Gizmodo: “David Bohnett on what sets the social web apart, how GeoCities handled hate speech, and the profound need to log off more often. In the early aughts, my wheezing dialup connection often operated as if it were perpetually out of breath. Thus, unlike my childhood friends, it was near to impossible for me to watch videos, TV shows, or listen to music. Far from feeling limited, I felt like I was lucky, for I had access to an encyclopedia of lovingly curated pages about anything I wanted to know—which in those days was anime—the majority of which was conveniently located on GeoCities. For all the zoomers scrunching up their brows, here’s a primer. Back in the 1990s, before the birth of modern web hosting household names like GoDaddy and WP Engine, it wasn’t exactly easy or cheap to publish a personal website. This all changed when GeoCities came on the scene in 1994. The company gave anyone their own little space of the web if they wanted it, providing users with roughly 2 MB of space for free to create a website on any topic they wished. Millions took GeoCities up on its offer, creating their own homemade websites with web counters, flashing text, floating banners, auto-playing sound files, and Comic Sans. Unlike today’s Wild Wild Internet, websites on GeoCities were organized into virtual neighborhoods, or communities, built around themes. “HotSprings” was dedicated to health and fitness, while “Area 51” was for sci-fi and fantasy nerds. There was a bottom-up focus on users and the content they created, a mirror of what the public internet was like in its infancy. Overall, at least 38 million webpages were built on GeoCities. At one point, it was the third most-visited domain online. Yahoo acquired GeoCities in 1999 for $3.6 billion. The company lived on for a decade more until Yahoo shut it down in 2009, deleting millions of sites.
Nearly two decades have passed since GeoCities, founded by David Bohnett, made its debut, and there is no doubt that the internet is a very different place than it was then. No longer filled with webpages on random subjects made by passionate folks, it now feels like we live in a cyberspace dominated by skyscrapers—named Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, and so on—instead of neighborhoods..”