There’s dozens — hundreds, even — of places to make a free blog or basic site online. You could likely name 3 quicker than you could finish reading this website. But where could you host a plain HTML and CSS based site for free? Think, real quick. You want to hand-code a site in HTML and CSS, perhaps throw up a few images as well, and get it online for free. Any ideas where to put it?
Likely, you drew a blank, as I would. If you don’t want to use a CMS, and you just want to experiment with raw web code, you’d better get a hosting account or have your own local server.
Back to the Basics
NeoCities started, as all good things do these days, with a tweet, longing for a modern GeoCities. As the web veterans among us will remember, GeoCities was the haven for terrible color schemes, blinking cursors, Comic Sans, dancing babies — and the first place many people dabbled with HTML. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dabbled with his first web design on AngelFire, a GeoCities competitor of the time.
GeoCities was random, cluttered, and fun, and encouraged many among us to pursue web design before it was the cool thing to do. Then Yahoo! bought it out, shut it down (that is, for everywhere except Japan), and the original personal site host was lost to history.
Kyle Drake, the founder of NeoCities, wanted to “make the web fun again” with a free platform for creating honest-to-goodness webpages from scratch. There’s plenty of places to learn how to code and design for the web for free (ever seen the tutorials at our sister site, Tuts+?), but until now, there’s scarcely anywhere to put that knowledge to use without paying for a hosting account. On most new blogging tools, you are stuck with a default theme, and even on WordPress.com you can’t tweak your site’s raw code or even CSS without a paid upgrade.
NeoCities is just the opposite. It gives you 10Mb of storage space and a yourname.neocities.org domain name, and it’s up to you to do the rest. And since it’s 100% free, even a kid without a credit card can use it to try out web coding and build their first site, perhaps sparking a new generation’s interest in design and development.
Freedom to Code
NeoCities might be overwhelming at first if you’ve never designed a website because it starts from the absolute basics. You’ve got a default index.html file for your homepage and a not_found.html file for your 404 page. That’s it. You can upload your own files (assuming they’re HTML, CSS, plain text, web fonts, or standard images) directly, one by one, though do note that they’ll automatically overwrite files with the same name. So, you’ll want to make a new index.html file and upload it instead, or tweak the existing one, and then create extra pages or add content from there.
You can’t upload an ico file, though, so I wasn’t able to get a favicon working on my test site. There’s also no folders, and no way to organize files at all, so you’ll have to organize everything using the main dashboard. That gets rather unwieldy after a while, so if there’s one addition we hope they add in the future, it’d be an easier way to manage your files. For now, though, it’s not bad at all.
But then, you don’t have to upload files. You could instead code online, using the rather nice built-in code editor, complete with syntax highlighting and themes. You can code up a new NeoCities site — or tweak an existing one — from your browser anywhere, even on a tablet, without having to have any extra apps. Put this together with free hosting, and it’s seriously lowered the bar for entry-level web development.
There’s So Much Potential Here
Back when GeoCities was all the rage, there weren’t that many tools to help you code a beautiful site without much work. But today, there’s tons of resources that make it insanely easy to put together a clean, responsive design in seconds, from Twitter’s Bootstrap and dozens of other web design frameworks. They might take a little reworking to use in NeoCities without bulk uploads and folders, but they can be used — and NeoCities’ own Ground Floor gives you a base to work from without any extra effort. There’s Google Fonts and Adobe Edge Fonts to add free typography to your site. There’s even YouTube for videos and Droplr and other file storage services for pictures and more that give you another place to upload extra files for your site, so your 10Mb can be focused just on the most important stuff in your site.
The sites that are showing up on NeoCities mainly look like they’re directly pulled from GeoCities, but that’s not all that NeoCities sites can be. It doesn’t take that much space to make something amazing with web code — witness the 10K Apart competition to make a responsive web app in less than 10Kb — and with the freedom to code whatever you want, I sure hope that we see a lot of creativity on NeoCities. It’s the perfect place to try coding for the web. If Minecraft is praised for getting us to create instead of just consuming content, then surely something like NeoCities can spark a similar trend.
Go Create Something From Scratch!
Now, NeoCities is free, but free doesn’t pay for servers, or domain names, or support. Instead, NeoCities is trying to make itself a community service, one that we can help stick around by donating to it. Seeing as people are willing these days to Kickstarter a public pool on New York’s East River, we’d sure hope that NeoCities can get the funding it needs to stay online — especially as just $150 keeps 2 million NeoCities sites online for a month.
It’s so exciting to see a service that’s designed just to let people make whatever they want with web code these days, when most try to force everyone into a mold using their app’s interface and limited customization options, when there’s even any. There’s going to be a ton of ugly sites on NeoCities, and a ton of stuff that’s essentially a waste of space, but I sure hope that there’s also a lot of creativity from people pushing the bounds of what you can do with 10Mb of storage and a text editor. After all, 10Mb goes a long ways in text files.
The weekend’s upon us, so go see what you can create in NeoCities — or better yet, if you’re already a seasoned web developer or designer, go get someone else started learning how to create for the web with NeoCities this weekend. You just might spark someone’s passion for something they didn’t even know they could learn to do.