July 5, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

Summer is traditionally a time when many dead web sites float to the surface and foul the Web's futuristic beaches. Why? Site decay accelerates in July and August because most of us have much better things to do: dorm-room HTML'ers are out swimming laps, editorial types are drinking hard liquor in the Hamptons, and the rest of us would probably rather stumble across a fresh nest of yellowjackets than update our "What's New" pages.

So please, folks - don't let summer fun cause you to neglect your poor little web site. When you're not lying senseless on the beach, or dodging leeches and black flies at the lake, give your site some attention! Unless you feed it a couple of updates, it'll grow hungry and gnarly like the vengeful electronic creature lurking in one of those awful Giga Pets.

Speaking of summer, this month, Ghost Sites celebrates its 2nd erratic year of providing its distressing Web Obituary service to the Internet. Thank you all for keeping this project alive (more or less).

Now, good friends, it's time to explore this month's catch of Ghost Sites - a truly evil-smelling "red tide" of digital decay.

Luckman's Best of the Web

Luckman is a software company whose newest product is Web Sweep, "a new Internet cleanup utility for Windows 95/NT that can automatically and safely remove all the 'junk files' transferred to your hard drive during every Internet session."

The problem is that Luckman's own site contains a megaton of web junk in the form of its seriously outdated "Best of the Web" directory - a towering pile of moldy site reviews which seems to have been assembled in mid-1996 and promptly forgotten about. Check out Luckman's Current Entertainment Events section and you'll see pointers to the 1995 World Series, the 1996 Olympics, and Cannes '96. Luckman's directory also contains a broken search engine, many outdated links, and megabytes of ancient thumbnails depicting sites long departed or redesigned.

I suspect we need something more powerful than WebSweep to clean up a mess this bad.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


Back in May of '96, Prodigy launched Stim - an ill-fated e-zine which sought to serve up "deviant pop culture" to 20-something Net users. Stim was designed by what Prodigy called "a crack team" of editorial visionaries drawn from MTV, glossy magazines such as Hotwired and Mondo2000, and CD-ROM publishing.

The result was a hopelessly self-conscious pastiche of "tech toys, beefy editorial content, cool graphics, original animation, and swanky sounds" that cost about $1 Million to produce, but which made about as much sense as a wind-driven browser.

Stim's other deviant pop culture elements included "The Elektric Friends Knetwurk", cutesy animated characters called "the STIMples", and an application called "The Hose", which, like a deranged Push Client, apparently sprayed the user's screen with random information.

I don't know about you, but if I had $1 Million dollars, I'd probably spend it a little differently.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


Much of the Web's early experimental flavor lives on at worldDreaming, a surrealistic exercise in online dream research that's been in a coma for a full year. Once, however, worldDreaming was a lively gathering place for people to e-mail their dreams to the public, and its archives contain a full complement of disturbing user-submitted dreams involving large-fish, dental operation nightmares, and Antonio Bandaras.

Smack in the middle of these weird psychic adventures is a 1996 E-mail press release from Hotwired announcing the launch of Packet - a truly disastrous pipe-dream from the brain of HotWired's Louis Rossetto.

Thanks to M.L. Maurer for pointing out this site to us.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


Remember Push Media? Like the three-cylinder steam engine, this radical new technology was supposed to make the Web more efficient, faster, and smoother for the user to navigate (why go out and hunt for something when the Web can just blast it across your monitor?).

Unfortunately, Push didn't really work out as planned. Network administrators hated it's appetite for bandwidth, users were confused by its confusing mishmash of screen saver, ticker tape, and ad banners, and before long, many of its backers, which included IFusion, FreeLoader, Pointcast, Marimaba, BackWeb, and Castenet, were crushed by Wall Street's indifference to this gee-wiz technology that didn't really work so well.

Push technology survives, of course - and it's becoming a more mature, more useful adjunct to all the silly searching and surfing which we do each day. But its days of glory are gone - and PushConcepts - a site devoted to promoting all things Push, flat-lined in September of 1997.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


Sinister. Weird. Dead. That's all that we care to say about the decaying ruins of DIS.ORG - a mysterious West Coast organization of leather-clad hackers and shadowy "consultants" who look like a posse of truly dangerous desperadoes.

