The Day Google Killed Geocities and the Free Web.

I was remembering when Google killed Geocities in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs for short). Geocites and other pre-Google webmasters all linked freely to other websites that they liked and recommended, because early search engines were terrible at finding anything. So we all “surfed the Web” by finding a website, spend some time there and then find the links page and surf off to somewhere else. It’s a lot like surfing blogrolls.

Google ranked sites based upon the linking structure of the Web (PageRank), and the many thousands of good websites on Geocites, Tripod and other free hosts had a very tight and well established network of linking to each other for “surfing” long before Google came around, which made them rank well in Google. Too well.

That was fine until corporations and commercial interests started moving in. Then you had, for example, Paramount’s official Star Trek site competing for ranking in the SERPs against a bunch of Geocities type free fan sites. That would never do. Corporate types and SEO’s started complaining. Google looked at their business plan and realized that Geocites webmaster’s were never going to pay for advertising on Google.

Therefore, Geocities had to go.

Google cooked up a filter that basically buried all free hosted sites so deep in the search results that they might as well not exist. The idea that PageRank equals quality was/is a myth. It didn’t matter how good the website was or how many links a Geocities site had, it was dead to Google. This was like a coup d’etat, in favor of commercial control of the Web.

And that was a shame, because those old free hosted sites were the “street fair” of the Web. They made the Web fun to explore. They added whimsey as well as a lot of knowledge. The street fair died, the knowledge became siloed into Wikipedia and the Web was changed forever. It became a place to just sell things or advertise as we see today.

Postscript: To be fair, it wasn’t just Google that killed Geocites. The free hosted sites had a bad business plan from the beginning - advertising banner supported. It was doomed from the start. Google just made it final.

Brad Enslen @bradenslen



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