Founder and chairman, GeoCities
1997 COMPENSATION $160,000
BIO Bohnett likens himself to a latter-day Milton Berle or Buffalo Bill. "In the early days of TV, it was just radio with pictures," he says. "People didn't understand the potential of television to do something completely different, but these guys did." So it was with the Internet: the same format that succeeded in print and broadcast--professionally edited material--flopped online. But Bohnett's idea of grouping user-generated content is blossoming.
Currently GeoCities is host to more than 2 million "homesteaders," people who design home pages in 40 distinct neighborhoods, such as Yosemite (outdoorsy folk), BourbonStreet (jazz, Cajun-food lovers) and Hollywood (people who watch E!). The opportunity to reach a targeted group of loyal users--and the millions of others their pages attract--has drawn intense interest among advertisers.
Free home pages and user-created content emerged as much out of necessity as of a grand vision, Bohnett says. "Back when we were a staff of two, I would get e-mails saying, 'You should do this.' I said, 'Great idea. How about you do it?'" From these e-mails emerged "community leaders" and "community liaisons," regular users who do much of the day-to-day work on geocities.com, like monitoring content and helping new members build their sites.
Bohnett started GeoCities in 1994 after leaving a career in software marketing at Legent (now Computer Associates) because, he says, he was "captivated" by the Net. He grew up in the Midwest and put himself through the University of Southern California by waiting tables and delivering newspapers. Now Bohnett has brought in publishing executive Thomas Evans to serve as CEO and handle the day-to-day tasks while he works on expanding, partnering with other companies and doing what he likes best: community building. Bohnett frequents CapeCanaveral, a science community; SiliconValley, a hangout for techno geeks; and Heartland, a family-oriented neighborhood where he indulges his interest in trains.
1998 POWER PLAY It has been a roller-coaster year for GeoCities. In August the company settled a Federal Trade Commission suit concerning disclosure of personal information about its users. During the same month, it saw its stock price double just one day after its initial public offering. A home-page redesign in May positioned GeoCities to compete with Net search and directory sites like Yahoo and Excite. Those companies, along with America Online and Infoseek, are moving in on Bohnett's turf, creating online communities of their own.
PLACE YOUR BETS As GeoCities comes out of its quiet period, analysts are keeping mum. With mixed buzz, it's wise to wait and see.