Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

November 20, 2008

New Mediapost Article: Pennies From Heaven

New Mediapost Article: Pennies From HeavenThe U.S. economy is in shambles, our collective future is in doubt, and many of us lucky enough to be employed in tech may soon be looking for jobs. I've survived a few recessions (barely): here's some advice for surviving what may be the worst time in your professional life.

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November 17, 2008

Remember When TV Commercials Were Brilliant?

I don't own a television, because I so detest watching today's crummy commercials. But at one point in time -- some forty years ago -- commercials were brilliant, arguably more fun to watch than the shows in which they were interspersed. Check out this Alka Seltzer spot, which is just as funny today as the date in aired back in 1969. The agency was Doyle Dane Bernbach, whose creative director, Roy Grace (1937-2003), conceived it and other classic spots of the era.

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October 28, 2008

Best. Commercial. Ever.


September 10, 2008

New Mediapost Article: Is The Ad World Finally Taking SEM Seriously?

New Mediapost Article: Is The Ad World Finally Taking SEM Seriously? Advertising Week is an annual ritual in New York that often brims with self-congratulatory silliness, and I tend to avoid it like the plague. Advertising -- at least in my mind -- is largely based on lies, spin, the creation of false needs and false consciousness. Frankly, if we as a nation spent less on advertising and more on improving products, we'd all have a better world. Still, as I write in this week's MediaPost, there's a bit of good news: this year's Advertising Week appears to be paying more attention to SEM (Search Engine Marketing), a far less wasteful, less obnoxious, and more profitable form of marketing that deserves its day in the sun.

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July 31, 2008

Interpublic Invests in Huge: But Is Huge's Web Site Any Good?

Interpublic Invests in Huge: But Is Huge's Web Site Any Good?Ad holding company Interpublic announced that it has bought a majority interest in Huge, a digital design shop. Because I've recently been on the war path against the crappy websites maintained by large ad agencies, I wanted to check out the site of, to see what shape it was in, and what such shape might tell us about Huge's digital prowess. Here's what I found:

Compared to the sites maintained by old line ad agencies, is significantly better, but still needs help in terms of usability and search engine fitness. While it does make good use of metatags (yes, Virginia, you still need to pay attention to them, because they'll be used as the descriptions on SERPs), the site should add TITLE tags to its home page index.html file. This title tag can be populated with the same text used in the META tag ("HUGE is a strategic design organization that develops commercially successful websites, software applications, branding solutions, and more)." Frankly, I don't think a lot of people are going to be searching on these terms, so I'd throw them out and start over.

It looks like somebody at has been studying SEO. The site's main content areas ("Process," "Our Work," "News," "Why We're Different") are all hosted on static pages, which is a good thing, and they do have unique TITLE statements, which is also good. Not so good, however, is's crappy URL formation. For example the URL for the page for its AtlanticRecords client page is:
This URL would work much harder with search engines if it read: Accomplishing this no harder than installing the right Blog plug-in.

When I test-drove this morning, I noticed that the site was not always available (other sites were). This may have been due to the site being under a heavy load from all of the press coverage about the Interpublic announcement, so it's probably just a temporary bug.

Again, is many steps above your typical ad agency site. The signs of obvious cluelessness are minimal, the site is generally usable and its minor infirmities could be easily improved with just a few tweaks. Best of all, makes controlled use of Flash, which tends to sprout like unwanted Kudzo on other ad agency site.

It's refreshing to see an ad agency site that doesn't suck outright. Good job, Huge, you've got a clue!

Searchability/Usability Score: B

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July 29, 2008

Why Are Advertising Agency Sites So Awful?

