This message greeting visitors to GeoCities is a clear indicator of the shift in the way we communicate on the Web. It might draw nostalgic reactions from Internet pioneers as it was the first online home for many of them. But GeoCities closure underlines the end of the antiquated service model of personal Web page hosting.
A relic of Internets early days, GeoCities was counted among the hottest online properties a decade back. The free Web-hosting service is not alone. Many icons of the early Internet era have disappeared in the last decade, as social networking revolution sweeps the Web. The change becomes obvious if one compares Internets current stars with those ten years ago. Of the top-10 Internet properties in 1999, only four have been able to make it to the top-10 charts today. And the current online heroes, like Google, Facebook and Twitter were nowhere on popularity charts ten years ago.
Yahoos new CEO Carl Bartzs restructuring programme to bail Yahoo! out of its financial troubles might be responsible for GeoCities closure, especially since it is being axed within two weeks of Yahoos video editing service Jumpcut being pulled down. But it also underscores the fact that personal Web pages are giving way to social links pulsing with new information on Facebook, Orkut and Twitter.
One of the earlier icons of the Internet, GeoCities rose to power by simplifying the process of setting up a Web site and hence publishing on the Internet. It helped people avoid the complications of registering a domain and learning to programme HTML. When Yahoo! purchased GeoCities for $4.6 billion in early 1999, it attracted over 19 million unique visitors and was the third-most trafficked site on the Internet. Counted among the pioneers of Web hosting sites, GeoCities attracted the youth and many others who hosted Web sites in early days.
While the idea of a personal presence on the Web has caught on, most people have simply moved onto blogs, microblogs, social networking and video sharing sites. Social networks are no more just toys for early adopters and Internet nerds. Bloggers across Mumbai, for instance, fed live updates of the action after terrorists launched attacks in Indias financial capital. While blogs, as well as sites like Flickr were inundated with messages and pictures, Twitter also provided vast amounts of information, at breakneck speed, about a confusing and rapidly changing series of events. Globally, one in every 11 minutes online is now accounted for by social network and blogging sites, according to Nielsen. With 66.8% of Internet users worldwide accessing member communities last year, social networking has overtaken email (65.1%) in popularity, says the media research firm.
Clearly, people are no more expressing themselves on isolated Web pages. They update their profiles and post messages on Facebook or Orkut and share pictures and videos on YouTube. Even greater is the appeal of microblogs like Twitter, where people can simply send small 140 character long messages from mobile phones instantly. While GeoCities traffic has been falling consistently over the past few years, microblogs like Twitter are skyrocketing. According to ComScore, GeoCities unique visitors in the US fell 24% in March to 11.5 million unique visitors, down from 15.1 million a year ago. In sharp contrast, Twitter, the fastest growing online property, posted strong double digit growth in traffic in March by accelerating 131%.
With the closure of Geocities, social networking finally puts an end to Web hosting. But in many ways, it was the grand daddy of online social network communities, which seem set for a long inning.