They’re Internet History

Sorry we wasted $3.57 billion.

Well, that’s it. Yahoo! is finally shutting down GeoCities.

This is a sad moment for the Internet in general, and it’s especially sad for us. I’ve always felt a sort of special connection with GeoCities.. lemme ‘splain you.

GeoCities was one of the first web hosts on the Internet, being started as “Beverly Hills Internet” in 1994. About four months before we started New Dream Network, in December of 1995, they became “GeoCities” and started offering FREE hosting.

By the time I had heard of them, we were already offering some PAID hosting, and I remember thinking something along the lines of “Damn it! They’re cheating!”

How could a bunch of (completely) broke college kids afford to compete with somebody just giving away hosting? At the time, I figured it could never last.

I was right.

15 years and $3.57 BILLION later.

But that’s not the only reason GeoCities has a special place in our heart.

The main reason is WebRing!

WebRing was a free service for people with related sites to automatically trade links, written by co-founder Sage (it’s not just me and Dallas around here!) back in 1994, while he was still in high school!

Copyright Violation?! Nothing ever changes.

A couple of years later when he ended up at our college and we conned him into our play-company, we helped him run WebRing on our server(s).

We got involved!

WebRing itself never officially became a part of New Dream Network, since Sage had started it on his own years before. What we got out of it was Sage wrote DreamBook for NDN and put links to it all over WebRing!

In 1997, WebRing was starting to grow too big for us full-time college students to handle, especially with our newest little project taking off.

So, Sage got Starseed, Inc. to take it over for him. A friend of his from high school worked there and they made a deal where Sage got a percentage of Starseed, an annual “consulting” stipend, and certain creative controls, and they took over everything to do with WebRing.

It didn’t take long for Charley, the head of Starseed, to figure out that the best chance to make the most money off of WebRing was to sell it and sell it fast!

Greetings Geocities

The Shape of Things to Dumb

And, sell it he did… to GeoCities!

I believe originally the offer they were going to accept was around $1 million.

However, irrational exuberance was on Charley’s side, and the timing couldn’t have been better for everything that happened next.

At the last minute, another bidder came to the table.. GeoCities however, decided they simply must have WebRing, and closed the deal at around $3.5 million!

Of course, this was all for GCTY stock options, and I’m sure they (rightly) figured that it wasn’t real money anyway.

Now the Starseed team (plus Sage) just had to wait and see which came first, the vesting of their options or the popping of the bubble…

The Vesting

Well, while everybody was nervously holding onto their approximately 1% ownership of GCTY, a funny thing happened. In January 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities for $3.57 billion, putting GCTY at more than ten times what it was when they did their deal!

Happpppy Day

And so, Sage’s options in GCTY were now converted over to YHOO. He still had another year before he could cash them all in though. And things were already a teeeeeensy bit over-valued.

Luckily, by the time Sage was able to cash out (and he did) in early 2000, Yahoo! had tripled yet again… meaning that Yahoo! had effectively purchased little old WebRing for about $100,000,000!

The Downfall

They're wasting a ton of energy with that white background crap!

So, Yahoo set a team onto merging WebRing into their system.

By 2001 they were done, and everybody hated it.

Users were dropping faster than YHOO stock, and in 2002 an engineer from GeoCities bought WebRing back from Yahoo for an undisclosed sum (rumored to be around $10,000!)

Very Yahoo! Yet not.

Since then, I don’t really have any inside information on what’s gone on with WebRing. Just from the Internet Archive history, it looks like he more or less kept the Yahoo look and ran it “respectably” until around 2005:

Why wouldn't I!!??

… when they started to really pimp it out for ads!

Then in 2007.. Social Networking!

Eat your heart out Friendster!

And today… Web 2.0!

WebRing BLOG? Oh, the shame.

Reminiscing

WebRing’s been around just about as long as the Web, and now that I ponder it, has been a sort of microcosm of the Web the whole time.

It went from a tiny ad-free community service, to hyper-growth, to showing ads, to being acquired for an INSANE price, to being forsaken, to doing anything to survive, to “social networking”, to “web 2.0″, to today!

Back in 1998, who would have thought WebRing would outlast GeoCities? Who would have thought DreamHost would outlast GeoCities?

DreamHost acquires Geocities

Well, not really. The thought sort of crossed my mind, “If they sold WebRing to that one guy, maybe they’d sell GeoCities to us!”

But then I realized.. Yahoo understands the only real value in GeoCities left is those millions of potential upgrades to PAID hosting.

If you go to GeoCities right now, Yahoo! has a big ad for their ($12/month) hosting.. with the first three months half off!

Big Whoops

Whoop dee do.

“In honor of WebRing” or something, we are now offering to the first 1000 GeoCities users who sign up TWO YEARS of a completely free DreamHost account (including domain registration)!

No strings attached.

All you have to do is verify you are an existing GeoCities customer by creating a page on your GeoCities account (or editing an existing page) to have the phrase “I’m off to DreamHost!” on it!

Then when you signup for us, simply put the full url to that page as your “promotional code” and you’ll get a 2 year plan (normally $214.80) free!

And we promise to never shut down.