Why Are Advertising Agency Sites So Awful?Ad agencies are an endangered species in a cost-conscious, metrics-driven world ruled by Google. Today's ad men are in a profound state of denial about how much their comfortable world has changed, and there's no better evidence of this than by examining their web pages. Here you'll find cluelessness across the board. Here's a quick and sickening report on the search engine readiness of some major agency sites. Read it and weep.
Frames deprive content pages of unique URLs, the home page has practically no content at all, and the only indexed content seems to be in uploaded PDFs. These sins are typical of Flash-heavy, search-engine ignorant sites. Perhaps no serious agency types care whether folks come in through search engines. If so, they're making a big mistake.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D

Draft FCB
Better than the other sites in terms of having SOME text content on the home page; worse but commits sin of making text content images. (Are they worried that somebody will steal the big idea? Or just paranoid about the fonts? Hint: Stylesheets can work wonders.) What's ironic is that DraftFCB is actually buying the keyword "advertising agency" from Google. But the back button doesn't work, which means you're trapped.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D-
Home page text content? Nope. Consistent navigation? Nope. Search-engine unfriendly fames, over-reliance on Flash and PDFs? Triple yes. SIte must be doing something right, because it ranks very well organically on Google for the search term "advertising agency," so it's not a total wash. If only these guys had made proper use of their Meta tags, the listing would be much less cryptic. Usability/Searchability Grade: C
The late David Ogilvy would have kniptions if he could see his company's current site. The home page has a text count of zero, clicking on links results in annoying pop-up pages, the URL structure is a mess (although it could be worse), and content is duplicated on several Ogilvy-owned sites (which will cause Google's Duplicate Content Filter to have kniptions!). May not inspire confidence that Ogilvy is digital-ready.
Usability/Searchability Grade: D

Young and Rubicam
No surprise here. Texts live only as images, without ALT tags. No worse than the other sites, but no better. I suppose this bad situation is due to the consensual wisdeom of the ad men, and other B2B types, who reason that it's unlikely that any real client is searching for their services. WRONG!
Usability/Searchability Grade: F

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March 24, 2008

Video Ghosts of Enron Online

Here's a fascinating 30-second spot created by Enron to promote Enron Online, its online extension. Its copy reads: "Enron Online will change the markets worldwide for many, many commodities. It is creating an open, transparent that replaces the dark, blind system that existed. It is real simple: you turn on your computer, and it's right there. If you want to do business, you push the button."

Obviously, the phrase "push the button" is ambiguous; in certain circles, it indicates "execution," which is what a lot of people who lost their life savings wanted to do to Enron's executives once the bubble burst.

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November 21, 2007

BrightSpot.TV Sleeps With the Fishes

BrightSpot.TV Sleeps With the Fishes
When the history of our era is written by future historians, the story of will be cited as an extreme example of the grasping-at-straws desperation into which the advertising industry had fallen by the first decade of the 21st Century.'s idea was simple: to pay people to watch ads, a compensation scheme that had never been necessary before in the good old analog media days, when advertising was hard to avoid. Aimed at low-income teenage males, the thinking seems to have been that such people would flock to, gorge on ads, and be happy with the crumbs thrown at them in exchange.

Nobody seems to have asked the obvious question: why would advertisers be interested in foisting their brands to such low-income losers? Unfortunately, with so few advertisers willing to come forward with big bucks,'s viewers never earned enough money to justify the annoyance of watching the ads, so the site's already shaky value proposition quickly became openly risible.

Interestingly, wasn't hatched in a typical Silicon Valley marijuana den, but in the heartland of jocks. Its backers included Jerry Coangelo, of the Pheonix Suns, Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, and other midwesterners, who ponied up millions to fund this clunker.

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November 08, 2007

Facebook Ads May Be Illegal

Facebook Ads May Be IllegalFascinating article in the New York Times discussing how Facebook's plan for "social ads" (which appropriate the likeness of a Facebook user) may be completely illegal, at least in New York State).

The skinny: it's OK to use images taken "on the street" for news or non-commercial purposes but definitely wrong when these images are part of a commercial transaction and the subject does not give written consent. Facebook's "Social Ads" scheme may be in violation of these basic principles.

