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.

August 01, 2008 is Dead (Does Anybody in NY Still Care?) is Dead (Does Anybody in NY Still Care?)
It's impossible to tell the story of Silicon Alley without mentioning WWWAC (the World Wide Web Artists' Consortium), whose most influential instantiation was its popular mailing list. Back in the 1990's, it seemed everybody who could hack an HTML page belonged to the WWWAC list. Spectacular flame wars were started there, jobs were offered and gotten, technologies and individuals were hyped beyond belief, and misery was shared when New York's nascent technology industry melted down into wax after the boom busted in 2000. WWWAC also did its part to create a "scene" through its many CyberSuds parties in the same way Courtney Pulitzer sought to.

Today, New York is in the midst of a modest technology industry comeback. Google and Yahoo both have offices in Manhattan from which are hatched plans to capture media spend from the old line advertising agencies. Employment has withstood the worst of today's cutbacks, which have fallen heavier on the financial industry than tech.

Unfortunately, the WWWAC site doesn't reflect New York's revived tech economy. It lingers like a sullen ghost, with its Online Jobs Board empty, and its most recent "upcoming event" listing dating from more than a year ago. You can almost see the tumbleweeds blowing through the other ruined areas of this site, all of which are in advanced states of bitrot.

Are you interested in the history of Silicon Alley? Fred Wilson was influential in Manhattan's tech industry evolution. He has spokeon the subject candidly in the past, and in September must deliver a 25 minute speech summing up key events in the evolution of New York's high-tech industry that spans the early experimental years, the bust, and the future. Fred's Wiki (The New York Internet Industry Brainstorm WIKI) is open to all who have stories to add.

Ghostie Award: Site is Dead, Shows Advanced DecayFour Ghosties (Site is Dead, shows Advanced Decay) Very few sites lying in a state of advanced decay ever come back. "Advanced Decay" usually indicates a lot of broken links, possibly some broken applications, and a "Last Updated" sign from many months ago.

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July 29, 2008

Fun With Search Engines: "Tarnished Internet Portal" Proves Google is Best

Fun With Search Engines: Tarnished Internet Portal Proves Google is Best
After seeing Yahoo referenced as a "tarnished Internet portal" today in a news article, I examined the search engines to see which of them properly associated this characterization. Neither nor nor nor newcomer had any data, but Google, in its infinite wisdom, correctly revealed a smiling picture of Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, along with a bunch of stock charts in decline. Does anyone need additional proof about Google's superior search prowess?

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Even With Bugs Fixed, Cuil Doesn't Cut It

Even With Bugs Fixed, Cuil Doesn't Cut ItI revisited today after Blogging very negatively about it yesterday, and the results were a little better than those reported ealier. But after doing several searches, it appears that the results are still easily bested by Google. I don't think this is a technical glitch: just a direct result of an algorithm which doesn't properly take into account site popularity. Yes, popularity isn't a perfect proxy for site worth, and it can be gamed by SEOers. But factoring popularity (PageRank) out of the picture has serious consequences that unfairly discriminate against site publishers. For example, another site I run,, hardly even makes an appearance for the keyword search "wild parrots in Brooklyn." My site FYI is the only site that deals with this topic systematically, has been up for more than three years, and has excellent rankings in Google and the other engines. But for some reason thinks it's completely irrelevant. I'm sure there are thousands of other site owners who've been pushed off the page one SERPs on This hardly serves the needs of users or publishers.

Search results do matter, and the mere fact that claims to index more pages than Google doesn't necessarily translate into increasing accuracy. Cuil's failure to provide accurate results isn't a bug: it's a feature that was designed in from get-go. For this reason alone users should shun it, and I expect that once all the PR dust has settled, we'll all quickly forget that even exists.

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New Mediapost Article: An Open Letter to Steve Ballmer

An Open Letter to Steve BallmerI wrote a new opinion piece entitled An Open Letter to Steve Ballmer in which I argue that Microsoft must restructure its entire approach to search and online advertising. While it's a serious topic, I tried to inject as much humor as possible into this piece, which was published Monday, July 28th, in Mediapost.

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July 28, 2008

Cuil Isn't Kewell: It's Ridiculous

Cuil Isn't Kewell: It's Ridiculous

I was expecting something special when I test-drove this morning. As you prolly know, Cuil was developed by a couple of former Google employees, and it's being positioned by the press as a Google killer.

