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Geocities are the people I use to host my website – neither my site nor their service is particularly glamorous, they do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ and leave the bells and whistles for other people. I’ve only ever used one other server, Acmecity, so I can’t really compare Geocities to the range of alternatives and let’s just say I got fed up with Acmecity and leave it at that, shall we? OK, let’s not, let’s gleefully add that Acmecity is, in effect, no more, having been swallowed up by one of its rivals, and presumably greatly improved.
Before I launch into the body of this opinion, I apologise for any jargon that I use, particularly if I get it slightly wrong. I’m not much of a techie, and I’m assuming that people reading this aren’t either, but if you’re reading an op on Geocities then you probably know what Java, HTML and what have you are already.
Probably the biggest whinge anyone has with Geocities is the advertising placed on all its pages. Having moved beyond banners and pop-ups, they now use an ad box in the top right corner of each page. While this is annoying, it does shrink if ignored for a while, and can easily be got rid of. Either permanently disable the blighters by turning off Java options on your browser, or by clicking on the ‘close’ icons on the ad box. So, annoying to anyone surfing onto your site, but an annoyance easily overcome. I suppose you could put instructions on how to get rid of them on your pages, but it would look a bit odd. Quite a lot of people use the option of turning off Java when they know they’ll be hitting Geocities, so if you do use the service, it’s probably best not to include any Java in your pages or it’ll all go horribly wrong.
Why have the ads at all if they’re so annoying? Well, that’s an easy one: Geocities is a free service, and they have to get their money from somewhere, don’t they? That ‘free’ word pretty much points out who the service is best for – people without a huge income and who want to have a web presence for the fun of it or to promote a very small concern. My own site is one of those fairly pointless ones that keep the author off the streets, but other locations on www.geocities.com are used to promote new bands or amateur dramatics groups and the like that are just starting up. I don’t think it’s a good place to run a business from, though – in the first place I seem to remember it being against the Terms and Conditions (but who really remembers those after the first read? You know you’re not going to break them so you simply forget them) and secondly it’s rather self-defeating to have ads for other services in such a prominent position on all your pages.
The Geocities service is remarkably easy to use. You sign on with a Yahoo! account, so if you already have one of these, you don’t even need to create and remember yet another username and password (always a plus point). The navigation within the ‘file manager’ is also extremely straight-forward and (I should think) idiot proof. I don’t know how good their build-a-page services are as I’ve never used them – I code my HTML pages in a text editor off-line and simply upload them at the site – but they certainly look enticing. If you do as I do and use the file manager to simply upload, manage and edit in HTML (down with FrontPage and its brethren!) then it’s easy peasy, even for me, who was a (gasp!) drama student when I first started using the service. There is, however, a very irritating bug in the file manager, which occurs when uploading pages. Occasionally it decides not to upload one of your files. It will tell you that it HAS done so, but it lies and simply duplicates another page that was uploaded at the same time. This can be very annoying, as I’m sure you can imagine. There is no way of telling whether or not your pages have actually appeared other than checking each one individually. Thankfully there is a ‘view’ option next to each file name, so this can be done fairly quickly, but it's still annoying. It even tries to trick you by keeping what should be the correct filename in the list, so you can’t even scan down for any aberrations. Once found, though, it’s very easy to solve – just go back and upload the file (or files, the most errors I’ve ever had is four at once) again, and everything should be fine.
There are various ‘cool’ features for people who like that sort of thing. One of the best is the site statistics so you can find out how often a page has been viewed, how people linked to it and even (oddly) what browser and so on people were using. When I first started the site, I used these quite often, but don’t tend to anymore. I think I may have substituted reads on Ciao for page visits on Geocities! There are also the usual things – a guest book, various counters, advice on submitting to search engines and the like. All are professional and work adequately, though hardly the most dynamic things in the world. You also get a monthly (ish) newsletter with various bits and bobs including some coding tips and what have you.
So, it’s a service which does what it’s supposed to do, and does so free of charge. There are annoyances, like the ad square and the bizarre uploading bug (which I only discovered by accident, so go and check all your pages are what they purport to be if you have a site there…) which are forgivable due to the ‘free’ word. Oh, and the addresses (or URLs if you must) are icky, but you can substitute your Yahoo! user name for all the weird gubbins that follows the .com, which makes it far easier to remember and give out. A decent service, which I’m quite satisfied with.