April 27, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

As many of you will notice, this month's issue of Ghost Sites is a bit late, and we apologize for the delay. The fact is that our skeleton crew has been working hard on this nasty Year 2000 Bug Problem, which you're probably aware of. If you're not, you should get up to speed - if this Y2K problem isn't corrected soon, it's going to create a lot of Ghost Sites, because it's doubtful that many people are going to waste precious watts from their portable generators just to keep their web pages updated.

On a happier note, we received word this week that MSNBC has proudly launched a feature titled "Web of the Living Dead" , which as far as we can tell is an attempt by Microsoft to "embrace and extend" the Ghost Sites concept so that people will think they can get rid of old sites by simply upgrading to Windows98.

We're especially grateful for the links in Bob Sullivan's story (although none of them were to Ghost Sites).

Conservative GenerationX

This ambitious political web 'zine seems to have tanked in October of 1997, leaving the CGX site with a serious case of bit rot. If you click on several of the articles on the right side of CGX's front page (including "The Completely Incomplete History of the Meaning of Generation X" and "Yet I Am a Conservative", you'll be transported to a "free software download page" of commonwealth.riddler.com - an apolitical content mega site. Clicking elsewhere will get you some conservative content from 1995 through 1997, but nothing newer (or younger).

Ghost Sites agrees with the CGX authors that GenerationX isn't a "whiny generation of slackers" (frankly, we think they don't whine enough, and we think they work much too hard for their own good). It's a shame that a small crew of them couldn't be mobilized to give CGX a badly needed HTML facelift.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

The Gallery of Advertising Parody

This site had everything going for it - an unbeatably clever idea (poke fun at advertisements we're all sick of), numerous site awards, and even a rave review in the New Yorker Magazine. And yet GAP's last update was in April, 1997. What went wrong? Did the "smirk market" crash? Or was this site just a "one-shot"?

We reached out to Criag Sharrow of Sharrow Advertising and Marketing - the folks who built the Gallery, and Sue Ream quickly responded with a detailed set of reasons for GAP's inactivity:

  1. We got tired
  2. We got bored
  3. Suddenly there were 125,000,000 other sites for people to visit
  4. The thrill was gone
  5. We'd proven we could create a killer circa 1994-5 site
  6. We didn't have time to learn Java
  7. Everyone was hanging out at www.jennicam.org
  8. The cost to benefit ratio was severely out-of-balance
  9. It was entertaining to everyone but paying customers
  10. We moved on to other things
  11. The website generated interest, calls from headhunters looking for people, businesses looking for free advice, other consultants looking for jobs, in fact everything but paying new business prospects.

Ream points out that the GAP site actually warns its patrons that its content is "legacy siteware" - a thoughtful disclaimer that more sites should employ as they begin their slow decline into digital museum pieces. ("Legacy Siteware" is also one of them best euphemisms I've heard in years.)

I can't argue with Ream's reasoning, but still think it's a real shame that GAP isn't alive and kicking, to take on the sinister nemesis we all face everyday: Web banner ads (such as the one on the top of this page).

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Censorware Search Engine 2.0

My buddies at the Netly News created quite a stir when they launched the Censorware Search Engine back in 1997. This handy tool was designed to let site owners find out if their sites were being blocked by filtering software such as CyberSitter.

The Censorware Search Engine was Netly at its finest: two-fisted, subversive, and a little over the top - guerilla journalism that transcended Time Inc's penchant for simply "repurposing" content onto the Net.

Unfortunately, Netly's Censorware engine has fallen badly behind the times - although it's excellent at telling you which sites were blocked a year ago, it can't say much about the sites that Cybersitter is blocking now (censorware uses frequent updates to its "blacklists" to remain effective).

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

The NEW Mirsky.Com

Mirsky was, and is, one of the funniest people on the Net, and it's a real shame that his "new" site is no longer being updated. If you don't know who I'm talking about, Mirsky was the mastermind behind the "Worst of the Web" (WOW) awards, which pioneered web criticism with its "take no prisoners" approach to sites which, in Mirsky's view, didn't make the cut. WOW got Mirsky a lot of press (and a lot of enemies), but he dropped the project back in late '96 - it just wasn't paying the bills, and he removed all traces of WOW from cyberspace.

Although Mirsky.Com is dead, quite a good dollop of Mirsky's wit survives on these crusty pages: witness his classic Drunk Browsing Test and his surreal "MirskSoft" product page of ridiculous high-tech gizmos.

We consider Mirsky to be a "content canary in the coalmine". If the Net can't find a way to support this kind of subversive hilarity, then we all deserve the robotic product catalog future which seems to be in store. We talk with Mirsky from time to time, and know that he's looking for work - anybody looking for the next Lenny Bruce?

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Rob's Multimedia Lab

What a cruel Web we weave. If Rob's Multimedia Lab - whose multimedia library included a compendium of images of the H.M.S. Titanic - had hung on just another 6 months, it would have been flooded with users seeking images of the ill-fated ship. But Rob's site, which had steamed along happily since July of 1993, gashed its own hull when the University of Illinois decided that Rob's site was attracting too much usage (up to 10 gigabytes a day), and summarily evicted the Lab from its servers.

We seem to have a very ugly situation on the Web these days - Big Media is shutting down sites because they can't attract enough traffic - with Big Academe doing the same because sites are too popular. Maybe it's time for the government to start handing out bandwidth ration cards (sorry folks, I've been reading way too much about this damned Y2K thing).

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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 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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