GeoCities: The Earliest Form Of Social Media
In the 1990s people were introduced to the term “cyberspace” when a famous technologist John Perry Barlow wrote, “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.” (Howard 2019) The concept spread like wildfire. Early adopters of computers and technology were utilizing the platform GeoCities, to create “digital neighborhoods.” In many ways the platform was the precursor to modern social media (Edwards, 2020) and carried out the same basic functions that Reddit threads and Facebook groups do. From a technical standpoint it was the first form of web hosting, allowing anyone with an internet connection and $10 bucks the ability to create content online (Edwards, 2020). Websites were created using HTML and uploaded into diverse communities. Spatial metaphors were utilized to help people understand the concept. Content was categorized into cities and further into neighborhoods, down to individual sites that were inhabited by “homesteaders”, as they were characterized like colonial settlers claiming land in the digital realm. Artist Richard Vijgen created a digital map of GeoCities, linked here, which he stated, “was a great example of introducing a new way of thinking to a large group of people.” Shown in the feature image is a picture depicting what the homepage looked like 1998. From there you can jump into a number of different topics, that will be discussed in more depth. A humorous note is that even in 1998 a webpage was not complete without Amazon.
Just as the internet is today, the early websites and content were far-reaching, humorous, informational, and downright strange in many instances. If you logged onto GeoCities and were looking for information about your New York Giants football team, you would head to the “Colosseum,” which focused on sports information (Jackson, 2020). If you fancied the theater you could head to “Broadway” (Jackson, 2020), or “Area 51” for science (or conspiracy theories), and “Hot Springs” (Howard, 2019) focused on health and wellness inhabited by many early yogi’s. A site intent on archiving and preserving GeoCities, in an impressively clean and clear manner, can be found here. These communities were home to thousands, but they were dwarfed by a community called “Heartland.” It was thought of as “main street” and primarily promoted familial white Christian values. It is telling evidence of the sites early demographics which were primarily white, affluent individuals with the disposable income to not only pay for the hosting, but the several thousand dollar machine necessary to access the internet (Howard 2019). Before it was shut down in 2009, GeoCities was estimated to play host to over 38 million websites (Jackson, 2020).
Personally, I find it very interesting that although the internet has evolved in incredible ways, at its core it hasn’t changed all that much from the early days. Just as someone logged onto their digital neighborhood in the 90’s, now teenagers hop on their favorite reddit thread to interfaces and connect with strangers. Even more interesting is how the content is not all that different. Of course, American culture has shifted, but many people logged onto GeoCtities then, as they do now with the internet, to talk about sports, pop culture, finance, divisive politics, and religion. The internet has developed many other great features like ordering goods and services, and streaming, yet the major social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and others continue to dominate the landscape. GeoCities paved the way for this form of connection.
Edwards, Benj. 2020. “Remembering GeoCities, the 1990s Precursor to Social Media.” Howtogeek.Com. How-To Geek. October 3, 2020. https://www.howtogeek.com/692445/remembering-geocities-the-1990s-precursor-to-social-media/.
Howard, Tanner. 2019. “Bloomberg.” Bloomberg News, January 22, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-22/remembering-geocities-the-suburbia-of-the-early-web.
Jackson, Gita. 2020. “The Geocities Archive Is Bringing the Early Internet to Life.” Vice.Com. January 27, 2020. https://www.vice.com/en/article/n7jzgm/the-geocities-archive-is-bringing-the-early-internet-to-life.
“The Geocities Gallery.” n.d. Restorativland.Org. Accessed October 8, 2021. https://geocities.restorativland.org/.
Vijgen, Richard. n.d. “The Deleted City 3.1.” Deletedcity.Net. Accessed October 8, 2021. http://deletedcity.net/.