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October 30, 2007

How to Read an Advertising Agency Blog

AdFreak (a really good Blog on advertising) has a funny post noting how badly ad agencies handle their Blogs. Only a few actually blog at all and even the ones who do put up content which is only updated once a month or so and is entirely vacuous. In the spirit of AdFreak's cynical take on advertising, here's a quick translation of the mild rantings of Bob Scarpelli, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of DDB (formerly Doyle Dayne Bernbach, now part of a giant, soulless ad agency holding company):

BLOG ENTRY FOR OCTOBER 9, 2007 (Gee, that was weeks ago)

ENTRY: Great to see the activity and people's different perspectives.

TRANSLATION: Thank God there's more than one comment on this stupid thing. They were really starting to laugh downstairs.

ENTRY: I agree that part of our job is to tell interesting stories that are inspiring, moving and uplifting.

TRANSLATION: 99 percent of our job is to move product. The remaining 1 percent is devoted to making extremely drunk people laugh at our stupid spots.

ENTRY: At the same time, we are in the business of educating and convincing, so it is true we are problem-solvers.

TRANSLATION: We use fear and sex to move truckloads of toothpaste into your mouths. The only problem we really solve is justifying our fat salaries to clients who would have moved more toothpaste if it wasn't so expensive because of our fat salaries.

ENTRY: Objective, identifiable results in our business and craft are undeniably important with process and measurement being a big part of the debate these days.

TRANSLATION: We have no idea whether our ads are effective or not, and it really bothers us that people are bothering us about this.

ENTRY: I wanted to turn our discussion to the thorny topic of measurement.

TRANSLATION: I want to distract you from seeing how bad this experiment is turning out.

ENTRY: In a business sense, how can we measure creativity?

TRANSLATION: The only way to measure creativity is by how much we pay our creative director.

ENTRY: What are some of the metrics and measures you think are fair to use in the assessment of creative product?

TRANSLATION: Which fuzzy numbers are most likely to protect us from angry clients?

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July 17, 2007 is Dead is DeadAdvertising is a funny business and sought to provide a place for ad people to laugh at their profession. Unfortunately, the laugh track seems to have come to a halt back in 2000, and has been in a state of suspended animation ever since. Currently, the site contains a notice advising visitors that the site is no longer being updated, and directs them to an active online discussion group. I tried to subscribe into this group but was greeted with the following message:

"Your form submission has been rejected as it appears to be an abuse of our server."

I hate it when sites accuse me of server abuse. I love servers and treat them very gently. But this is proof positive that the whole project now sleeps with the fishes.

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July 07, 2007

BadAds.Org Is Dead is Dead, a site launched in 2000 to serve as an online dumping ground for complaints about advertising, died a while ago (it's last Blog update was in November of 2003), which is too bad, given how bad many ads are. Still, in its time, got plenty of good PR, which proves that when you poke Madison Avenue, you're likely to make a lot of friends. Anyone with a strong desire to pick up's torch can do so easily: the domain name is up for sale on the site's home page. In the meantime, if you're looking for bad ads, both and do a fairly good job of critiquing them.

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July 03, 2007

Yahoo SmartAds or Yahoo SmartAsses?

Google SmartAds SERP, July 3, 2007

I was working on an article today on Yahoo SmartAds, which is the name given to Yahoo's latest attempt to make graphical display advertising (otherwise known as junky, irrelevant, low-rent banner ads) as smart as text-based search advertising. So naturally, I went to Google and typed in "SmartAds" and Google wisely served up the page you see above with the suggestion that I was looking for Smartass, not SmartAds.

I'm not cynical enough to believe that somebody at Google saw all that traffic coming to Google after Yahoo announced SmartAds last Sunday and manually added this snarky suggestion. I can only conclude that the Google algorithm is developing a wicked sense of humor!

I thought that Yahoo would dispense with any Google-style "smartass" SERP humor and give me the straight dope on SmartAds, so I went there and typed in "SmartAds." But the Yahoo SERP yielded no trace of Yahoo's SmartAds (although it included results for a Canadian design company called "SmartAds," a site called "," and a site called "" (see screenshot below).

It turns out that the Smartasses at Yahoo had buried the SmartAds press release deep within the "About" area of Yahoo, a section that's evidently never been visited by Yahoo's search spider.

