Preservation of Web Resources: a JISC-funded project [Archived Blog]

“Seething With Anger” at the Demise of Geocities

Posted by Brian Kelly on May 5th, 2009

A blog post entitled “The Death and Life of Geocities” has been published recently on the Adactio blog by Jeremy Keith, a Web developer living and working in Brighton, England. In the post Jeremy describes how he is “seething with anger” but then goes on to add that “I hope I can tap into that anger to do something productive“. The reason for the anger is his concern that “Yahoo are planning to destroy their Geocities property. All those URLs, all that content, all those memories will be lost …like tears in the rain“.

Although in an update to his post Jeremy does admit that “no data has been destroyed yet; no links have rotted” and that his “toys-from-pram-throwage may yet prove to be completely unfounded” Jeremy is right to raise concerns regarding the recent announcement that “Yahoo [is] to shut down GeoCities“.

Some people, as illustrated by JR Raphael’s article in PC World entitled “So Long, GeoCities: We Forgot You Still Existed” are not losing any sleep over GeoCities demise whilst others, such as the Online Lunchpail blog feel that “the demise of GeoCities … proves my point that the U.S. government never should have approved the takeover of GeoCities by Yahoo!“.

From my perspective I feel that the concerns raised by Jeremy Keith (who, it should be pointed out, is a professional Web developers) will become more widely appreciated as ordinary Web users, who might have used the first generation of public-facing Web-hosting services such as GeoCities for their initial simple Web development activities, realise that their may be sentimental attachments to one’s early work – just as I regret having lost my scrap book from primary school (I remember writing “When I grow up I want to be a Beatle, sing ‘She loves you, yer, yer, yer’ and earn £100 a week“). And what of the social historians – have we lost our cultural memories of the initial take-up of the Web outside of the universities and business sector?

In a blog post by Jason Scott on the ASCII  “weblog of computer history, punditry and trivia” Jason describes the efforts being made to preserve content published on GeoCities. But Jason admits that

I can’t do this alone. I’m going to be pulling data from these twitching, blood-in-mouth websites for weeks, in the background. I could use help, even if we end up being redundant. More is better. We’re in #archiveteam on EFnet. Stop by. Bring bandwidth and disks. Help me save Geocities. Not because we love it. We hate it. But if you only save the things you love, your archive is a very poor reflection indeed.”

What is to be done? Should the digital preservation for the general public’s digital heritage (as opposed to an institutional digital heritage) be left to volunteers? Or will future generations regard us as having failed in our responsibilities as previous generations failed to preserve the built environment and left us with the soulless shopping centres and high-rise building which were developed during the 1960s?

4 Responses to ““Seething With Anger” at the Demise of Geocities”

  1. Sameer Padania Says:

    Something similar happened recently to the International Herald Tribune – when the IHT site was subsumed into the New York Times Global site, journalists lost their work, and the public lost a major resource, even if it’s only temporary…:

    here’s Thomas Crampton’s original post: http://www.thomascrampton.com/newspapers/reporter-to-ny-times-publisher-you-erased-my-career/

    and here’s his latest, a chat with a search engine specialist: http://www.thomascrampton.com/uncategorized/search-expert-danny-sullivan-on-ihtcom-deletion/

  2. tahrey Says:

    Jeremy … I salute you. A hero of the internet.

    Apparently the whole of the Geocities space – the free part at least – takes up something like 15Tb. You’d think a massive corp like Yahoo would be able to keep a relatively minor concern like that running these days wouldn’t you? I’ve got £150 here that can buy another 2Tb disc like what I just purchased for my own media centre usage that can slurp up a nice 14% of all that, if 7 likeminded compadres want to chip in a similar donation.

    Then we can just ask Y! to plug them into their server stack over USB / eSATA and have them sit for a day or two merrily filling up with all the old data, and we can let them go on their way.

