GeoCities site to be excavated as the ‘Digital Pompeii’

By Brigid Gallagher 02/10/2011


If you are you are anything like me and you cannot bear to throw anything away from your inbox…this might be the excuse you are looking for. 

The now defunct GeoCities platform has been revisualised as a city map with neighbourhoods and property sites.  35 million people used GeoCities from 1999 to Oct 27 2009, and on that date the Archive Team backed up 650 gigabyte of information.

And now at a team is creating an installation they are describing as “digital archaeology of the world wide web as it exploded into the 21st century”.

In full view, the map is a datavisualisation showing the relative sizes of the different neighbourhoods.  While zooming in, more and more detail becomes visible, eventually showing invididual 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 the 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)….with the photos.

In comparing this with a real archaeological excavation where you unpick and interprete the 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 archaeological methodology.

Because people created and added to their sites at different times, in different forms, there should be a good stratigraphic profile to interprete, 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 occured 2 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 todays date…the date  rolls year to year.  This year archaeology is pre 1911, next year it will be material pre 1912.

I have excavated a 1950’s 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 rareity 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 2 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, geneaology, dow jones index, facebook eventually perhaps. The Rugby World Cup 2011 blog sites!?

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 is the perfect type of project for my inbox to be part of…10 years (almost) of unadulterated conversations…that is a lot of material evidence!

0 Responses to “GeoCities site to be excavated as the ‘Digital Pompeii’”

  • Blast from the past! Whatever happened to Geocities! I wonder if we’ll be looking at Google Wave (which I thought was a game changer) and OS/2 (which I think was the OS that ran the Sydney Olympics).

    • How about an early pacman consol…the ones with the tables. Pacman traveled about a ‘map’, people added their names into the harddrive, and because they were sitting you surely would be able to assess computer skill and commitment at the period. Location dependant of course.