Vale Geocities 1994-2009

Duncan Riley - Author
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Jun. 15 2013, Updated 7:04 p.m. ET

Yahoo has announced that is will be closing Geocities, the web page hosting service it acquired in 1999 for $3.57 billion.

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Geocities initially launched in 1994 as BHI, later adopting the Geocities name in December 1995. Geocities wasn’t the first free web hosting service, but for a stretch of time during the first dot com boom, it became the biggest. Its popularity was as much a result of the market at the time; this was a period where dot com registrations and web hosting was expensive for average consumers. The first web boom drove interest in starting web sites, but many didn’t want to pay large sums to get started, particularly when it was then the first time they were establishing a web presence. Geocities offered free hosting, and a variety of tools that made setting up a web page easy such as templates and basic WYSIWIG tools; nothing remarkable by today’s standards, but a strong offering in 1996.

By the time it was acquired by Yahoo in 1999, Geocities had grown to become the 5th largest site online, and Geocities’ URL’s like geocities.com/CapitolHill/1234 were common place across the web.

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Yahoo made the acquisition at the wrong time, near the end of the first boom, and managed to alienate many users with a new TOS that claimed ownership over all Geocities content. But Yahoo mismanagement alone wasn’t to blame for Geocities slow and agonizing death. The market changed, and suddenly Geocities lost its appeal. The deregulation of dot com registrations in the late 90’s saw registration costs dive to below $10 a domain, driving an immediate boom in domain name registrations; suddenly a long Geocities URL wasn’t that appealing (In later years I believe they did offer support for custom domains, but it was too late in coming.) The end of the first internet boom caused a massive glut in internet capacity, resulting in lower bandwidth costs, and subsequently a big dive in hosting charges. Suddenly hosting became affordable, so users could easily find a cheap host for their cheap dot com domain, and didn’t need Geocities for their web site.

My first site wasn’t hosted on Geocities, but my second site was. In its day, Geocities was perfect for those wanting to get online, without having to spend money. One of the other benefits of Geocities (and unlike some others at the time), you also had full access to the raw code for your site, so what you created was often only restricted by your skill set and imagination.

Remarkably perhaps, Geocities still has traffic today. Alexa ranks it as the 150th most popular site online, amazing for a service most people have long forgotten. Why Yahoo then would seek to shut it down is a mystery; it’s not as if we got to this point yesterday, and there’s still some very nice traffic for the site. It’s a shame that Yahoo isn’t trying to offload it instead, because this is a brand that in the right hands could fly again.

Vale Geocities 1994-2009. Many of us will never forget you.

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