simpler times in a simpler city

November 6, 2009 under Computers, Internet

Last week, Yahoo! discontinued Geocities; the free web hosting service. Although Geocities hadn’t been relevant since 1998, I’m still a bit sad at the thought of a piece of Web history coming to an end. I have fond memories of Geocities, before it was owned by Yahoo!

Back in 1995, the Internet came to my hometown of Timmins, Ontario. Vianet was the lone ISP and I signed up for an account while I was still in highschool living with my parents (yes, I myself paid for the service). With the floppy disks of tools provided by Vianet (Trumpet Winsock, Netscape Navigator, Eudora and PowWow) a new world unveiled itself to me that was far beyond the local BBS I had become accustomed to. The sheer amount of information available on the burgeoning World Wide Web fascinated me. I had to learn how websites were made.

After learning what a search engine was and how to use one (in this case, it was Altavista), I queried to find out what a web page actually was and how to make it available to the world. I learned that in order to allow people to access the web pages you create with HTML, you need someone to host them for you. In 1996, when I began to seriously experiment with HTML, Geocities was the free web host to use.

A friend and I put together our first website, the Lords of Digital Consciousness. It was, by today’s standard, extremely basic and horribly tacky. We abused repeating background images, the MARQUEE tag and animated GIFs. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that Geocities made it super-simple to put together a site for the entire world to see at no cost. Geocities allowed you to store your website in neighbourhoods that matched your site’s theme; Area51 for sci-fi, WallStreet for business, Colosseum for sports and so on. Naturally, we parked our Lords of Digital Consciousness website in Silicon Valley – the neighbourhood for computer-related websites.

Even if Geocities becomes just another footnote in Internet history, I won’t forget the impact it made on me. In 1996, while working on the Lords of Digital Consciousness in my spare time while I was in university, I wanted to improve and understand the process of creating websites by reading more. Being a pre-pharmacy major at the time, I should have had my nose in biochem and human physiology text books, instead of the HTML, JavaScript and Perl books I had been buying and reading for “fun”. I eventually switched my major to Computer Science and the rest is, as they say, history. However, every once and a while – when I’m deep into modern frameworks, n-tier architectures, and enterprise design patterns, I think back to simpler times when completing a project only involved editing some HTML and JavaScript in Windows Notepad and storing it in my place in one of Geocities’ neighbourhoods.

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