October 3, 1998

by Steve Baldwin

As the worldwide economy continues its nosedive towards the depths of gloom, Ghost Sites wonders how the inevitable layoffs, restructuring, and downsizing will affect the World Wide Web. Will Russian sites become lifeless shadows as their webmasters desert cyberspace to beg for Rubles on street corners? Will American sites devoted to $1,500 Beanie Babies shut their doors for lack of well-heeled clients?

The prospects for many "big brand" Web sites are grim - after all, if your entire investment portfolio is wiped out, why surf for stock quotes? Who needs to read about celebrities at People.Com when the only person in your life who really matters is your angry landlord? And once you've lost your $90,000 brokerage job, even the best X-rated site won't do much for your ardor, will it?

As you can tell, Ghost Sites is in a dark, ruminative mood this October. As chilly clouds of uncertainty gather on the horizon, we're hunkering down, and scrawling the names of dead sites on the walls of our dimly-lit cave. Our grim obsession might not stem the coming whirlwind, but it sure passes the time.

(P.S.: Regular readers of Ghost Sites will notice that we've recently launched the "Ghost-O-Meter", a piece of Javascript designed to make it easier for you to report dead Web sites you've seen. It's the brainchild of Disobey's webmaster, Morbus. If you have a few extra minutes, please check out the rest of Disobey.Com - your personal Portal into the Underworld.)

The Global Business Network

It's long been rumored among the truly paranoid that GBN (The Global Business Network) is a sinister international organization plotting to co-opt the Internet for its own nefarious ends.

Like any self-respecting international conspiracy, GBN operates at the very fringes of society's awareness, yet its tentacles are everywhere: its elite membership includes academics, influential media personalities, and industrialists. (GBN's members include Esther Dyson, Kevin Kelly, John Perry Barlow, Mitch Kapor, William Gibson, and several strategic planners with strong connections to Royal Dutch Shell).

Ghost Sites, however, has major doubts about GBN's ability to dominate the world, because they seem so completely inept at updating their own site. GBN's home page hasn't been updated since June, and its members-only Book Club hasn't been updated since April.

GBN is going to have to work a lot harder before they can do for the Net what OPEC did for oil.

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Site is Dying in ICU


Mission Ridiculous, actually. Like a pockmarked roadside billboard, Paramount's promotional site has long outlived its usefulness to humanity, although it continues to scream that the film is playing "all over America."

Like many Hollywood sites, missionimpossible.com tells you much more about Paramount's expansive merchandising plans for MI than it does about the movie. (Did you know that the studio expected to flood America with a whole raft of MI dolls, LCD handheld games, toys, and even a youth agent training program?)

If I were Peter Graves (an original Mission:Impossible cast member excluded from participating in the movie), I'd seriously consider placing some C4 in the vicinity of this server.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Carolyn's Diary

Carolyn's Diary had a pretty good run. Launched in early 1995, this self-penned, self-important autobiographical epic was given a once-in-a-lifetime PR boost when it was featured in "24-Hours in Cyberspace" (itself a legendary Ghost Site). Boosted by the kind of media attention most webmasters don't even let themselves dream about, Carolyn sailed to fame and fortune on the TV and lecture circuit.

In the meantime, however, Carolyn's Diary has been a drifting wreck since she stopped updating it in late 1997. Her last words include this troubling passage:

"I see myself as a lingering energy drain on others. There is this sense in me that I don't want to contribute my own energies to the happenings in the world - they will be redistributed by others into ends I do not want to support."

Web historians will appreciate the ghostly gallery of award GIFs dotting the site's home page, including a "1996 CyberStar Award" from Newsweek's defunct Virtual City magazine, and an award from something called "SpinWebbe" - a long-forgotten award organization.

Farewell, Carolyn. I doubt you'd approve of the way that Ghost Sites is "redistributing your energies" now, but that's our job.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

The Secret Life of Bill Gates

Todd Geiger tells us that the weekly updates to Bill Gates' "secret diary" mysteriously ceased in mid-July of this year, which earns this site a "Calling in Sick" award.

We doubt this site will remain a Ghost Site for very long. The Diary's anonymous author has repurposed many of the site's phony diary entries into a book, and few authors can resist the temptation to shamelessly promote their hardcopy works online, even if it means updating their sites.


Site is Calling in Sick

Zine Net

Here's a depressing site that once billed itself as "The Place for Zines on the Web", before its heart stopped in July of 1996 (as revealed in both its "News" and "What's New" sections. Roy Batchelor's basic idea was to scan in and fetch up hardcopy "zines" in order to give their bottom-feeding publishers a little cyber-exposure, and let readers sample each 'zine before they subscribed.

Unfortunately, too many zine publishers decided to put their own stuff online, or eschew the Web entirely, leaving Zine Net without a compelling reason to exist.

Thanks to Disobey's vigilant Webmaster, Morbus, for identifying Zine.Net among the fallen.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


The star of the "Free Willy" movies is a cute Killer Whale named Keiko, and his captivity-to-freedom story is the subject of several Web sites.

If you're a whale-lover, Keiko's life story makes for inspiring reading, but you'd have to work very hard to learn much about Keiko at FreeWilly.Org. This unfortunate site looks like it's been hit by multiple harpoons, which shattered every link, GIF, and other trace of environmental activism.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

CiAS (Scandinavian Center for Arab Information)

Senior Ghost Site Correspondent David Mediavilla Ezquibela recently filed the following report recounting the slow death of this site, based in Norway:

"This site will be a ghost soon, if they don't get the money they need. The site stores the Encyclopedia of the Orient, a course of Arabic and other very useful information about the Arab countries and the Middle East. It's a pity because there is a lot of information and, as you can see from the guestbook they are getting visitors constantly."

Ezquibela's gloomy report is borne out by the site's recent announcement that it is suspending its news services, and cancelling all future Web projects.

It's terribly sad to see scholarly sites dying on the vine in the midst of so much profitable cybertrash designed for morons. But if the Web weren't such a cruel, unjust, and depressing medium, we probably wouldn't be attracted to it.

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Site is Dying in ICU

Spiritualized Electric On-Line

What can you say about a site that proudly announces that it's optimized for Netscape 1.1? Whose newest News Release is from February (we can only hope it's February '98)? Whose Tour Schedule is from 1995 (Spiritualized is a rock band)?

Actually, there's very little to say that we haven't already said, except to thank several readers of Ghost Sites for pointing out this dead turkey to us.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

America Offline

America Offline was an electronic newsletter launched in June of 1995 to "analyze, critique, and discuss America Online and other online services", and it ran until June, 1997. Its early issues focussed on tips and tricks for AOL-ers, but toward the end of its life, it became much more strident in terms of demanding refunds, apologies, and other penances from the service.

Now this site just sulks - a grumpy virtual shrine to the long-standing umbrage that many AOL members seem ready to carry for the rest of their lives.

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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 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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