March 17, 1999

by Steve Baldwin

March, for some reason, always seems to be a cruel month for Web sites struggling toward the golden horizon of fame and money. Who can forget March of 1998, a month whose treacherous squalls sent Total New York, Spanker, Ada Web, and Charged to the bottom in a few horrifying days.

By comparison, this March has been a mild, balmy one - no spectacular Web content failures - just the usual creeping entropy that creates annoyance when you stub your browser on an Error 404. There's even some optimism in the air about Web content, at least if we're to believe the prognosticastion of the Priests and Madmen at Jupiter Communications, who forecast a "content renaissance".

We'll believe it when we see it.

With no great Web site disasters to report this month, we can take time to focus on some lesser, but equally interesting Ghost Sites whose recent deaths or reports of seriously degraded vital signs warrant attention, and where appropriate, a brief obituary. So please get your snake bite kit ready, put fresh batteries in your flashlight, and grab a rope as we descend into the musty, perilous tomb of the Web Sites that Time Forgot to Update.

Haynes Lee has an extraordinary Ghost Siting that, in the annals of Webeology, is likely to be deemed as significant a discovery as the unearthing of The Rosetta Stone. His report follows:

"Remember when the lawyer couple Canter & Siegel spammed 6000 newsgroups in 1993/1994 about the Greencard Lottery? They soon registered the domain and set up a commerical website for their Cybersell company. After more spamming, the plug was pulled on their website. They then wrote a book, "How To Make a FORTUNE on the Information Superhighway, whose sales tanked along with their Internet company."

"The couple also had a falling out; Canter got disbarred, leaving Martha Siegel all alone at the helm of Cybersell. Siegel wrote another edition of the book in paperback by herself and put the "" site online. Sales again tanked and the site has been dismantled."

Lee observes that Sell.Com's "Newly revised site coming soon" teaser has been up for "at least two years", and speculates that Siegel has parked the domain until its value rises enough to cash out (Lee figures "" is worth at least $10,000 now).

In the meantime, this rotted, battered-looking site serves as a (probably temporary) grave marker for one of the Net's legendary outlaw pairs: Canter & Siegel - the true founders of e-commerce: the Net's own inimitable, wholly original incarnation of Bonnie & Clyde.

Once again, Ghost Sites tips its hat to Haynes Lee - the Indiana Jones of Cyber-archeology - for this extraordinary site find.

g g g g

Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

Spinal Tap Official Home Page

"This is Spinal Tap" was, of course, a very funny movie about the ridiculous antics of a mythical Heavy Metal band, but it's far less winning as a Web site that hasn't seen an update for more than two years. The site's "Reports from the Road" and its press release section are depressingly ancient, making this band's foray into cyberspace seem more like a cynical one-shot PR gimmick funded by IBM than a serious effort at satire.

Unfunniness aside, the Spinal Tap site does contain two rare digital relics of the 1996-era Web: a "4-Star Site" award GIF from McKinley's ill-fated Magellan search engine, and a Point Communications "Top 5%" award. The link to Magellan is broken; the link to Point resolves to Lycos.

Thanks to CallieKitty for bringing Spinal Tap's abandonment to our attention.

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


The temporally-challenged content on MarchMadness.Com - an unofficial site based in Dallas which evidently had some business relationship with the yearly NCAA games, is a full two years out of date.

We poked around the site and didn't find much actual news on March Madness 1997 - just a few come-ons to join a contest and buy NCAA merchandise. So the world will little mourn this site's demise - it's just another clump of marketing flotsam fouling props in the browser lanes.

But seeing - by anyone's guess a piece of uniquely valuable domain real estate - fall into an advanced state of decay is vexing - it makes one wonder whether it, like, has been mothballed as part of a plan to raise money on a domain sale. If so, a "For Sale" sign would be a welcome addition to this rusty relic.

g g g g

Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

Suck Harder

Paul T.Riddell kindly let us know that yet another sharp-edged parody site has grown furry with digimold - Suck Harder, a site he reports "was intended as a parody of "Suck". Riddell notes that the site came "complete with obvious copying of the original Suck logos" and was "apparently written by someone pissed that s/he was rejected for a real article in "Suck" three or so years ago."

Suck, of course, was and is a caustic bowl of media-obsessed nastiness that defined Net criticism as a bone fide literary form when it noisly launched in 1996. Althoug it's lost its edgier-than-thou edge in recent years - as most of us do in middle age - it's still alive and spewing, much to the credit of its original founders, who long ago departed from Suck's editorial staff, but left their everlasting stamp on its bilious mission.

At Suck Harder, readers can get a taste of the old, original nastiness that made Suck such a great read years ago, in the days before negativity became portalized into yet another empty subgenre within the great searchable taxonomy of the Net's corporate mind. (Hey, doesn't that sound like Suck?)

