Internet users of a certain age will remember, fondly, the days of GeoCities. The web hosting site launched in 1995 and was shuttered in 2009 by Yahoo!, which acquired the service in 1999. CNNMoney’s report on the acquisition gives a good snapshot of the state of the internet at the time:
GeoCities (GCTY) is the third most visited site on the Web behind AOL and Yahoo!, with 19 million unique visitors in December, according to Web research company Media Metrix. GeoCities sets up communities of people who share similar interests and allows customers to create their own home page on the Internet.
As CNN noted, GeoCities—originally Beverly Hills Internet—was originally divided into interest “neighborhoods,” that would both mimic real-life neighborhoods and offer a place for users to congregate virtually and bond over shared passions. Co-founder David Bohnett said back in 1995 that "this is the next wave of the net—not just information but habitation." How right he was.
But as we moved passed Web 2.0 and made ghost towns of so many virtual realities (looking at you, Second Life) the GeoCities communities were left to gather dust in the archives of the internet. Until Berlin-based graphic designer Cameron Askin, 28, saved them from oblivion with his wacky, dizzying, sprawling homage to the GeoCities of yore.
In a statement, Askin describes Cameron’s World (found online at cameronsworld.net) as “bring[ing] together archived material from thousands and thousands” of the more than 38 million pages that were online when GeoCities shut down in 2009. The result is a scrollable walk through the weirdest, most vibrant corners of that internet. For example:
And a lot more. In a Skype interview with Fusion, Askin said that the project took much longer than he expected it to. "I started working on it in October of last year," he said, adding that Cameron's World is "by far the biggest side project I've ever done."
Askin was inspired to build Cameron's World by the Tumblr site One Terabyte of Kilobyte, which posts automatically generated screenshots of archived GeoCities pages.
“I was… actually inspired by some of the design. There’s some terrible stuff, but also a lot of really interesting things from a web design point of view,” Askin said.
Soon, he started saving some of the screenshots to a folder. “I had hundreds of them [and] I knew I wanted to do something with that material.”
And then Askin started looking for archived sites on his own, using OoCities, ReoCities and the Wayback Machine. “One of the first things I did when I started this project was troll for the archived versions of these sites.” Askin started exploring the different GeoCities neighborhoods.
“One by one I’d go through these directories,” Askin said. He’d downloaded a Chrome extension to be able to keep open hundreds of tabs, and wrote down the URLs of sites he found to be especially interesting. “I spent quite a long time doing this, that was the first few months. I spent a lot of time on some pretty weird websites.”
Eventually, Askin said, he “collected everything and dropped it in a major Photoshop page.” Askin organized the sections according to various themes he saw popping up in old GeoCities neighborhoods. Scrolling down the site, you go from space, to fantasy, to “a bit of a sleazier section,” to romance.
If you keep scrolling, you’ll pass a water section for fish, the “under construction” section, evil, rock music, a culture corner, and a “link forest,” which Askin describes as “an overview of links I wanted to share,” a type of works cited section.
There is also a donations link, Askin’s subtle attempt to monetize the project. So far, he said, he’s received ten cents. There are also links to archived ads—these are, apparently, for real products.
One of the great things about Cameron’s World is the preservation of original links. Clicking carefully through Cameron’s World leads you back to archived websites in their original forms, many of which are as delightful as Askin’s pastiche:
Following through links often leads to contact information. Askin said he hasn’t reached out to anyone via the email addresses he’s found, but that he has stumbled upon personal sites: Wedding albums, for example, or love letters that look like they might have been intended for an audience of one.
That quirky, personal flair is what Askin is nodding toward with this project. Now, he said, most websites look the same. "[There are] a lot of cookie cutter websites at the moment… everything’s more usable than it used to be. But there was a lot more experimentation. People didn’t really know what the web was for, there was more play."
Askin said he plans to take a break from pixellated graphics now that he's done with Cameron's World. But he is considering building a spinoff website for CatsCape Navigator, which is the "web purrowser" Askin uses to pull up archived links. Catscape is based on a "download Catscape meow" GIF Askin stumbled upon during his search.
If the person behind Catscape contacts Askin, he hopes they can build something with the browser. So if you're out there, Catscape human, please let him know.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.