Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

July 24, 2007 May Live on as Virtual Successor to Closed Magazine May Live on as Virtual Successor to Closed Magazine is the online extension of Vibe Vixen, a spinoff of Vibe magazine that launched in early 2005 as a "girly version of what the ladies love about Vibe," according to its editor in chief. Interestingly, a "vixen" is formally defined either as "an ill-tempered or quarrelsome woman," or "a malicious woman with a fierce temper," but I somehow doubt that Vibe/Spinoff Ventures considered this when they came up with this title.

The magazine's launch, with 138 pages, only 50 of them containing ads, was unimpressive, and things seem not to have improved much in 2 years. This has been a bitter season for magazines, with closings at Jane, Business 2.0, and now Vibe Vixen. What's killing them? Well higher postal and paper costs, plus the fact that the brand advertisers they depend on are increasingly moving their ad dollars to targeted, Internet-based ad channels.

Note 7/25: I had originally slammed the Vibe Vixen Web Site as being badly out of date and filled with static content. But as I was informed by Vibe Vixen's Online Editor (who was really very nice about it), that's because I mistakenly linked to the wrong file ( This happened because the correct file ( doesn't currently appear in Google (which ranks vixen.html as being more relevant than index.html for some peculiar reason). Consequently, the real site isn't even displayed on the first or even the second page of Google's SERPs.

Unfortunately, I'm probably not the only person who's used Google to find Vibe Vixen and has been mistakenly routed to a static promotional page instead of the correct site. I informed Vibe Vixen's Editor that she needs to do something to correct this situation, because she's losing traffic (Google has more than a 50 percent share of query volume).

Will survive and thrive where its print counterpart failed? Perhaps so: according to the site's Editor, she's now enlisted a lineup of Bloggers who frequently post and she makes sure the content changes daily. Apparently, it's a lean and mean operation; she writes: "as an army of one, I've prided myself on the slow but steady development of Vixen's online destination and the fact that we've managed to maintain the site despite our non-existent budget."

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SunRocket, a VOIP provider located at the domain which billed itself as the "no-gotcha phone company," began its ill-fated journey in late 2004, fueled with $9 million in financing from BlueRun Ventures and Anthem Capital Management; in September of 2005, it secured another $25 million from the same groups, plus money from the Mayfield Fund and DCM (Doll Capital Management). In August 2006, VC firms Varma, The Grosvener Funds and Bru Venture Capital added $33 million to its coffers, making for a total of $67 million.

SunRocket's low-cost residential VOIP services were instantly popular with customers sick of being reamed by traditional phone companies, and it quickly became the fastest-growing VOIP provider. Its services, which ranged upward from $9.95 per month to a $199 annual unlimited plan, got rave reviews in the press, and its customers seemed to have loved it. By early 2007, it had signed up 200,000 subscribers. But by July of 2007, it shut down its service, enraging thousands of people who had made advance payments of $200 for its yearly plan.

What went wrong? Well, SunRocket was a private company so the financials aren't public. But the whole thing seems fishy. Any company with 200,000 paying subscribers has or should have a good cash flow: to be conservative, let's assume that all of SunRocket's subscribers paid just the $9.95 monthly fee: that's $1.99 million a month income. Let's assume SunRocket had about 550 employees (500 worked at its St. Louis call center), and let's say that SunRocket paid the call center workers $3,000 per month: that's a monthly payroll of $1.5 million. Another 50 admins and execs, each earning $75K per year, would have made for a total monthly payroll of $1,812,500. Plus or minus a hundred thousand dollars here or there, SunRocket was covering its payroll costs with its monthly revenue.

Of course, SunRocket's monthly costs would have included a lot of other things: bandwidth, equipment and leases, insurance, etc. Assume these costs were equal to the monthly payroll costs of $1,812,500 and you have a grand monthly expense total of $3.625 million per month. Subtract Sunrocket's income and you have a net monthly loss of $1,635,000.

OK, that's bad, but SunRocket was adding a lot of paying customers. Another 150,000 or so would have established profitability. Given its existing rate of subscriber growth, this crossover point might have occured as early as Q4 2007. And with its $67 million war chest, SunRocket could have easily endured this rate of loss for at least two additional years. In other words, the company had or should have had the cash on hand to make it to the crossover point. (And again, the income assumptions I'm using were arrived at using the most conservative income levels; many SunRocket customers paid much more than $9.95 for the basic 200 minute plan.)

