestors to today’s social networks. The platforms people use to share content have changed over time, but what hasn’t changed is the creative passion that comes with digitally sharing — even if accomplished without using three different fonts on a brightly coloured background.
What was the content on your GeoCities site? Share your story in the comments.
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