The late 90s were a very different time for Japtoon fans on the internet, moé was yet to be unleashed as a scourge upon our pathetic hobby and instead of wikis and blogs we were forced to make do with newsgroups and fan sites. As the dot-com bubble began to inflate, we were lucky enough to have a number of different websites offering free web space for you to do whatever the hell you pleased, and so years before the trend of creating horrific MySpace profiles, we took to creating horrific fan sites for our favorite Japanese cartoons.
GeoCities was at the forefront of these free space providers. Along with other sites like Tripod and Angelfire, it hosted countless anime fans sites throughout the late 90s. However, Yahoo!, the owner of GeoCities after paying around $3 billion for the company in 1999, recently announced that the service would be shutting down later this year.
Of course, that news won’t really affect anybody. Try to think of the number of GeoCities websites you’ve visited in the past year and the amount probably ranges between “none” and “maybe two.” Rightly so, because after cutbacks following the dot-com bubble burst, GeoCities severely limited bandwidth on websites, making any remotely popular website practically useless as it was often unavailable for long periods of time. Even before the bandwidth restrictions GeoCities had turned into something of a joke thanks to excessive pop-up ads that greeted any visitor to a hosted website.
Nonetheless, GeoCities and other space providers like it played an important part in the development of online anime fandom in a time when everyone and their cousin had a fan site devoted to Ranma 1/2 or Gundam Wing. That period is behind us, and perhaps rightly so, as Wikipedia provides nearly all the information you could hope to find on those fan sites with half the spelling errors and none of the animated GIFs or embedded MIDI files. At the same time, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for a time when the Anipike was more important than any search engine, and the idea of downloading entire episodes seemed absolutely ludicrous.
My first GeoCities page was created in the Spring of 1997 in the form of a Robotech fan site. It was how and why I first learned HTML and somewhere between then and now I developed enough skills to design the gorgeous pink site you’re currently reading. In 1997 GeoCities was divided into “neighborhoods” for different subjects, including a “Tokyo” neighborhood for Asian topics where most anime sites ended up. You had to manually go through a listing of available addresses to find a “vacancy” and “move in,” which all seems very quaint, and a bit silly, in retrospect. They gave you 2MB of space to use, as well as offering a paid service with more space, although the smart kids just created more accounts and spread their website out over multiple addresses. At the time the only requirement was that you put a small GeoCities button on the bottom of each page; no ads, no pop-ups.
This was how a generation of kids first learned how to program HTML and how anime fandom transitioned from newsgroups and mailing lists to whatever the hell it is we have now. As a socially awkward middle school student who really liked Japanimation and spent a lot of time online with other fans who had their own fan sites it was a big part of my life for a few years, although admittedly I hadn’t given it much thought until I sat down to write this post.
GeoCities was already irrelevant long before the announcement of its closing, but it might be worthwhile to ponder why the fan site mentality of fans that it helped foster has died out among fans today. Part of it may be a lack of free web space, or just easier access to more information in general, but there is a definitive difference between the take-take-take nature of most fans today weaned on free anime via TV and the Internet and the much more charitable notion of creating a fan site for your favorite series and trying to give something to the fandom.
(I recently started a thread on the forum with links to random GeoCities anime sites, check them out before they’re deleted!)
What really killed GC was probably the hackers which chewed through bandwidth madly. Stuff like captchas and other blockades weren't around back then so there were many botters making tons of accounts to distribute their wares draining all the delicious and, after the bubble-burst, expensive bandwidth. Its pretty much what many are doing now with sites like RapidShare. In response they ended up taking a very anti-copyright infringement stance. I believe even going as far as blocking ZIP files and scanning people's files.
Also, the value of fan sites is still pretty valid nowadays. Wikipedia is a decent source of knowledge overall, but it lacks any real in-depth information on a majority of topics it covers. This is on top of having invalid information as well. So. the noble fan site still has its place, cataloging information that is only valid to people who share it's sentiment. Although, these days they sometimes also act as a congregation place thanks to the introduction of the BBS system into the world wide web.
Another thing I'd like to note is that I agree with the sentiment of feeling a bit saddened by the whole "take-take-take" nature of a majority of anime fans these days. Although, I think the problem is exacerbated here in the west due to the language barrier.