Exploring the Neighbourhoods of GeoCities

It's like a real estate report... for the historical Internet.
It’s like a real estate report… for the historical Internet.

[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:

People Organizations Locations
2082 Zac1965 Dacia

1802 Tom

1789 Barney

1395 Heather

1154 Elanna

 885 Scully

 872 Taylor

 849 Mulder

 834 Baby Bop

 762 Harry

 600 Sarah

 571 Quin

 485 Lisa

 445 Jake

 409 Jordan

 401 Brittany

 394 Isaac

 391 Janeway

 383 Jane

 380 Mike

 371 Whitney

 368 Chakotay

 363 B.J.

 337 Victoria

 336 Juliana

 334 Calvin

 540 GeoCities 343 Pooh

 281 Geocities

 171 Roo

 160 Owl

 145 Magic Friends

 142 Yahoo

 130 CVS

 126 ICQ

 118 ABC

 112 Inc.

 112 Friends Wavs

 112 Enchanted Forest Graphics Committee

 111 Friends Graphics

 110 E F Graphics Committee

  97 NASA

  90 Health

  82 LinkExchange

  81 Medicine

  81 Conservation Economics

  81 Computers

  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

 363 Dacia

 312 Paris

 294 Canada

 286 Santa

 284 Eeyore

 279 United States

 279 England

 264 America

 258 USA

 216 U.S.

 209 New York

 187 Florida

 184 Texas

 172 France

 153 California

 150 Ireland

 143 Australia

 142 Misc

 137 Swibco

 132 Earth

 130 Europe

 124 UK

 120 Germany

 105 Littleton

 104 Washington

 104 Egypt

 101 Albia

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?

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