[a random blog post of some thoughts, mostly just to keep myself thinking about stuff]
With GeoCities, I have been particularly interested in the neighbourhoods and communities that have formed. How cohesive were they? Were they virtual communities (in this, getting into the debates kicked off by folks like Howard Rheingold, Lori Kendall, and Constance Porter amongst many others)? Did they link to each other? How did web rings work in this community? etc. etc. The neighbourhoods are pretty cool indeed. The community metaphor found its best expression when it came to the neighbourhoods that made up GeoCities. As the authors of Creating GeoCities Websites noted in their book: members “aren’t simply customers; they’re Homesteaders. Because GeoCities is more a community than simply a place to store a few Web pages, the goal is to make all members feel at home.” And these homes required neighbourhoods. The system was made up a series of neighbourhoods, each with their own thematic currents and internal structures.
When a user arrived to create their homestead, they were presented with a list of various places where their site might belong. Those writing about “[e]ducation, literature, poetry, philosophy” would be encouraged to incorporate their site into the Athens neighbourhood; political wonks to CapitolHill; small businesspeople or those working from home in Eureka, and beyond. Some neighbourhoods came with very real restrictions and guidance, such as the EnchantedForest for kids. Others were much wider in scope, such as “Heartland” focusing on “families, pets, hometown values.” Picking a neighbourhood was simple: a few clicks, verifying that you felt your site belonged in that theme, and then uploading your information.
For each neighbourhood then, I’ve been running a set of rudimentary text analysis exercises to see what comes up. For example, if we take the EnchantedForest neighbourhood – “A place for and about kids. Games, stories, educational sites, and homepages created by kids themselves” – topic analysis and NER entity extraction gives us a sense of how that actually shook out in practice.
Some selected topics:
blue page school home day kids clues fun time year room birthday family mom jordan play great party friends
jq battalion show st jonny horse battery armored lt artillery camp sailor army field col pingu war area quest
child god love day life heart boy time world children girl people year lord mother bipolar group support family
pooh friends tigger winnie christopher color piglet cup paper graphics page water menu cut cream make eeyore add robin
And some entities:
|2082 Zac1965 Dacia
834 Baby Bop
| 540 GeoCities 343 Pooh
145 Magic Friends
112 Friends Wavs
112 Enchanted Forest Graphics Committee
111 Friends Graphics
110 E F Graphics Committee
81 Conservation Economics
81 College Placement
81 Coaches Corner
79 Medicine History Hobbies
78 Finance Encyclopedia Foreign Language Free Stuff Geography Government Health
78 DIY Holidays Homework Help Job Search Language Arts Law Libraries Math
77 Physics Misc
| 437 Jordan 416 US
279 United States
209 New York
So at a glance, we can get a birds eye view of some of the topics of kids who ended up in the EnchantedForest. The unsurprising children’s figures from the 1990s (Barney and Baby Bop, for example), but also some things I was a bit surprised to find. Star Trek: Voyager characters, the X-Files; Winnie the Pooh (unsurprising) amongst computers, coaching, college placement anxieties (!), NASA; and a diverse array of locations.
The next big step is to take this for every neighbourhood, compare the data, and then get into the real context of some key things that are emerging. I’m particularly curious about these locations. Are we seeing representations of Egypt from the viewpoint of American schoolkids, or something more global?