Hey - I'm not asking for top rankings in Cuil. But what the heck does it tell you when Cuil can't find ANY results for Ghost Sites? This site has been up here for 12 years already, and has hundreds of backlinks. What's the matter, Cuil: is your crawler really that slow?

What a joke.

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July 08, 2008

New Mediapost Article: Inside Microsoft's War Room

Inside Microsoft's War RoomLatest MediaPost article by yours truly, on how Microsoft (with or without Yahoo) plans to ultimately dominate the post-desktop computing environment. In a nutshell, victory for MSFT means dominating the air and completing control of the home.

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July 03, 2008

Hello Says Goodbye Says Goodbye

Hello, located at the domain, was an application associated with Picasa, a photo production/sharing service acquired by Google back in 2004. It shut down in June of 2008, leaving this farewell screen behind. According to this screen, Google decided to deep-six Hello in order to focus efforts on integrating photos into Google Talk, Picasa Web Albums, and its nascent OpenSocial initiative.

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June 02, 2008

Microsoft Cash Back: Why It Matters

Microsoft - Yahoo: A Big Gaudy SideshowI've written a new MediaPost article on Microsoft's new "Live Cash Back" program. As I note, whether it kills Google isn't the point: what matters is that Cash Back gives marketers a powerful new way to avoid the traditional "search engine as (insanely profitable) middleman" model.

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July 16, 2007

Five Google AdSense Tips That Are So Obvious That People Rarely Mention Them

Five Google AdSense Tips That Are So Obvious TLook, I'll be straight with you here, because I'm not one of those guys who's going to tell you how to get rich from online advertising. I've got nothing to sell but I do hope you'll listen. Because there are a few secrets to making money with Google Adsense, but they're not really secrets: in fact, they're damned obvious. Here are five of them that I've found valuable. Employ them and your site or Blog may never become a Ghost Site.
  1. Listen to Google. The Web is filled with self-styled "Adsense Gurus," and while I wouldn't rank them with snake-oil salesmen, a lot of the information they'll sell you isn't just unreliable or out of date: it's dangerous. Game the system with Stupid SEO Tricks and you'll get slammed. Once a month, Google sends its Adsense publishers a very brief "tips" message whose aim is to make your site make more money for you and Google, your partner. Do everything that Google tells you: since I've started listening to Google and doing what it tells me, I've tripled my daily earnings. Believe me, they know much better than some blowhard at SES what your site needs.

  2. Don't Expect to Make a Living From Adsense. If you're running a web site to get rich, you shouldn't be running one. Unless you have something original that's going to be relevant to your target audience, you're going to tire of your efforts someday, and shutter up your shop. I'd say about 90 percent of people running Blogs, sites, and other Web properties are going to give up because what they write is done for the money, not because it's part of an enduring passion. Your whole objective is to find the five or ten thousand people in the world who will find what you do interesting. If you cast your net too widely you'll be lost among a thousand voices. Specialize and do what you do better than anybody out there, and you'll win in the long term. And unless you're publishing to win in the long term, you're not going to win in the short term. I consider the sites successes because Google Adsense pays for my monthly transportation bill. Maybe someday I'll make more money but I'm not going to let greed kill the Golden Goose.

  3. Use Blog Software as Your Site's CMS. Blogging software is great because it automates your archives. It lets you do a lot of other things as well, but this is the most important feature it provides, plus the fact that everything you publish will have a unique URL. The less you have to twiddle with publishing details, the more you'll publish. Sure, a Blog backend has its limitations, but if you can handle basic HTML you can easily customize its prefab templates to meet your needs. The point is not to have any roadblocks in your way to publishing frequently. Write well and write often: Google pays attention to this stuff and so do your fellow humans.

  4. Don't Take Comments Unless You Absolutely Have To. There's nothing sadder than a Blog or site that's written well with zero comments or comments that are obviously written by idiots or SEO spammers. I don't take comments on any of my Blogs because I've been burned so many times by people who've used commenting to hack into my site, or practice psychological warfare against me in the form of sock-puppeting. If somebody wants to respond to what you write, let them send you e-mail. I never communicate with anyone who's unwilling to identify themselves. I've learned this the hard way and any lost benefits are more than offset by the fact that I don't have to worry about ad hominem attacks or porn URLs arriving in the dead of night.

