December 1, 1997

by Steve Baldwin

Layoffs at Hotwired. A bloodbath rumored at CNet. Cool Site of the Day on the rocks. A cruel, winnowing ice storm is blowing through the Net, and many of yesterday's once unassailable Web sites are fighting for their lives.

Many say that the age of experimentalism is over - that it's time for the Web to grow up and start earning a living -- that the world won't shed a tear for the legions of half-baked and half-cocked sites now lying in ruins.

At Ghost Sites, we try to avoid long-winded discussions of how we got ourselves into this awful mess. We're not here to speechify -- we're here to wield a shovel and play Taps for dead web sites. Someday, perhaps when the Web becomes civilized enough to bury its own dead, we'll move on to happier pursuits.

But not now. There's too much digging to do.

Your Personal Net

This glossy dead megasite, whose bland but efficient design owes much to Rupert Murdoch's long-dead iGuide, really had me fooled. YPN's pages look current, and its date stamps methodically tick over every 24-hours. But Your Personal Net is as moribund as they come - nothing has changed here in almost 11 months.

Check out YPN's current Web Soaps feature - it was produced last January. Ditto with its feature on Net Gaming, and its "Spotlight" on the X Files. What terrible thing happened at YPN? Was the entire editorial staff wiped out in a fiery bus crash? We'll probably never know.

With no past and a disappearing future, YPN is an extraordinarily ghoulish Ghost Site that probably won't be around much longer. Surfing through it is a chilling experience you won't want to attempt alone.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

John Perry Barlow's Home Page

The last time I saw John Perry Barlow, he was speeding away from a posh corporate retreat in a stretch limo with a fat lecture check in hand. A few minutes earlier, Barlow had terrified a roomful of New Media barons with the news that the Net would destroy their meatspace empires by the year 2000. Now, he was heading back to the limitless digital horizons of Wyoming, a bit richer but no less self-righteous.

With Barlow so busy reaping megabucks on the lecture circuit hawking his unique brand of gloom and doom, it's no surprise that his home page hasn't been updated in ages. The site's most recent sample of his writings is from February 1996 - most of his other tracts are from the early '90's, and his homepage link to Wyoming, his state of birth, is broken.

I wouldn't probably slam Barlow for site neglect if he weren't such a high-profile pundit who should know better. In his famous Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Barlow wrote: "On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone".

Leave us alone to do what? Let our sites rot like cow-pies?

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


Seeing Cyborganic - once (according to its own copy) the hottest, youngest, hippest place since the Garden of Eden - enter a deathspin doesn't auger well for San Francisco's New Media Scene. Witness the fate of two of Cyborganic's pivotal content areas - The Couch: a voyeuristic weekly look at the inner lives of eight "artsy" New Yorkers, and Geek Cereal: yet another daily "real-life" soap opera. Both sections have gone to seed -- The Couch sessions trail off in August; Geek Cereal's last daily update was over a month ago.

J. Caleb Donaldson, the outgoing "Gardener-in-Chief" of Geek Cereal, blames a lack of postings and internal disputes concerning the site's direction for his site's death -- most ominously, he points to "Cyborganic's uncertain fate looming over my efforts", and a conceptual "bad taste in our mouths for months."

We wish more authors of failed sites would be as honest as Donaldson in explaining their sites' cause of death. With so many dead, unburied sites around, finding one with a proper headstone is a treat.

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Site is Dying in ICU

Skurp's Place

What's the Net good for, if it can't accommodate a dyspeptic site like Skurp's Place: a "Last Angry Man"-style soapbox for miscellaneous musings and bilious essays on web design? Not much, according to Skurp, who's eloquent last rant has the flavor of a modern-day Moses chastising his errant flock:

"I am finding it increasingly difficult to find content that I believe is of some use to anyone who visits the site... (web pages) are all the same, too many graphics, colors that don't match, nasty backgrounds, and god awful animated gifs. It has become a panacea of sameness. There is no individuality."

Fare thee well, Brother Skurp. The Web tried individuality - and it didn't work.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

The Netizen on TV

The short, unhappy history of The Netizen on TV - the first and last public affairs TV show born on the Internet - is beyond the scope of this simple obituary column. Suffice it to say that Netizen lit few fires, curled up alone, and died in the darkness.

Somehow, however, the original promo pages for this doomed TV show survive on Hotwired. From these optimistic documents, it's possible to project what this show would have become: a never-ending carousel of smooth-skinned futurists predicting the demise of the nation-state, the rise of the digital nation, and the democratization of power, money and violence.

Notwithstanding all this New Age techno-boosterism, not one of HotWired's far-seeing pundits foresaw what this page would become within a mere year: a dank repository of links to fired Hotwired executives, closed discussion threads, and decaying futuristic rhetoric.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Pathfinder's Blizzard of '96 and Unabomber Features

The Blizzard of '96 was a terrible thing. It froze people to death, paralyzed eight Eastern states, caused massive traffic jams, and even seems to have frozen some Web servers - the only reasonable explanation for why this crusty Pathfinder feature is still warning America that "It's not over yet."

What's poignant about this site (aside from its classic early Pathfinder navigational GIFs), is how it typifies the kind of "fast and dirty" journalism which Pathfinder dabbled in during its heady early days. Sure, this stuff was ugly, inconsistent, and frequently fell short of the mark. But it wasn't soulless in the way that today's lookalike news sites are.

Which brings us to Pathfinder's Unabomber: Tightening the Net - another crusty fossil from years past. If any mothballed site deserves recommissioning, it's this one, now that the Kaczynsky trial is underway. But Pathfinder stopped updating it sometime in 1996 (possibly because they forgot the site still existed).

In so doing, they missed out on what could have been the Net's biggest exploitation site since O.J. Central.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


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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