Content isn't king at Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) . In fact, it may not even be fit to be a jester. It's more like the messenger getting slain, if we go by the struggling online titan's move to close down its GeoCities site.
Believe it or not, a company that is clearly hungry for traffic and pages to populate with ads -- given its 15% revenue slide this past quarter -- is axing a source of free content generation. GeoCities has stopped taking in new registrations, and is advising existing users to move out before the bulldozers come in later this year.
As anyone who has surfed through GeoCities over the years will tell you, an Internet without GeoCities is like a world of celluloid without Keanu Reeves flicks. The absence of GeoCities won't create a cultural void. Few will miss its passing. It's loaded mostly with hobbyist tribute pages, authored by penny-pinching cybersurfers who put up with primitive tools and gaudy ads in exchange for free hosting. Many of the pages were created years ago, and abandoned like bunny rabbits after Easter Sunday, Ugg boots after winter, and anything Reeves did after the first Matrix movie.
Let's not harp on the fact that Yahoo! acquired GeoCities 10 years ago in a deal originally valued at $3.6 billion -- on the pricey side of the dot-com bubble. Everyone was overpaying at the time.
Yahoo!'s real crime was in neglecting its costly municipality. Instead of making GeoCities more attractive and fleshing out its potential as a social destination for niche audiences, Yahoo! appears to have dusted it under the rug as it moved to sell commercial hosting services instead.
Stupid, right? The guy in GeoCities who is showing off his collection of hissing Madagascar cockroaches or the YMCA basketball coach posting game-day snapshots is never going to upgrade to a paid hosting plan. However, a site like GeoCities can still nurture loyalty from its authors and appreciation from folks who stumble on sites put up by like-minded souls. That has to be worth something, right?
Killing GeoCities is just an invitation for bad karma, even if it's already clear that Yahoo! did something to anger the gods several years ago.
Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) AOL pulled a similar stunt last fall, when it killed the personal member pages that offered ad-free online space to its paying subscribers. AOL's move is probably more vile, since it was just one of the many features scrapped for folks actually paying to be a member.
Unfortunately, it's not just Time Warner and AOL. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) ceased development of Google Notebook earlier this year. Homestead was another popular free host. It has gone through the hands of United Online (Nasdaq: UNTD ) and is now a premium hosting service under Intuit's (Nasdaq: INTU ) watch.
One can always argue that free hosting through gaudy templates is irrelevant in a Web 2.0 world. Social networking sites like Facebook and News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) MySpace offer free strutting space, excelling in the sticky socialization that Internet pioneers failed to grasp. As photo-sharing sites like Kodak's (NYSE: EK ) Gallery install tollbooths, sites like Facebook and Flickr have evolved into the new leaders for displaying digital snapshots.
This is still no excuse for killing GeoCities. Then again, maybe if Yahoo! had taken a little more time to pick up the trash over the past decade, it wouldn't be trashing the place.
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