On 9 July 2009, I received an e-mail message from Yahoo! GeoCities stating, "GeoCities is closing." I received these because I have had, for many years, a simple static homepage on Geocities (http://geocities.com/Colosseum/Field/7217/SW/index.html or http://geocities.com/dustinmarx/). I did not provide a link to it because, two weeks from today on 26 October 2009, that page will no longer be accessible. As I have been archiving content on that page in preparation for its demise, I have noted that much of its content has been overcome by events. In this blog posting, I'll look briefly at why the GeoCities era is coming to an end and will ponder the fate of some potentially valuable resources that have been available on GeoCities-hosed sites.
In Now closing: GeoCities, a relic of Web's Early Days, Stephen Shankland does a nice job of covering the likely reasons why Yahoo! is closing GeoCities and how GeoCities has lost interest and favor over the years. Perhaps most importantly, Shankland also brings up a very good point: "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."
As I archived files I might possibly want in the future and removed some files that I doubt I'll ever miss, I realized that my own use of a service like GeoCities had changed dramatically. When I first started using GeoCities over ten years ago, a large proportion of the web was static, there were still significant portions of people who did not have consistent web access or e-mail addresses, and the search engines were nowhere near as powerful as they are today.
Although there are still many largely static pages on the web today, the ability to have others respond interactively to what one has posted has been largely facilitated by blog software (such as Blogger.com) and by social sites (such as Facebook.com).
Today, a much larger percentage of people has decent web and e-mail access, often high-speed. Nearly everyone in the United States has access, even if it means they must visit the local library.
Several of the pages I had hosted on GeoCities were really glorified bookmarks. I had pages on topics such as Unix, Java, and C++ with links to resources that were more difficult to find in those days. Today, I still use my browser's bookmark feature and even use my blog for bookmarks, but the truth is that I can usually find what I am looking for again and again, quickly and as needed, with today's powerful serach engines.
Although it is not surprising that Yahoo! is closing down GeoCities given current conditions and the changing landscape of the individual's preferred online presence, it is still concerning to think about the vast amount of potentially valuable information that may be more difficult to locate in the future when GeoCities-hosted pages go away. Although GeoCities users can either move to a premium (non-free) plan or can manually archive their files one at a time to move to another host, I am sure there will be some percentage of GeoCities-hosted sites that will simply disappear. Many of the most useful pages out there have been copied multiple times over and there are features like Google Cache, but even these don't guarantee some information will not be lost. Because GeoCities sites will be completely unavailable after 26 October 2009, it will not even be possible to have forwarding information to the new location.
In the remainder of this blog post, I look at some examples of useful pages hosted on GeoCities that may be considered "at risk" of being lost in two weeks. Thanks to the power of the search engine, I also am able to point out secondary sources (copies of the same information). These are not intended to be the most valuable sites on GeoCities, but rather are intended to provide a sampling of the types of sites that may be lost forever.
Common Struts Errors
I started with one of my own. This page on "Common Struts Errors" might be useful to those using Struts and running into an unfamiliar error. I think it is especially useful for those new to Struts. This version will be gone in two weeks. I do plan to rehost it on Google Sites at http://sites.google.com/site/dustinmarx/home/struts_errors-html. Other copies of this page are available on docstoc, Scribd, ZetaBoards, and Aext.net.
This site contains links to articles on equals and hashCode and Java certification. By the way, there are numerous sites hosted on GeoCities that provide hints, mock exams, and other resources related to Java certification.
The GUI Toolkit, Framework
Fortunately, a mirror for this appears to exist at http://www.atai.org/guitool/.
Pascal to Java
Easy Transformation, Part 1 - http://www.geocities.com/siliconvalley/park/3230/pas/pas2java.html
Easy Transformation, Part 2 - http://www.geocities.com/siliconvalley/park/3230/pas/pas2java2.html
We probably don't have a lot of developers moving from Pascal to Java anymore, but it does seem like a waste to lose information like this for the relatively few who might fall into the category as well as for historical intellectual curiosity.
To be sure, there are many other pages out there (such as this one and that one) that demonstrate fractals with Java applets. However, it is always helpful to have different perspectives on the same general issue.
Bumper Sticker Computer Science
There are many references and reviews of More Programming Pearls: Confessions of a Coder, but losing any one of them means less information available.
Windows/DOS Commands Cheat Sheet
This convenient page prints the DOS commands on a single page.
A Brief Introduction to Java Native Interface
There are many resources on the web about JNI, but this is a nice introduction.
OpenLaszlo - Basics
Again, there are multiple resources on the web regarding OpenLaszlo, but this is another introductory level one that could be gone soon.
On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B
This article is a classic on human behavior and how ill-conceived incentive programs often motivate different consequences than intended. Often these unintended consequences are opposed to some degree to the intended consequence. This GeoCities version of the article is the first returned article for many Google searches on related topics, but fortunately the article appears to also exist at sites such as Oakland University, Sacramento State University, and NYU Stern. Although this article is not strictly a technical article, it is most assuredly highly relevant.
So How Many GeoCities Sites are There?
I don't know of an exact count of the number of GeoCities sites out there, but the searching in Google on the expression "site:geocities.com" reports that there are "about 7.53 million" matches. Running the same query on Google for "site:geocities.com java" returns nearly 86 thousand matches. A query on C++ links ("site:geocities.com c++") returns over 16 thousand matches. Querying on "object orientation" with "site:geocities.com object orientation" returns over 6500 matches. Nearly 6300 matches are found for the query "site:geocities.com c#" (C#) and over 10 thousand matches are found for Perl ("site:geocities.com perl").
With the technically-focused GeoCities articles counted in the thousands, the is almost certainly going to be some useful technical information lost when all the free GeoCities sites go down in two weeks.
What Types of Sites Will Be Lost?
From the sample of sites I displayed above, there are certain characteristics of the GeoCities pages that may be gone before the end of the month. Many of them tend to be older, some are even obsolete. Some of the older ones are still applicable and useful. Some of the GeoCities sites are for projects that are no longer progressing (or have been migrated to a site like SourceForge), but even in their current state may be of interest to some people. Many of the GeoCities sites have not seen any updates in recent years because their authors have moved onto blogs, but the authors have not moved the old information to the blog. Even for subjects that are widely covered, we will lose some perspectives on these subjects and will lose things such as book and product reviews.
In my own case, I found that about half of my content on my GeoCities site was not worth archiving and about half was worth it (to me at least) to archive. Only a few pages were worth migrating to a publicly accessible site.
This would be much more damaging, to me in terms of personal loss, and to the community in general if BlogSpot was the one going away. Of course, several years ago, GeoCities was that popular hosting site.
Alternative Free Web Hosting
For those who do maintain GeoCities sites and do not plan to transition to GeoCities's premium plans, the article GeoCities Shuts It Doors and Thousands of Sites Could be Lost,But There Are Other Options lists several other free web hosting options: Webs, Weebly, and UCOZ. Google Sites and AngelFire/Tripod are alternatives as well.
There is little question that GeoCities no longer is as trendy or current as it once was. That stated, many hours of person time has been invested into pages and sites hosted on GeoCities. With many of these pages and sites likely to be inaccessible two weeks from now, it seems that the interconnected world community will be the loser.
Addendum (25 October 2009)
GeoCities is scheduled to go away tomorrow. See GeoCities Going Away, And My Thoughts On It for an interesting discussion (including feedback comments) on why the disappearance of GeoCities is a valuable loss of information and of web/internet historical perspective.