April 26, 1999

by Steve Baldwin

"Where the Hell is the April Issue?", one concerned reader recently wrote us. And it's true, friends - Ghost Sites has been suffering from a bad case of update lag, and it's an inexcusable lapse that makes us look like a bunch of disreputable, lazy hypocrites.

In the best spirit of the Internet, we'll try to blame somebody else for our troubles: two catastrophic hard drive crashes that blew away many of your wonderful Ghost Site Tips, a maddening battle with TurboTax, the fact that we're still under the gun trying to finish the NetSlaves book, and, naturally, the temptations of Spring, which made us too melancholy to pursue the grim tasks of digging up Web site corpses.

Finger-pointing aside, we feel dreadfully guilty that we've let you down. A Web without Ghost Sites wouldn't be much fun, would it? If the obituarist succombs, collective memory itself becomes imperiled, but fear not - we won't let that happen here - it would be a Crime Against History!

So with this excruciating confession out of the way, I've placed The Doors' first album on the CD player, and will be replaying "The End" until I finish this latest chronicle of Web sites "desperately in need of a stranger's hand" to keep them up to date.

HotWired's Synapse

Cry yourself a river for the digirati - they've been so busy architecting the future that they've become trapped hopelessly in an unwanted past, or so it seems from examining Hotwired's "Synapse" section, where, once upon a time, futurist John Katz waxed widely on issues of media, cyber-society, culture, and other weighty matters. Katz left in early 1998, but his site soldiers on, and the ghostliest among Synapse's many decaying dendrites is its "Threads" area, which still looks alive, but isn't - its newest comment is more than five months old.

I happen to like Katz, and believe his writings deserve to be preserved somewhere (perhaps in a book). Like myself, he's truly an underground writer (i.e. he writes his stuff in an actual basement), but my sympathy can't conceal my distaste for this useless, virtual mausoleum of yesterday's political rhetoric.

At least Hotwired's webmasters could change Synapse's tagline: "A Place Where Technology and Culture Connect", to something more befitting. How about "Digirati Lost in a Time Warp?"

Thanks to Chris Stamper, an ever-vigilant Ghost Finder, for pointing out, once again, that "the future ain't what it used to be".

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


I love it when big media corporations screw things up royally on the Web - it proves to teeny-tiny people like you and me what we've always suspected - mediocrity and incompetence hold sway in the high-rise, grey-carpeted offices of culture.

FanLink ("the most comprehensive source of Minor League and Independent Baseball") is a CBS-financed project whose unintended antiquity would make William Paley turn over in his grave. According to the note on its home page dated February 7, 1999, FanLink began to "move its data to a new server", and would certainly be live by March 1. Fat chance.

More than eight weeks later, FanLink is still frozen in time, which shows you just how efficient things are at Black Rock. I'm sure that FanLink will get its act together someday, but right now, it's one of the most laughably out-of-date corporate sites we've seen in a while.

Thanks to Robster for this one.

g g g

Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Adam Curry's MetaVerse (Double Redux)

Once again, death reports of Adam Curry's Metaverse site have been wildly exaggerated - amazingly, this incredible Web relic is still soaking up bandwidth, virtually unchanged, nearly 5 years after it launched! We've written twice about Metaverse's ossified existence, but we're continually amazed at how long Curry's Virtual Flying Dutchman has persisted - it really does have an occult life of its own.

Although you can no longer get to Metaverse.com directly (this URL redirects to www.thinkinc.com), hidden fragments of Metaverse, such as its About Page (dating from 1993-94), and a long-dead Daily Sleaze section can still be seen. Best of all for serious connisseurs of the obsolete, Curry's entire Vibe section seems to be preserved intact, providing historians with a glorious view of "http hype", 1995-style.

Rock on, Adam - You're the Dorian Gray of the Internet - may Metaverse Never Die! Ride the Snake to the Lake!

Thanks to dsmead for reporting Metaverse's eerie persistence to us.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum

Bay Watch Nights

Some day, a 21st-Century Oswald Spengler will write a dense tome proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Bay Watch, not Monica Lewinsky or Pro Wrestling, that was the ultimate cause of the Demise of Western Civilization (but now I'm ranting - let's stick to bitrot, shall we?) Fortunately, bitrot collectors will find a lot of it at Bay Watch Nights, an official Bay Watch site whose episode guide is frozen in 1996.

Does terminal bitrot at Baywatch Nights suggest that Baywatch itself is an endangered cultural phenomenon? Not on your life - the ultra- official BayWatch site is still ticking on moronically, and it, like Mickey Mouse, will probably see us all dead.

Thanks to bkozell for getting us all excited about this piece of drifting, steroid-laced flotsam.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Musum

The Jennifer Realm

Jennifer, whose last name is unknown, did what many people did a few years ago - she put her whole life on the Web - photos, writings, passions, and, of course, information about her pets.

The fact that there are so many people like Jennifer is why Geocities Stock is flying through the roof. Let's face it: the whole high-flying, Greedy-as-Hell Web business is underwritten by well-meaning people like Jennifer who collectively generate GigaBytes of content without any expectation of being paid for it (including yours truly). Why? Ego, perhaps - or a crazy belief that just because we've got "something to say", we have to say it here.

For a while, it seemed that Jennifer was content to pour out her life's story on AOL, but then she moved much of her persona to GeoCities. Somewhere along the way something went seriously wrong, and here's what Jennifer says about what happened:

"I am ready to be done with it. I don't have the time. I don't have the energy. I don't have the desire. It doesn't feed my ego to read e-mails from lovelorn men. In fact, such notes disturb me to no end. So... no more displaying of my life for people who should be working. No more silly "journal" entries about bats and cats and Lunatics. It's just no fun when people start taking it so seriously and questioning my motives. It's also no fun when it becomes work."

Jennifer, I tip my hat to you - you're a pioneer in a new movement that may well rock the Web industry to its core: people who've wisely decided to shut up, take their sites down, and refuse to let their home pages be used as fodder to feed ad clicks into the coffers of Wall Street's evil IPO machine.

g g g g g

Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Musum

Blitz Media

Rogers Cadenhead, whose Cruel Site of the Day continues to be one of the Web's sharpest satirical sites, e-mailed us recently with a report of "a new kind of ghost site -- a dead spirit that manifests itself within the living site that killed it". So we hopped over to BlitzMedia, in search of abject decay, but were greeted by a home page that looks completely up-to-date - no phantoms here, right?

Wrong. There are skeletons of antiquity buried within Blitz Media, beginning with its "What's New" page, which links you to a disastrously broken, obviously decommissioned Home Page that's still hanging around. This odd slip-up is especially troubling, given that Blitz is a Web design firm that should know that dead pages, even if they're hidden or de-linked, don't really go away unless they're deleted. "How many other ghosts walk among us, hiding within defunct navigational structures?", Cadenhead asks.

Herein lies a profound lesson for that site managers need heed: Just because you've removed links to old pages from your home page, search engines will often still pick up the old pages, and when users follow them, many will instantly become convinced that your project, whatever it is, has flatlined.


Site is Calling in Sick


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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