I am not sure how many people noticed it, but Yahoo quietly killed Geocities on the 26th of October. Again not sure how many people know this, but at its peak Geocities was the third most visited site on the web. What happened? …… Really, What happened?
How could the website that heralded the arrival of “user generated content” and laid the foundation for web stalwarts like Facebook (and many others that we are insanely in love with now) die such a death. Simply put, because Geocities (as the likes of Facebooks and Twitters are doing now) built a reputation purely on the basis of its ability to build a critical mass of users – which was not (even as it is not now) a viable sustainable business model. At its height, Geocities supported 3.5 million web pages, was valued by Yahoo at US $4.6 billion and found mention on the front pages of all major publications including such trend setters as Wall Street Journal. Yet, inspite of its hordes of “loyal” users Geocities struggled with monetization as it failed to attract the “sought out advertisers” in numbers that it needed to live up to its potential. In the end, the ability of Geocities to support the users need for self expression was not enough and it had to be let go.
It is inevitable that numerous case studies would be written and studied to analyze how it all went wrong with Geocities. Is the fault to lie with Yahoo, or was the model (to start with) faulty, or was the UI not cool enough, or did the management not understand the true potential. It is definitely good news for proponents and developers of case studies. So many can be written to capture different aspects of “what went wrong” here. The “end” – as I see it – can truly be attributed to a combination of factors including limitations in business modelling, challenges with integration with Yahoo’s core business, an inability to keep pace with the developments in the domain … et al. … but the crux of the matter is that Yahoo pulled the plug because even after fathering and supporting Geocities for well over 10 years Yahoo could not come up with a viable business/economic model for it. As much as we love them, “User empowerment”, “content democracratization” and ”vehicle for self expression” just couldnt do it for what was acquired as a business line.
This development is a bit sad for me personally because my personal web journey started in early 2000 with my first web page that I published on Geocities under the name of “BigCrazyHindu”. I had meant to save the files somewhere before the Oct 26th deadline but I could not remember the name of my page till about 10 minutes ago and it was too late by then. I would, though, like to take this moment to thank everyone associated with Geocities including the founding team lead by David Bohnett for their great contribution to our understanding of the power and possibilities of web. For if it was not for Geocities, our love affair with the likes of Facebook and Twitter would have never happened … and more importantly we would have never realised the joy of “Self Expression” and “Truly Democratized Communication”. This is to bid Geocities a warm heartfelt goodbye … Thank you very much Geocities for (in your sad death) proving that our concerns and doubts about others like yourself are not misplaced.