Nostalgia: Internet, photography, Writing & Geocities

 

From left: My friends, Santosh, Karthik, Vipul, and I, during the trek along railway tracks near Sakleshpur, Karnataka. 2003.

My journey as a photographer and as a writer, is closely interlinked to my journey over the internet. I must confess that writing was my first love, and then came photography. Somewhere down the line, I stumbled upon internet and it became the connecting link between my photography and my writing. It became the destination for all my creative pursuits. Never did I realize then, that I was witnessing the process of democratization of information business.

One of the first things, that my contemporaries probably did while discovering internet, was to create a yahoo email-ID. It has been close to a decade since the day I first sent an email. I don’t remember to whom I had written the email, but I do remember that I had sent it from a yahoo.com email account.  The yahoo ID became a key to many activities on the World Wide Web as the Web evolved. It became a way to connect with strangers on browser-based chatrooms where you greeted by people by typing “A/S/L“. It then became a way to stay in touch with all your friends. And one of the most important things it did for me, was to have my first ever webpage.

Yahoo GeoCities was a popular free web hosting service for more than a decade. With a Yahoo ID, one got the facility to create their homepages free. It was a rage and I got hooked onto it. My first ever webpage was hosted on Yahoo GeoCities,  and it had the URL www.geocities.com/nix_ant . With that address I had marked my tiny signature on the World Wide Web. I had set up a travelogue and a photo-gallery on my homepage.

I was still in college then, and I loved to take-off on small journeys to new destinations. I recorded these journeys into travelogues, and it was then that I really discovered photography. The ability of photographs to substitute text intrigued me. This is where I discovered the power of images to tell stories by themselves. This was the initiation years of Visual story-telling in me. I have never looked back since then.

I started my homepage with a promise that it will become the space for me to chronicle all my travels. It began with a bang with one of my first adventures of trekking along the railway tracks in the western ghats in Karnataka. This rail-route trek near Sakleshpur became dramatic with us getting lost in the middle of nowhere and then finding our way out. It became a legend in our close circles. And my homepage became the resource on the web for people to read and share it across. Sadly, my first homepage didn’t go beyond it.

I became occupied with campus life and academics. I got drawn towards many other creative pursuits to keep me alive and not get sucked into the traps of conventional educational system. I drifted away from maintaining my website. Later, the newer innovations of the web, like social networking platforms and blogs caught my attention. Perhaps, Yahoo GeoCities failed to notice the changes happening on the internet, and it fell behind in the race. One fine day Yahoo announced that announced that it would close GeoCities and stop the free hosting services. On October 26th, 2009, Yahoo shut GeoCities and deleted all webpages from its servers. A piece of history was killed.

But geocities wasn’t just a service. It was a community, an important archive in the history of civilization and technology. It recorded many events and was resource for people-drive information on the web. From a college kids’ writings & photographs, to probably serious academic journals, GeoCities had a lot in it. Should the archive be left to disappear for ever? Some wise guys at a bar in one corner of the world decided that it shouldn’t disappear. And then worked out on a bar napkin, a plan to save the archive. As Yahoo shut www.geocities.com, another website was born. It was called the geocities.ws .

Sometime this year, I met my friend Mitesh Shah at  India Coffee house, a cafe in Bangalore. Mitesh is PR professional and was planning a trek along the same railway route that I had chronicled in my GeoCities webpage. Mitesh wanted some tips and information on the route. It had been nearly 8 years since the trek, and I couldn’t recollect the details. I promised to get back to him later. I returned home to search the computer for the travelogue. I didn’t know which of my disks had it. Damn! guess I am not that good in archiving my writings! This was when I really missed my geocities page. I could have just mailed him the link to the geocities page if it still existed.

Then I thought of a crazy idea. I wondered if Google search could retrieve pages of the geocities website from its cache. I gave the keywords and did a search on Google. The search result left me speechless. Geocities.ws had saved and archived my first ever homepage. Every word and every photograph was there. It was the year 2003 when I had last edited the old site, and the layout was still the same. I was in tears. I thought I’d never see the page again after Yahoo GeoCities was shutdown.

The guys at Geocities.ws have done a commendable job. Maybe, somehow of you here also had a homepage on Yahoo GeoCities. You still have some hope left in recovering it. The geocities.ws has an archive of all the pages they could index and save before Yahoo closed the original GeoCities. One can search, find and retrieve it (if available) easily after verification of user-ID. I found my personal history and have retrieved it.

I have moved on to my website. But, I will keep the geocities page alive as it is part of a larger history of civilization and of the World Wide Web. It saddens me when we lose connection with our past and roots.  This time I’ll make sure that I don’t lose it. Below, is the link to my retrieved geocities page. If you visit it, then please do read the travelogue of the trek along railway route. Also, do view the photographs present there. They were some the first photographs that I had made and shared to the public.

The retrieved homepage – http://www.geocities.ws/nix_ant/

The direct link to the Travelogue – http://www.geocities.ws/nix_ant/Trekking_adventure.htm

The earliest photographs – http://www.geocities.ws/nix_ant/photo.htm

The Geocities.ws site –http://www.geocities.ws/

(Note: If you like my work, then please do share the link to this website with others. Also, if you’d like to support me in my projects, then feel free to click the ‘flattr’ button at the bottom of the post. Flattr is a social micro-payment system. )

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Nishant Ratnakar

Photographer | Visual Storyteller at www.nishantratnakar.com
Nishant is a Bangalore, India based Wedding, Portrait & Editorial Photographer. He is available for assignments across India. He also conducts photography workshops and offers personal photography mentorship.
Nishant Ratnakar
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