If this is cutting-edge technology, I'm a pretzel. (A tip for Yahoo - why not run an iddy biddy paid search ad for "SmartAds" on this SERP? It wouldn't cost you a dime to do so!)

Yahoo SmartAds SERP, July 3, 2007

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May 30, 2007

Is "Sophisticated Marketing" a Form of Torture?

The New York Times reported today that the harsh interrogation tactics used by the United States since September 11, 2001 have been criticized by a panel of experts as being "outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable." (One might add the term "immoral" to this litany of criticism, but this latter term clearly resides outside the scope of the panel's purview). The story included the following tantalizing sentence:

Some of the study participants argue that interrogation should be restructured using lessons from many fields, including the tricks of veteran homicide detectives, the persuasive techniques of sophisticated marketing and models from American history. (emphasis added)

I am highly curious about the "persuasive techniques of sophisticated marketing" that the study participants were alluding to, but could find no more information in the story about them. So I went to Google and keyed in "sophisticated marketing techniques."

I received the following strings of text on Google's SERP:

Colleges and universities are turning to sophisticated marketing techniques to lure students to their schools...

Sophisticated marketing techniques are key to best HMOs' success...

(The regulator) did hold them out as examples of companies that employed sophisticated marketing techniques... designed to scare and manipulate seniors into purchasing annuities...

Food manufacturers and chain restaurants use aggressive and sophisticated marketing techniques to attract children’s attention, manipulate their food...

OK - now it's becoming clearer. If "Sophisticated Marketing Techniques" have been proven useful in luring students to schools, getting people to sign up with HMO's, scaring seniors into buying insurance, and getting kids to eat unhealthy food, why shouldn't we try them out in lieu of waterboarding? After all, if the whole point of "sophisticated marketing techniques" is to induce people to act against their best interests, why not use them to get some terrorist to give us the X and Y coordinates of Osama Bin Laden?

Sophisticated marketing techniques have been used to achieve extraordinary levels of suffering and ill-health in America: maybe it's time to that they finally be directed at our enemies, especially if, as they experts have concluded, they're a form -- a "lite" form, of course -- of torture.

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May 18, 2007

Interview: The Razorfish Museum's Andreas Butzko

Well, aQuantive got snapped up by Microsoft today for $6 billion, and it's a development that is rocking the online marketing world. M&A fever in this sector has been superheated in the past few weeks, with Google announcing an acquisition of DoubleClick, WPP acquiring 24/7, and Yahoo acquiring Right Media.

aQuantive is, of course, the corporate heir to pioneering Silicon Alley-based design firm Razorfish, which it acquired and later combined with a number of different properties which now constitute its core strengths. I'll leave the strategic discussion of what this all means for online advertising to others, because there are many robust discussions going on that can be referenced at, and provide this interview, with original Razorfish employee Andreas Butzko, which originally ran on Ghost Site sin June of 2005.

Andreas Butzko is the curator of The Razorfish Museum, a site which has preserved many important digital artifacts produced by Razorfish, New York's pioneering Web design and consulting company. Founded ten years ago by Jeff Dachis and Craig Kanarick, Razorfish was one of Silicon Alley's great success stories (it grew from a staff of two to almost two thousand in just a few years and was worth, at its peak, about $2 billion). Razorfish's early work also defined, beyond that of any other New York-based Web design company, the meaning of "cyber-cool."

In this interview, Mr. Butzko tells Ghost Sites what working at Razorfish was like in its prime, the fate that befell the company, and how The Razorfish Museum has helped link up Razorfish's widely-flung diaspora of former employees (at the high point of its global reach, Razorfish had offices in Amsterdam, Boston, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Milan, Munich, New York, Oslo, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Stockholm, and Tokyo).

Ghost Sites: What does Razorfish mean to you?

Andreas Butzko: It was the best time in my working life so far.

GS: When did you start the Razorfish Museum?

Andreas: The ex-Razorfish community website ( was started on March 3rd, 2001. The ex-Razorfish museum website ( was started on June 5th of that year.

GS: Why did you start it?

