January 1, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

Hunting for dead web sites is a grim business that's more akin to electronic grave-robbing than anything else. But once in a thousand clicks, we run across sites whose "unexplained" behavior suggests supernatural forces at work.

What else but the supernatural could explain how an obscure, ice-cold Webcam in Germany could serve as a portal back through time, or why spectral merrymakers at a Christmas party from two years ago are still whooping it up on the Web? Or why the joyful spirit of COMDEX '94 still has the power to move us in strange ways?

With these mysteries in mind, Ghost Sites of the Web wishes you a joyful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year - may the sites you launch in '98 enjoy happy lives (even if they're brief).

Geek Site of the Day

The geeks of the world lost a brave friend when Scott Ruthfield stopped updating his Geek Site of the Day site in early November.

For more than two years, GSOTD took us where no mainstream review service dared - into the fascinating, quirky world of sites typified by those devoted to Kite Aerial Photography and The 5.25-inch Floppy Disk Sleeve Archive.

Ruthfield didn't care how ugly a site looked - only that its kernel was pure and obscure. And so GSOTD became a far more interesting site than Cool Site of the Day, whose vague and muddled "coolness" criteria often put site beauty before brains.

Losing GSOTD suggests the worst about what this medium has become: a bland wasteland of billboards and general-interest content driven by the cash imperative. As a consolation of sorts, Ruthfield is preserving GSOTD, and will leave it up as a reminder of how interesting the Web was in its Golden Age.

Special thanks to Lindsay Marshall for notifying us of GSOTD's demise.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Mungo Park

The deathwatch on Microsoft's Mungo Park travel site is official - the software giant's once-friendly accountants will cut its throat some time in February for "belt-tightening" reasons.

Nobody knows how much money Mungo Park cost Microsoft, but one can easily imagine the suitcases of cash required to send Martha Stewart, Stephanie Powers, and Dr. Ruth all over the world to serve as "special Web correspondents" in safari gear.

The "Spruce Goose" of dead web sites, Mungo Park was an idea that should have been killed immediately. Who at Microsoft seriously believed that today's pale, cubicle-bound Net audience would enjoy watching suntanned celebrities galavanting through the 3rd World on lavish expense accounts?

Ghost Sites doesn't grieve for the faceless coders who built Mungo Park - or for endangered Microsoft staffs elsewhere, such as those working on Cinemania. They'll all be reabsorbed and reassimilated into Microsoft's octopus-like content machine.

But we wish the bean-counters in Redmond would find it in their hearts to preserve an acre or two of the failed Mungo Park to serve as a monument to the Web's "go go" era of meglomaniacal content schemes, mad spending, and self-serving junketeering.

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Site is Dying in ICU

The Rottach-Egern Web Cam

High atop Mount Wallberg, a dead "live" web cam twists in the wind. Here, on the fateful morning of January 4th, 1996, this unfortunate camera "froze" after the temperature reached a chilly -4.5 Celsius, (a condition which normally would cause a broken image or blank screen to appear on the cam's web page).

But somehow - miraculously - this malfunctioning camera's unmoving, all-seeing eye continues to serve up a never-ending chain of images from Rottarch-Egern -- a remote, impassable land of eternal Winter where time stands still for all eternity.

This beautiful, enigmatic Ghost Site, discovered by Dana Rottach, summons forth a sense of longing and loss that is almost unbearable.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

A Day at COMDEX '94

Before the Web came along, COMDEX was on a one-way trip to the depths of silliness and hedonistic seediness, and David Geller's A Day at Comdex 1994 captures the mindless spirit of that nadir year of '94 better than any graduate-level thesis of the 21st Century will.

Geller's virtual vision of Comdex '94 tour doesn't show us much classic technology, but does give us a bizarre, almost Fellini-like parade of technology-enhanced Penthouse Pets, fat males in virtual reality helmets, hideous 3D eyeware, and ill-fated OS/2 boosterism. In a few grainy screenshots, Geller captures the vacuity, the greed, and essential loneliness of Comdex that's very nearly poetic.

But Geller didn't stop here - he was back in Vegas in early '95, armed with his Quicktake 100, to record a second virtual tour of the 1995 CES (the Consumer Electronics Show). Did a fleet of airplanes really fly over Vegas towing Microsoft BOB banners? Did 3DO ever really run on a PC? Were we really convinced that MagicLink and MagicCap were going to take over the world?


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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Time Digital

David Gallagher was kind enough to find this ancient site lurking on Pathfinder's servers - a site so old that I had forgotten about it. An early frames-based site now entering its third year of digital non-updatedness, Time Digital went "live" (or at least, went up) in November 1995, to serve as a digital counterpart to a special advertising supplement in the print magazine of the same name.

To my knowledge (I was at Time Inc. at the time), there were never any plans to keep it rolling along - TD was a "one-shot" that served its purpose and, in any self-respecting medium, would now be landfill.

Yet Time Digital persists, with live advertisements, (although it's starting to fray as a new generation of browsers gags on its proprietary, Netscape 2.0-optimized HTML). Its breathless reporting about the new Be-Box computer, the hottest new Macs, and that young, idealistic Web upstart called Suck.Com are all melancholy reminders of how much we've aged - the innocence we've lost - in a mere 25 months.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


Ghost Sites of the Web is a family-oriented feature (unless the next generation is taught to avoid the great Web publishing disasters of our time, what hope can the future bear?), so it is with great trepidation that we point to this moldy site, which possesses a singularly unpleasant domain name.

Fatass.com is a wrenchingly ordinary collection of snapshots documenting the activities of a group of anonymous young Americans who, in the mid-1990's, crossed and recrossed the globe behaving like quintessentially Ugly Americans. From Portugal to Paris, they drank, smoked cigars, and behaved the way young Americans generally do - partying all the way, at Christmas parties, bachelor parties, and weddings.

Who were these people? Did they consent to being depicted for all the world to see in such advanced states of debauchery? Why did the party end in late 1995?

Like a maddening Beckett play, Fatass.Com is a Ghost Site that leaves us with nothing - no coherent narrative, no intelligent questions to ask - just empty, unidentified images dealt at random from a strange, unwanted deck.

Special thanks to Britain P. Woodman for being the first to enter the tomb of Fatass.Com and report back on its contents.

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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?

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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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