July 26, 1996

by Steve Baldwin

Welcome to GHOST SITES OF THE WEB: a new feature devoted to the antithesis of everything New, Hot, or Cool on the Net. GHOST SITES' mission is simple: to bring you up-to-date on everything that's not up-to-date in the never-changing world of bit rot.

You might be shocked by what you find in GHOST SITES: grand schemes, big brands, and even a pundit or two, sucked down by the web's deadly entropic eddys. You'll need nerves of steel to navigate this section - hit the "back" button now if you'd prefer a diet of "New & Cool" hype to a dose of "Old & Dead" Reality.

I'm Steve Baldwin, your ghost host: please fasten your seatbelts and prepare to drive very slowly and respectfully through the I-Way's growing graveyard of hopes, dreams, and venture capital.


Now that Valujet has officially become a ghost airline, with a real ghost fleet of grounded DC-9's, it's only natural that its web site be cast adrift so that only a few of the webnescienti can find it. My friends at The Netly News have explored the mysterious demise of the Valujet site with exhaustive forensic precision; I'll only add the obvious unfortunate observation that this site might well be joined by a couple of others in the next few months if the skies stay unfriendly.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

24 Hours In Cyberspace

This peerless example of web-based ego-driven marketing scams -- which everybody (especially the press) took very seriously at the time -- has actually dried up, died, and disappeared, leaving not a trace of the hoopla which narcotized every digital pundit last February. (Hey, what about all the essays that I sent to this site? Are they going to wind up in a royalty-free coffee table book?) Even though 24 Hours in Cyberspace doesn't even have a DNS entry these days, I'd keep an eye on these guys: my worst instincts tell me they'll be back with a new scheme and a new boatload of hapless corporate sponsors.

Note: a clever parody site, 24 Seconds in Cyberspace, survives the original. Thank you, Robert Derr, of NeoSoft, for this tip.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

OJ Central

Once capable of generating millions of hits a week, Pathfinder's OJ Central is now covered with rust, and about to sink beneath the waves without some fast emergency hull repairs. An unofficial movement to restore the site to its former grandeur under the Netly aegis has utterly failed, leaving Pathfinder's former standard bearer with a terminal case of bit rot and link leprosy. It's sad, really: but not as sad as the thought that OJ Central might still be roping in the rubes.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Virtual City

Virtual City Magazine, being the brainchild of the well-tailored former Ziff executive Louis D'Vorkin, really doesn't deserve to have its web counterpart act like a corpse. Unfortunately, the Virtual City site is the palest of the pale among magazines purporting to cover the Internet. Is the web finished as a publishing medium, or is this part of a grand experiment by Newsweek, Virtual City's parent company? I'd place my bet on the theory that Virtual City has a year-end feature in the works, its topic being the fact that web users are so overcome by information overload that they now suffer from total amnesia: forgetting first the fact that this site appears to have been updated exactly once since its 1995 launch.

(Note: As of August 5th, 1996, Virtual City, the magazine, has ceased publication).

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Site is Dying in ICU

MCI Delphi

Sorry, folks: this site is completely gone, just like all the Schnorkel-equipped Atlantic Class U-Boats of World War II. There's nothing left of MCI/Delphi anywhere, which is really too bad, since it scared the hell out of many people when Rupert Murdoch and MCI launched it last year. An attractive mixture of attitudinal pop-culture, semi-original news, and occasional barbs thrown at Pathfinder, its death was regretted, at least by myself and an ever-shrinking circle of fellow connoisseurs. IGuide, its highly menu-ized successor, exhibits many signs of life, but it lacks the wet-behind-the ears innocence of the now departed, and thoroughly obliterated original.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Mark and Bill's Excellent Web Adventure

I've got a sentimental weakness for Mark and Bill's Excellent Web Adventure: these were the first HTML pages I ever coded (which is why they're so ugly). Mark and Bill's pages stopped being updated this April, a clear sign that Mark's Pinky and the Brain-style "Rule The World" objectives for this project had been thoroughly skotched by competition from other Ziff mags like Yahoo Internet Life. The lesson of Mark and Bill's Mediocre Web Debacle is clear: if you're going to do something in cyberspace, do it so recklessly big that when you fail, at least people will notice.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Digirati Rap

Who am I to claim there are no skeletons in my closet? Digirati Rap -- an unfortunate title, I admit -- was to serve as our own little "soapbox" for unpublished writers to freely rant on tech topics of the day. Clever idea, eh? Of course, it had to die: unpromoted and buried within the pre-born again Pathfinder design, this section died the ignoble death of being ignored (Hell, I even ignored it), and I doubt it'll be back, especially since the Home Page Institute reports that over 600,000 home pages now exist, making pro-bono opinion sites a thing of the past.

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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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