An era from the early days of the Web is ending, as Yahoo! has announced its intent to close GeoCities, its free Web hosting service targeted to novices, later this year.
I can’t have a legitimate discussion about my career in Web without starting it at GeoCities. I started a site at GeoCities in 1998 as a starry-eyed 8th grader, staking out turf for a little Windows tips site I would call “The Ultimate Windows Launchpad” in a little suburb of the SiliconValley neighborhood known as Haven. (GeoCities, up until about a year after the Yahoo acquisition, used “neighborhoods” to group Web pages together by interest. For example, tech-related pages lived in SiliconValley; there was MadisonAvenue for advertising-related pages, and so on. Looking back, this was fairly brilliant — cutesy, sure, but smart. Eventually, as Yahoo! merged more and more of GeoCities into its operation, this convention was eventually dropped in favor of shorter URLs using the Yahoo! ID.)
Between the lime background, scrolling marquee for a title, and animated GIFs, “The Ultimate Windows Launchpad” was exactly what you would expect from a novice’s first attempt at publishing a Web page. Even worse, I didn’t know HTML then — I had thrown the page together in FrontPage Express, which came along for the ride in the Internet Explorer 4.0 package. Yes, I got started by being a prototypical “n00b” that most experienced Web developers make fun of today.
And thus we run into one of the few regrets in my life — namely not keeping a copy of this old page intact. Who would have guessed its impact it would have on my journey? The earliest copy of the site on archive.org is from early 1999, after I had shortened the name to “The Windows Launchpad” and given it a more sophisticated table-based layout in a bid to impress the ladies. (Here’s all archive.org has for The Windows Launchpad on GeoCities.)
Of course, I eventually outgrew GeoCities as I started looking for more power user features. During the summer of 2000 I moved the site off GeoCities and onto a rather sophisticated free hosting service from Freedom2Surf (which they managed to run ad-free for a year), where I would eventually begin transforming the site into a message board, which actually did well for a couple years before my interest faded.
As the Web evolved, GeoCities fell from prominence and just became another Yahoo! property and the butt of many jokes from experienced Web developers who, more likely than not, got started on GeoCities or similar services with the “n00b” stigma attached (such as Angelfire and Tripod). Ultimately, more evolved Web services like WordPress and Tumblr, which come prepackaged with great designs, were the downfall of GeoCities and similar services. As ReadWriteWeb notes, people want a professional-looking Web presence, even at the novice level. GeoCities just couldn’t keep up.
Sure, we now have Tumblr, WordPress, and the like roaming the ‘net — but I have to tell you, there was something endearing about Web rings, lousy HTML, and the learning experience of it all that today’s starry-eyed 8th graders are more than likely going to miss out on. It’s a bummer. GeoCities’ hosting of “The Ultimate Windows Launchpad” ultimately proved to serve as the launchpad to a career, and for that it receives my deepest appreciation.