We have won one or two Internets before in our lifetime and now we can finally claim our hitherto figurative prize.
The entire hosted content of the defunct Geocities free hosting service will be released as a 900-gigabyte torrent file by a group called Archive Team. I’m sure we all have fond childhood memories and traumas associated with the pop-ups-with-flashing-cursors monster that was Geocities. Here’s the chance to relive it.
The entire contents of Geocities is to be released as a torrent – granting people access to a database of websites and content that should be considered a huge part of the internet’s history.
Geocities was shut down with little fanfare by Yahoo back at the tail end of 2009, but the speed with which it cleared out the data shocked many.
However, the self-styled Archive Team has now gathered up that data and has announced that it will release the whole lot as a torrent.
With shiny and smooth Web 2.0 designs still far off and Ajax still just a hero in the Trojan War, surfing on the information superhighway then felt like a second great westward expansion full of exploration and adventure. This unbridled experience that has since evolved into something closer to cable TV. And in that analogy, Geocities was the hive of villains and outcasts that thrived in the lawless frontiers of the West.
The group releasing the torrent explained their intentions in a blog post.
Who will want this? Anyone who feels like browsing among the artifacts of yesterday, who wants some data to play with, who is doing research into history, who wants to get some mileage out of a few weblog postings of crazy glittery animated GIFs and MIDI music. It’s not for everyone. Some people will probably grab a few files out of the thousands of archives in the torrent, unhook and call it a day. Others will want all of it, every last bit, to put onto their $80 1TB hard drive they bought down at the local computer mart.
When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that Geocities’ archive fits on a consumer-grade hard disk that you can get for under a hundred bucks today. Downloading the Internet has never been more literal.
I can only imagine the vast amount of raw data that future historians will have access to.
Today, our archaeologists can extrapolate so much information about ancient civilizations from a few mud bowls and skeletons.
Tomorrow, there will be a whole new class of historians called web historians who will create massive statistical computer programmes to analyse the significant events and social developments of the past. There will be archaeologists who specialize in ancient digital protocols and hardware manufacturing.
And, I suspect, there still be people waiting for the Year of the Linux on the Desktop. (Except that desktops will have long been replaced by personal computers embedded in our bodies.)
Futurist reveries aside, I suspect the short-term implication of the Geocities torrent is actually copyright. After all, Geocities may be ancient in Internet years, but its entire life span is but a blip in the outrageously-long copyright terms we have today. A torrent of its entire archive probably steps over more imaginary property rights than the entire 4chan image board.
And yet, it’s hard to argue why anyone should care about the potential infringement. It’s painfully clear that the copyright laws we inherited from the Industrial Revolution are severely ill-equipped to deal with the digital world. The fact that advancements in the techniques of information dissemination have always been followed by extensions of copyright terms greatly amuses this writer.
I cannot even being to fathom how we can hope to legally study history in the future, should perpetual copyright terms ever come to pass, as some crazy people with ill-placed good intentions desire. Once we begin to accept that people can own ideas, it’s a straight path down to thoughtcrime hell. There is a cyberpunk dystopia novel somewhere in that.
Geocities, the site that just keeps giving (ad-infested pop-ups). Rest in peace, gentle abomination of our childhood.
P.S. I think I used to have a Pokemon fan site hosted on Geocities back when I was ten (complete with animated GIFs and Comet Cusor). Maybe I’ll try looking for it when the torrent is released…
P.P.S. Here’s an awesome collection of animated “Under Construction” GIFs archived from Geocities sites.