Because we've been mail-bombed before (not by DIS), we know we're treading on thin ice by pointing out that DIS.ORG hasn't been updated in six months, and that its home page contains a rash of ugly broken links. But we also know that these upstanding young men are probably too busy engaged in secret government projects (ours or theirs) to worry about little things like updating their web site.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


How the mighty have fallen. Dreamshop was a pioneering Web shopping site that once sat proudly on Pathfinder's servers, providing electronic representation to big-name retailers including Spiegel, Eddie Bauer, The Sharper Image, and the Bombay Company. But if you go to www.dreamshop.com today, all prospective shoppers will see is an ominous black screen announcing "Finally! We have received the longed for investments! This gives us the opportunity to move the dreamshop.com from the old and slow UIP servers. The new system will be based on a super-fast NT server with IIS 4.0 and SQL server."

Will DreamShop's shuttered storefront reopen once its shiny IIS servers are up and running? Or does the fact that Eddie Bauer, the Sharper Image, and other former DreamShop mainstays have their own sites make DreamShop irrelevant?

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Site is Dying in ICU

Pathfinder's KidStuff

Years ago, when "Web portals" weren't even a buzzword, Time-Warner's Pathfinder site attempted to mold its magazine-driven content into a one-stop infomart that would be so compelling that people would shun the rest of the Net.

While only history can judge whether Pathfinder's proto-portalism efforts were successful, its crazy-quilt content building during Pathfinder's great expansion period (mid-1995 to late-1996) has provided a real windfall to Web archaeologists, who are continually discovering priceless content artifacts concealed within Pathfinder's shifting sands.

One recently unearthed rarity is Pathfinder's KidStuff: a relic that scientists have carbon-dated to mid-October, 1995. KidStuff reflects an early attempt by Pathfinder to colonize the Kids market for commercial trading. (The fact that this market never really emerged is in no small part due to the schoolmarmish efforts of the FTC, and other privacy-coddling groups, but that's another story).

The keystone of KidsStuff was Underwater World: a gallery of gigantic GIFs hosted by one Freddy Fish which was unfortunately destroyed in an ill-conceived 1997 site cleaning. Only Kidstuff's fragile outer shell remains, concealing a gaggle of broken links.

Like the Lost Continent of Atlantis, the more scientists dig around the early ruins of Pathfinder, the more mysterious and baffling the whole thing seems.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


Britain Woodman is a regular contributor to Ghost Sites, and one dark night he stumbled across the SaturnWorld 'site: a truly scary example of what happens when you hitch your editorial wagon to a defunct game platform (the Sega Saturn). This doomed site's date stamp still reads "February 6, 1998": the fateful day that its backers (Imagine Games Network) shunted its editors off to other projects, leaving this handsome hulk adrift like a high-tech Flying Dutchman.

Even though SaturnWorld is down, it's not completely out - the site is advertising for freelance game geeks willing to board the wreck and get her under steam. Any takers?

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

The Land of Kohmu

Instead of letting their web site starve to death, Kohmu's creators, Manning L. Krull and Mitchell Young, decided to execute it in a macabre public ceremony: "All of the graphics have been converted to grayscale (including our entire art gallery, which looks really weird and somehow sad in black and white...) all the text has been converted to a bleary gray, and all updates to the page have been halted".

Krull and Young's Kevorkian flair might seem to be cruel, but their willingness to sacrifice a site they loved gives them both an opportunity to live happier lives. Without the Land of Kohmu draining all their time and resources, both have begun to lead normal lives again.

In Krull's last update, date-stamped 2/28/98, he mentions that he's now able to spend more time with his girlfriend, adding "When it comes to choosing between writing a bunch of nonsense for you folks or hanging out with her, you guys lose every time. Sorry, that's just how it is."

And that's about the happiest ending that I can imagine for any Ghost Site.

See you in August, people!

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay


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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