By the time you read this, the web hosting service known as GeoCities will have ceased operations. If you have been using the Internet for a decade or more, you will understand what GeoCities meant to the beginnings of mainstream Internet use.

In mid to late 1990s, it wasn’t all that easy to get web hosting. If you were a university student and a bit lucky, your school might have set aside some server space for personal student web pages. If you weren’t a university student, things were a bit more difficult. Then GeoCities came along.

GeoCities was one of the first and most memorable web service to offer people, anyone, the ability to host pages on the Internet. If you were a fan of kittens and wanted to post your pictures of your kitties on the Internet, then GeoCities would allow you to do that, all for the price of free. Pretty soon, there thousands upon thousands of personal web pages on GeoCities, allowing normal, average people to express their thoughts and ideas to millions of others on the Internet.

The offering of free web hosting really showed people they could add to the Internet and not just consume what was already out there. In that sense, GeoCities will always have a place in Internet history.

The other thing that GeoCities was known for isn’t as impressive. If you were on the web in the late 90s then you already know what I’m talking about. I’d guess that 90% of the pages hosted by GeoCities looked like crap. It was great that everyone now could be on the web but it soon became clear that almost everyone knew nothing about web page design or what looked good.

Over the years, there were several GeoCities web page cliches that developed. First, there was the gaudy background image that seared itself into your brain. The image usually was so loud, it prevented you from reading the text on the page. Then there was the overuse of the “blink” tag. Some people made almost every other word on their page as blinking. Let’s not forget the random images that people would place all over their pages. Stuff like badges indicating it was Yahoo’s site of the day for December 14, 1998. Who could also forget the pile of broken image icons all over a page? This is where people either didn’t know or didn’t realize their img tags pointed to non-existent image files. Let us then remember blue text links. Back in the day, almost every single link that was text was coloured blue because that was the default and no one really bothered to change it. I could go on about “under construction” images and animated gifs but I’ll just stop right here.

Despite how bad GeoCities web pages were, it got people to contribute to the Internet. It allowed people to share their views to the rest of the world. In an age where Facebook, Twitter, and blogs are now refined forms of Internet expression, GeoCities was the raw beginning.

Yahoo!, who bought GeoCities a few years ago, is shutting it down today. There will be no official archiving of GeoCities pages but there are small groups out there who have been working for months to save as many pages as they can. Good for them for trying to save a bit of history.

Last but not least, web comic xkdc is commemorating the closing of GeoCities with this comic. It’s amazing how far we’ve come.

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