Andreas: The community site was started at a time when the Razorfish management, especially in Germany, had changed and a lot of people had left the company, due to the fact that the culture and working environment had been transformed.

Working at Razorfish was always more then "just work." Some "fish" thought it would be good to have the possibility of keeping in touch with each other, and maybe working together again after the Razorfish time and it was clear to everyone that the right tool for it was the Web. So a colleague of mine started developing the "museum" to share our memories about Razorfish and I started the community Web site to give everyone the opportunity to have a single point of contact with ex-fishes.

GS: You have a lot (1,168) of subscribers now. Are they all ex-Razorfish employees?

Andreas: Yes: nearly all are from the "original" Razorfish Inc. and some are from the successor companies like Avenue A | Razorfish or SBI/Razorfish, but all started at Razorfish Inc.

GS: Your museum is not open to the public. What would the public see were it to be able to take a look inside? Are there early examples of Razorfish projects there? Are these exhibits static mockups or fully-fledged functioning prototypes?

Andreas: The museum is not public, because we do not want to harm anyone's privacy. Inside the museum you will find a lot of pictures taken at several events (for example, Fishfry 1.0 - Las Vegas, December 1999) and other events. There are also pictures from daily office life and project work, starting in 1996, from all of Razorfish's offices around the world. In addition you will different "designs" from the old Razorfish, some advertising campaigns and several publications from Razorfish employees. Overall there are several thousand pictures in the museum.

GS: What can you tell me about your own experience at Razorfish? Was it a happy one?

Andreas: Yes, working at Razorfish during that time was something completely different from working at an "old economy" company. There was a "can do" spirit at Razorfish. Nothing was impossible. Everyone was working for the same objectives, from trainees all the way up to the CEO, and everyone was talking to each other. Communication was one of the great advantages of Razorfish and is still lacking in many other companies. Also our clients wanted to have "something new". Everything was allowed and we could try a lot, resulting in some great successes for our clients. But we were also given the freedom to make mistakes.

GS: Has anybody at Razorfish sent you feedback on the museum? What was their reaction?

Andreas: I got a lot of feedback. Most of my ex-colleagues told me that this is the most valuable service ever created by a fish ;-). But Razorfish in NYC tried to sue me for doing the website when I started it in 2001. I had to make some changes and state some policies to calm them. They also blocked the Web site to prevent their internal users from seeing it. So, the ex-Razorfish community was never actively supported by Razorfish Inc.

GS: What can you tell me about what went wrong at Razorfish? How could things have turned out better?

Andreas: This is something I could write a book about :-). Here are some bullet points:
  • A management team that did not commit itself to the Razorfish culture and vision (starting with the acquisition of I-Cube).

  • Too rapid growth of the company (from 500 to nearly 2,500 employees in 1 year)

  • Bad acquisitions (for example, Medialab in Munich and I-Cube) of companies that were not worth the money.

  • "Stakeholder thinking," not client thinking.

  • Too much money for the management team without any regard to their actual business experience.

  • A gold-rush mood, with every new manager wanted to become a millionaire in a year.

  • No reward for doing great work, just for closing deals (which could not be delivered).

  • In the beginning, people did overtime and stretched themselves because they believed they were part of something new. Later on, the management blackmailed the employees to do overtime and perform at lower salaries.

  • Plus all the all other known problems of the New Economy (this book may only be available in German).

GS: Do you think that Razorfish has gotten a "bad rap" that is undeserved? Has it been lumped in with other "dot com disasters" unfairly?

Andreas: No, I think that all problems within Razorfish were self-made. As I said before, when new management started to try old school methods within the Razorfish culture, it began killing the special Razorfish culture, drowning the spirit and halting open communications. This was the beginning of the end.

For the new management, making money was much more important then having happy clients and employees or doing great work. Don't get me wrong; of course Razorfish had to be profitable, but not every manager needed to be a stock millionaire in a year so they could retire at 35. But that was the expectation among "old school" managers who entered the company. The company changed its focus from doing serious business to gambling. And the creative minds from the early days could not win against the "hardliners" from the old school.

