RIP, Geocities

My second thought upon reading the news that Geocities will be shut down later this year was: that’s kind of bittersweet. My first thought, of course, was: wait… Geocities is still around?!

Apparently, it is. For now, at least. Geocities was purchased by Yahoo! in 1999 for 5 billion dollars. Kara Swisher has a fab retrospective (along with her original article about the purchase) at All Things Digital. While most of the discussion of Geocities’ death this week has revolved around its implications for VCs and the current crop of Web 2.0 investments, the thing that struck me more immediately was the contrast between the hyper-literal Geocities Internet of 1999, and the “everything ends in R” Internet of 2009. Indulge my memory for just a moment…

Geocities began as a personal website hosting service in 1994, in a period of time when most people’s understanding of the Internet relied very very heavily on literal interpretations of analogies. Consider: “world wide web,” “information superhighway,” “bulletin board systems (BBS)”… (this was before the “series of tubes” framework had gained widespread acceptance, by the way).

Accordingly, Geocities took a highly literal approach to peddling web sites – sorry, home pages – by offering users addresses modeled on actual neighborhoods, streets, and house numbers, grouping pages on similar topics in the same neighborhood. I know of no technological justification for this, but I do know that in 1994 it was totally normal to be the only one among your friends and family who had a website, and to explain, “It’s www dot geocities dot com, slash SouthBeach, slash Sands, slash 8990. You can see all my favorite quotes from Friends there and listen to MIDIs of Hootie & The Blowfish songs.”

To Yahoo!’s credit, they discontinued the neighborhood-based structure shortly after purchasing the site. A pretty bold move coming from a company whose original purpose was to create a static, manually-updated directory of all web sites. For nostalgia’s sake, though, here is a list of Geocities neighborhoods of yore. Farewell, Geocities. You were adorable while you lasted… and boy did you last.

Any other cute or hilarious memories of the 1999 Internet? Share in the comments. My own favorite Geocities eulogy so far is by a designer/writer/artist named Atherton Bartleby, and can be found here.


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