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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Return to lately 2009.

it was a lot of fun knocking on all those doors
may 1, 2009

I'm in the middle of an exciting new project, about which more next month, so this Lately is going to be uncharacteristically brief.

However, I couldn't post this Lately without mentioning the sad demise of GeoCities.

GeoCities was one of the first sites on the web to offer free home pages.

Remember home pages?

You signed up, decided the "neighborhood" where your home page would be listed, then created your site. (GeoCities had over a dozen neighborhoods at its height. Each neighborhood featured sites related to that neighborhood's theme, such as Books, Nightlife, Technology, TV, etc.) At one point, GeoCities had a charming graphic interface where there'd be block after block of cartoon streets on your screen, each house representing a different site on which you could click. It was a lot of fun knocking on all those doors.

GeoCities prospered back when the Internet was still mostly for amateurs. Our new vast frontier, tucked with blue mountains, deep forests, steep paths, cold rivers and waterfalls, prairie fields that stretched to the lemon horizon.

I loved GeoCities sites. You never knew what you'd find. It could be short stories by some kid in high school, an incredibly detailed site devoted to the career of Jack Lord, dozens of recipes for frog legs, a Star Wars tribute page, or family pages. Remember family pages? Someone in the family, usually the husband, tortoise shell eyeglasses and close-cropped blonde hair, would learn HTML, sit in his study each evening after dinner, eight fingers stretched across a light gray keyboard, fingertips tapping, and put up a site devoted to his family on GeoCities. There'd be the main page, color photo of the fam, lots of outdoor greens and blues, snapped on their most recent modest vacation, everybody grinning, sometimes all the family members spreading their arms out by their shoulders, in sheer innocent family delight, as if they were Al Jolson singing Mammy, then an inner page for each kid, each one with a different embarrasing haircut, but the same eyes and nose.

I was so fond of family pages I created a parody of one, The Maddox Family Home Page.

Web page design back then was a bit like seventies apparel. Bell bottoms, tie-dye tee shirts, badly-hammered silver jewelry.

We discovered you could code a repeating background image, which led to Index pages with an absolutely blinding background image of orange and yellow zig-zags. What were we thinking?

Animated gifs became popular, God bless 'em, so that every horror site featured laughing skulls, and every poetry site, fluttering butterflies. (And where have all the animated gifs gone? Is there a Land of Abandoned Gifs somewhere out there still, dancing teddy bears and fire-belching dragons commiserating, around an orange and red campfire with endlessly repeating percolations of flames?)

And there were Guestbooks. I used to check mine every morning, and again in the evening, to see if someone had added a comment.

Because of the success of GeoCities, similar services sprang up. Angelfire, Tripod, a dozen others.

Most of that's gone now, of course. Or if still there, as irrelevant as the old woman at the bank teller's window who wants to talk about how great the pastrami sandwiches were at Morky's on Seventh Avenue, years and years ago.

Now we have Twitter and Facebook.

In Twitter, you blog every few hours about what you're currently doing. Which can be interesting, but there's no attempt made to take a hundred twitters and mold them into a shapely autobiographical essay.

In Facebook, you list your favorite songs, favorite books, favorite movies, but the main purpose of the site is to get as many people as you can to post their names to your 'Friends' list.

We've gotten lazy.

In 1999, Yahoo! purchased GeoCities for $3.6 billion dollars.

Yahoo! immediately made a series of truly extraordinary bad decisions.

First of all, they changed the GeoCities "terms of service" agreement to announce that henceforth, Yahoo! would own all content posted to a GeoCities website. Stories, pictures, poetry, photographs, etc.

People left GeoCities in droves.

Then Yahoo! decided to severely limit the size of free GeoCities websites, and the number of people who could visit a GeoCities site each month before a usage fee would be imposed on the owner of that site.

More people fled GeoCities.

So now, just a week or so ago, Yahoo! announced it's closing GeoCities.

Back in 1999, when Yahoo! purchased GeoCities, Yahoo! stock was trading at $367.75 a share. Now each share of Yahoo! is worth less than $15.

Serves them right. Back in the heyday, Yahoo! was considered a "cool" company, because it started in a garage. But Yahoo! was never about cool. It was always about greed. I hope they wind up back in a garage, trying to wedge their few remaining desks around the bicycles, lawnmowers, squirrel-destroyed bird feeders, and black garbage bags.

And why the exclamation point? No other company felt the need to do that. We don't have Amazon! and Google!, because those Internet companies actually work. They don't need the exclamation point. I think Yahoo! just got addicted to the visual drama of the exclamation point, like some teenage girls get addicted to really heavy eye makeup. Oh, look! There's that girl with too much eye makeup! Oh, look! There's that company that pissed away nearly all its stock value!

There was a period when we were extraordinarily creative, and sharing, and loosey-goosey. That era is almost over. The web is no longer about posting a really long blog about taking your daughters to the latest 'N Sync concert, and being irritated by some boys sitting in front of you who were loud and obnoxious during the concert.

If I visit a website now, the only content is the notation that "ziegland_385 has been added to your list of Friends."

I remember reading, just ten years ago, about the big Skandelis family reunion, some undesignated place amid lots of trees, with joyful rows and columns of badly-composed thumbnail photographs, a green park table floating somewhere in each of them, with an orange-font list of all the foods served at the barbeque. (I'll forever wonder what Uncle Izzy's Beans and Potato Casserole tasted like.)

You know what, ziegland_385?

I don't want to be your friend. I want to be friends with the Skandalis family.

And especially with Uncle Izzy.