“Geocities is to start charging from April 2, and it encourages users who want to continue using FTP for upload to upgrade to a premium package. Premium users are unaffected by the move,” — The Register, 2 March 2002.
“It seems that everything Yahoo! touches ends up dead and burning in hell with Undertaker.” — World of Wonders, 24 April 2002, http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Labyrinth/2003/
As you may remember, Yahoo! not only killed GeoCities. First and foremost Yahoo! has bought it.
It happened in January 1999, but became clear to GeoCities users half a year later, when Yahoo! changed their terms of service. In In Protest of Section 8, published in 2014, I collected reactions and evidence of that user boycott campaign, which some days later forced Yahoo! to take a small step back.
After, things calmed down. Not that users were happy with annoying adds, the malfunctioning PageBuilder editor, traffic restrictions, security holes, etc, but as a frustrated webmaster of TimesSquare/Arena/1256/ nailed it: “all the other online services were either just as bad or go belly-up six months later.”
Full quote from this page, abandoned February 2002:
“Now that I have no need for Geoshities anymore, I have one message for those folks at Yahoo: SUCK IT. SUCK IT HARD. You bastards have caused me and my fellow browsers nothing but trouble for years now, and not just with your webpage services. You sick sons of bitches bought out and ruined Webring.com, one of the greatest services to fandoms all across the net, and for that I will never forgive you. The only reason I haven’t moved earlier was because all the other online services were either just as bad or go belly-up six months later. But now I have my own domain, and I don’t have to put up with you bullshit anymore. So again I say, SUCK IT.”
My collection of “angry” farewell messages was growing steadily but slowly, until I reached April 2002, when the next big move of Yahoo! made users furious and pushed them to look for other hosting services: the shutdown of FTP access for the free home page service.
Here is an official announcement from Yahoo!, Maria Technosux left on her page:
In practice it meant that users could not make their own HTML files any more for free. Non-paying users could only use PageBuilder to create, edit, and publish, effectively becoming tied to a content management system. In 2018 it sounds like the most normal way to publish on the web, but not in 2002. Additionally, PageBuilder was not a particularly sophisticated or reliable tool, which should be a subject of another investigation. (Listen to wise old man in the meantime.)
Users were neither eager to pay, nor to being trapped inside PageBuilder. Below are some expressive reactions which replaced the complete initial content previously published on these pages, and remained until Yahoo!’s final move in 2009:
Researching for this post I stumbled upon reviews of GeoCities at Webhosting ratings.com. They all are precious documents, but the one I want to quote is also a perfect summary of Yahoo’s achievements in their role as owners of GeoCities:
“At one point they changed the TOS agreement to try to grab rights to web content, and refused to let you log into your account, even to cancel and erase everything, without agreeing to the new TOS. THAT was stopped by massive protest. Had I not already left, the final straw was when they discontinued FTP access and email forwarding to anyone but paying customers. By that point I wasn’t about to pay them a cent. I switched to Earthlink and never looked back. My old files are still just sitting there collecting dust…..it just kills me that they took a wonderful, friendly community like Geocities and just smashed it to bits. Yahoo, you STINK!”
Review by Lesley A., submitted on May 17, 2003
The story with Yahoo! taking away FTP is unfolding in front of my eyes simultaneously to another crime happening today, which is Google killing the URL in the version 69 of the Chrome browser, taking away web user’s right to call the site by its address, to give a command to the browser. And though the rhetoric of the two companies is very different—Yahoo! wanted users to pay for the option to control, Google is selling the absence of control as a blessing—I can’t stop myself from drawing a parallel, as both are about denying essential web users’ freedoms.
What was it that made the web so powerful? What made it grow? I would say 3 things:
– Open (and readable) source code.
– A transparent addressing system that allowed to locate and link.
And, of course,
– FTP, i.e. control over your files and independence from particular host service.
These are technical and not really spectacular features, but maybe we should talk more about them than about Animated GIFs, Comic Sans, and other effects defining the epoch visually but not conceptually.