June 28, 2000

by Steve Baldwin

Well, it's Summer again, and the living is... perilous. Many proud e-commerce sites have disappeared beneath the waves; others - including this one - struggle along without a prayer of ever becoming profitable. There's a sickness in the air - a sort of CyberCholera that infects anyone drawing too close to the carnage. The main effect of this disease is to replace all vestiges of optimism in the observer's mind with a crushing pessimism about the future prospects of most Web sites.

Fortunately, there's a bit of good news to report -- in our very next installment (August of 2000), Ghost Sites will celebrate its Fourth Year of Internet Publishing . Thanks to all of you for helping to keep this column alive, and thanks to everyone who sent in tips for this month's issue through the trusty Ghost-O-Meter.

The Paintsville Herald's Y2K Survival Guide

If you're still jittery about Y2K, you're not alone. The good people down at the Paintsville, Kentucky, Herald ("Covering Johnson County like the morning dew since 1901") created a Y2K survival guide last year, and they're not about to let their guard down just because the Doomsday Date of January 1 passed almost seven months ago.

If you're a fan of old fallout shelters or abandoned missile silos, you'll dig this site, which includes a truly frightening Y2K Bug background graphic, a Y2K survival checklist, a very scary discussion of Y2K worst-case scenarios, and a strange but oddly inspiring account of how one Johnson County man's manual propane pump invention might have prevented Kentucky's population from freezing to death in the wake of the Y2K apocalypse.

Thanks to spect-url for this tip.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

The Stars and Stripes Military Newspaper

Stars and Stripes is a time-honored publication providing "hometown news" to America's armed forces around the world, and one would think that its Web incarnation would be as powerful and sleek as an F-117 Nighthawk.

Unfortunately, the news section of Stars and Stripes went AWOL more than two years ago -- its most recent issue now dates from April 9, 1998. Worse, when users attempt to access old articles, they're greeted by the following cryptic error message:

%1 is not a valid Windows NT application.

Stars and Stripes Forever? In a pig's eye. It's depressing to think that our national Military Newspaper now exhibits such an astonishing lack of preparedness. Sad Sack himself must be at the controls.

Thanks to Chris Stamper for this find.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

USA Today: Atlanta '96

When Ghost Site Correspondent rmac3 sent word that an enormous Olympics site on USA Today's servers had survived for 22 months without being deleted, we rang every alarm bell in the office and then hunkered down with the ALT-PRINTSCN button to document this monster before it's sent to the cutting torch.

This remarkable relic - a fully-functional megasite built in early 1996 using a (then) fashionable frames-based layout, probably racked up millions of hits in its heyday. Today, delinked but not completely decommissioned, its many areas continue to function just as smoothly as they did nearly four years ago.

USA Today's Olympics '96 site is one of the oldest, best-preserved Ghost Sites ever produced by a major media outlet. Its design sensibilities reflect those of hundreds of frames-based sites built in the 1996-97 period that are now extinct and forgotten; its remarkable 22 months of survival earns it an Internet endurance record - perhaps a Gold Medal in Unintended Persistence?

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved


MovieReviews.com was one of a cluster of sites launched by Oklahoma-based Digimedia.com. Combining a searchable database with a User Submit facility allowed it to cheaply harvest movie reviews from the Web's legions of underexposed, unpaid writers and reviewers (Hey, this kind of thing worked for Amazon and AOL, right?).

Unfortunately, MovieReviews.com never seems to have attracted enough attention from movie fans to populate it with content sufficient to keep it current for long. As of June, 2000, the newest film reviews in the site's "New Flicks" area are at least a year old (reviews currently include The Wild Wild West, Eyes Wide Shut, and Hoop Dreams). Worse, its "Top Buzz" news area seems to have experienced a seizure way back in April of 1999.

Lack of traffic seems to have done this modest project in, and we suspect that hiring one or two professional film reviewers might have kept it alive longer. Still, as demonstrated by the case of mpXreview.com (below), reviews-based E-zines often find traffic-building very difficult, with or without hired scribes to churn out fresh content.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved


Many of us have Ghost Sites in our closet, and this doomed site, launched in January of 1999, is one of mine. Throughout the first half of that fateful year, I wrote and/or edited about half of the MP3 music reviews on it. The rest were written by its publisher, Teri Baldwin. Noel Hennelly designed the site, and Feargal O'Sullivan handled its technology.

The site took a lot of work to run - a lot of listening, researching, writing, and re-writing. Most of the MP3 musicians we reviewed were complete unknowns who had never had a word written about them, so naturally, they loved what we were doing. But site traffic never exceeded 40,000 page views a week. Competition from major music magazines (including Rolling Stone) soon blunted mpXreview's competitve advantage. After an investor* promised $100,000 to keep things going and then changed his mind, our little band broke up and let the site drift into the shallow grave it lies in today.

As revealed by the date-stamped articles in the site's Past Reviews section, the production of music reviews ceased in July, 1999. The sites's once busy MP3 News Section was converted to a set of static links, and its Special Reports and Opinion Sections lapsed into rusty immobility.

As I felt the site sinking, I considered deleting the whole thing so it wouldn't become a laughing stock in the MP3 Music Community, but then, in October of 1999, one final update was uploaded to the site to commemorate the death of Jean Shepherd. Drawing upon my own reel-to-reel collection of Shepherd airchecks, I uploaded about eight hours of material to the site. Now, mpXreview.com is dead - an unchanging virtual shrine to one of my favorite literary heroes.

Ashes to ashes.

