With 90s nostalgia at full throttle, it's no surprise to see the recent launch of NeoCities, a rebirth of the Dot Com-era web hosting platform Geocities, in all its flashy, neon, blinking, clip art-filled wonder.
But NeoCities aims to be something bigger than fuck-yeah-90s retro. According to its creator Kyle Drake, a software engineer and self-proclaimed "professional cyberpunk," the project is a way to recreate not only the aesthetic of the early personal websites, but also the original mission of Geocities: to give anyone with internet access a free place on the web.
"My goal with NeoCities is not to turn it into a GeoCities parody site, though I don't really care if people use it that way,” he wrote in an introductory blog post. “It's to rebuild the platform for us to be able to be creative again. To have sites that we can do whatever we want with. This is not nostalgia speaking. We really did lose our platforms for creativity and rich self expression online, and I want to help bring them back."
The way Drake sees it, today's internet culture is one of consumption, not creation. Sure, websites are now interactive, dynamic, highly functional, user-friendly and hypersocial. But at what cost? The web has become homogenous, controlled, even monitored—a "sad, pathetic digital iron curtain."
So NeoCities is a platform to simplify creation. Users get 10 MB of free webpage hosting and a bare bones interface to build from, with just HTML and images. The goal is to be as uncensored, anonymous and open as possible. (Though uncensored may be a pipe dream; already the fuckthensa.neocities.org domain has been seized.)
In its first week, 1,600 sites were created—some straight 90s throwback, some delightfully random, some just ugly as hell.
In a way, it’s fitting that here at the end of Web. 2.0 era, we’re reclaiming the spirit that pioneered the age of user-generated content. Geocities was the first real outlet for personal expression online—introducing the then-novel idea of putting things on the web, not just getting information from it. (For a trip down the retro web rabbit hole, check out archive sites Oocities or Reocities.)
It was this means of self-expression that propelled GeoCities to the third most visited website by the end of the decade, with 38 million user-built pages, and compelled Yahoo! to buy it in 1999 for a ridiculous $3.57 billion in Dot Com-bubble stock.
Though it’s easy to blame Yahoo! for Geocities's subsequent demise, it may have been inevitable. With no social element, even the most awesome sites were lost in the internet ether, and hence when MySpace came along and added friends to the equation, it was the end of Geocities and the real start of Web 2.0.
Who cares if it’s ugly, as long as it’s original? With NeoCities, Drake hopes we'll come full circle, and revive the web as a truly democratic platform. Considering the backlash Facebook and Google are getting of late—and the anxiety around Yahoo!'s recent acquisition of Tumblr (sound familiar?)—maybe netizens will flock to NeoCities as an alterative after all.