If you were to trace all of my online activity and involvement back to a single starting point, it would be in the mid-1990s on a place called GeoCities. Back then, the world wide web was this vast unknown thing full of potential to all of us, and just surfing it was a deep thrill. Keep in mind that for me, the only online experience I’d had prior to 1995 was a stint with BBS connections.
If there’s anything that I miss the most from this era, it’s that heady feeling of newness and excitement. The WWW offered so many sights and repositories of information and fandoms, and at college I had unlimited access to it. But it wasn’t before long that my desire to make my own mark started raring up. The only problem was that I was a broke college student, and getting a web domain and host cost money.
Enter GeoCities. With this service, Yahoo granted a free slice of virtual real estate (and an email address) to anyone who wanted to come by and claim that homestead. It wasn’t a massive amount of space, mind you — there were storage limits to keep people from going hog-wild and abusing the system — but it was more than enough to set up fan sites and journals and what have you.
GeoCities was structured in a very unique fashion, too. It was made up of several “neighborhoods,” each hosting a certain theme. So if you were going to make a scifi-themed site, you’d set up shop in Area 51, but if you were going to shill for Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, you’d want a spot on Capitol Hill. There were neighborhoods for sports, fashion, wine, pets, and so on. Me? I moved into CollegePark, as I figured that I was a college student and all.
Everyone who used GeoCities had to figure out how to format in HTML, and it was a testament to your skill if your site didn’t look like absolute garbage in the end. A hallmark of a GeoCities page is a look that makes your eyeballs bleed — bad frames, dozens of moving GIFs, color clashing, bad font choices, and so on.
Yet it was a riot even so. Everyone was having so much fun with all of these tools, and we’d covet each and every visit to our sites. There were guestbooks for people to leave comments, hit counters of all varieties, web rings to join and promote, MIDI jukeboxes to annoy the ever-loving snot out of any visitor, and so on.
I had a great time expressing my creativity, and this activity led me to make the Mutant Reviewers — a cult movie review site that, indeed, is still going on even to this day.
That can’t be said for Geocities, which was shut down a while back (although many of the sites were preserved by internet historians who like filling their garages with trash). In its place has arisen Neocities, which seems to be offering a lot of the same ideas and structure — just more modernized. While I’m much more comfortable with blogging platforms these days, I applaud Neocities’ creators and the people who are keeping that creative, discovery-driven spirit alive!