(Note: if anyone is interesting in listening to fresher Jean Shepherd airchecks, please go to www.flicklives.com).

* The name of this investor will be sent to anyone sending us e-mail proving that he or she is a Certified Student of Web Morbidity.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

15 Minutes

This lonely page - which dates from 1996 - is all that remains of Jeffrey Zeldman's first effort to extend the reach of his successful Web site into the realm of Streaming Net Radio.

According to Zeldman, who recounted the unearthing of this rare find on his own site, Don Buckley - a Warner Brothers executive, personally penned 15 Minutes' promotional copy:

"15 MINUTES is a soon-to-be-launched fifteen-minute long audio magazine program for the Internet which allows instant listening on demand around the world. It is the Internet's Entertainment Tonight with an attitude and no need for all that makeup and hairspray."

Elements in the plan for 15 Minutes included a 15-minute interview, a movie review, a profile of a "weird Web person", and something called the "Phoner of the Week".

Why this demo wound up tucked away on one of WB's movie sites remains a mystery. Like many experimental projects hatched in the labs of Old Media companies, it promised to rule the Web but never moved beyond the prototype phase.

Thanks to Morbus for this Ghost Siting.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

The Official Babylon Five Site

When TV shows die, their Web extensions often suffer slow, agonizing deaths. Babylon Five was a popular TV show with a large Web following, and the site has been around since 1995 (when it was launched on Time-Warner's ill-fated Pathfinder megasite).

By 1996, however, the B5 site had reverted to Warner Bros after a protracted political battle, and it found a permanent home on a disk at WB's Burbank server farm. There it churned along for several years, until the show was cancelled.

Today, decay rules B5's Cyberspace station. While the site's bulletin board areas are apparently still active, the rest of the site is frozen in time. Symptoms of neglect include a very rusty News Page that doesn't even have a date stamp; other areas of the site bear a 1998 date stamp.

(Warning: this dead site still chews up an awful lot of bandwidth, so steer clear of its extravagant Shockwave, Quicktime VR and huge GIF files).

Thanks to BAS112066 for this tip.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

The Great Thompson Hunt

Christine Othitis, who runs a site devoted to Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson, sends word that she's the unfortunate custodian of a Ghost Site. Here's how it happened:

"The site is called The Great Thompson Hunt and once upon a time, it was on Geocities. Then I moved it to another server when someone gave me free space on his server. Or at least, I thought it was his server. Anyway, for about two years I was merrily uploading and updating the main site and a mirror, offered by another admiring techie gonzo fan.

In mid-Jan, I found I was unable to upload to the main site. Called tech support, emailed the guy who I thought was in charge - turned out to be someone else. Anyway, for various reasons, the old site is still persisting and I hope it dies soon (but that's out of my hands). Happily, we had the mirror, and I also bought the domain name www.gonzo.org

Hunter S. Thompson seems to have a good techie following, and now and then I get irate emails from people about why I haven't updated the site since mid-Jan.

It's going to be heck getting relisted in web directories and stuff like that, but if you could please let your readers know that I can't update http://www.tekknowledge.com/gonzo and that the current site is http://www.gonzo.org, I'd be quite happy."

Christine, it's been so long since we made anyone happy that we'll leap at the chance to do you this small favor.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


You're on the web a lot. You've seen many a dead site. You've forgotten our email address... and you don't feel like coming back here to get it.

What do you do?

(javascript required)

The Ghost-o-Meter opens a small, movable window... if you've found a Ghost Site, fill in the blanks, fire it off, and go back to foolin' around. Its that easy.

You can also use this form:

What the ??!

Well, this is all very interesting, but what the heck is Ghost Sites anyway? Why devote a live site to Dead Sites?

If you're interested in this Ghost Sites thing, it is a project that I began in the summer of 1996 while I was working for Time-Warner's Pathfinder. Late in the evening of July 4th, while piloting a small craft across Long Island Sound, I had what only can be described as an epiphany.

From out of the depths came a cruel vision of the World Wide Web. It wasn't a friendly place - an innocent place of community, commerce and chat. It was a great and utterly pitiless electronic ocean that swallowed up sites, careers, and venture capital like a ravenous killer whale. Great sites - sites like Mecklerweb and iGuide - were going down with all hands. Great fortunes were collapsing and proud content sites lay wrecked on the bottom. No one seemed to care. The future was a vast abyss - who would record these days of New Media folly, disaster and despair?

Back on shore, but still haunted by this vision, I launched Ghost Sites as a modest attempt to document the great disappearing fleet of web sites sinking beneath the waves. This project briefly made me spectacularly famous, and then I was quickly, and completely forgotten.

By March of 1997, Ghost Sites had succumbed to the same deadly entropy that had settled over the Internet, and became a crewless wreck itself. For six cruel months, it drifted like a despised garbage barge, broke its keel in a summer squall, and finally washed up on Geocities.

On an icy November morning, Morbus boarded the wreck, inspected the damage, and offered the captain a safe harbor. The bilge pump was started, and the squealing, rusty hull lifted off the sands again. It soon arrived here - in the dark, unquiet waters of Disobey.Com.

If you want to see the article that made me briefly famous, check out Ghosts in the Machine. I became so famous because of this article that there were women lining up to see me - I felt like Elvis! But then... the fall from grace...

If you have a favorite rotting site that you'd like to mention, email me at Steve_Baldwin@hotmail.com.

Ghost Sites has appeared in a number of places including Time Magazine, ZDNet, The Netly News and more. For a list of all those we know of, as well as links to online counterparts, click here. You can also take a look at the limited edition t-shirt we once offered.

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