When Yahoo! switched off the servers for GeoCities, the Web posting service, on Oct. 27, some 7 million of the Internet’s first websites went dark forever. The bulk of these were people’s personal home pages, which were pulled offline with no backup and no permanent record of those users’ frenetic early forays online.
Now a ragtag effort by several groups of budding computer historians is feverishly and angrily trying to bring as much as they can back online. Founded in 1995 and bought by Yahoo! four years later, GeoCities had become a relic, and not a particularly pretty one at that. The site was one of the first to offer home pages to the masses, letting users reserve a plot in a digital city entertainment sites lived in Hollywood, for example and then build, well, whatever they wanted. This was the early days of Web design, and some of the pages nearly induced epileptic fits with animated images, blinking text and clashing color schemes.
But some still saw beauty in the chaos. “GeoCities was the largest self-created folk-art collection in the history of the world,” says Jason Scott, 39, leader of ArchiveTeam, one of a handful of parallel groups that worked to download as many of the GeoCities home pages as they could in the weeks before Yahoo! pulled the plug. An exsystem administrator, Scott is trying to get funding to be a full-time Internet preservationist. He says GeoCities is his most public battle yet. The week it went dark, the GeoCities network still ranked in the top 200 most-trafficked sites, according to Alexa, a Web-data company.
Despite the traffic, Yahoo! announced in April that it planned to shutter the service, immediately sealing it off to new registrations. Scott says he tried to get answers from the company, but no one ever replied.