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3rd-Party Yahoos

3rd-Party Yahoos

November 9th, 2009  · stk

On October 26, 2009, Yahoo pulled the plug on millions of websites hosted on GeoCities web servers. It marks the end of an early Internet Era and one that affects no less than five of our early adventure journals. Restoration efforts are taking place. Learn more (including why the Internet is a house of cards)

26-Oct Yahoo-GeoCities Shut Down
Randsco Adventures Rescued from Ashes

On October 26, 2009, Yahoo-GeoCities shut-down their servers and immediately obliterated 15 years-worth of personal websites, made by millions of people across the world.

We rescued our early adventure journals off of GeoCities, reposting them on the Randsco domain, including: Scott's Big Ride, Rachel's 1999 Big Ride, our Oregon Cycle Tour and Wonderland Trail backpacking trip.

Begun in 1994, GeoCities spawned "neighborhoods" and by 1997, there were over a million "homesteaders" that had created personal websites. In 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities for $2.87 billion dollars.

GeoCities floundered under Yahoo's leadership. Terms of service changes, monthly data transfer limits, eliminating FTP access and changing advertising strategies drove users away. (We moved our home page off of GeoCities in 2003, because advertising changes interfered with visitor experience - and shared server costs were becoming affordable).

To learn more about the GeoCities shut-down, what's being done to preserve this bit of Internet history and the pitfalls of 3rd-party servers ... carry on.

Not the First Time

We've had some experience with the loss of data off of 3rd-party servers. In 2002, shortly after we got back from our epic, 5-month PCT backpacking trip, our guestbook server failed. The website just "winked out". No emails ... nothing. We lost every guestbook entry made during our adventure. We remained hopeful that the server would be restored from backup, but that never happened.

You'd think we would learn a valuable lesson from that crash, but you'd be wrong. In 2006, a massive HDD crash at Diary-X (the service we used to host our PCT Journal pages, because at the time, it was one of the few services that allowed email-updates) meant we lost most of our PCT journal entries and the follow-on Pacific Coast Cycle Tour entries. We were devastated. (We put out several calls for help - here - here and here - and an arbitrary reader (Tom, who lives in Orinda, California) - saved the day.)

The only difference between these events and the Yahoo-GeoCities shut-down was "advance warning" (GeoCities notified users last spring that they were closing).

It doesn't mean that we didn't lose data, however. In one of those very frustrating exercises, Rachel had forgotten her username and password combination to her Big Ride Journal. Hours were wasted trying to solve the issue with Yahoo customer service. In the end, she gave up and Scott simply copied the raw HTML off the Internet. (Apparently, he missed a few pages, which he found out only yesterday, when he was restoring her journal). Ouch!

Bit by storing personal data on a 3rd-party server yet again!


GeoCities Rises from the Ashes?

In researching this article, Scott found no less than three places that are trying to archive and reinstate the old GeoCities websites. (It should be mentioned that Yahoo offered no help in this endeavor, so it's all "hit-and-miss" at this point).

If you've lost your GeoCities website, here are three places to look for the data:

  • Way Back Machine - The "Way Back Machine" (AKA Internet Archive) is the best-known of the three options. They've made a special collection that focused on archiving a historical record of GeoCities. At the time of writing, you can only check pre-2009 archived materials, which are pretty spotty for GeoCities. The special collection trawls from July-October 2009 aren't yet available for browsing (They say: "We expect that material to begin appearing in the next 1-2 weeks.")
  • Archive Team - Led by Jason Scott, the Archive Team is making an effort to archive GeoCities, prior to shut-down. There's much talk on the site about the need to save the data, but it's difficult to see if any of the data are available.
  • ReoCities - Perhaps the most promising solution to the GeoCities rescue was made by Jacques Mattheij. In an interesting journal, he describes his (literally) last-minute effort to save GeoCities data. The best part? He's busy restoring what he has, as I write. Head to the neighborhoods section of the website, to find your data.

I'm still looking for the 3 or 4 pages that were lost off of Rachel's Big Ride Journal and am hopeful that they'll turn up at one of these three locations. Hopefully, your data can be found there as well.


The Internet: A House of Cards

One of the most ironic dichotomies I can think of, involves what I call "The Digital-Internet divide".

As a geophysicist, audiophile (and fairly old codger), I eagerly awaited the move from analog music (vinyl records, cassette tapes & -gasp- 8-track tapes) to digital music (Compact Discs, MP3 and the like). No more scratches, warped records, dust, tape hiss and jambed cassettes. In digital form, music - and other data - can be stored forever, replayed repeatedly and copied, transferred and utilized in ways yet unthought of.

The same applies to our digital adventure journals ... plus having the added bonus of sharing them easily with the world, on the Internet.

Yet, therein lies the problem. The amount of effort required to share these digital data, which can last forever, is extremely tenuous, at best. While the digital data might last forever, your Internet connection won't, the personal computer won't, the server won't and the electrical grid won't. If you stop to list all of the things that need to be in place for someone to "see" your digital data shared on the Internet - it's staggering:

What must work:

  • You must have a computer or access to one
  • The electricity (or battery) must be working
  • It must have a connection to the Internet
  • You must have paid your ISP bill
  • Your firewall must allow access to the site
  • The host server must be running
  • There must be no problems with the host server
  • Electricity must be on at the host server
  • You must have paid your host service bill
  • Bandwidth must be large enough
  • You might need Javascript, Flash or some other program
  • This program must be the right version and running right
  • You must have a browser that can read the site
  • Your browser needs to be functioning correctly
  • If dynamically served, the database must be functioning
  • Server software must be working without error
  • Domain name registration must be current and paid
  • The nameserver must be working

This list is by no means complete, but one begins to see how tenuous the connection to a particular page might be. A break-down of any one of these things could mean that the page (or any page, for that matter) cannot be "seen".

So, while digital data can last forever, accessing that data on the Internet is a house of cards that requires constate attention, energy and money.

This doesn't even include things like server HDD failure or a company-wide shut-down like GeoCities.

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Updated: 11-Nov-2009
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