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 16, 2008

In Memory of Cal Chamberlain, AKA "Judge Cal," a Bona Fide Internet Video Pioneer

Updated 8/16/2008: We were very sad to read of the death of Judge Cal, AKA Cal Chamberlain, in today's New York Times.

Judge Cal only lived to age 40, but he led a full life and he left much behind in cyberspace by which he will be remembered. You can get a taste of his sensibilities by browsing his still active Flickr area, but the best way to experience what he brought to the Net is to watch his pre-Youtube videos made under contract to These videos were long offline, but have migrated to Youtube and can be enjoyed there.

Tonight there will be a gathering to remember Cal, a bona fide Internet pioneer, at the Theater for the New City.

(Original Article, posted to Ghost Sites on 7/26/2007):
=JUDGECAL'S= "High Weirdness" Returns to CyberSpace

Back in 2001, Netslaves' Bill Lessard wrote an article called "More Vintage Stupidity: =JUDGECAL'S= "High Weirdness" which discussed one of's more infamous video series, calling it "a program that could be best described as Wayne's World meets the early 90s East Village on the way to having holes drilled in your skull."

While the links embedded in Bill's old article have drifted with time, I am pleased to note that several demo reels of =JUDGECAL'S= "High Weirdness" have made their way to YouTube. These are reels intended to sell this property to the major networks. Unfortunately, the networks passed on the series, setting back Josh Harris' master plan of becoming "bigger than CBS" by at least a hundred years.

These ancient videos, recorded in 1999 are instructive documents for all who seek to understand Web 1.0. Taped in's multi-floor loft at the corner of West Broadway and Houston Street, they more accurately capture the zeitgeist of mid-1990's Silicon Valley than any scholarly documentary created by any university New Media Studies Department, providing primary source material for all who seek to understand New York's New Media Industry in its heyday (1995-2000).

Additionally, these important documents provide future historians with an indelible portrait of the sensibilities, morays, modes of speech and style preferences of that group of Americans known to demographers as "Generation X" as it bravely faced the New Millennium.

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August 01, 2007

Video Memories of Den.Net: The Darkest Moment in the History of Web 1.0

Video Memories of Den.Net: The Darkest Moment in the History of Web 1.0
An "anything goes attitude" clearly prevailed at Web 1.0 video sites back in the late 1990s. Web Video was the next big thing, and so the young and smooth-skinned gathered there in droves to taste of the new computer-enabled Narcissism which today is enshrined in the form of multi billion dollar properties such as YouTube and MySpace.

In New York, the hot video streaming employment action was at, where Josh Harris presided over hedonistic parties which recalled, if not recreated the spirit of New York's lost Plato's Retreat sex club. But in LA, hedonism wasn't merely recalled: it was practiced, flesh-on-flesh, right out in the open, where the cameras could see it and the servers could stream it, and the place therefore to work was Den.Net. Here, a large staff of teenagers worked in a state of anarchy to produce original TV shows for the Internet. And Marc Collins Rector was their King, their Bacchus, their Colonel Kurtz.

Collins Rector, who raised 72 million dollars to fund, spent amply, enjoying himself along the way while blew through its money on the way to an IPO that never happened. After resigning as CEO amid rumors of sexual abuse of his staff, he fled the country in 2000 but was picked up in Spain in 2002 and returned to New Jersey, where he subsequently plead guilty to transporting five minors across state lines to have sex with him.

Den.Net was the most egregiously-managed Web 1.0 company imaginable. One of the best accounts of what life was like there was written by Matt Welch, who worked there briefly in its final days. Welch writes:

I'm guessing we will look back at DEN 10 years from now as a symbol of an era that will then seem unreal -- when any old teevee idiot could spout New Media cliches at least five years out of date, put together a staff of sycophants and plotters, and be rewarded by investors with $65 million to waste on 12 months of Webcasting, all because people back then placed monster bets on business buzzwords rather than on the people or products pretending to operate by them.

I could not agree more.

Which brings us to the video embedded below: a 7-minute promo for Den.Net's programs made in 1999. Den.Net's lineup included "Aggro Nation," "Confidential," "Dented," "Direct Drive," "Frat Ratz," "Hip Hop Massive," "Fear of a Punk Planet," "Redemption High," and "Tales from East LA." These crude, ugly shows tell us a lot about the kind of message that Collins Rectors and his fellow executives were sending to Den.Net's young staff: make whatever you want, cater to the lowest common denominator, the grosser it is the better it is, etc. Take a look for yourself and tell me if you have ever seen content more unconsciously reflective of the collective descent into animality which we now know was happening to the entire group. In a Spenglerian sense,'s staff, many of whom appear in this video have already "become what they beheld."

Pay special attention to "Redemption High," a nightmarish series involving an evil "Instructor" at a high school who promises to "have his way with the boys." One must conclude that the "Instructor" was a dramatized proxy for Collins-Rector himself, who as CEO wielded similar power over's young staff. This is chilling stuff: a real-life horror movie.

