“My strongest memory of GeoCities was that it was a sort of web ghetto for people who didn’t know how to or didn’t want to bother to get their own URL and ISP,” says web design guru Lance Arthur (glassdog.com). “It did not, as I recall, offer any tools or help, or if it did they were the sort of tools and help that were unhelpful. Its main advantage was cost, being that it was free.”
That’s not how I remember it. Well, GeoCities’ main advantage for me was indeed cost, as I was a sophomore in college when I set mine up in 1997. As such, I didn’t fall into the “didn’t know how” or “didn’t want to bother” camp, but in the “couldn’t afford to” camp. I didn’t know how/didn’t want to bother to investigate free student web space at my school, though, so I signed up for GeoCities.
As I recall, GeoCities didn’t offer any tools or help, UNTIL!! Until it came out with this sort of WYSIWYG-precursor where you could choose backgrounds*, fonts, colors, images, etc, make different sections on the page for different topics/paragraphs, and then look at a preview of your work before confirming it. That was all I knew how to do on the web, so that was what I did for awhile, and I really enjoyed it. And then I noticed a little link at the top that said, “View HTML.” Curious as to what that would look like, I clicked on it.
Of course I was hooked. It wasn’t too hard to figure out which pieces of code did what. All the images started with img src, all the links started with a href, and the fonts started with font face. Everything had quotes and brackets, and it wasn’t long before open bracket a href equals quote http://www.yahoo.com quote close bracket made sense to me.
So I had images and fonts and links and text down, but I had one problem I couldn’t solve. I asked a friend on IRC for help:
Me: How do I make things go next to each other? Like if I want one image on the left side and another on the right and some text in between?
IRC Friend I Don’t Remember Anything About Except He Loved Jewel And His Name Was Tom: Ah! For that, you’re going to need tables.**
And I was off. I learned more tips from some HTML tutorial sites, and from there I graduated to a few other free web-hosting sites before getting a job as a web designer in early 1999. In 2000, I bought this domain and started this website.
My point, I suppose, is this: if people think GeoCities didn’t offer any tools, that’s all right. The way I used it, it was a tool, in and of itself. It’s the whole reason I learned HTML and fell in love with web design, and as such it’s indirectly responsible for my career.
I’m not sure whether to thank it or blame it for that last part.
It’s both sad and not-sad when something like GeoCities goes away. It’s pretty obsolete now, but it’s importance in web history won’t be forgotten, at least not by me. Thankfully I have all my old websites stored away on a hard drive somewhere–all their bad poetry, their homages to Ani DiFranco, their dead links, and their seizure-inducing animated gifs.
Rest assured, I will never, ever show them to anyone.
*I chose a ridiculous lurid orange with some prism-like shapes in it. It did not tessellate properly, and it haunts my dreams.
**I was kind of sad when everyone stopped using tables for layout, only because I’d become really, really good at coding multiple levels of nested tables by hand. But I’m definitely not sad now.