At some point in time when friends marry and settle down, the never-ending abundance of baby photos find a permanent home in our Instagram timelines. However, as annoying as that may be, at least it wouldn’t be multiple pages of a whole website dedicated to the birth of a baby; but, that’s exactly what Trev and Harri did in 1998 in their website on GeoCities. In this essay, I will be analyzing Trev and Harri’s webpage in the GeoCity platform and how the production of exploiting their private information online translates into an assimilation of the audience into Trev and Harri’s personal identity.
GeoCities do not exist in their original form today, but they have shared many characteristics with the characteristics of social media today. GeoCities were a “make-your-own-website” platform in the 1990s. Each website on GeoCities existed in “virtual neighborhoods” that each had a theme like Silicon Valley or College Park. In turn, there was a large variety of different identities that people could take with their webpages under GeoCities, so people had the space to form connections with others on the basis of shared interests already existing between them. Thus, the product that is the webpage meshes both the producer and consumer together under a unifying identity. In the case of Trev and Harri’s webpage, the producer and consumer indeed have become combined under one identity, however that single identity was not built off of something that applies to a broad audience. Rather, through the type of content they shared on the webpage, they invite the external audience to join their private space and assimilate into their own personal identity that couldn’t be found anywhere else on the Web.
In a general sense, there doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme across Trev and Harri’s webpage. It only seems to be a random conglomeration of key events in their lives, or their own key interests. They don’t really leave room for audience discourse and seem to only be focused on putting forth the things only they themselves are interested or invested in. From a web design perspective, they employ a lot of bright colors and bold lettering to capture and keep the attention of the audience. However, the graphics don’t seem to be too advanced, giving the webpage a more “homemade” feeling, and reflecting the intensely personal feeling of the webpage. Also, even though the graphics and technical features are more rudimentary, all the visual details still seem to be overlapping, crammed, and do not make much sense together. For example, in their “NEW PHOTOS PAGE,” the repeating photo background and the gif at the top don’t have any connection with each other.
NEW PHOTOS PAGE (https://geocities.restorativland.org/CollegePark/7923/index.html)
Even the pictures presented, one of a railway engine and others of self-portraits, don’t have any clear linkage between them, again giving into the amateur, yet individualistic aura of the webpage. They haven’t taken stylistic choices into account, so they seem to be more focused on the personal content they post, rather than the way they post it. In essence, Trev and Harri seem to be trying to cultivate a very singular and individual identity of their website through their quirky, mismatched graphics and their energy behind their big fonts. The other content they present are just as jumbled as their graphics; they even have separate links just dedicated to their duck and photographs of someone else’s wedding. Again, they present certain parts of their page to try to grab the viewer’s attention, through things like the big fonts and bright colors, but they want the audience to become invested in their own personal interests and specific content they post.
Furthermore, the textual information that the viewer notices when they click onto Trev and Harri’s webpage are the large words “Baby has arrived!!!!!”
First part of webpage (https://geocities.restorativland.org/CollegePark/7923/index.html)
The background is covered with the same repeated pictures of their baby. If you click on the link “Baby has arrived!!!!!” You are taken to a page that lists the details of when and where baby Benedict Daniel was born and other extremely detailed physical features, including the precise weight.
The baby’s information (https://geocities.restorativland.org/CollegePark/7923/index.html)
Presenting this type of factual, yet private content shows the production of an initial unspoken layer of trust with the audience that deepens the investment of the audience in the personal content of the webpage. However, the establishment of this layer of trust comes at the cost of the baby’s identity. The baby has no agency over their privacy and is instead presented as an object that is the vehicle for these super personal details.
Trev and Harri also produce other content about their own lives in a way that is reminiscent of a diary. They have yearly recaps titled as “Trev and Harri Times,” and the tone in every single text block seems so informal: “So what have Trev and I been up to this past year? Hmm? It all seems a bit of a blur (not the band you’ll understand).”
Trev and Harri Times (https://geocities.restorativland.org/CollegePark/7923/index.html)
They share so much about themselves, yet they talk in a way that seems directed to a person separate from themselves. In other words, it doesn’t seem so much like they are sharing this information for the benefit of themselves or maybe to preserve these memories for them to return to later on. Rather, they present the information as though they are directly speaking to an audience, teaching the audience about their own interests, and thus producing content for the benefit for the audience instead. Their open representation of the extremely in-depth information perpetuates this intimate connection with their audience. Because of this seemingly intimate connection with Trev and Harri, the visitors on the site feel like they now have a presence, opinion, and effect on the couple’s family. Therefore, the personal identity of the producers, Trev and Harri, translates onto the consumers or the webpage viewers. Especially since they share so much information about their baby, the random viewers now have so much leverage and power over Trev and Harri’s personal and baby’s life. Therefore, by creating such a personal webpage, the couple relinquishes some of their power as the creator to the consumers because the lines between public and private life have melded, and the boundary is indistinguishable.
In essence, unlike other websites on GeoCities that try to find common ground with their audience based on preexisting interests, Trev and Harri produce their own common ground with the audience by representing such intricate and private details about all these different aspects of their life that the audience has no choice but to be invested in their story. Sure, to the viewer, Trev and Harri feel like such a genuine family on the open and unfamiliar World Wide Web during the 90s. However, by putting forth so many parts of their private life, Trev and Harri make a sacrifice. The audience now has the knowledge to feel like they could fit under Trev and Harri’s identity, and so the method of production of their webpage gives power from the creator to the consumer. In the end, Trev and Harri lose so much control over their private life as they ultimately give so much personal information away to their consumers. It seems like harmless sharing, until they are left with no privacy to keep for themselves.
- Edwards, Benj. “Remembering GeoCities, the 1990s Precursor to Social Media.” How-To Geek. How-To Geek, August 24, 2021. https://www.howtogeek.com/692445/remembering-geocities-the-1990s-precursor-to-social-media/.