Historical Perspective Edit
One of the founders of Geocities, David Bohnett, grew up just outside of Chicago. As a child, he was extremely fascinated with telephones and network systems in general. As a teen, he was active in online networks and continued to show an interest in how people communicated via non-traditional means. Through this fascination as an inspiration, David Bohnett along with John Rezner founded Geocities in late 1994 (Bohnett, 2015). During this time, the internet was still new to the average individual and firms were still discovering how to potentially maximize its usage. With that said, Geocities was an online community that featured user-generated profiles that allowed for individuals to create their own web pages using a web page creator that was user-friendly for novices of web page creation. Geocities was the first entity to offer a service where any individual could create and alter their own web pages on the internet. This allowed individuals to express their own personal interests and be linked to other people who share the same interests (Bohnett, 2015). Furthermore, the web pages were organized into virtual "neighborhoods" based on their subject matter. For example, Area 51 for science fiction fans, College Park for academics, Colosseum for sports enthusiasts, and many others (Weeks, 1999).
By 1996, Geocities had thousands of user-generated pages and over 6 million monthly page views. Also, the amount of “neighborhoods" increased to 29 "neighborhoods." From there, popularity only continued to blossom for Geocities. By the year 1998, Geocities was the third most visited website on the Internet (Rao & Scaruffi, 2011). At the height of Geocities, it was valued at about 1 billion dollars. Sixteen months later, Yahoo purchased Geocities for 4.7 billion dollars. At the time, Geocities was a powerful offering with a massive following of members and viewers. Even with all the popularity, Geocities still was not turning a profit (Berman, 2007). The absorption into Yahoo was not a successful one; staff was cut back and the development of new technology came to a halt. Furthermore, the creation of broadband internet allowed competitors to enter the social media market at will, leading to a shift in the power landscape of the internet towards social media dominance. From that point, Geocities became an afterthought in the social media market. The popularity continued to decrease at a substantial pace till the eventually closing of Geocities in 2009 in an effort by Yahoo to prioritize their offerings (Milian, 2009).
In order to preserve the millions of Geocities that were about to be removed from existence, a group simply known as “The Archive Team” made it their mission to archive as many of these pages as possible (The Archive Team, 2010). With that being said, this group was able to archive a vast majority of Geocities sites, which can be downloaded via a 900GB torrent file (TechNews, 2010). The importance of this archiving lies in the notion that it was millions of people’s lives portrayed online. Furthermore, Geocities is a treasure trove for academic researchers who want to work with real-world data sets. Also, Geocities can be a vital record for historians interested in understanding the thought perspectives of people during that era. Geocities represents within time and space, a gold mine of cultural analysis for nearly a decade (Bohnett,2015). The information about perspectives, viewpoints,and thought-consciousness of the mid-1990’s-early 2000’s are represented by the entity of Geocities. Thus, Geocities is a representation of time and space of mainstream culture of that time period.
Link to the Archive: https://archive.org/details/archiveteam-geocitiesOnline Communities
Geocities relied upon a user-generated content within a community-based system for organization. To further explain, an individual would make a page using page construction software from Geocities. From there, based on the topic matter of one’s page, the page was placed in a virtual "neighborhood". For example, Area 51 for science fiction fans, College Park for academics, Colosseum for sports lovers, and many others (Weeks, 1999). Geocities allowed individuals to build pages in different ways, with different styles of architecture. This notion allowed individuals to figure out what works and what does not work. This process of exploration created a feeling of being a settler and excavating the land in an online community. This is where the concept of “telepresence” enters the fold. “Telepresence” is when something brings a sense of place to the sometimes confusing world of cyberspace. The idea of “location” on the internet becomes easier to understand and relate to the masses when it is rich with content that is closely identified with an actual idea or location (Roberts, 2000). Furthermore, within these communities, a feeling of connectedness and a feeling of familiarity emerge within the individuals as they become more adjusted and comfortable within the community they have “settled” in within Geocities (Sreenivasan, 1997). Geocities wanted to create a community through user created and user based content. This way, validity and integrity of user-generated content could shine giving people another outlook than the major popular new sources. At the time, there were not many people who believed this philosophy could be accomplished. The question at the time was: why would people want to read user-generated content when you can read material from a professional writer? The answer to this question as time has demonstrated is that people want alternative forms of gaining knowledge than traditional forms of media (Bohnett, 2015). With that being said, Geocities stressed that it was not an in-and-out service like a search engine. It's a place for people to meet. They allowed for self-expression through self-publishing (Sreenivasan, 1997).Within the realm of self-expression and similar interests can promote dialogues and relationships to happen within members of the community which strength the notion of garnering connectedness between fellow community members. In turn, this concept can satisfy the feeling of “telepresence” (McWilliam, 2000).
