March 25, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

Well friends, it's been a rough month. Web sites have been dropping like flies, and mainstream press obituaries of Word, Charged, Total New York, Spanker, and Ada Web have been piling up everywhere. The once proud Slate and Salon sites are desperately shuttering themselves inside subscription bunkers. Even the New York Post is screaming "It's Curtains for the Quirky!"

Does Ghost Sites have any golden words to add to the media's handwringing over the Great March Massacre? Is the party really over for content, quirkiness, and whimsicality?

I'll tell you a little secret - the party has been over for two years now. The only people left producing content on the Web are cults, gun nuts, and Christmas fanatics. Everybody else (except John Perry Barlow) has abandoned their pipe dreams of making a mint on the Net and has gone back to their jobs at insurance companies, Swiss banks, and bar-code vendors. Is that so bad?

Let's pull ourselves together, people, and get a grip. Somehow or other, we'll survive this awful event, learn to live in a Slate-less world, and piece our lives back together.

Never look back, people. There, there is only death (and a whole hatchery full of amazingly half-cocked business plans).

Downtown Anywhere

The great March Massacre handed the mainstream press a great excuse to obsess on the "web content is dead" theme, but the pundits are all missing the real story: the Great Net Depression is beginning to settle in at commerce sites - witness the hard times which have befallen Downtown Anywhere ("the virtual city with a real economy") - a site that was among the first to dabble in the electronic storefront metaphor.

Downtown Anywhere's main editorial features, GadgetBoy and Webster's Weekly have fallen many months behind the times, its Library/News Page links to a gaggle of outdated URLs, and most of its pages bear "Copyright 1996" notices. Several of the site's commercial storefronts have closed or moved out to their own domains, leaving a lonely handful of coffee, novelty, and catalog vendors to carry on in a virtual Ghost Mall.

Take a good look at the tumbleweed blowing across the streets of this once bustling frontier town. And ask yourself this: are the towering chrome and steel fortifications of Amazon.Com sturdy enough to withstand the bitter whirlwind to come?

g g g g

Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

The Firearms and Liberty Page

How can America's sacred RKBA (the Right to Keep and Bear Arms) be protected by a badly broken web site whose pockmarked Alert! page is six months out of date? Whose page of "recent additions" dates from late 1995? Whose RKBA link page is shot full of holes?

True, the Constitution protects the fundamental right of ordinary Americans to carry unconcealed, unlicensed dead web pages on their servers. But even the greenest Minnesota Militia recruit knows how dangerous firearms can become when mildew invades the birdshot and termites eat away at the rifle stock.

If the Founding Fathers could see this site, they might just take a shot at it.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


If you're an East Coast high-culture type, you're familiar with Tanglewood, an outdoor classical music festival that happens each summer in the Berkshire mountains. Tanglewood is the rarefied place where the bluestocking elite from New York and Boston converge each year (I'm talking about old money here - not the crass Hamptons set.)

Unfortunately, Tanglewood's official web site is almost two years out of date. You can read all about Seiji Ozawa's 60th birthday celebration, Itzhak Perlman's 50th, and Yo-Yo Ma's 40th, but these gala celebrations all happened back in 1995, and aren't much help in planning your trip to Tanglewood '98.

Don't you just hate the rich? They lavish their megabucks on Andre Previn and John Williams but won't come up with five hundred bucks to maintain their web sites. Maybe that's their way of keeping rabble like you and me away from the party.

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Brian's Christmas World

The spirit of Christmas is a wonderful thing, but isn't celebrating it 365 days a year a form of seasonal affect disorder? Doesn't there comes a time when all those fragile tree decorations, the Lionel train set, and the plastic mistletoe have to come down?

Not on the Web, where Brian's Christmas World continues to play an endless MIDI loop of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Christmas with the Chipmunks", and other maddening holiday tunes. Brian even provides a Christmas Countdown to tick off the breathless hours till Santa's arrival (Note: this counter is now showing negative numbers).

A site like this can truly twist your mind. Like some evil strain of Aldous Huxley's Soma, the Web is now letting us experience anything we want - any time we want - including our most sacred holiday rituals.

After listening to the brainwashing strains of the Chipmunk's Christmas MIDI loop for a few hours, I've decided that I can't resist this fanatical holiday spirit any longer - in fact I love Christmas so much that I'm going to make Brian's Christmas World my new "Start" Page.

While the rest of you are out mowing the lawns, doing spring cleaning, or sunning at the beach, I'll be right here at my PC, watching the Christmas Counter, studying Rudolf Cookie recipes, and waiting for Santa to arrive.

May God Bless us all!

g g g g g

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

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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