By Harry McCracken | Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 1:48 pm
Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, build-your-own-Website services like GeoCities were the easiest way for folks without much technical expertise to get content onto the Web. So it wasn’t an utter act of insanity when Yahoo spent $3.57 billion to acquire GeoCities in 1999. Well, okay, the $3.57 billion part was irrational, but the world needed GeoCities.
By the turn of the millennium, though, GeoCities and its rivals started to be overshadowed by blogging–and today, it’s blogging services such as WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, and others that serve the purpose that GeoCities once did. I hadn’t given GeoCities much thought in years–until today, when I read on TechCrunch that Yahoo has stopped signing up new GeoCities members and will close the service altogether at some unspecified date later this year. Let’s hope that Yahoo does a better job of helping GeoCities users migrate to other options than AOL did when it shuttered its similar, similarly venerable AOL Hometown service last year–it gave users only a month’s warning, then purged their data and redirected their URLs to a terse blog post saying that Hometown was no more.
Yahoo’s GeoCities FAQ on the closure says that the service is going away “as we focus on helping our customers explore and build new relationships online in other ways.” Which is a vague way of saying “GeoCities is no longer a priority for us.” Presumably it’s part of Yahoo’s ongoing housecleaning, elimination of redundant services (it also offers Yahoo Web Hosting), and focus on core offerings with a high potential for profit.
There’s probably some alternate universe where GeoCities changed with the times and stayed popular, but it felt a tad dinosaurish even back when Yahoo bought it, thanks to a weird “homesteading” system that forced users to choose a neighborhood and street for their site, and annoyances such as a GeoCities logo that stayed on the screen even when you scrolled down on the page. On the other hand, a bunch of its 1990s competitors have managed to stick around–Homestead (now owned by Intuit and focused on small businesses), Tripod, and FortuneCity. Wonder if any of them will make a concerted effort to welcome the GeoCities residents who Yahoo is evicting?