I'm at odds to understand how SunRocket could have gone so badly off course. Was it excessive spending on marketing? Sky-high executive salaries? Major unanticipated costs? Who was calling the shots here? SunRocket's management or the VCs? It boggles the mind.

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Spectral Ghosts of Business 2.0

I wrote recently about the demise of tech biz magazine Business 2.0, which will likely cease publication as a print magazine this September. Business 2.0 has long lived at the domain, and that's where you'll find it today.

By chance this morning, I stumbled across some ancient digital fragments of an earlier incarnation of Business 2.0 in an old Time Inc. directory; the domain is: These artifacts appear to date from 2005; forensic analysis establishes that they were built several years earlier. There's a lot of bit-rotten content here, including an ancient Features area, a dysfunctional Web Guide and even a link to an incredibly old Pathfinder Terms of Service Page - now that's old - this legalize dates from the 20th Century!

It appears that Business 2.0 must have lived for a long time on Time Inc's servers. I guess that Time Inc. simply forgot it was there (this kind of thing happened a lot when I worked at Pathfinder). What would be truly ironic is if these old pages survived the newer ones at, which may not be around after September of 2007.

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This is Not a Frickin' Blog: It's a Site is DeadAren't you sick of being referred to as a "Blogger?" Well, you ought to be, especially if what you run is a site, not a Blog. What's the difference? Well, a "Blog" is usually nothing more than a narrow vertical column of content spat out by a backend system such as Blogger or TypePad, sorted in reverse chronological order. The bottom edge of this column is sawed off and auto-archived and the rest of the page area is reserved for a set of unmoving elements, either a "Blogroll" (list of other Blogs one likes) or Google Adsense code.

There are minor variants to this basic formula, but most Blogs are structurally identical, and I suppose that's why people like them: the structure is easy to understand, easy to update, and the software takes care of the archiving, which has always been the biggest pain in the ass in Web publishing.

OK, so that's a Blog. What the hell is a site? Well, a site is a collection of documents tucked into directories, ranging from a handful of HTML and graphic files to a titanic library. For example, this site has about 50 directories, and at least 1,000 pages, only some of which were produced by Blogger, the software used to generate this page). Sites might look like Blogs, but Blogs almost never look or act like sites, because of the sheer number of files and directories involved and the fact that you can do a lot more with a site than with a Blog.

Why the hell am I pursuing this distinction? Because it angers me that so many people, especially journalists, lump people who are publishing small jots of text which consist mainly of a hyperlink and a "check this out" imperative with people who actually publish articles, create sites, and otherwise behave like publishers, or at least Webmasters. In their eyes, we're "all Bloggers" just because we might happen to use Blogger or Typepad to automate some of our content production tasks. We're Webmasters, damn it, not Bloggers, and we share almost nothing in common with the Blogger mob. We know how to use FTP, install software on a server, can code HTML by hand, and resize and debabelize graphics without having to resort to Picasa.

Does this make us superior? No, but it makes us different enough to regard ourselves as a different species. Are we wiser? Probably, but only because we're a few yars closer to death than the paradigmatic Blogging teenager. We remember what it was like when you had to Fetch, FTP, recode and reload to make even the minutest change on a Web page. We know what happens when you ("gasp") mistakenly swap index.html in a subdirectory with index.html in your root directory. We're dinasoars, cranky old men, and someday we'll all gather in the New Media Old Age Home to trade FTP horror stories, boring the nurses with tales of NABPLPS and the old BBS days. We're insufferable, really, but please, unless you want a fistfight or at least a flame war, don't call us Bloggers. We're not, never have been, and never will be.

We're Webmasters, and while that and $2.00 will get you on the New York Subway, heed this warning from Disobey's own Morbus, who saw more clearly than anyone the devastation which Blogging would bring to the Web back in 2001, in a prophetic article entitled Why Blogger Empowers Mindless Nits. Among the ill effects which Blogger induced were a lamentable change in thinking that's still with us today.'s not about creating good content, its about creating ENOUGH content so that people will look at it, thinking you have something important to say. And with blog wars, blog voting, and "via trails", it's no longer about WHAT you have to say, but rather HOW MANY people are listening.

Morbus was right. In just six years, the Web has been taken over by "fur-assed" Blogging barbarians, the proud days of site authorship are over, and the future looks even darker, as Myspace and Facebook are populated by transient pieces of content which don't even deserve to be called "pages." Even our cherished term "web sites" has been compressed by all the collective Blogging bullshit into "websites."

There is no honor left in the realm.

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