Two years ago, Yahoo! committed an act of digital urbicide and deleted the entire U.S. archives of GeoCities, the personal-website portal it had paid $3.57 billion for in 1999. (Oddly, the Japanese version apparently still exists.) But an intrepid backup effort by The Internet Archive managed to capture GeoCities’ final state as a 641GB torrent file for posterity. And now, artist Richard Vijgen has used that data to create an interactive tribute called “The Deleted City,” which literally maps the millions of GeoCities web pages onto a zoomable urban grid.
I remember GeoCities as little more than a motley precursor to MySpace, littered with blink tags and auto-playing MIDI files. But it actually was originally organized as a kind of virtual metropolis, with pages of similar subject matter grouped into neighborhoods like “SiliconValley” and “Hollywood.”
“GeoCities was one of my first experiences on the Internet,” Vijgen tells Co.Design. “Before joining GeoCities I was captivated by this idea of a virtual city, that to my initial disappointment turned out to be just a metaphor indeed; a list of folders that you could imagine to be neighborhoods. I thought it would be nice to try and make my romanticized of idea of GeoCities a reality, now that I had access to all of its contents.”
Vijgen wrote code in Processing that parsed the GeoCities archive into a bird’s-eye cityscape view. “Much like a real city, the small individual plots are in the center, and the larger thematic suburbs sprawl out,” he explains. “The size of the neighborhoods is determined based on the number of lots and homes they contain. Users can pan, pinch and zoom into the urban grid via the installation’s touchscreen interface, although Vijgen cautions that “it’s intended to be more of an art piece to get lost in than a reference to find your old web page–there’s no search functionality, for example.”
Vijgen is currently in talks with galleries to show “The Deleted City” due to the large size of the GeoCities archive, but he says that he’s warming to the idea of creating an iPad app version as well. Either way, it’s a poignant way to preserve part of Internet history as we accelerate via Facebook and Twitter into the always-on real-time web: an entire digital society, trapped under glass, forever still.