Business Standard

Yahoo! writes Geocities' obituary


Leslie D`Monte New Delhi
Fifteen years earlier when it was born, this internet city christened ‘Geocities’ was fast becoming a household name. Geeks and ordinary internet users from all over the world, including India, rushed to have a home — their own web page — on this internet property.
Those were the times when web designers and developers in India, taking full advantage of the fact that many netizens did not know hyper text mark-up language (HTML), used to charge anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 25,000 to host simple five A-4 size pages on the web (those same five pages with a lot more garnishing and interactivity will cost a fraction of that price today).
GeoCities made this possible for free with personal publishing tools and “neighborhoods” within its web platform for users to be able to create pages, add a picture, text, guest book and website counter (to see how many people visited the site) — all within minutes.
Geocities is now breathing its last. The property that Yahoo! Inc bought for around $3 billion in 1999 is being put to death. “We have decided to discontinue the process of allowing new customers to sign up for GeoCities accounts as we focus on helping our customers explore and build new relationships online in other ways. We will be closing GeoCities later this year,” states the Yahoo! help site.
Existing GeoCities account users will get instructions on how to save their site data soon.
But why is GeoCities dying? Internet experts opine that the reason for the slow death of this cybercity — founded by David Bohnett and John Rezner in late 1994 as Beverly Hills Internet (BHI) — lies in the way Yahoo! handled it and the rise of social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and Orkut, besides the rise of easy-to-create blogs on thousands of websites.
Consider this. GeoCities went public in August 1998, listing on the NASDAQ. The IPO price was $17, rising rapidly after launch to a peak of over $100. However, in January 1999, Yahoo! bought it and took control on May 28. This sparked off protests and people started leaving. In July 1999, Yahoo! eliminated neighbourhood and street addresses from homesteader uniform resource locators (URLs or web addresses).
In 2001, amid speculation by analysts that GeoCities was not yet profitable (it having declared an $8 million loss for the final quarter of 1998), Yahoo! introduced a for-fee premium hosting service at GeoCities. The results showed in the declining traffic numbers.
ComScore reveals that GeoCities unique visitors in the US fell 24 per cent in March to 11.5 million unique visitors from 15.1 million in March 2008. Back in October 2006, it had 18.9 million unique visitors.
“I loved GeoCities. It allowed users to make web pages with minimal effort. I don't understand why Yahoo! is allowing it to die. I presume Yahoo! used the eyeballs that GeoCities generated, and now that it no longer serves their purpose, is allowing it to die. It’s a lost opportunity for Yahoo! They could have made it a Facebook if they wanted,” says Indian internet guru and cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi. Rich Skrenta, co-founder & CEO of a new search engine startup, Blekko, goes a step further. On (another rage on the internet now), he states: “Yahoo!, please give me Geocities instead of shutting it down. Eleven million uniques? I will give you 50 per cent future revenue share.” Will Yahoo! consider it? That is a million-dollar question.

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First Published: Apr 25 2009 | 12:35 AM IST

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