Yahoo is closing its GeoCities personal home page service, and with it will go an era of self-expression on the Web that's largely been replaced by social networks and blogs.
GeoCities rose to power during an era when publishing on the Internet meant setting up your own Web site. GeoCities simplified the process by helping people sidestep the complications of registering a domain and learning how to program HTML, the language that describes Web pages.
Yahoo bought GeoCities for more than $2.9 billion in dot-com-priced stock in 1999, when GeoCities had more than 1.1 million users. However, while the idea of having a personal presence on the Internet has caught on, GeoCities turned out to be a backwater, not the mainstream.
"We will be closing GeoCities later this year," Yahoo said in a note on the site. "We'll provide more details about closing GeoCities and how to save your site data this summer."
Goodbye Geocities, hello Facebook
Today, the way people choose to express themselves on the Internet is shifting away from isolated Web pages. Instead they use social-networking sites such as Facebook, with built-in features for creating a profile, staying in touch with contacts, and maintaining at least a little privacy; WordPress, where it's easy to post updates to a blog; or Flickr, where the photographically inclined can meet, share, and comment.
What these services and others including Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Blogger possess is a mechanism to notify interested parties of new activity, helping to keep social links pulsing with new information in a way that just can't be replicated by depending on a person to swing by a personal Web site.
That's not to say personal home pages are extinct. Google Sites is still around, and Yola, formerly SynthaSite, bought out search ads related to GeoCities searches on Thursday. But for most folks, it's easier to rely on more sophisticated pre-built services than to roll their own sites.
It's no surprise GeoCities is on the chopping block. Yahoo has its hands full trying to integrate its successful properties with the socially active parts of the Internet. The company hardly has resources to spare on last decade's trend.
Part of GeoCities' closure is related to Yahoo's circumstances. The company already was under financial pressure before the recession arrived in full force, but now things are even tighter, and new Chief Executive Carol Bartz is focusing on the company's core, successful properties--laying off about 675 employees in areas that don't pass muster.
GeoCities' vanishing sites?
Still unclear is what exactly will become of GeoCities pages. New sign-ups are already no longer permitted, but what about existing sites?
Here's how Yahoo put it: "You can continue to enjoy your Web site and GeoCities services until later this year. You don't need to change a thing right now--we just wanted you to let you know about the closure as soon as possible. We'll provide more details about closing GeoCities and how to save your site data this summer, and we will update the help center with more details at that time."
That leaves open the possibility that Yahoo will make it possible to move a site to another service, as it did when shutting down Yahoo Photos, but in the current climate, it's probably best not to expect such a graceful transition option. Yahoo wouldn't comment on its plans.
Another option is to upgrade to a separate paid Yahoo service: "You don't need to change your service today, but we encourage anyone interested in a full-featured Web hosting plan to consider upgrading to our award-winning Yahoo Web Hosting service."
But given how many GeoCities users weren't technical experts, it seems likely that a lot of amateur Web sites soon will vanish without a trace, a casualty of business priorities and the Internet's rapid changes.