We like to think that things on the internet live forever, that future scholars will someday write our histories through our pithiest tweets and most insightful Disqus comments. But the truth is it has a surprisingly fragile memory. A shoddy merger or a faltering server can delete entire libraries; it’s believed a single solar flare could erase the entire digital era. For proof, look no further than the sad fate of Geocities, which in 1999 was the third most-visited website on the internet, and a decade later had ceased to exist.
Before going softly into that good night, however, the Internet Archive crawled Geocities to preserve what it could. Many of these sites were created in an era when building a website was an activity not unlike, say, trying yoga: You’d give it a self-conscious shot, then abandon it forever. But now that everyone has a handful of incredibly professional personal sites, whether social or independently hosted, we’ve developed some cultural affection for the wily jankiness of the old Geocities aesthetic. A few years ago, the Geocities-izer enabled users to turn any website into a blinking, Comic Sans hellscape, and digital artists far and wide have repurposed the aesthetic to surprisingly subversive ends. One site simply collects all the charming “Under Construction” GIFs on Geocities, a graveyard for half-built personal brands in the era before such a term existed.
And now that graveyard just got a lot more life. To celebrate its own 20th birthday, the Internet Archive has created GifCities, a searchable database of all of the GIFs housed in the Geocities archive. “Mining this collection,” it writes, “we extracted over 4,500,000 animated GIFs (1,600,000 unique images) and then used the filenames and directory path text to build a best-effort ‘full text’ search engine.” The results are delightfully wonky. A search for Wu-Tang, for example, brings up this piece of pop art:
And in the very same breath, it brings up this gem:
A search for “cars” brings up the obvious pictures of cars, but it also gives you American flags, arrows, floppy discs, and so on.
And it must be said that its collection of cat GIFs, for one, leaves nothing to be desired; it is a bounty.
You can ghost-hunt through the old internet here and reflect on how time will soon make cruddy pixels of us all.
[via Boing Boing]