Geocities Closing and What It Means for the Cloud

Way back in 1995 GeoCities realized that people would want to get their own content and post it on the web. The tools for doing this were almost non existent. In order to play in this realm you had to understand the technology of HTML and FTP. The folks at GeoCities realized two critical things: user-generated content is king and people care about location. GeoCities did a lot of things right. They also made a few critical mistakes. Not least of which was letting themselves get bought by Yahoo! but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The year is 1995 and you decided to bite the bullet and get a real Internet connect. No AOL or CompuServe for you. Just a modem and a copy of Mosaic and you are on your way. You look at the hundreds of web sites out there and you realize that you have something to say. If your lucky your ISP gave you a little web space. There’s also this new web site called GeoCities. You can log in and create a web page that people will be able to find. Because the tools were very primitive back them there wasn’t a lot of structure in how the web page was created. The results were not always esthetically pleasing.

Years before Aldus released a software package called PageMaker. Like its contemporary MacWrite II, it allowed users to use any of a large number of new Adobe Laser-quality font faces. Each font face could be made bigger, smaller, bold, or even italics. The result is that newsletters created about that time began to look like ransom notes with their mashup of font faces. Just because you have a hundred fonts does not mean you have to use them all in this flyer. The same thing happened to GeoCities. People could use every HTML tag so they did. Things got even worse when Internet Explorer hit the scene with Marquee and other made up, non-standard tags. Now your text could be ugly and scroll across the screen at the same time.

I think this stigma stayed with GeoCities and they never gained a reputation for quality. Their fate was sealed when at the height of the dot.com boom they were bought by Yahoo!. After the market crashed they had an opportunity that was never realized. Yahoo could have had a MySpace or Facebook years before the competition. Like other Yahoo properties they were left to rot.

If you were a GeoCities user before the bust you took part in the true wild west of the Internet. GeoCities sites were rampant with all manners of villainy and scum. GeoCities was often shown as an example of why people chose to stay in the walled garden of AOL years after that model was dead. You never knew what you would get when you clicked on a GeoCities link in your search engine results. It might be a tribute page for an 80s hair band or something worse.

GeoCities’ closing should serve as a warning to how we rely on the cloud. Anyone who did not get the warning now finds that their content is gone, never to be seen again at that URL anyway. After all we are just talking about electrons. Poof and their gone. Users should really take this warning to heart. Backing up the content on your web page is just as important as backing up the pictures on your hard drive. You should never rely on your ISP or web hosting company to store the only copy of something. If it does not exist in at least two places than it cannot really be said to exist.

Fortunately some of GeoCities lives on in the Wayback Machine. Google’s search results are already fading way into nothingness. The web pages of GeoCities are getting an Orwellian demise as if they never existed. Countless links around the Internet are broken. In some ways the Internet has no past. What you see is just a snapshot in time. At any moment a part of it could go dark never to be seen again. Content providers and even Facebook users should think about the implications of trusting their content to the cloud.

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