Today, when we think of the internet, we think of our smartphones, Google, and the cloud. With the ever-strengthening internet connections through Wi-Fi or mobile data, people always, always have access to it wherever they are. It’s so essential and integrated into our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine that, just twenty years ago, this wasn’t the case at all. Back then, only financially-capable families had computers and internet access at home. They used a dial-up connection that took a very long time to boot and had very limited data. Back then, people didn’t truly understand yet how the internet worked. But there were some people who realized one significant silver lining about this technological feat: it can connect you to anyone anywhere around the world.
This silver lining led to the development of online communities. People found friends with whom they shared the same interests — just like what we are doing today. Before there was Reddit, Tumblr, and other social media platforms specific to sharing interests, there was GeoCities. This now-defunct web hosting service started it all in the 1990s.
How GeoCities Worked
Today, most, if not all of us internet-users, have a basic understanding of how websites are developed. It takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills in coding. Data stays alive in server rooms maintained with cooling systems. But, back in the 1990s, people didn’t understand this at all. But GeoCities changed everything by allowing people to create webpages without ever needing to know the nitty-gritty details of coding. They could add music, graphics, animation, and other forms of graphic design. They could play around with fonts and color schemes to their hearts’ content. Needless to day, millions of people took advantage of this convenient way of creating webpages.
Many of them created webpages about their friends and families. Some created a space to document the quirky things that their cats and dogs do. And some created a webpage where they can post about The X-Files fan theories all day long.
The most appealing feature about GeoCities, though, was the “neighborhoods.” There are 29 of them — named after real places — where people can list down hyperlinks to their webpages. Some of these “neighborhoods” included Area51, where people could talk about science fiction and fantasy, and HotSprings, where people could talk about fitness.
History of GeoCities
David Bohnett and John Rezner were the two minds behind GeoCities. They created this service in 1994. Back then, it was called Beverly Hills Internet, named after where they lived at that time. It was their way of taking advantage of the internet and sharing it with the mainstream audience. The popularity of GeoCities peaked in 1995. Back then, it was hosting over 25 thousand pages and had more than six million views every month.
In 1999, GeoCities was purchased by Yahoo! For $3.5 million. Many passionate GeoCities users protested against this purchase. They felt that, by selling out to a large corporation, GeoCities would lose its communal nature. And, in a way, that’s what happened. After GeoCities transitioned under the care of Yahoo!, the latter stated in the terms of service that all of the data uploaded by the users — every text, photo, and graphic — will be owned by Yahoo!. Due to the backlash, Yahoo! took back the new rule regarding the ownership of data.
After this, though, GeoCities started to decline. It was among the many internet companies affected by the bursting of the Dot-Com bubble. With the advent of more advanced social media websites such as MySpace and Facebook, GeoCities slowly became outdated.
By 2009, Yahoo! announced that they would close GeoCities for good.
After the announcement of the closure of GeoCities, avid internet users suddenly felt the need to save as much of the webpages as they could. Many groups, then, became archivists and made it their mission to download as much GeoCities data as they could. They estimated that, together, they were able to save about a million webpages.
Many of these GeoCities webpages could be viewed on “digital museums,” such as geocities.ws and reocities.com. Some archivists, on the other hand, opted to upload the GeoCities data on thepiratebay.org, making it possible for people to download these webpages via Torrent.
Even though no one can use GeoCities anymore, it’s clear that it holds a very important part of our internet’s history. It paved the way for social media pages that we are using today. When millions of people had no idea how to properly use the internet to their advantage, they turned to GeoCities and created online communities to record and share parts of their lives.