Theoretical Perspective Edit
The bottom-up approach Geocities was doing was not common in the mid-1990’s.The idea that individuals would want to read user-generated content was questioned by many in the early stages of Geocities. Many critics believed that user generated content was not valid when so many individuals make writing content a career. The question asked by these critics was always, why would people want to read content not created by professionals? Furthermore, some critics believed an online community is created by building compelling content. Many believed that user-generated content was not compelling because they have no standards of entry (Sreenivasan,1997). Using a notion of Siegfried Giedion’s framework for media archeology, Geocities represented a way for people to express their opinions and personal interests to the masses through the internet during the mid-90’s-early 2000’s. As mentioned prior, Geocities was the first to fulfill that want and need to express one's creativity through their creation of web pages showcasing sincere interest in a subject matter. Therefore, Geocites represented within that time of space an outlet for freedom of expression, creative ingenuity, and companionship with people of similar interests. Continuing with Siegfried’s len, the process of user created content showcases how meaning is brought to these pages.The notion that people search, seek and, explore the internet landscape to come across new web pages to share meaning with the artist/ the person creating the page showcases a modern perspective. Furthermore, the meaning that is created is also shared with fellow members of the same "neighborhood" because of the same interests and general agree ability of certain notions found within the content (Tallack,1994). In other words, the members of Geocities give the website meaning because they are the artists involved in the creation process. In turn, users created meaning for Geocities while Geocities gave the opportunity within that time and space for individuals to express their own opinions and personal interests to the world.
Legacy of Community-Oriented User-Made Content Edit
However, while the internet may have expanded this process, the mechanization of the 20th century had already created many channels by which average people could share content based on their own shared interests. Starting in the 1930s, individual fans utilized the cheap cost of duplication processes such as the ditto machine, mimeograph, or hectograph, along with the distribution capabilities of the mail system to share fan magazines (Southard 1982). The earliest fan magazines were created as a means to share science fiction writing with fellow fans, serving as testing ground for aspiring science fiction authors to hone their craft. Indeed, notable authors in the genre of science fiction such as Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke published their earliest works through fanzines (Triggs 2010). Fanzines did not remain the sole domain of science fiction writing, however. The science fiction elements in comics led to major crossover into comic fanzines, starting in the 1950s, and due to its cult following in the science fiction community, a variety of Star Trek fanzines popped up in the late 60s, leading to an explosion of fanzines covering other television shows (Triggs, 2010). Music fanzines also grew beginning in the 1950s, predating professional music magazines such as Rolling Stone (Triggs, 2010). Fanzines did not simply die with the rise of the internet, however. Many fanzine publishers moved their ‘zines online, becoming E-zines; however, some in the fanzine community argue that something is lost when fanzines cease to be a physical object (Triggs, 2010).
The communities institutionalized in the structure of Geocities can trace their roots back to the fandoms of the science fiction, comic, or music communities, among others, that drove fanzine output throughout the 20th century. The primary difference, however, is that Geocities served as an attempt to tap into bottom-up content as a business model, whereas fanzines existed entirely as a bottom-up phenomenon, including the organic formations of communities and the individual possession of the means of production. This key difference, of course, is what led to the near extermination of content on Geocities with its shuttering in 2009, a problem not shared by the fanzine, which can (excepting the modern E-zine) be more easily archived due to its physical nature.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) Edit
Another branch on the Geocities family tree is that of the Bulletin Boards System (or BBS) of the pre-internet era. In 1978, the first bulletin board system was developed, based in the idea of manually dialing into a server computer using conventional telephone lines, which then served as a simple means to exchange information via the digital equivalent of a public bulletin board (Gilbertson, 2010). BBSs often targeted a single topic such as a hobby, interest, or fandom as their focus, allowing a user to find a community of individuals with a shared interest (Scott, n.d.). These BBSs also hosted significant amounts of original content created by visitors. Content regarding everything from television to sexuality and even some early E-zines were made available on various BBSs (Scott, n.d.). Some enterprising BBSs users even created some graphical content on BBSs using ASCII (Scott, n.d.). Eventually, the popularity of BBSs was eclipsed by the internet we know today (Gilbertson, 2010).
Geocities (along with much of the modern internet) owes much of its organizational structure to the formations of the BBS. Like BBSs, Geocities created specific communities centered on specific areas of interest, within which individuals could share content, and find content from others in their community. Of course, the BBS was much more limited, both in terms of graphical capabilities as well as general accessibility. One significant difference is that Geocities ultimately serves as a canvas on which to create one’s own website, whereas a BBS was intended as a more interactive experience, allowing viewers of content to comment and review said content.
