Discover lost (Geo)Cities with digital archeology

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As I write this, Yahoo (I omit the exclamation mark because Yahoo bores me) is acquiring Tumblr for $1.1 billion, a move many are comparing to its 1999 acquisition of GeoCities — an arguably similar virtual community it subsequently neglected for a decade and then literally destroyed. Will the same be said of Tumblr’s 300-million-strong community in ten years? “We promise not to screw it up,” says Yahoo. Really. That’s what they said. I’m betting on the “condemned to repeat it” side of Santayana’s maxim, myself.

Before GeoCities was paved over, several teams of digital archivists saved as much as they could, and now there are GeoCities mirrors scattered around the Web. The best of them are Reocities, Geocities.ws, Oocities, and of course, the Internet Archive. I’ve written a script that enables you to search all of them at once when you encounter a broken link to a Geocities site.

Just drag the “Dig GeoCities!” bookmarklet (click the link to go get it; that’s not the bookmarklet itself) to your browser’s bookmarks bar (giving it a shorter name if you prefer) and when you try to open a broken GeoCities link, click the bookmarklet while the GeoCities error page is in front. Three more tabs (or windows, if you swing that way) will open to potential mirrors of the page you’re looking for, and the last one will display an Internet Archive link if it can’t find anything.

I wrote this bookmarklet because the GeoCities archives have yet to merge their data; sometimes one or two will preserve a page, but not the others, and some are only partial. I was inspired by the Resurrect Pages Firefox add-on, but nothing did quite what I wanted, even the add-on.  I would like to see Resurrect Pages incorporate this functionality in future for GeoCities URLs.

By the way, this is something I started sketching on paper over a week ago, well before I heard of the Yahoo/Tumblr merger. I’m releasing it under the GNU GPL 3.0 license, so feel free to adapt it for Tumblr when you guys inevitably need something like it up there in 2023.

Finally, here are some of my favorite GeoCities URLs for practice. Open each in a new tab/window and click the bookmarklet (on your bookmarks bar) to see the archived versions.

EDIT: Although this is quite a simple script, apparently it doesn’t work fully on Chrome because of a known bug introduced by Google in the overzealous pursuit of popup window blocking. I’ll see what I can do.

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