Sunday, April 26, 2009

Farewell Geocities and the Golden Age of the Internet Hippy

It seems Geocities has had its day. Commence the jeers, cheers, sneers and general derision for a web host that really did mark the golden age of the amateur on the then labelled "Internet Superhighway".

Yes, the amateur was then in full force on the digital dial-up highway. He didn't have a car per se - because cars cost money. He preferred to sit on the hard shoulder with his flask of weak cordial. A presence - perhaps sometimes a hindrance - to the baby-boon commerce of the Internet.

Geocities will be remembered primarily for its banners, very short bandwidth and welcoming arms to the unqualified, thrifty web-designers. Pop-ups were abound, as were flashing tickers, animated Spider-Man gifs, neon green hit counters and of course, ugly "comic sans ms" font. They were "teh" terrible of their time; scorned for their cheap (and by cheap I mean free) offerings, laughed at by passers-by who soon learned to expect better.

But then, they were also so very wonderful. They really were the epoch of fan-free-fun on the net, before the hosts and servers who allowed these fans to have so much fun realised they had no revenue to let them do it for free. Soon enough all free web hosts would be filled with banners and Geocities was forced to offer more popups. The service became even more unbearable - quite surprising it has survived this latest commercial age of the Internet for so long.

However I would liken this era to a music festival - where everything is amateurish, muddy and generally awkward yet occasionally the province of something quite cool, nifty or informative. If you sifted through the oddball crap on Geocities you would find some interesting facts and cool gubbins. Who can forget searching through Geocities (or its rival, Angelfire - still alive) for landmarks dedicated to your favourite shows? The slow download their 600x480 wallpapers? The strings of wav files that would be composited onto your Windows 95 desktop theme? It was simple. It was a laugh. It was the age of the Internet Hippy.

Furthermore, as a web designer born from that era I owe a lot to the simple builders of Geocities and Angelfire. I built my first website on Angelfire (a band site). I built a massive LEXX resource called "The Squawkers Guide to Lexx" on Redrival (before it was forced into the banner revenue game). I built "EagleKen's Lonely Homepage" (a site dedicated to Gatchaman/Battle Of The Planets) on, well, it might have been Geocities - I really can't remember. I know the first illustration platform back at Uni was on Geocities - and was proof that if you knew a little about webdesign, you could create a simple, inoffensive Geocities site.

But like so many, I grew up. On leaving Uni I had transferred to the big boys with a decent paid webhost and domain name. Fan sites, those half-assed shrines of naff, began to die out as the truly dedicated upped their game and forked out a little for bandwidth and those who couldn't be arsed, well, time sapped the fun of the fan-shrine from their dial-up connections...

.. or took their design talents to the early days of MySpace. Another story perhaps.

But there are still some good Geocities websites out there. May I recommend you to my favourite Geocities site, dedicated to a film with very few sites to its names but surprisingly many more fans than you'd expect (I work with two colleagues who have separately confessed their love for this particular movie in the past few months). The film is called The Black Hole. The site is here. Enjoy this nostalgic slice of the Internet-as-it-were before it is as-it-isn't in the very near future.

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