September 10, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

The back-to-school season always exerts an oddly schizoid effect on the number of Ghost Sites clogging the Web's navigational waters. Many sites maintained by returning college students are updated in September, decreasing the Ghost Site population markedly.

But many other college-hosted home pages grow petrified and moribund in September. This is because many graduates simply forgot to shut down, obliterate, and purge their sites before checking out of their dorms for the last time in the Spring.

By September, these same grads are already entering the workforce to begin lifelong periods of servitude to Microsoft, GE, or the Pittsfield Cab Company, and the last thing on their minds is to update their old college sites, even if their Alma Maters would let them (and they won't). So until the Computer Science Department pulls the plug, the spectral remains of these departed students will live on for years - possibly decades.

To celebrate the back-to-school season, Ghost Sites devotes a large section of this issue's coverage to dead university pages littering the Groves of Academe.

The Vassar College Program in Cognitive Science

This ancient page, "under construction" for more than three years, resides on one of Vassar College's retired servers.

Like many Ghost Sites, its years of neglect are revealed in its many broken links. What makes it fascinating, however, is how much neglect seems to have been built into it from its inception, in terms of the high number of spelling errors it contains ("Vassar College operates the oldest undergraduate degree granding program in cognitive science in the nation", and "completion during the senior year of an independent research project on a tope chosen by the student" are two such examples of neglect).

We're confident that spending $21,600 a year for a Vassar education is going to turn our offspring into first-class semioticians, but how much money would it take to teach the kids a little spelling?

g g g g

Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

Waxweb 3.0 (University of Virginia)

Every six months or so, I run into this peculiar site on my lonely travels through the Net's morgue. But something always stops me from declaring Waxweb dead. Maybe it's because I'm not sure that this odd 1994 hypermedia experiment - part nonlinear text, part cryptic images, part time capsule - was ever alive.

Approach this dead site with caution: its maddeningly nonlinear hodgepodge of cryptic images, self-important philosophical ramblings, and pointless existential encounters between imaginary characters induce a weird, fuguelike mood that's hard to shake.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

A Thousand Points of Sites

This crusty site, housed at the Nonlinear Science Institute at the University of California at San Diego, generates random Web site links from a huge grid of lookalike images. Like the famous URL Roulette, its appeal to the adventurous is to send them to a randomly selected Web site when you click on a "point".

Unfortunately, the degree of randomness provided by a Thousand Points of Sites is considerably diminished by the number of dead links it references. So in operation, there's almost nothing unpredictable about it, because almost every "point" links to an identical "File Not Found" message.

This is kind of like playing a Ghost Sites version of Mine Sweeper. Just click on any "point" and see if you can avoid being blown up by an Error 404!

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Natalie Engel's Chest of Lust, Longing and Obsession

Natalie Engel is (or was) a college student at Hampshire College whose home page provides a close look at contemporary undergraduate obnoxiousness (including a message which asks "What are you, some kind of Pervert?" when a user clicks to her second page). Her page of links is impressively broken, a situation to which Engel would probably respond "So what? Live with it, creep".

But Engel hoists herself by her own petard when she declares "this home page will not make you want to take a little nap." Frankly, it makes us want to take a big one - to sleep for a thousand years, and then to wake up to find Engel's page still glowering at us.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved


CrapFinder was launched to poke fun at Time-Warner's Pathfinder, a site I used to work for. Although its satirical intent hasn't aged well, the site now functions as a priceless historical record of Pathfinder's 2.0 redesign, which was commissioned after months of backbreaking focus-group research. Because all traces of this redesign were long ago purged from the real site's servers, CrapFinder provides the only extant copy of the way Pathfinder actually looked during its crucial 1995-1996 period.

The fact that CrapFinder outlived Pathfinder 2.0 supports a theory I've long held about Internet History, which is that much of the task of Web preservation will be left to pirates, hackers, and copyright violaters.

Corporations often are positively Orwellian about erasing their past "crude" Web experiments. But outlaws often serve Posterity well, because they frequently save things from the digital dumpster that no sane copyright holder would preserve (like this redesign).

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

Central Park SummerStage 1995

Ghost Site Watcher Glenn Booth was kind enough to send this decaying piece of New York's digital infrastructure on to us. Central Park SummerStage 1995 is a guide to music, film, and cultural events in NYC's famed park that's over 1,000 days out of date, but still calls the urban masses forth to gather with Anna Quinlan, Black Stalin, Joan Osborn, and hundreds of other performers who've probably forgotten they were ever there.

Adding insult to injury, the site's link to an updated 1996 event schedule is broken, although many other links dutifully lead to similarly antiquated pages recounting exciting "current" events occurring in New York's distant past.

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Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved

CNN Interactive's Love Zone

CNN runs a pretty good news site, so why is it still mucking about with this decaying shrine to Valentine's Day, 1996? This oddly conceived site features the salacious voice of CNN Sports Anchor Bob Lorenz, plus a mildewing box of obsolete links, including one to People Magazine's electronic valentine card service, which apparently will fire off a Valentine any day of the year if you tell it to.

Frankly, if anyone sent us a Valentine's card in the middle of September, we'd sic Interpol on them for Net Stalking.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Windows Rag

"We're outa here", this jaunty corpse announces. A defunct e-zine devoted to supplying "advice for users who couldn't afford the biggest and best of computer equipment", Windows Rag went under when its editor-in-chief was hired by Microsoft to head up HTML development at MSN.COM sometime in 1995.

Before Microsoft assimilated every last synapse of brain matter at this site, Windows Rag managed to win a 3-star rating from McKinley.Com's editorial team - which was itself assimilated into Excite.Com long ago. Ashes to ashes.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


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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