Tomorrow, Yahoo! is shutting down GeoCities. This move is a bit unusual, in that Yahoo is not just taking GeoCities offline, but deleting it altogether. And thus, it is taking a large part of early web history with it.
GeoCities was the first true consumer-friendly and free web-hosting service, at a time when web hosting was pricey enough to lock out hobbyists and others who just wanted to experiment with HTML programming. GeoCities pages were often popularly maligned for their amateurish design (example: the infamous hamster dance). And GeoCities was confusingly organized, around a model of content “cities” which hosted pages on different topics (such as “Hollywood” for fan/celebrity pages). But because GeoCities was free to all, it holds a rich history of the early Internet—not all of which is archived in other places. And, it is still the 198th most popularly-visited domain, according to Alexa.
GeoCities’ passing is troubling, because it points to the ephemeral nature of web content. With so much of our lives online, we really are dependent on the companies that host our data—in a sense, it makes it much easier to rewrite history. Luckily, there are a few efforts to save as much of the GeoCities domain content before everything goes away tomorrow—one by the Internet Archive (home of the Wayback Machine), and one by Jason Scott. It remains to be seen how much will ultimately be saved, but it sounds like both groups have been working very hard to get as much archived as possible, and thus preserve a bit of Internet history.