Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Preserving GeoCities: Internet Archive needs your help

Remember GeoCities? It was one of the first Web site hosting services, and in the mid-1990s people flocked to it because enabled non-techies to develop and maintain small, publicly accessible Web sites. Most of them were badly designed or abandoned after a short time, but a few of them were -- and are -- gems. More importantly, when examined as a group, they help to document an important phase in the early history of the World Wide Web.

GeoCities has never been a money maker, and most of its users have moved on to other, more sophisticated hosting services. Earlier this year, Yahoo, which has owned GeoCities since 1999, announced that it will shut down GeoCities on 26 October 2009. GeoCities site creators do have options: they can move their sites into Yahoo! Web Hosting Service or download their GeoCities files and recreate their sites via another hosting service. However, in all likelihood, a lot of GeoCities sites, particularly those that haven't been well-tended as of late, are going to disappear in a couple of months.

In order to ensure that this chapter in the Web's history is properly documented, the good people at the Internet Archive, which has for years been copying GeoCities sites and providing access to its copies, is asking creators and fans of GeoCities sites to submit the sites' URL's. Doing so will allow the Internet Archive to identify GeoCities sites that it hasn't captured during its past sweeps of cyberspace and to copy them before they disappear. If you're a creator of a GeoCities site, a fan of one, or just happen to stumble across one as you make your way through the wilds of the Web, you can help to save digital history with just a few mouse clicks.

The Internet Archive's effort to document GeoCities is taking place in tandem with that of the Archive Team, an alliance of volunteers seeking to preserve at-risk information on the Web, and it's great to see an established repository work with a community-based initiative. Moreover, I'm a huge fan of the Archive Team's succinct (but not necessarily safe for work) mission statement/logo.

Hat tip: the relentless librarians of Resource Shelf.

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