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Beat Your Eyeballs to Death with This Majestic GeoCities Tribute

Digital designer and artist, Cameron Askin, has spent 10 months making a web-collage from some real vintage personal websites.
August 20, 2015, 3:14pm
GeoCities became known for tons of "under construction" signs. Image: A screenshot of Cameron's World

Remember GeoCities? That web-hosting service that spewed millions of uninhibited personal websites filled with garish, blinking, ClipArt designs. Well, Cameron Askin, a digital designer and artist, has spent 10 months creating a cult of love to it.

"Cameron's World: A love letter to the internet of old" is a web-collage of text and images collated by Askin and developed by Anthony Hughes from various GeoCities pages made between 1994 to 2009. Visit his project, and you'll lose yourself in oddball Aladdin-meets-Ariel-the-mermaid world or an OkCupid predecessor filled with gyrating bubble hearts; all while a videogame/elevator music remix made by Rob Hughes plays in the background.

"I started exploring the GeoCities archives (such as OoCities) and I was really inspired by what I found," Askin, told me over email. "There's not a whole lot of 'nice' (or user-friendly) web design in there but the archives are exploding with creativity."

Just some person exploring the meaning of life on Geocities. Image: A screenshot of Cameron's World

GeoCities was founded in 1994 by American tech entrepreneurs David Bohnett and John Rozner. During the 90s, it allowed users from the world over to create their own low-cost, Clip Art laden, and crazily animated home pages. When the US service closed in October 2009, there were over 38 million GeoCities pages. The service now only runs in Japan, and in 2009, several archive groups took up the challenge of making sure all that blinking glory was saved for posterity.

Cameron's World stitches together some of this archived material.

Askin got the idea for his project when he discovered 'One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op'—a GeoCities research blog, where screenshots of archived GeoCities pages from the oldest to newest are generated and posted on Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied's Tumblr.

Starting from October 2014, Askin combed through GeoCities archive projects like OoCities, ReoCities, and the Way Back Machine for fodder to make his web-collage. As Askin journeyed through people's personal webpages from the past, he discovered directories called "neighbourhoods", which were grouped thematically. For example, one "neighbourhood" might be devoted to everything from science fiction to fantasy, and conspiracy, he said.

Before OkCupid, people posted lonely hearts on GeoCities. Image: A screenshot of Cameron's World

"I would dig through these neighbourhood directories and open hundreds of tabs at once (I had a nifty Chrome plugin) and would pull GIFs and interesting text out, screenshot and note URLs," said Askin.

After collecting material from thousands of these sites, Askin dropped everything into Photoshop and grouped related GIFs and text together, aiming to capture key themes and trends in each section.

While scavenging for content, Askin told me that he came across some really weird as well as intimate content such as wedding photos and even love letters. "I'm not sure if these were ever really intended to be public," he told me.

He counted the fantasy realm, which he assembled close to the beginning of his project, as his favorite "spirit section." "There's something about burning purple skulls floating in space," he mused.

A spacey purple skull-filled dreamscape. Image: A screenshot of Cameron's World

GeoCities will always stand for an unabashed love of bunging incongruous images together, and an internet era when people were more concerned about paying homage to their favorite thing in the loudest and non-regulated way possible.

"There's a real rawness to the design of the web pages. I think users were less critical of websites and creators had a less polished approach," said Askin. "The tone of voice was a lot more personal. The other striking thing was so much of the web was "under construction". It was totally acceptable to build just 50 percent of a *NSync (a 90s American pop band) fan page and call it quits."

Back in the 90s, when *NSync were totally in. Image: A screenshot of Cameron's World

Over the years, other diehard GeoCities fans, aside from Askin have been memorialising the web-hosting service. Jason Scott, an archivist and technology historian created "This page is under construction" in 2009, and follow-ups have included "Please Mail Me," and "Do You Yahoo."

"In an age where we interact primarily with branded and marketed web content, Cameron's World is a tribute to the lost days of unreined self-expression on the Internet," writes Askin on Cameron's World.

And how does he want us to experience this patchwork net world?

"I just hope people retain their eyesight," he told me.