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GeoCities Dies: There Goes the Neighborhood

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I wasn't yet 13. Thankfully lying on the Internet wasn't a crime then.

The year was 1995, and this really awesome place called GeoCities let you create your own website — for free! Of course, it was a really strange process. They had these "neighborhoods" so that each website could be categorized. Each neighborhood had a sub-neighborhood. Then you picked your address, and your website was laid out in the neighborhood like a little house. How adorable!

I can't remember exactly to which topic the first installment of my website catered, but I do remember, over the course of GeoCities' zenith, sharing MIDI files, writing about Super Nintendo games, and sharing information about this Magic: The Gathering-spinoff card game called Spellfire. (God, weren't the 90s great?) Over time I kept adding new features, learned about these great HTML codes that let you blink text and create "frames," and added these really sweet fire-animated GIFs. Look how far we've come since landing on the moon.

It was an amazing collection of websites for its time. And much like the fabled Atlantis, its descent into a permanent oceanic slumber is nigh. Yahoo! pulls its plug today, suffocating a million poorly-designed yet sentimentally-valued primordial "blogs."

Once GeoCities was sold to Yahoo! in 1999 for $3.6 billion "dollars," it was supposed to be a landmark shift in the Internet. But the damn thing just never quite took off, because the websites are rather hard to create for most people from scratch. The ease of use just wasn't there. Perhaps that's why I quite enjoyed it.

My junior year of high school, I distinctly remember using my GeoCities site for a school assignment, and I was the only one in the class to make a website for it. Everyone else compiled some kind of PowerPoint. Perhaps it was because of my hatred for that application, but more likely it was the tenacity to be different, and also to give my neglected yet beloved website a practical application. Back in 2000, websites were still the last refuge for not just nerds, but nerds who could wallow through HTML.

What services like Blogger, WordPress, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter realized is that not everybody really gives a shit about learning HTML, but they still want cool-looking corners of the Internet. And for all those sites (except MySpace), this was doable without frames, blink tags, and a pain-in-the-ass file manager. They don't know how lucky they have it today. [shakes fist at teenagers]

People older and wiser than I are lamenting the decline of radio, newspapers, vinyl records, and VHS tapes. I never thought it was possible, but suddenly an intangible medium is now extinct. The little home I picked out over 13 years ago has been seized by eminent domain and turned into, I don't know, another off-putting Google Ad.

I still can't get over the neighborhood concept. Thinking about it today, it was ridiculous. The worst characteristics of neighbors is that you probably would have nothing to do with them if they didn't live so damn close to you. Such was the case in GeoCities neighborhoods. The website next to you was freakin' pointless, wasn't it? Social media eventually figured out that, like friends, you can pick your neighbors. In this regard, the Internet has made it extremely easy to coexist with people you don't care about, because in one's own Facebook private sector, the "block" button makes it so they don't exist.

History will look back on the GeoCities project as a failure peppered with individual successes. The first-time Internet homeowners eventually traded up for widgets, RSS, and Twitter functionality. But like their first apartment, they'll always remember that dinky, plaid-colored website they somehow created themselves, wipe a tear from their eye, and exclaim, "Jesus Christ, that looked terrible."

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About Suss

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Ah, memories. And how many “webrings” was your site a member of? Remembering webrings?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Dude, I created my own webrings. What a great way to meet other people!

  • http://www.whalertly.com/wordpress Robert M. Barga

    I learned to code on GeoCities. That basic coding got me into advanced coding, both for the interwebs and for programs, which got me multiple jobs. Woot for Geocities

    also, XKCD had a great memorial for it

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