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.

November 05, 2007

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal For Linking to Ghost Sites' "Pathfinder Museum."

Thanks to Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Fry, who cites the Pathfinder Museum in a thoughtful article discussing how much the Web has changed since 1995, when corporate "top-down thinking" ruled the Web and it was possible to survive by merely "listening to voices inside one's own building."

It's nice to know that Time-Warner's epic disaster hasn't been completely forgotten.

We -- the despised diaspora of former Pathfinder/Time Inc. employees - salute those who cannot forget (for more on Pathfinder, please visit The Pathfinder Museum)!

Labels: , ,

July 24, 2007

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.

Labels: , ,

January 31, 2007

Time Inc's Real Problem

Time Inc. is running out of TimeTime Inc. CEO Ann Moore is making all the right sounds about how Time Inc. might survive in a world without physical magazines. And she's made the right moves: the fact is that you don't need hundreds of editorial staffers to churn out what is effectively a series of zines associated with particular titles. You do need reporters, and you need people who know how to get this content onto the Web (and how to arrange for a two-way conversation about it), but you don't need a massive editorial infrastructure.

But the more I thought about Time Inc's problems, the more they seem to deeper than can be solved by yet another round of layoffs. And the more I read about Moore's new initiatives, including the planned rollout of a celebrity database for People Magazine, the more I became convinced that she just doesn't get it.

Yo, Ann: who was Time's Person of the Year? It was us: all of us, not some celebrity. What are the biggest, fastest-growing Web properties? Myspace and Youtube. People Magazine's "let's look at the golden people and drool" model is completely out of place in today's media world, which isn't top-down but peer-to-peer. And in a world where online erotica is pervasive, who needs the SI Swimsuit Calendar?

These fundamental problems aren't going to go away. For Time Inc. to invent itself, it will have to completely rethink its basic selling proposition, which can no longer be "to bring the world to you" but must change to "bring you to the world."

Good luck.

Labels: , , ,

January 19, 2007

A Bloodbath at Time Inc. and the Ghosts of Pathfinder

If you're in the media world, you know that this has been a grim week for Time Inc., which laid off about 300 people this week, most of them on the editorial side.

As you may know, I worked for Time Inc. when, back in the mid 1990's, it attempted to transition its world-class brands to the Internet. The vechicle for this transition was Pathfinder, a 120-person startup which only lasted a few years before it collapsed, a victim of many forces, not the least of them being continual sabotage by senior management, many members of which saw Pathfinder as a threat. Such managers, whose main interest was in preserving the status quo, destroyed the vehicle that could have taken them out of the danger zone created by the advent of the World Wide Web, and then, a few years later, without realizing their mistake, plunged headlong into a disastrous merger with AOL, mistakenly believing that AOL was their salvation.

I don't know Ann Moore, the executive under whom the layoffs are being conducted. Nor does it really matter who weilds the axe: the fact is that the fat-cutting that Moore is doing now should have happened eight or ten years ago. It was clear in 1995 that the Web was going to force seismic changes in media, that fewer people would be needed to produce electronic magazines, and that other efficiencies would remove the need for so many back-office paper pushers. More than ten years later, the price is being paid, and it is being paid by low to mid-level editorial people, not the executives whose decisions failed to steer Time Inc. away from danger. These executives will either remain, or have long left, with billowing golden parachutes that will keep the wolf away from their doors for the rest of their natural lives.

Labels: , ,

August 28, 2006

Unfunny To Close September 1st

WAn article in Media Post traces the sad history of, a site launched by Time Inc (my former employer) in February 2006 whose purpose seems to have been to exploit the "workplace humor" meme. The site will cease operations on September 1st.

I will refrain from commmenting extensively on the site's content, which in my view was neither funny nor particularly relevant to the concerns of a workplace audience. But I will ask this: what does's most frequently passed-around article, "20 Classic Rock Tribute Bands," have to do with the gestalt of working? What possible connection did's sophomoric, sexist video content have with workplace issues, except perhaps to condone sexual harrasment?

The amazing thing is that Time Inc. got Dodge and some other branded advertisers to put up money to fund this stupid stuff. Now that's funny.

In the meantime, I will add to Ghost Sites' official list of dead humor sites. This list now includes:
hierarchy of the zucchini peoplee
sensory deprivation


March 29, 2006

The Wall Street Journal Honors Pathfinder (The World's Greatest Web Site)

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece today which mentioned Pathfinder (the site I used to work for and the subject of Ghost Sites' Pathfinder Museum (The Web's largest online repository of images, text, and other data related to Time-Warner's

The somewhat bland article, by Matthew Karnitschnig, gets it mostly right: despite an early, once-in-a-lifetime chance to dominate Web content, Pathfinder was destroyed by internal dissension, behind-the-scenes sabotage by certain Time Inc. senior executives, and a near-total inability by senior management to see the potential of the World Wide Web.

The article, however, doesn't begin to capture the blood-on-the pavement, sex on the desktop, poison-pen-email-in-the-dead-of-night, industrial-quality alcohol-and Tulenal-fueled reality of life behind the scenes at The World's Greatest Web Site. Nor does it touch upon the smoldering hatred that one felt in the elevators from jealous old-media editors, the incredibly botched software executions, the smashed-up New Media lives whose downward trajectories paralleled the death of the site, Sick Building Syndrome, or Wiccanism, all of which contributed to Pathfinder's demise.

No, none of these things were ever written down. Only the mute objects in The Pathfinder Museum, plus a few tepid lines in a finanacial paper, are all that stand to remind history that Pathfinder, The World's Greatest Web site, was anything more than an apparition.

Labels: , ,

October 28, 2003

Why Study Web History at All?

