November 11, 1997

by Steve Baldwin

Welcome to Ghost Sites of the Web - the Net's oddly refreshing guide to derelict, under-maintained, and utterly useless Web sites -- electronic relics from a time when "Being Digital" still had some glamour attached to it.

This week, we've got a typical assortment of rotten HTML - a fistful of Ghost Sites that have all seen better days. Someday, these digital dustbunnies might have substantial collectible value, but right now, they're just refugees rusting out their lives in the sprawling junkyard we call cyberspace.

Adam Curry's Favorite Web Pages

Remember Adam Curry? Years ago, this disenchanted Video Jock appropriated "" from under the news of the snoozing, clueless music conglomerate. For a brief spell, users typing "" went straight to Curry, instead of to the home page of the the real MTV. Once MTV woke up, it loaded up a 727 full of lawyers, who hunted Curry down and forced him to relinquish the domain name. The defeated Curry wasn't beaten, however - instead, he became a sort of folk hero after taking on the Evil Empire, and his hipness quotient skyrocketed.

Now, two years later, sections of Curry's "Metaverse" site have grown as rusty as an old Cuban trawler. His Favorite Web Pages area is a dandy preserved in aspic, replete with an ancient broken link to NCSA's "What's New" Page.

Elsewhere on Metaverse, we learn that the site "is on temporary hiatus" -- never an encouraging thing to read on any web site - especially one that used to top the "Hot Sites" lists. But Curry's Cyber-Sleaze - a trashy LA-centric music gossip column - continues to pollute the Web on a daily basis, so I wouldn't count Adam out of the game -- yet.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

The MIT Freshman Fishwrap

This ominous Ghost Site comes from the cobwebbed laboratory of Nick Negroponte, a 10-foot tall Net Genius whose concept of the "Personal Me" nearly destroyed Web publishing when it spawned the great Personalization Fever of 1996.

The whole fiasco began when the ruling MBA's of many major media companies read a book by Negroponte called "Being Digital", memorized the "Personal Me" sections, and began spending millions of dollars on expensive and abortive web-based "personalized" news products which all failed with a year. The aftershocks of this disaster are still being felt - the Great Personalization Disaster of 1996 led directly to the bloody editorial purges of 1997, which continue today.

Here, in the innocent-looking, "personalized" MIT Freshman Fishwrap - we find what is perhaps the prototype for all this destructive madness. This little magazine began it all - all the pain, red ink, and wrecked careers - right in Negroponte's laboratory.

Like Ebola in a jar, the MIT Fishwrap and its dreaded Personalization Imperative are truly horrifying things to behold. The world can only hope this monster is really dead -- and not just taking a breather.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

The 48th Cannes International Film Festival

Here's some ephermeral celluloid garbage which offers a long look back to the dimly remembered avant garde films of 1995. An early experiment in sponsored content, this Ghost Site isn't much to look at, except for its exquisitely preserved images of the alcoholic "Mr. Jenkies", Tanqueray Gin's supercilious spokesman of yesteryear who has disappeared from every other media - print, TV and radio.

A repository of broken links, outdated gossip, and moldy dealmaking, the 48th Cannes International Film Festival site is blitheringly unconscious of its ghastly electronic afterlife, going so far as to ask unwary users to "check back for daily updates." We love it that way.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Life Without the IRS: A Realistic Alternative

Only the smoldering shell of what might have been a groundbreaking Net-based guerilla movement remains at Americans for Constitutional Action. Every link on this site is broken - exactly the sort of complete devastation one would expect from a coordinated black helicopter attack.

Yahoo (which is becoming world-renowned for its incredible, unintended ghost links), still lists ACA as a "grassroots organization whose purpose is to lawfully replace the federal income tax with a federal retail sales tax, and to abolish the IRS". Whatever the ACA once was - this unfortunate site has grass growing through its battered roof.

We pray that Pierre Salinger again comes forward to clarify what went terrible wrong with this site.

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Site is Dead, shows advanced Decay

The Alternative Future Think Tank Home Page

This dead egghead site seems to have toppled from the weight of its rhetoric. Housed at the University of California at Irvine, its modest mission on the Net was to "look to apply post-modern, post-structural, post-colonial and what ever may follow, to social, and particularly political 'scientific' studies."

Post-structural what? Post-colonial what? Emoticons?

Even if the Think Tank is actually applying whatever it is they seek to apply, the site is going nowhere - the Tank's last active discussion sessions, which dissected a book called Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, occurred in April of 1996, with nary a post-structural word logged since.

Although the Alternative Future Think Tank now appears drained of brain fluid, it remains interesting for two reasons: because of the stone-age tools used to design it (the elVIS editor for IBM's OS/2 Warp), and above all, because it provides a chilling vision of what the world might be like if social scientists ever seized power.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


This flash-in-the-pan LA-based music 'zine from IUMA (the Internet Underground Music Archive) suspended publication in early 1997, but still provides an archive for the world to see. Judging from its last issue, Strobe had dreams of being a trendy, teenaged world-killer - an ode to the West Coast's unsigned, thwarted youth running amok in LA mosh clubs. Like many fledgling e-zines, Strobe drowned in the surf of indifference, anomie, and bad writing which are the scrouge of the teen 'zine scene.

From the evidence here, Strobe looks such an inconsequential, badly-conceived project that it's almost endearing. It tried to hard to be different that it wound up looking like every other Web site, just as today's passionately individualistic "alternative" songwriters all wind up sounding the same.

Perhaps in death Strobe will find its true voice, but I wouldn't bet on it.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


This web tribute to the famous "Principia Discordia" of Robert Anton Wilson works extremely well as a Ghost Site. Clicking on the site's "What's New" button reveals that there is indeed "Nothing New Under the Sun". Clicking elsewhere engulfs the user in an endless trail of Gothic conspiracy thinking and soft-core pornography, frozen in time.

Like Discordian philosophy itself, the HyperDiscordia site spins itself into a frenzy, but leads nowhere. Otherworldly, unstuck in time and space, HyperDiscordia is the perfect metaphor for today's Web - a self-enclosed psychotic egosystem so advanced that it's abolished its potential to evolve.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


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

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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