On July 9, at 1 PM, GeoCities users in India got a "service announcement" from Yahoo! The mail notified us about the imminent discontinuation of Yahoo!'s popular free hosting account, GeoCities. All content hosted on GeoCities was to be wiped clean on October 26, unless the users choose to host their content using Yahoo! hosting at a discounted rate of $5 a month.
GeoCities is the latest in a string of services that Yahoo! has been taking down in the recent past, including Yahoo! Plus and Jumpcut. Two days ago, the inevitable shut-down signaled the end of an era.
Back in the old days of the Internet, when men were real men and teenage tech enthusiasts were real teenage tech enthusiasts, Yahoo!'s GeoCities was the playground for everyone who wanted to own a corner of the Web. GeoCities saw inventive users throw up the first user-made photo galleries, the first Web logs, and the first home pages. GeoCities’ "free hosting" model was a godsend for those who could not afford hosting, or those who maintained websites as just a hobby.
The Web pages on GeoCities defined the look of Web 1.0, with basic HTML coding, liberal use of frames, and inline images. In the Web 2.0 world of Blogger and Picasa, GeoCities is horribly old-fashioned and out of place. However, for the brief period in the beginning of the century, when Blogger and GeoCities accounts overlapped, users did host images on their GeoCities accounts as it allowed for hotlinking, while Blogger did not have any mechanism for uploading photos.
GeoCities grew to be a strong foundation of the Web, and no one can guess the number of crosslinks to files hosted on GeoCities. Back in the days when users created pages on GeoCities, it was an uphill struggle getting the pages indexed on Google, and showing up when certain searches were made. Now, these links are buried well into indexes around the world, and developers around the world can't help but feel that they are losing a small part of the Web itself. Yahoo!'s decision of discontinuing GeoCities is similar to blowing a hole in the web, where carefully created content just vanishes.
Jumpcut at least had a neat little action that collected all your files together, and allowed you to download it as one file. But Yahoo! Is not making any effort to help GeoCities users to back up their files. The company recommends that you use "Save As" from your web browser to save the files individually. This is similar to navigating to each of the files individually. You cannot use an FTP client unless you have Geocities Plus. If you, like many, have hosted content at your GeoCities account, then a better way to get all your content is to use an offline browser such as BackStreet. Unless Yahoo! takes steps to ease the blow in some way, this announcement will be remembered for a long time as shoddy treatment by one of the largest web companies.
What is unnerving about the announcement is that loads of users have content on Yahoo! which might one day face the same fate. How would the users of Web 2.0 receive an announcement of the imminent closing of Flickr?