I've been collecting all kinds of cyberjunk for years. Old Microsoft Developer T-shirts, Flooz handerchiefs, pre-AOL Time-Warner frisbees, and yes, pictures of old dead web sites. I also collect old railroad timetables and match book covers - maybe there's a connection there somewhere.

So I'm a pack rat - on the Web and in RL - and I know I'm not alone. In fact, pack rats are probably less interesting and less numerous creatures than Jackdaws, which steal, horde, and festoon their nests with any shiny bright bauble they fly over during their work day. Neither Charles Darwin nor anybody else has figured out why these strange birds collect the shiny effluvia left behind by human beings: they just do it, and perhaps their behavior furthers their attempt to gain a long-term foothold in evolution's spiral that we'll never completely understand.

Perhaps you're a digital jackdaw too. Perhaps there's a part of you that will really never get over the first hallucinogenic moment - perhaps in 1993 or '94, perhaps last week, when you saw the Web for the first time. In the same way that drug addicts will spend their life savings trying to recapture that first mad moment of ecstacy, people deeply impressed by their first exposure to the World Wide Web frequently return to it, or perhaps it returns to them. Either way, the Web provides constant reminders of its past - and a vortex back into time, when we were all younger, richer, fresher, and life at 56K was the norm.

Nostalgic sounding, doesn't it? Web Nostalgia isn't really big right now - the last 10 years are still with us - some would say "all too much with us". But it will come, in the same way that Saturday Night Fever keeps coming back, or scooters, skateboards, yo-yo's, and mindless rhythmic music. At the risk of sounding like a latter-day Joe Franklin (the "world's number one collectible of memorabilia"), it's all too likely that the Web soon take its place in the pantheon of lost fads, and perhaps that's where it belongs, right next to one's old 386SX notebook, an Apple IIe, and one's never used Radio Shack CB Radio.

But wait a minute - wasn't the Web - yes, this thing that somehow is bringing you the thing that you are now reading - going to be a lot more than simply a fad that would come, go, and expire as soon as something better more interesting came along? Didn't the Web represent a quantum leap for humanity, in terms of realizing the global "noosphere" predicted by visionaries such as Tielhard De Chardin? If so - if there was and is something culturally unique going on here that is the very beginning of what is a much longer-term trend - are we not obligated to treat it with a bit more respect than yesterday's garbage?

This isn't just idle "jackdaw-level" curiosity at all the bright shiny baubles we've created in the last 10 years. The very idea of studying Web History (as opposed to Net History or Computer History) supposes that there was and is something unique on the Web - especially in terms of how it synergetically combines text, image, speech, and anciallary forms in a special "sensory web" that makes it more than simply "all that there stuff that uses the Hypertext Transport Protocol), And yet the sad truth is that most of the Web - perhaps 99% of its terrabytes of information - is cybergarbage whose evanescence is probably well-deserved. The problem, of course, is deciding which part gets preserved and which thrown out. Who controls history? Well - we do - at least until the historical record disappears (Note: the average life of a Web page is a mere 44 days).

One thing we - historians, amateur ones like myself and profession ones inside the academy - can say is that the Web is a creature with a big brain but no memory facilities. In fact, one could almost call it brain-damaged in terms of its inability to retain much of its own past. Dystopians term it an Orwellian medium that doesn't even need a poor sot like Winston Smith to rewrite the files maintained at the Ministry of Truth - the Web deletes itself, through a complex web of interactions - some technological, others purely social - all of which conspire to make it an ephemeral, malleable, and impermanent.communications channel - more like the telephone than the telegraph.

Why study Web History? Well - because it's really damned strange, when you really start to sort though the digital dumpster. And once in awhile, one can find a discarded pearl or two of wisdom there. But more importantly, as computer-mediated information grows (in 2002, human beings created about 800 megabytes each), it's clear that nobody - outside a handful of institutions that each have their own approach to the problem - is making the connection between our digital past and our digital future.

What was the Web Generation up to in its first 10 years? What did they build here? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it blind? Was it stupid? Could it hold a key to what's next? Is it simply rubbish that's as dead as yesterday's news? Or do all of these questions pale when compared to the ultimate question - did Karl Marx's prediction that humanity will reach "The End of History" actually refer not to a triumph of socialism, but to our arrival at a cliff heralding a new, possibly digital Dark Age, wherein history will actually disappear in some undreamt of meta-systemic-crash, like an "info-stroke"? Is History Itself "Obsolete"? That's the "ah-hah" question that lurks - like a ghoul - at the end of any extended meditation upon this subject.

Web Historians are not futurists, but anti-futurists who reason that our strange, jackdaw-like behavior and our habit of looking backward, not forward, is no more dangerous than focussing exclusively on the road ahead. Studying the past through the Web presents a view that cuts against the grain of the future-bias of this medium, which always and forever will be focussed on the Now and the Next (as it was designed to do). Many of us reject the notion that a central canonical "Web History" can ever be written, or that it even should be written. That perhaps a decentralized set of "histories" might more accurately describe the actual zeitgeist of digital culture, even if they suffer from an alarming lack of comprehension.

What unites us is that there is something about the notion of all this impermenance that deeply disturbs us. Perhaps we see that the New Library of Alexandria is being made not of marble, but of straw. Perhaps we're just a bunch of jackdaws whose Quixote-like quest to capture and preserve artifacts from early digital culture is ultimately pointless. Maybe we're just stick-in-the muds suffering from a kind of nauseating motion sickness that Internet Time induces over long periods of exposure. Or brave "Necronauts", as Bruce Sterling puts it, who just dig banging around in abandoned industrial sites. We ourselves do not always know who we are. But these and other considerations go a long way to answer the question: "Why Study Web History at All?"

Labels: , ,

Click Here to Return to the Ghost Sites Home Page