December 8, 1999

by Steve Baldwin

Well, the grueling Netslaves book tour is over, and we've re-installed ourselves in the midden heap of rotting, rusting Cyber Junk - the same wintry wasteland that's been our default Existential Directory for as long as we care to remember. One of the book tour's highlights was hanging around with Archive.Org's Marlita Kahn, a brilliant, graceful woman who kindly showed our Skeleton Crew around the facilities of The Internet Archive - a project dedicated to preserving the WWW for the 21st Century and beyond.

The fact that we're no longer desperately whoring ourselves to the West Coast Media means that our sepulcheral researchers have more time to prepare Dead Web Sites for burial, which is good news for all who follow this morbid column. Thanks again to the many tipsters who've used the Ghost-O-Meter in the last month. We couldn't do this grim job without you!

Filtering Facts

James S. Tyre sends word that Filtering Facts, one of the leading bastions of Net Decency, closed down for good on November 5th, 1999: In its day, Filtering Facts was a central touchstone for those dedicated to rousting indecency from public libraries, upholding the honor and integrity of Censorware Vendors, and debunking the arguments of pro free speech groups such as the ACLU.

As regular readers of this column know, Ghost Sites is now being actively censored by at least one prominent Content Filtering System, so our first impulse upon reading Miller's e-mail was to dance on Filtering Facts' grave. But historical objectivity demands that we refrain from nasty, obscene, and defamatory comments about this site, and simply note that Filtering Facts' president, David Burt, had the good sense to leave a goodbye note explaining that he abandoned his anti-porn crusade to spend more time with his family.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


At first glance, RockCity.Net appears to be a stillborn pop culture site, but upon further clicking it becomes evident that this noirish creation of mid-1998 is noting more than a moldy cluster of product pages promoting a line of oddly-designed PC's built by The Panda Project that were marketed at something called the "Born-to-Rock Generation".

It's hard to determine exactly what happened to "The World's First Rock and Roll Computer", but it appears that you can no longer buy one - the "buy online" link on the site's order page is broken, and its listed telephone number connects to an inactive acccount on the Easy-Tel Network (These symptoms usually don't bode well for an e-commerce site).

Although RockCity.Net seems thoroughly defunct, the site provides a cornucopia of treats for anyone seeking information on exotic, wacky, and ill-conceived 20th-Century PC marketing techniques, which in this case include the use of an expensive foreign model (Tracy Bruner), the artful identification of tech support with hallucinogenic drugs ("Pass the Bone"), and the rather highly questionable assertion that operating a Rock City PC was the equivalent of "Sex on the Desktop".

Thanks to bad for pointing out this site, which seems to have been "Born to Rust".

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

While the world anxiously awaits the arrival of 1/1/00, this strange site breathlessly ticks down the seconds until the fateful date of 9/1/99 - the moment when "a completely new business model, designed specifically for the Internet" would ostensibly emerge to clarify all the confusion.

Unfortunately, this site makes it absolutely impossible to tell what this wonderful thing was, whether it arrived on 9/1/99, and when, if ever, it might be back. We are left with a mysterious, enigmatic bit of marketing-speak that's nothing more than a countdown to an eerie nothingness.

Thanks to epopt for pointing out this maddeningly peculiar piece of fossilized Web junk.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved


R.U. Sirius, one of the Net's more important absurdist theorists, launched Revolting! to serve as "a Weekly World News for hipsters and netheads with a focus on reportage and commentary about the bizarre, the grotesque and the conspiratorial". Unfortunately, Sirius's zine doesn't seem to have produced more than one or two issues before clanking to a halt (an event which our researchers believe took place sometime in the Fall of 1997).

Considerable work went into Revolting!'s crazy-quilt collection of content, which includesan interview with Charles Manson's webmaster, a feature called "The People's Guillotine", an extensive press section, and other mischievous stuff cooked up by Revolting!'s all-star editorial lineup. Sirius himself seems to have written much of Revolting!'s remarkably inspired marketing literature, a sampling of which follows:

GET IT! REVOLTING! is a f**king multimedia opportunity. REVOLTING! is THE brand name for our culture now and for the next ten years and if that doesn't resonate for you you're already f**king dead.

Unfortunately, the financial resources required to fulfill Revolting!'s editorial mission on a regular basis seem never to have materialized, leaving this odd site drifting in the winds like a tattered Grateful Dead poster.

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Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum


Fans of this Portland-based hard rock trio will doubtless be distressed by the thick crust of obsolescence covering this band's official pages on Capitol Records' servers. These pages haven't been updated since March of 1998 - a long time in Rock & Roll time. Record companies have generally gotten better about maintaining current information about their acts, and we hope that a Rock Relic like this is just an oversight at Capitol, and not a symptom of label-wide Internet Incompetency.

Capitol's Everclear site does fortunately link to several unofficial Everclear sites that are considerably more current than Capitol's own, so if you're interested in this band's strain of Northwestern Grunge, it's best to start there, avoiding this "official" fossil.

Thanks to Chris for this Ghost Site Tip.

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Site is Dead, Shows Advanced Decay

Terraquest's Virtual Antarctica

Terraquest bills itself as "the most innovative producer of travel content on the Web", and the Virtual Antarctica sections of its Web site were built to archive a South Pole exhibition that occurred back in 1996. Along with the archived photos, logs, and other data culled from the trip, Terraquest also inadvertently preserved a number of obsolete interactive forms, among them a ghostly online contest registration form. The result is a strange temporal oddity that lets users attempt to win a seat on a cruise that happened more than three years ago.

Other strange digital flotsam occasionally floats to the surface at Terraquest, including an invitation to join "Next Year's Expeditions to Antarctica". The "next year" is, of course, 1997.

Thanks to drl7 for this tip.

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Site is Dead, but Well-Preserved

Two issues ago, we reviewed the site of Dr. Frederick Lenz, who committed suicide some time after completing a vast Web site devoted to his life and teachings. Just the other day, from faraway Finland, we received another chilling account of a Web page that's unfortunately outlived its author, and the text of our correspondent's message is reproduced exactly as it came in:

"That guy called Ilkka Lähteenmäki was once my room mate. We both studied in University of Jyväskylä. He made this homepage:

Then he moved to University of Helsinki. And later I heard, that he committed suicide. But as you can see, his homepage is still available."

Out of respect for the dead, I am suspending my usual rating system for this site. In lieu of humor, I'll insert the obvious observation that the Holidays are upon us, friends, and that means the Western Word is heading into Peak Suicide Season. If you know somebody who's in trouble, do your best to get them help. (And if you don't know somebody who's in trouble, you're probably not looking hard enough).

Russian Area Studies

On a much happier note, Scott Burris informs us that his own personal Ghost Site is now about to celebrate its 5th Anniversary of Uninterrupted Neglect on the servers of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Burris's account follows:

"The site first went up July 16, 1994, during the summer session, and was last updated during Christmas Break of that same year - December 15, 1994. After that I was no longer a student and had no access.

The only reason it hasn't been deleted (as far as I can tell) is because it's a faculty account. I started the project using a Prof.'s web space.

I'm fond of the old site and even link to it from my modern bio page. I'm hoping it makes it to December 15, 2004, without being purged. I plan to pop the champagne if it does".

If Ghost Sites is still around in 2004, we hope to join Burris in celebrating his having achieved 10 Years of Solid Bit Rot. But we also hope that we'll have found a more productive use for our scavenging talents by then.

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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?

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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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