Originally created 09/13/98

If you build a cybertown, they will come



Humans are social creatures. We have a powerful need to congregate and interact -- even in cyberspace.

The latest evidence can be seen in the explosive growth of on-line communities. All over the World Wide Web, people are colonizing virtual boom towns.

Perhaps the biggest example is Geo Cities, which gives away free personal home pages to anyone who wants one. Over the last three years, GeoCities (www.geocities.com) has grown to include more than 2.1 million personal Web sites, encompassing some 17 million Web pages.

The company, which refers to its members as "homesteaders," organizes this information in 40 themed "neighborhoods."

Its "Nashville" section is for country music lovers, the "Colosseum" is for sports fans, the "RainForest" shelters those interested in the environment and conservation -- to name a few.

According to one estimate, GeoCities was the third most-trafficked site on the Web by home users.

Naturally, others have seen this success and launched similar ventures.

Among them is Tripod.com (www.tripod.com).

The company boasts 1.8 million members and reports it is the fastest growing Top-10 site among users connecting from work.

Unlike GeoCities, Tripod.com doesn't ban commercial Web sites. That probably accounts for why more of its users connect from work, whereas GeoCities homesteaders tend to connect from home.

Another free Web page site is The Globe (www.theglobe.com). In May, the site reported having 1.5 million members. Yet another is Town Square 2000 (townesquare.usr.com), which is operated by 3Com Corp.

From a business perspective, giving people free Web space allows them to publish the kind of information that draws traffic to a Web site. GeoCities and the others are then able to pitch advertising to those visitors without having to pay for creating content of their own.

But enabling people to express themselves on the Web can produce some wildly unpredictable and interesting results.

Some sites are the clumsy efforts of people learning about Web design and coding -- despite the availability of easy Web page creation tools. Nothing wrong with that; people have to learn somehow.

But other sites are sophisticated productions that reflect a great deal of time, effort and talent. Such sites -- usually done by enthusiasts of a TV program, sports team or special hobby -- can often be found on "best of the Web" lists compiled by Internet magazines.

Consider Medspeak (www.geocities.comTelevisionCity5196/), a site dedicated to decoding the medical lingo that's bandied about on television's popular "ER" program.

Or check out Cyberpump (www.geocities.com/Colosseum/4000/), a center for information and discussion about weightlifting and bodybuilding. There's even The Tribble (members.tripod.com//thetribble/), a site dedicated to a small animal once featured on a Star Trek episode.

Whatever these amateurs may lack in professional expertise, they more than make up for by their unbounded devotion to their subject. In many respects, they are like newspaper beat reporters, who build a body of knowledge on a particular subject over a long period of time and then share that with their readers.

The mega-Web sites created by large media companies may continue to get the headlines and draw the biggest number of viewers. But some of the most amazing and compelling publishing being done on the Web today can be found in these honeycombs of free Web space.

They used to say that the power of the press belongs to the person who owns one. Nowadays, they've giving them away free on the World Wide Web.