The sad demise of Geocities a few days ago has got me thinking about the problems with using free services to host your data. The first I’d heard of Geocities shutting down was xkcd‘s commemorative redesign on Monday (screenshot), and I have to admit it did give me a twinge of nostalgia – I’m fairly sure my first attempt at web design was a geocities site (probably for the best that if it still existed, it is now gone forever!). I then started wondering how many people actually still maintained active sites there, and realised with horror that I had actually seen one recently – one of the local campaigning groups I’m looking at for my thesis had a geocities site.
I’m writing about local campaigning groups’ use of the web, and the first stage of my project was analysing the websites of 20 groups. Of course, now one of them has vanished (typing in their URL just leads you to the stark message: “Sorry, the GeoCities web site you were trying to reach is no longer available”) I’m down to 19 – although I should still be able to use my analysis of their page as it was when I looked at it, I’ll just need to point out in my write-up that the site no longer exists. I did email my contact in that group to find out if they knew that their site was about to be deleted, and if they had already set up a new site or had plans to, but I haven’t had a response yet.
It’s a shame for them that they happened to choose a platform for their site which turned out to be unsustainable, but it made me wonder how many of the other groups I’m looking at will end up having the same problem. Given that all of the groups in my study are volunteer-led, lack of time and resources means that most of them have gone for free, easy to customise web spaces very much like geocities (in fact, quite a few use wordpress.com blogs as a base for their websites, which I personally think works really well). It’s a good solution, for now: but as Geocities’ fate reminds us, it may not always be that simple. Just something to bear in mind really – and the same goes for personal use: I shudder sometimes at the thought of how much of my data I have entrusted to Google. They’re free and relatively secure for now, but what if that changes? Of course, I’m not so trusting as to leave everything in one place: anything important is usually backed up in a few places, including on my hard drive, and a USB stick and often printed out too – the belt and braces approach! But I wonder how many other people do that?
But back to geocities: I think the most important question now is, where will people go for prime examples of what not to do with HTML?? Ah well, there’s still MySpace…