A week ago Yahoo shutdown Geocities, bringing an end to the venerable free host and causing every tweeter and Digg user to express in no uncertain terms just how much they will miss the site. For the record, I will not miss Geocities, and once this nostalgic trip is over, I don’t think anybody will miss Geocities. For the moment, Geocities is reminding many of the Internet’s current twenty and thirty somethings of their teenage days; of their memories of bike races, home cooked meals, and their first kiss. They also remember using Geocities to make their first website, which like their first kiss, actually appears quite clumsy once we remove the rose-tinted glasses.
Compared to today’s suave and mature Internet, the awkward formative years of the net are something I do not want to experience again. That said, I was a bit surprised when, during a chat about Geocities’s closing and a couple of efforts underway to backup the site, the question came up of why bother to download and save the site. To those who question this effort I offer the following: Geocities may not be useful any more, but it was a widely used service in its day and represents a major chapter in the history of the Internet.
Geocities is a great benchmark for how Internet technology has advanced over the last 15 years. Geocities needs to be backed up, if for no other reason than the fact that it is impossible to gauge technological advancement in a vacuum. As I mentioned earlier, many of today’s avid Internet users, and I am sure a number of its visionaries, cut their web teeth on Geocities. Also, the argument could be made that Geocities was at least partially the motivation for a lot of the technical improvements that have occurred, such as blogs and wikis. While Geocities included ways for storing data and encouraging audience interaction, these tools were crude and left users wanting more out of their webmastering experience. Geocities can be a great case study in the interaction of technology and users, of how a certain technology’s limitations can spur development, and how a technology can be left behind while still contributing to overall societal benefit.
I guess I’ll close with a spiteful farewell to Geocities. Wherever you go, don’t expect me to visit you. But please write back sometime.