Remembering GeoCities and How It Helped Shape the Internet

A photo of a man jumping from inside of an old, boxy computer to a new, high-tech laptop.

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Long before the existence of Facebook (even before MySpace, iPods, and Y2K) and before the first dotcom bubble burst, there was the Internet. Unlike newer technologies, the Internet had no single “inventor.”

However, there was GeoCities, which helped shape the Internet.

Once the Internet’s third most-visited domain, GeoCities was responsible for the development of millions of websites. Years after the free web-hosting service was launched in 1994, Thom Weisel’s wealth management firm advised Yahoo! to acquire GeoCities for $3.5 billion.

The company’s goal was to give everyone who had Internet access a free place on the web. Although there were just a few million people online during that time, the idea of owning an online space was a strange (and exciting) new medium. Other free web-hosting services such as Tripod and Angelfire also launched around the same time, but these platforms proved to be far less popular than GeoCities.

”We are not an in-and-out service like a search engine. It’s a place for people to meet. We allow for self-expression through self-publishing. We’re it, in terms of being a major content-entertainment site whose editorial strategy is solely based on the members creating the content themselves,” said GeoCities co-founder David Bohnett.

In its original form, GeoCities users selected a “city” in which to launch their web pages. GeoCities wasn’t sure how to handle the whole idea of an online community and decided to divide the content up into “cities” or “neighborhoods” where you and your neighbors should ideally have the same core interest. The “cities” were named after actual cities or regions according to their content. For example, many computer-related websites were placed under “SilliconValley” and those in the entertainment industry were assigned to “Hollywood.”

Eventually, however, the “home page” fad was overshadowed by blogs and social-networking websites. In 2009, approximately ten years after the merge with Yahoo!, GeoCities announced that it would shut down its 38 million free user-built pages in the United States.

Although many people thought the platform inspired a lot of terrible web design, GeoCities was the first big venture built on what is now considered the Web 2.0 boom of user-generated content. It gave people tools to do amazing things on their websites, including adding animation, music, graphics, and other HTML wizardry.

Imagine yourself back in 1996. You’ve created your free GeoCities account, and you’ve been given a blank page with 15 megabytes to tell the world about yourself. What would be on your page?

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About DevonJ140
I am currently an Accounting Director living in New York City. I love reading and learning more about business, finance, tech, and current events.

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