    This sort of thing really irks me because I was there pretty much at the start of it all. There are files in my oldest geo site going back to early 1995, soon after my school got an internet connection. Sure, my own stuff is crap and would only be saved for sentimental reasons (well, that and some of the photos which are still only on there in digital form, following a hard disc crash), but I’ve seen plenty of other people use it to make good quality, informative, useful (or artistically valid) sites. Which will now be swept to the four winds … either lost, or their creators (assuming they still care, never mind that a lot of people may depend on their content) having to find paid storage elsewhere, and re-link everything, and have everyone who linked to them (assuming you can even trace such things back) do similar. I find it horrifyingly ironic that a service provider such as Yahoo – whose core business is in content search, or at least once was – is so prepared to generate such a heaving mountain of dead links and lost data in one fell swoop.

    It’s like burning a library. Never mind if you think 90+ percent of the stuff in there is shit, which is an opinion common to anyone who isn’t a competent polymath, think of the worthwhile stuff that will be wiped out. It’s maybe a bit like digging up an enormous time capsule, or finding an archaelogical site… with all the fabulous artefacts of a previous era, their most pertinent works of art, literature and research, and a whole heap of other everyday trinketry and what my stone hearted mother would call “trash” (yeah, thanks for throwing away that fully functioning clock radio you bought me as a 10th birthday present and had only “borrowed” from me… but not before cleaning all the stickers off… etc). Then nuking it.

    And its not like there’s any other free or cheap services you can really use to recreate this any more either, certainly nothing with a sense of community. Social networking sites, most other “web 2.0″ (how i hate that word) services, and even Wikis are just no good for the kind of content collections you’d put on standard web hosts. Now if you want to make a “proper” webpage, rather than a generic Facebook profile or what-have-you (don’t even mention twitter to me), something that will hold a bit of useful static, textbook-like information, you’re going to have to pay for it. Through the nose. £5 a month is the way they’ve chosen to say it. Let’s try that another way – £60 a year. Considering how cheap all other internet things are these days, how can they defend that, and how many people can you imagine even bothering to do it.

    Goodbye the idea of the internet being a free expression tool in the hands of the people any more :-/ …. yes I know GC was just an illusion of that itself, but it was a damn close one.

    Incidentally, have we had anything that even resembles an explanation of *why* yahoo are doing this? I can’t imagine its a running costs problem. Maybe just trying to grub a little cash out of people who want to save their site paying for the premium one, and the little guys be damned. I’ve been a loyal user of their services (not even blocking the ads…) for a good decade and a half now between Y! mail and the absorbed GC, but recently they’ve been starting to piss me off. Forcing all kinds of stupid changes thru Yahoo Mail for one thing … deleting a secondary account without warning and with no hope of recovery (yes, it was little used, but it was my only remaining point of contact with some people who I still haven’t managed to reconnect with, and the GC site it was twinned to went simultaneously)… and now this. I think it may be boycottin’ time. Don’t care any more. Let’s have Microsoft slurp them up at a slashed price.

    Incidentally, when Angelfire and the like went under … did we manage to save any of their stuff? I had a little AF account which was thankfully just an overflow for media files that didn’t fit on my main GC site, but in a similar manner there was so much content lost when it imploded.

    This is all such a sad affair :(

  3. tahrey Says:

    addendum: “their creators – if they’re even still ALIVE”

    The problem with this sort of action, similar to burning the library of congress, is that content that can no longer be updated or moved for some reason has no hope of survival.

    I’ve just gone and dumped “www.geoci” on firefoxes’ awesomebar and opened just a few of the many things that turned up in serial tabs. One of them is dedicated to the page’s founding member, who died in 2000. Luckily that guy left the username and password with someone else who was part of the same club which the page services — there will be many more where the owner has passed on and left no trace. If I was to die tonight, my digital presence would go the same way. Will you burn all my old love letters and portfolios, or save at least some of them as keepsakes?

    Damn this fast moving, live-in-the-now world we seem to be headed towards.

  4. JISC-PoWR » Blog Archive » The Demise of Geocities - But a Renewed Interest in Web Site Archeology Says:

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