Overall, the community aspects tapped by Geocities are less a revolution, and more an institutionalization of fan and enthusiast communities that developed organically throughout the 20th century, first communicating through fanzines and later adopting the digital with BBSs. Geocities main nuance was providing a simple means to publish on the web, filtered through these institutionalized communities to allow individuals to find the content they desired within the Geocities framework.
Demise of GeoCities EditA common misconception of all social media platforms is because they are bringing in high an amount of traffic does not mean they are necessarily making money. GeoCities faced a challenge that many social networking sites still grapple with: just because people like the site doesn't mean they'll respond to ads posted there.Thus, ads will take their business to areas where they see results. "A large proportion of the top 10 sites worldwide are devoted to online community and self-expression," says Mary Lou Fulton, former vice-president of editorial at GeoCities. "But the revenue isn't there in the same numbers, not even close” (Lunau, 2009). Furthermore, when the acquisition by Yahoo gave control of Geocities to a large company with multiple branches and an assortment of different start-ups to monitor, this notion left their resources running thin and the staff working on Geocities was cut back. In other words, new developing start-ups have only one or a few objectives.Thus, they were able to outperform Yahoo and Geocities who had their focus spread across multiple start-ups (Bohnett, 2015). Furthermore, another factor that doomed Geocities was the transition to broadband internet. Broadband internet gave competitors faster photo upload times, music quality, and blogging was becoming a regular occurrence (Lunau, 2009). A major misfire for Geocities was not focusing on person-to-person interaction like other social media sites did. The innovation of "friends” by Myspace and Facebook created a more connected community (Lunau, 2009) Finally, Geocities lack of keeping up with the technology quickly made their service appear out of date and stale compared to the competitors that were more visually and technologically pleasing. This notion quickly became a detriment for new members and was the main reason for these individuals to look elsewhere for their social networking wants and needs.
Geocities' Online Legacy Edit
The impact of Geocities’ format and customization can be seen in Yahoo’s own recently acquired blogging social network, Tumblr. The site features many Geocities-esque features, such as user friendly, web-based customization (that allows advanced users to edit HTML and CSS), and a unique URL for each blog a user creates (Blog Customization, n.d.). However, notably absent are the clear-cut communities Geocities was known for, replaced by a simple search bar and recommended blogs to follow-which, upon following them, notifies the blog creator that you are now following their blog. Also added is a feed of recent blog posts from followed blogs, along with the option to “reblog” someone’s original content on your own blog; the ability to privately message a blog, and tags for individual posts to help with indexing. Even Forbes noted the similarities between the two services following Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr, noting also that both services struggled with monetization prior to their acquisition (Louis 2013).
While the more structured nature of Geocities has faded, Tumblr appears to be a modern iteration of many of the services that Geocities provided. Communities form more organically, as user follow other blogs that are reblogged by accounts they follow. This more organic growth calls back to the earlier era of fanzines and BBSs, where consumer of such content had less structure by which to discover new sources. However, Tumblr still provides a similar structure of web publishing and site customization, with the added bonus of features expected from a modern social media website. Indeed, an article in Slate suggested that perhaps the absence of what now constitutes social networks was the missing ingredient that could have unlocked greater success for Geocities (Manjoo 2009).
Web Archiving Edit
Even the end of Geocities had a significant impact on the considerations for archiving the web, pointing out the ephemeral nature of such content as well as the challenges of archiving it.
For example, in spite of the efforts of archivists, a good deal of the content in the Geocities archive is currently unviewable in its current state, due to broken links; however, some archivists are working on “restoring” these sites to their original state (Chiel 2015). Also, the destruction of 90s-era websites stretched beyond simply Geocities sites themselves, as many other sites using Geocities for hosting images that were used on other free web hosting services have now become filled with broken image links (Lialina, n.d.).
It may be Geocities’ greatest legacy that, by studying the process of its shutdown and the scramble to archive all it once hosted, lessons can be gleaned about the process of digital media preservation in the era of an immensely interconnected web. To preserve web content may require much more effort than simply extracting the data, but may also require careful work to alter the coding just enough to make the sites viewable in their original form. In addition, it may be impossible to preserve every aspect of the internet lost when a major web service shuts down, meaning that some destruction of digital content is inevitable in such cases. With such difficulty, future media archaeological studies may be unable to truly explore the nuances of the modern web, should such sites close their servers.
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