Today is a sad day in internet land: Yahoo has finally pulled the plug on GeoCities.

GeoCities was one of the first free, design-your-own-page website hosting services on the net, and was the place many of today’s web masters, bloggers and sundry other geeks popped their web design cherries.

Sure, most will remember it as a haven of eye-searing fluro text, badly animated GIFs, never-ending Midi tunes and the horror of HTML frames, but for me, it will always be where I took my first uneasy steps into the world of blogging and online media and embarked on a journey of more than a decade that has lead here, to being someone who gets paid to screw around on the internet all day (not to mention being one of Australia’s most self-declared social media gurus).

The internet came early to my household. My mother was an early adopter of email, and we’d had a clunky old modem for as long as I can remember. But when we finally upgraded from the old 486 sometime circa 1994 to a new Windows-based PC, it came with the first edition of Netscape Navigator, and my love affair with the World Wide Web (for back then we still called it that — when we didn’t call it the ‘Information Superhighway’, of course) began.

I was allowed an hour a day on our dial-up modem (couldn’t tie up the fax machine for too long), where my nine-year-old self would look up Simpsons and NBL fan-sites and cheat codes for Commander Keen and Skate or Die. One hour was never enough (actually, given each page took about 10 minutes to load, it really wasn’t). I yearned for more time online, but most of all, I yearned for a page of my own. Not that I had anything of interest to share with the world (of course, these days, Twitter has made sharing nothing with the world the internet’s raison d’être, but these were different times), but I honestly remember longing to design my own page.

But back then, it was all just a pipe dream. You needed money, you needed a host, you needed to know what a host was, you needed coding skills. I got $5 a week pocket money and was a dab hand at Paintbrush for Windows, but that just didn’t cut it. No-one I knew even had the internet at home, so who could show me how?

I wish I could remember more from the intervening years and exactly how and when I stumbled across GeoCities to make this narrative flow a little better, but it’s all a bit of a blur. It was sometime in ’97 or ’98 — around age 12/13 — that I got wind of the site (definitely well before Yahoo’s acquisition of the company in ’99, anyway), and what I do remember is the genuine excitement when I fired up the WYSIWYG editor and discovered that ZOMG, I CAN ACTUALLY CREATE MY OWN PAGE AND I JUST HAVE TO DRAG AND DROP EVERYTHING IN AND IT’S SO EASY AND WOW LOOK AT THIS AWESOME FLASHING TEXT AND THIS BOX PUTS MUSIC ON MY SITE WHEEEEE!

By that stage, we had acquired a second phone line and internet access had become much cheaper and I was able to begin what would become a lifelong habit of staying up all night playing around online. And how! I dedicated hours — hours — every day to playing with my Geocities page.

My first page was called “Doris the Satanic Goat” (I’m actually blushing after typing that), after the neighbour’s pet goat (though I can’t vouch Doris was actually a Satanist. They were Catholics), and I filled the pages with my favourite jokes, Metallica lyrics (no, really) and, the quintessential feature of any self-respecting GeoCities page, animated GIFs I’d cribbed off other pages.

Thankfully, I don’t think anyone else ever saw the page.

But after a while, even that wasn’t enough. I wanted my site to look like the professionally designed websites that were popping up. I wanted readers. So I created a new site to practise my design skills and share some slightly more interesting content that other people might actually want to look at. The new site was called “R.B. Industries” (an improvement at least), and I designed everything by peering at the source code of pages I liked, then working backwards until I could fgure out what they’d done, teaching myself the basics of HTML and CSS in the process.

I started to fill its pages with cynical teenage rants about how lame the world around me was, cartoons I’d drawn (my l33t Paintbrush skills finally coming into their own), sarcastic commentary on TV shows, Mad Magazine-ripoff satires and other stuff I can’t remember. Little did I know, I’d created a little proto-weblog. It was there that I discovered a) writing was fun, and b) I was actually OK at it.

From there, I got into blogging more seriously (or less seriously, actually), and about three or four years later, I was offered my first paid writing gig.

So while GeoCities may just go down as a footnote in the history of bad web design, it holds a bit of a special place in my deeply geeky heart. I may be a social media tragic these days, but one reason is because I appreciate how amazing it is to have places like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where anyone of any age or technical proficiency can have their own web page and connect instantly with the world.

The online journalists of tomorrow don’t know how lucky they are.

Thanks for the memories, GeoCities

ANIrip3CIt’s how GeoCities would have wanted to go

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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