Phoebe Connolly quotes me in an excellent American Prospect article about the death of Geocities:
Other online platforms began to spring up, and soon GeoCities became a fond memory for most users. Blogger was introduced in 1999 (and purchased by Google in 2003), making it easy for anyone to start a blog. MetaFilter, a community blog, was launched in 1999. The social networking site My-Space was founded in 2003. These services also marked the entrance of a very public form of socializing–where, unlike email or listservs, the conversation, and content, was accessible to those not part of the conversation. In offering a platform for creating online identities, GeoCities started a trend that has been replicated by companies ever since.
But once those online identities are created, are they the property of the users or the corporations that host them? David Bollier, author of Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own, calls corporate-controlled spaces like GeoCities and Facebook, “faux commons.” For him, true online community spaces are defined by users having control over the terms of their interaction and owning the software or infrastructure. Corporate spaces come with “terms of service” agreements that lay out the rules users must abide by and what control they agree to surrender in exchange for using the product. “Oftentimes corporate-controlled communities are benign, functional, and perfectly OK,” Bollier says. “It’s just that the terms of services those companies have or the competitive pressures of business may compel them to take steps that are not in the interest of the community.”
I really enjoy internet history and although Geocities was something we all made fun of at its peak, it was a useful free hosting solution, and it certainly has a place that should be remembered. It’s sad to think of all those Backstreet Boys fan pages and web diaries disappearing for good.