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?