The Deleted City is a digital archaeology of the world wide web as it exploded into the 21st century. At that time the web was often described as an enormous digital library that you could visit or contribute to by building a homepage. The early citizens of the net (or netizens) took their netizenship serious, and built homepages about themselves and subjects they were experts in. These pioneers found their brave new world at Geocities, a free webhosting provider that was modelled after a city and where you could get a free “piece of land” to build your digital home in a certain neighbourhood based on the subject of your homepage. Heartland was – as a neigbourhood for all things rural – by far the largest, but there were neighbourhoods for fashion, arts and far east related topics to name just a few.
Around the turn of the century, Geocities had tens of millions of “homesteaders” as the digital tennants were called and was bought by Yahoo! for three and a half billion dollars. Ten years later in 2009, as other metaphors of the internet (such as the social network) had taken over, and the homesteaders had left their properties vacant after migrating to Facebook, Geocities was shutdown and deleted. In an heroic effort to preserve 10 years of collaborative work by 35 million people, the Archive Team made a backup of the site just before it shut down. The resulting 650 Gigabyte bittorrent file is the digital Pompeii that is the subject of an interactive excavation that allows you to wander through an episode of recent online history.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what all archaeology will look like in the future.
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