GS: Do you think that the Razorfish Museum has been important as a way to connect ex-Razorfish employees?

Andreas: Yes, I have heard of regular meeting of ex-fish that still happen, for example, in London. These meetings are organized via the ex-Razorfish platform.

GS: Are there any happy reunion stories that you can tell me? Have ex-"fishes" been able to help each other find jobs or other support?

Andreas: There are job posting nearly every day. From fish-to-fish, but also from headhunters looking for talented people. For example, a lot ex-fish started to work as freelancers after their Razorfish time. On a project base, there were virtual teams built up which have found each other via the ex-Razorfish platform. The advantage of such teams is the same mind set, which helps them build teams quickly. Everyone knows what to expect from each other.

GS: Do you think that you're doing something important by saving the early days of Razorfish? If you hadn't acted, would important artifacts have been lost?

Andrea: Not really. In the digital world, the life time of a digital asset is very short by default.

GS: How much time do you think that you've put into the Museum?

Andreas: Developing it took just a few weeks.

GS: Does it take a lot of maintenance?

Andreas: Approximately 2 to 4 hours a week.

GS: What's next for the Razorfish Museum? What would you like to happen?

Right now, I will be happy if the ex-Razorfish community Web sites continue to be of use for the ex-fishes and survive for the next few years. I hope that a lot of ex-colleagues will get new jobs or other opportunities via the connections made on the ex-Razorfish website. So, from my point of view, the Razorfish community is still alive and hopefully will stay alive for a long time.

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May 11, 2007

EBay Ads That Will Make You Think You've Lost Your Mind

Ebay Ads That Will Make You Think You've Lost It
Alex Goad, at, has put together a great little gallery of contextually insane EBay ads that boast of selling everything from Battered Women to Dead Pets and Mexican Immigrants. I can't imagine that any of these ads have high conversion rates, and can only guess how much money EBay is wasting on them. Call this a case of Dynamic Keyword Insertion run amok!

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April 13, 2007

The Steep Decline and Imminent Fall of Bud.TV

Bud.TV is rapidly dissolvingAn article by Jeremy Mullman at Advertising Age traces the high hopes and crushed dreams of Anheuser-Busch's Web gurus, who hoped to create a Myspace-killing traffic hub in Bud.TV. According to ComScore Media Metrix, "Bud.TV drew 152,000 unique visitors last month, 40% fewer than February's 253,000 visitors."

Anheuser-Busch laid out between $30 and $40 million to attract this decaying stream of people. What went wrong? Well, just about everything. I tried to log on to this site, and was unable to (the registration software thought I was under 18, even though I'm over 50). The site is practically invisible to search engines (thanks to the reggie software). Copies of content uploaded to more accessible sites such as Youtube are wildly unpopular.

I can only wonder how much buzz that $30-$40 million would have gotten if A-B had simply empowered the millions of Bud drinkers to do something interesting with the brand, a la Pepsi and Mentos. Instead, we got a dark, impenetrable, walled-in, less-than compelling site with perhaps the scariest TOS (terms of service) yet seen in cyberspace. No wonder nobody wants to go there!

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March 28, 2007

EHollywood.Net: A Museum of Mid-1990's Interactivity

Electronic Hollywood was a NY-based interactive agency whose 1997-2002 run paralleled the rise and fall of the so-called "dot-com" era (a time now referred to by many people as "the Web 1.0 years).

Unlike many shuttered agencies, which simply disappeared from the Web without leaving a cyber-trace, EHollywood's creators did us all a favor by archiving many of their projects, giving historians a good clear view of their work.

Especially interesting is EHollywood's Cartoons area, which shows examples of very early computer-generated cartoons intended for Web distribution. One charming, somewhat crudely rendered cartoon involves "CyberSlacker," a 22-year old female programmer (AKA "hacker chick and warrior goddess") who lives in a seamy apartment on the Lower East Side and struggles to make it in Manhattan's uber-intense Silicon Alley scene. What makes CyberSlacker so poignant is knowing that today, you have to have at least $60 million dollars to live in any rathole on the Lower East Side; one can only wonder where CyberSlaker, now a wizened 30 years old, is ekeing out her existence now. (I'd guess Yonkers or perhaps the outskirts of Newark).

