GeoCities closes: fond memories of free sites and terrible web design

Suw Charman-Anderson says that the social web is the direct successor to the GeoCities legacy. "The need to have a personal space online hasn't gone away, it's just that the tools to create those personal spaces have transformed. What used to be done on GeoCities is now being done on, or on MySpace, or Facebook.

"GeoCities was always about expressing yourself, writing about the things you were passionate about, designing a site that looked the way you felt. If you wanted dancing hamsters and twinkling stars, they were yours for the taking. Now, if you want dancing hamster and twinkling stars, there's MySpace."

Opera's Lawson also believes a Geocities page is the direct precursor of the MySpace page "both in content, the fact that it's based on a person rather than a product, and also the undesigned designs that people make. Long live animated gifs and MIDI background music." Lawson also made a CSS Zen Garden design in homage to Geocities non-design, called Geocities 1996.

"I think a Facebook page is your fridge door, where you leave little notes about what you've done and where you are and how you feel or arrange with your mates to meet up. Geocities (or now, MySpace) is more profound: it says here I am! This is me! It's planting your personal flag on the web."

"No-one really wishes for the horrible backgrounds or the random MIDI files (except people who use MySpace) but there is something special about something that you made, that belongs to you. GeoCities had that in spades before anywhere else" adds Yahoo Technical Evangelist Tom Hughes-Croucher.


FINAL WARNING: Yahoo has been warning people about the demise of GeoCities for some months

"What the social web brought was the interaction with your peers that is more important than the personalisation of GeoCities. Arguably that's why Facebook stole a lot of MySpace's thunder. At the end of the day people would rather have an easy way to share what they are doing with their friends and vice versa than spend their time customising their own page."

"The need to share information with friends and connect with people was initially served by Geocities and the like," agrees Mozilla's Nitot. "Today's tools have evolved, they're more sophisticated and easier to use while also taking the mobile web into account."

The old MySpace

"In its day Geocities was the real MySpace and allowed you I think about 15MB of free space (it might have started at 2MB)" says Lippiett. "Here you could upload pretty much anything you wanted - none of that nightmare tedious style hacking you have to do with MySpace (or plugging in a PimpMySpace type theme) and it allowed you a helluva lot more freedom than both MySpace or Facebook."

"There is no doubt that Facebook is more powerful than Geocities for most people, which is good," continues Nitot. "But there is a downside too; with social networks such as Facebook, centralisation is becoming more of an issue. You could end up being locked-out of your digital life just because you accidentally breached the Terms of Service, leaving you with nowhere to go if there is no competing service that is used by a group of your friends. What will happen to your digital content, the pictures, messages, posts and short videos you uploaded to your profile? In most cases, they're lost to you. There are also privacy related issues, that most users totally ignore, even if it may backfire in the future."

"The social web is easier and requires less creativity," says Shauna Wright. "All it demands of you is an opinion or for you to share something cool you've seen. It doesn't require the hours upon hours of thought that so many of us put into personal sites to make them interesting or unique. And, for the most part, it doesn't require knowledge of HTML, FTP, Photoshop. Again, a low barrier to entry is a double-edged sword. It's good in that it allows many voices to be heard and it's bad for the same reason."

Lance Arthur agrees – and hates the rise of the social web in place of personal websites. "It's home-cooked meals versus drive-thrus," he says. "One takes some thought, some planning, some editing, the other takes a keyboard and some fingers. Or a finger, more often, and you know which finger I mean.

"Social sites take no money down, no payments, no commitment, no nothing. Simplicity made simple. On the one hand, they're a great way to keep in touch with your circle of friends, family, acquaintances, old school chums and D-list celebrities. On the other hand they suck huge donkey balls because they're mostly noise and no substance. I abhor social websites - all of them - and look forward to the day when Facebook meets its own GeoCities sundown."

Fond memories, but time to move on

So times have moved on, but should we still look back on GeoCities with fondness? "I think it's a shame," says Suw Charman-Anderson. "It is the end of an era, although it many ways GeoCities is now an anachronism in a time when you can build pretty much whatever you want in relatively sophisticated content management systems without ever needing to know any HTML. Yahoo has a history of closing services gracelessly, however."

"We talk a lot about Web 2.0 being the "democratisation" of the web, says Yahoo Technical Evangelist Tom Hughes-Croucher. "Allowing people to create the content and own it, but that's really what GeoCities was back in the day. That's why people are so crazily sentimental about it."

Despite the world having changed, Lippiett is still misty-eyed. "It is a shame though - it kind of feels like the cheap guitar you learnt to play on that you always kept in the background and got out and strummed occasionally. And now the missus has thrown it out or given it to the charity shop!"

"Personally, I'm glad GeoCities holds a place in everyone's hearts," agrees Yahoo's Hughes-Croucher. "I know Yahoo made sure everything was in place on before the big day and that's pretty important. But that said, it's time to move on to bigger brighter things. saving a copy of Web 1.0 for posterity is awesome, but let's encourage people to go to pastures greener."


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.