GeoCities lives on in the 'Digital Pompeii'

The demise of GeoCities was a milestone in web history. But the now-defunct platform has been revisualised as a city map with neighbourhoods and property sites. From 1999 to October 27, 2009, 35 million people used GeoCities to set up their little corner on the internet, and on that date its archive team backed up 650 gigabytes of information.

At, a group is creating an installation described as “digital archaeology of the world wide web as it exploded into the 21st century”.

In full view, the map is a data visualisation showing the relative sizes of the different neighbourhoods.  While zooming in, more and more detail becomes visible, eventually showing individual HTML pages and the images they contain. While browsing, nearby MIDI files are played. 

The Deleted City project is calling this the digital Pompeii and will allow viewers to eventually wander through history following an interactive excavation.  

GeoCities in the Archaeological Context

Given the use of GeoCities as an early social networking platform, evidence will remain of the people and the past who owned, used or visited each site – and should be able to demonstrate what people ate, how they lived, what they revered and how wealthy they were (to name a few).

In comparing this with a real archaeological excavation where you unpick and interpret events and chronology of the past by stratigraphic relationships and analysis of the remains of human occupation, or lack of it, excavating, analysing and intepreting the GeoCities population should in theory be the same as archaeological methodology.

Because people created and added to their sites at different times, in different forms, there should be a good stratigraphic profile towork with , much the same way as a physical cultural or settlement landscape, rather than a digital one.

Given the wealth of reporting and publications today, it should also be possible to assess the information against its cultural, political, historical or technological value and significance.

But should this be called archaeology?

There is no trowel, no dumpy, no pre-ex or post-ex planning, no analysis of bone, stone or ceramic, and the demise of this culture occurred two years ago!

How old does something have to be to be called archaeology?

The NZ Historic Places Act says a minimum of 111 years (or pre-1900), give or take a few in certain circumstances.

Australia says 100 years before today's date; the date  rolls from year to year.  This year archaeology is pre-1911, next year it will be material pre-1912.

I have excavated a 1950s terrace house in the UK … and that was archaeology.  Archaeological recording methods used to understand the house were a greater factor in determining its archaeological status, that and its rarity in the City of Bath, which is more famous for its Roman and Georgian architecture and habitation.

I would suggest that it is just fine to call this archaeology after only two years buried, as long as archaeological methods and recording are considered the best used to better understand this phase in the earths human history. Plus it has the potential for use on other data sets…iTunes, genealogy, the Dow Jones index, Facebook eventually perhaps.

This is not digital archaeology as it has been labelled in recent years.  No Google Earth, no satellites, no geophysics.  No going back in time to identify and record archaeology that has not been previously  known nor in immediate danger of destruction.

This is data collection, management and social analysis of human cultural information.  The material evidence is here to use.  It is not my cup of tea; there is no dirt, there is no real age.  But I can see the appeal if you like computers, the stories of recent history, and the idea of preserving a slice in time. 

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs.

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