  5. Tag Your Content Religiously. On one of my sites, 90 percent of accesses through Google are through its image search feature. The only way Google's spider can find these images is through use of the ALT tag. People see the images, and often click on through to the content, which is where I want them to be. If your Blogging software permits it, tag your articles as well. Doing this provides measurable SEO benefits. It also helps you better understand the themes of your site, which may not be obvious to you when you begin publishing.

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July 08, 2007

From the Netslaves Archives: The Agony of Pre-Google Web Publishing

It seems that few remember how difficult it was for small Web publishers to survive a few years ago. Unless you had enormous traffic, and by this I mean on the order of 250,000 monthly page views, big ad networks such as DoubleClick wouldn't touch you. Many web publishers were forced to deal with affiliate ad brokers such as EFront, which treated them badly.

Google's AdSense program, which launched in June 2003, provided a virtual lifeline for publishers, and is an important factor in terms of creating today's content renaissance. It's also been a tremendous success for Google, which relies on this contextual network to provide about 40 percent of its online advertising revenues. Without AdSense, Web 2.0 would have been unthinkable, and while Adsense isn't perfect (look around this page and you'll probably see lots of ads which could be targeted much better than they are), it's really the only way for small publishers to keep on publishing. Few of these publishers will ever get rich, but at least Adsense pays for the hosting bills, a couple of gallons of gas, and perhaps a weekly pizza or two, which is more than enough to keep many niche publishers going.

People love to bitch about Adsense (both publishers and marketers who believe that Google's contextual network is subject to higher levels of click fraud than on its own properties). Again, it's not perfect and may never will be. But it's vastly improved the lot of publishers, created more opportunities for diversity in the idea-stream, and in the long run may be judged to be Google's most important contribution to the general health of the World Wide Web.

But one can only see how healthy today's Web is by looking back at how desparately bad things were a few years ago. Content sites were dropping like flies, crooked ad broker companies were cheating publishers, and everybody was broke. No document better illustrates this dire situation than Webzines, eFront, and the Death of Dreams, an article written in March of 2001 by Netslaves contributor Emily K. Dresner-Thornber. Things weren't just bad in 2001, they were rotten to the core; she writes:

This is the crux of the death of the dream: people trying hard to make their passions a reality in a new medium with no editorial control, no old boy's club, no Ivy League mind-games, and no limits. While they work on their passions, other people openly and shamelessly take advantage of them. Sites are being co-opted and shut down for the minor sin of saying something bad about the advertising provider. It is a return to the same old American dream, full of shysters, scum, liars, and people ready to use other people for a quick buck. The Internet has become just like any other business in the world.

Thank God Google Adsense saved us from these awful people, saving a small but vital part of the American Dream for all of us.

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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 10, 2007

Richard Parsons, General Custer, Google, and the Sioux Nation

Is Dick Parsons Out of His Mind?
OK - I ordinarily don't get involved in hissy fits between corporate executives, but I was so inflamed by the inane remarks of Time-Warner's CEO, Richard Parsons that I just had to weigh in.

Here's what Parsons said on Tuesday, speaking before the annual National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference:

"The Googles of the world, they are the Custer of the modern world. We are the Sioux nation. They will lose this war if they go to war."

I've known a lot of corporate CEOs and senior managers (remember, I used to work for Time-Warner), so I'm no stranger to megalomania. But this one takes the cake, because it's so wrong in the case of Time-Warner. This organization has always had "too many chiefs and not enough indians," in the sense that it's long been bloated with too many chin-stroking executives with 300-year plans, and not enough well-paid people to actually keep the wagons moving.

Google, the target of Parson's tirade, has actually executed on its plan to make the Web coherent. Time-Warner's various Internet plans, beginning with Pathfinder , extending into ridiculous properties such as and culminating in a failed "hub strategy" that led it directly into the arms of AOL, has done little or nothing to contribute to the infosphere.

Sorry, Mr. Parsons. Your fantasy of leading an insurgent band of Native Americans against a foolish invading army is just that: a fantasy. Google represents the insurgency here: your company represents the doomed army circling the wagons. You and and your legal snipers can take potshots at Google from every angle, but you are no longer the gatekeepers to information and entertainment. You might win a few battles, Mr. Parsons, but the war has already been lost, and as Glenn Douglas of Instapundit has pointed out, it was the Sioux, not the Europeans, who were ultimately defeated.

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