Also interesting is Distant Corners, a 15-minute Flash cartoon with occasional interludes of user-generated interactivity and a truly bizarre user interface that looks like it crawled out of an Atari. And connisseurs of early Shockwave will get a kick out of EHollywood's Games area, and those with an interest in War on Drugs messaging will be intrigued by a series of anti-drug banner ads the agency executed for the Partnership for Drug Free America.

Of particular interest to those of us who do SEO and SEM for a living are the sites that EHollywood built for various Kraft properties, including Kraft Spaghettios. This site, done in Javascript and Flash, must have wowed them in 1997, but it would be inconceivable that such a site would be built today, given that the way it's constructed renders it completely invisible to search engines. Without intending to cast any aspersions on the folks who built this (they would have no way of knowing how important title tags, anchor text, and breadcrumbs would become in 1997), the Spagheetios site is a wonderful demonstration of what not to do in a post-Google world.

Another history-rich area of EHollywood is its Press Kit area, which contains cached copies of articles written about the agency by many magazines and sites which no longer exist.

All in all, this archival site provides a fascinating view of the kind of work that New York's interactive agencies were doing back in the mid to late 1990's.

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February 01, 2007

Marketers as Terrorists: Goes Dark

Interference Inc. is Dead (for now)There's a new Ghost Site in cyberspace today: the site of the screwball guerilla marketers who cooked up the idea of placing electronic contraptions in public spaces in several major American cities that looked a little too much like Improvised Explosive Devices.

In the wake of this cosmically stupid stunt, (whose TITLE tag used to read "Unparalled Guerilla and Alternative Marketing) has done its best to appear invisible: its usual busy home page is now replaced by a quickly concocted, empty placeholder. I guess these guys expect that by "lying low," the world will just forget about their stunt, which was indeed "unparalleled" in the annals of marketing stupidity. But with two people already in jail, that's unlikely.

If you'd like to know what the site of Interference, Inc. looked like before they crossed the line between advertising and terrorism, check out The Internet Archive.

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September 23, 2005

The New York Times' "Times Select": Personal Edition Redux?

I am a reader of both the offline and online versions of the New York Times, and I am horrified at the newspaper's recent decision to put much of its contents behind a paid firewall called Times Select.

The wisdom of this decision has been called into question by a good article by Jay Rosen on the Huffington Post. I have little to add to Rosen's piece, except to note that I once worked for a globally dominant news and entertainment empire which bet all its chips on a paid, subscription-based content service. It was called Personal Edition, and was a complete and utter disaster. When it failed, it was only a matter of time before Time-Warner fell into the treacherous arms of AOL.

Only time will tell whether Times Select achieves its subscribership targets, which according to Rosen number in the hundreds of thousands. But history has not been kind to subscription-based schemes which lock up a newspaper's best assets behind a firewall. Personal Edition, the Interchange Online Network, the Washington Post's Digital Ink weren't projects aimed at increasing the breadth or quality of online information. They were retrograde efforts born of fear. Their aim was to control access in order to staunch the flow of red ink, and each failed miserably because they eviscerated the content that users went there for (which in the Times' case certainly include the columnists Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Maureen Dowd). And once users realized that the "free areas" had been gutted, they left and never came back.

It is impossible for me to read the Times' move as anything less than a desperate act which never would have been taken had the newspaper studied the record of Internet failure and the extremely poor record that subscription-based services have. Only porn services and the Wall Street Journal have been successful at evading the odds against such paid services. Why? Because in the hierarchies of human needs, sex and money rank high: far above Tom Friedman and David Brooks, whose words most of us can simply do without.

Is there a bright side to the Times misstep? You bet there is. More and more people will simply eschew the NYT columnists and extra features, and turn to the ever-growing, ever-improving Blogosphere for intelligence and wit. I'm sure this is not the result the Times intends, but for underfinanced and underrecognized opinion Blogs, Times Select couldn't have come along at a better time.

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