Geocities, the original and once greatest free site hosting service on the planet is closing for good today, some 10 years after Yahoo acquired it for $3.57 billion. Details on the closure here, and a short history of Geocities here.
Anyone who is old enough to remember dialup modems and a time when the web was the greatest invention of the 20th century will remember Geocities even if they never used it themselves, because at its peak millions of web pages were being created and hosted on its servers. This was a time when a .com domain name cost over a $100 and web hosting was something that was both expensive and for the more technically minded.
Geocities helped drive the democratization of the internet. It would be difficult to argue that had it not existed things would have been different, because it may have easily have been another free web hosting service that boomed, but it is fair to say that Geocities was a major stepping stone in the progression of the internet, the grandfather or great grandfather of services such as Twitter or even Facebook.
I didn’t host my first site on Geocities, but in late 1996 I created my second site on the service. For the next three years I religiously updated the site adding articles and links to a page that wasn’t a blog due to its layout and structure, but shared many traits that blogs came to have.
The brilliance of Geocities in my mind then, as it is today given those times was that it allowed users to create pages using html. That may sound strange today, but in 1996 free web hosting usually meant set templates and not a lot of customization, at least to the code level (a bit like WordPress.com when it launched.) Geocities had templates, but you didn’t have use them. Of course, best of all it was free and always at the same URL, overcoming some of the earlier issues I’d had with site development where the URL was often stuck to the ISP you were with at the time.
I learned the core basics of HTML using Geocities because it gave you the freedom to experiment. That base led me to where I am today, although I should note that my reliance on HTML meant that I struggled for years with CSS…but that’s a story for another day after a couple of beers.
Today I ripped the old site to keep for years to come, not that I had touched it in 10 years nor maybe visited it in 5. I logged into Geocities for one last time, and although the Yahoo interface is different to the original, the memories came flooding back. The web was different then, perhaps not better, but more innocent none the less.
Farewell Geocities, and thanks for all the fish.