Note: shortly after this issue of Ghost Sites was posted, we received a note from Michael Sippey, one of the team responsible for Suck Harder, who wanted to correct our assumption that his site was created by disaffected Sucksters. His response follows:

"Suck Harder was, indeed, intended to be a parody of Suck, and was intended to be the home of rejected Suck submissions. And yes, we copied the original Suck logos. But we weren't pissed off Suck rejects -- the creators were actually regular Suck contributors at the time, and 'Suck Harder' was a way to milk Suck fever for all it was worth. Suck Harder launched on August 8, 1996, in conjunction with a companion piece we wrote that appeared on Suck itself."

"Obviously, the site hasn't been updated in nearly two years. But we never made promises of regular content delivery, with our dateline reading "Updated WHENEVER we get a submission." But heck, if being a "Ghost" gets us a mention in a popular email newsletter, we're all for it."

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Musum

PEP: Parents, Educators, and Publishers

Here's a worthy, well-meaning site that needs some "tough love" to keep it from walking down the primrose path to abject truancy. Conceived as a "dynamic information repository" for consumers and publishers of Kids' software and "edutainment" titles, PEP's "What's New" section was last updated in February of 1997 - never a promising sign.

Broken links to "Custom Computers for Kids" and "Childrens' Software Revue" take a few more points off, but the site isn't completely dead - its Registry of Educational Software Publishers was updated within the last month.

PEP is a small-scale operation that seems to be safe in its niche, and its maintenance woes certainly aren't serious enough to diagnose it as dying or dead - it just needs to have its knuckles hit with a ruler. Our feeling is that anyone claiming to be "a dynamic repository" needs to hire a 10-year old Net Slave to keep the furnace stoked with fresh content.


Site is Calling in Sick


Entertainment. E-Commerce. Local Focus - are these unbeatable content elements or prescriptions for disaster? You decide, but here's a California-based movie listings site whose fate suggests the latter.

MovieTone's a flat-liner, unless "The Apostle" is really still playing in Alameda County along with "The Full Monty", and "Blues Brothers 2000" and "Spice World" are still wowing them in Santa Clara. If my knowledge of recent film release dates is correct, this site died a year ago - maybe earlier.

We can only speculate as to what might have gone wrong in MovieTimes' back office, but keeping this site up to date must have been a hellish task for some poor coder. Movie listings don't age well - this ephemeral stuff belongs in a database, not on a hand-coded HTML page.

Sites like MovieTimes need to automate, or die in the crosshairs of deep-pocketed competitors such as MoviePhone-AOL, Sidewalk, and other robotically-driven directory sites. We can't be certain that MovieTimes' maintainers bailed when they saw this ugly colossus coming, but wouldn't blame them if they did.

g g g g

Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

Harry Helm's Home Page

Harry Helms asks an excellent question: "What do you do when you have a personal page, you switch ISPs, and your old ISP keeps your old page alive and there's nothing you can do about it since you can't access it anymore?"

Well, Harry, you wind up with a digital albatross around one's neck: plus a hellish, Orwellian identity crisis that can completely derail one's honest efforts to manage one's image, identity, and digital destiny.

You don't think that Harry's got a serious problem? Are you the same person that you were 13 months ago? Of course not, and neither is Harry! But as time goes forward, Harry's entire digital persona - because he can't update it - will inevitably grow as out of date as the Partridge Family. He's utterly powerless to intervene in this dreadful process - which makes the troubles of Dorian Gray look trivial.

Helms is even toying with the idea of offering his unresponsive ISP a wad of cash to get rid of his old persona, which he admits is "an embarassing momento of my past". Many of us are in the same boat - the idiotic pages we put on Geocities or Tripod years ago won't ever die because we've mislaid the passwords, or otherwise bolluxed things up. Unlike Harry, however, we've got nobody to blame for this disaster but ourselves.

How much would you be willing to pay to erase a nightmare? Just ask Harry Helms - a man who, through no fault of his own, no longer controls his identity - a true 21st Century horror story.

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Trent Donohoo's Home Page

In a case eerily similar to that of Harry Helms, a heedless ISP is to blame for maintaining Trent Donohoo's modest home page long past its useful life, forcing unneeded atavistic anxiety upon himself, his family, and friends.

"Short of getting a hacker to break into it for me it will remain slowly dying", Donohoo laments. "It hasn't shown it's age too much yet, except for the fact that the children in the photo are now well advanced into their school lives, and don't resemble in the least the youngsters on the page."

Imagine not being able to recognize your own kids on your home page! Or becoming so depressed by something "slowly dying" in your world that you'd consider hiring a team of "identity erasers" to break in and delete your past. What kind of fearful world are we creating here?

Let the grim plight of Harry Helms and Trent Donohoo be a sobering lesson to cyber-squatters everywhere: the home page you create today may assume a zombie-like existence tomorrow, unless you personally oversee its burial.

If you're so foolish as think that your digital expressions, identity, and look and feel will be dutifully expunged by your ISP, you're in for a haunting - a terrible visit from your own, highly personalized, Ghost Site. Auggh!

See you next month, people!

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?

(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.

Previous Issues

Text issues? Click here.
Web issues? Click here.

Read the next issue or
this issue in plain text.