Like so many relics of the internet, GeoCities is now a common punch line, as the pre-MySpace home of sparkly GIFs and questionable web design. But if you can shuck your too-cool-for-school UX eye, it’s no stretch to appreciate GeoCities for its groundbreaking contributions to the internet.
Launched in 1994 by David Bohnett and John Rezner as the Beverly Hills Internet hosting company, GeoCities made website creation a possibility for anyone. Renamed GeoCities in 1995, the service democratized what was previously an expensive and mysterious endeavor by providing users with a small amount of free web space (2 MB at first) and then additional space for a nominal fee. What’s more, GeoCities made the pre-Google internet more manageable by organizing its sites into “neighborhoods.”
For instance, the “Hollywood” neighborhood was home to websites about entertainment, and in “Area51” you’d find sci-fi. A GeoCities URL contained the neighborhood name with a unique numeric code.
GeoCities explodes in popularity
GeoCities hosted more than 38 million websites in its time. Creators of future cultural touchstones, such as Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans in New York,” cut their teeth on GeoCities—which is why Stanton geeked out when he ran across Bohnett through HONY. He asked Bohnett about the happiest moment in his life, and when Bohnett replied that it was founding GeoCities, Stanton recalled his own “Gaming Galaxy Online” site hosted on the platform.
Yahoo purchased GeoCities for $3.6 billion in January 1999. Like all good things, though, GeoCities came to an end as web hosting became more accessible and users’ attention drifted to early social networks such as MySpace, LiveJournal and Xanga. Yahoo took GeoCities offline on Oct. 26, 2009. The demise of GeoCities prompted outcry among internet archivists, who rushed to preserve this treasure trove of late 1990s and early 2000s culture in a variety of formats.
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