None of's content is pretty to watch, and this video is not for the faint of heart. But it provides essential documentation of one of the darkest moments in the history of the New Economy. Without seeing it, you will never understand what really happened at

As far as Matt Welch's bewailing of the fact that "people back then placed monster bets on business buzzwords" back in 1999, we haven't really advanced. The buzzwords may have changed, but the scam is the same. And it's amazing how many corporations, including the big brands that booked ad space on Den.Net, including Ford (which became one of's "Charter Sponsors"), Pepsi, Microsoft, Dell, and Pennzoil, continue to underwrite this kind of crap content without even considering how much it necessarily debases those who create it.

The spirit of Den.Net isn't dead, my friends. It lives on in the cancerous cloud of UGC, where puerile, sexist, juvenile sensibilities dominate. That which brought about Den.Net can never be defeated, nor even contained for long. It is an ancient disease springing from the most unreachable recesses of humanity's dark heart.

The Horror... The Horror...

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June 20, 2007

Dead Web 1.0 Sites: Were They Really Web 2.0?

I've been reading a sickening amount of bubbly prose about "Web 2.0" recently. What the heck is Web 2.0? Well, Web 2.0 is a bit like pornography: hard to define with any precision but immediately recognizable once you're staring at it.

Despite Web 2.0's self-declared amorphousness, there are some formal criteria: Web 2.0 sites tend to rely on UGC (User-generated content, e.g. updated Bulletin board-style "interactivity"), AJAX, Blogging, Tagging, Social Networking, RSS, Mapping, and a bunch of other stuff that with a high novelty factor but hardly as revolutionary as the good old Web 1.0-era hyperlink. Oh - I almost forgot: "rounded corners." Just about every Web 2.0 site has a design incorporating "rounded corners," and I guess a lot of people this design flourish is fresh, but has it occured to anyone that sported rounded corners almost 10 years ago?

I don't know who invented the term "Web 2.0," but he or she is a marketing genius. Rebranding the Web in this way does two things: first, it distances today's entreprenurial class from the disaster of Web 1.0, which is already a fleeting memory for many now working in this business. Secondly, it suggests that there's something radically new about the way technology, capital, and hype are now intersecting (there isn't). The structural difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is the way these Web properties (most of which will fail) are being financed. In Web 1.0, the money was stolen from investors in the public market through the mechanism of the IPO. Today, the scam has gone corporate, and instead of fleecing Mom & Pa's 401K, today's entreprenuers are fleecing old-line media companies and ad agency holding companies, who are paying obscene amounts of money for properties which will probably collapse like balloons within 24 months.

So yes, I'm a skeptic. I think that that Web 1.0/Web 2.0 dichotomy is pure marketing bullshit. Marketing people have infested the technology business to a completely unacceptable degree, and this is their handiwork. (I know this because I'm a marketing person myself, not by choice, but because nothing else I've tried pays the bills).

Anyway, here are a few Web properties that died long before Web 2.0 was born. In many ways, they were much more innovative than today's garden variety bookmark-photo-sharing-social-networking-with-AJAX Web 2.0 monstrosity.
You hear a great song on the radio. You grab your EMarker ("The Gotta Have it Gadget"), push a button, plug it into your PC and whammo - you've bought it. And unlike iTunes, your PC isn't brought to a standstill by Apple's bloatware music store. I like it!
Long before Flickr, eMemories pioneered photo-sharing on the Web. In a parallel universe somewhere, it's the one getting all the accolades, whereas Flickr languishes in obscurity.
Few know that wasn't always a place for Friends: it was a place for free file-sharing, and it failed miserably back in 2000.
Disney's search engine could have been the next Google. But the mousketeers failed to imagineer themselves beyond mediocrity, and gave up before the battle had even begun.
Another photo-sharing site that could have been the next Flickr. and
Wow - do you mean that the Web could have its own currency that has nothing to do with what Alan Greenspan or Ben Barnanke does with interest rates? That sounds Web 2.0-like to me!

Mr. Swap
This site, which encouraged users to swap their old junk for pennies, was way ahead of its time. I hear that another Silicon Valley startup calle has a very similar idea, and is now running with it with millions in funding. The more things change, they more they stay the same (but of course, everything will work out much better this time around)!
Video is hot, hot hot, and Madison Avenue is plunking millions into video ads, and that's why Google, Yahoo, iTunes and YouTube are all battling for video views. How Web 2.0! Wait a minute, are you telling me that did this very same thing years and years ago, and that nobody gave a damn? Yup.

I'll be revisiting some of the entries in the Museum of Electronic Failure from time to time, especially those which have a high Web 2.0 quotient. Please stop by again.

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June 29, 2006

Mummified Bits of Found

Several ghostly but well preserved digital artifacts of (AKA The Pseudo Online Network), one of the Web's legendary haunted brands, were recently spotted on the Web site of Web designer Erin Patrice Bennett. Evidently, Bennett was never an employee of, but worked for Web design firm Method Five.

Additional examples of ancient home pages are available elsewhere on Ghost Sites at the following URL:

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May 16, 2005

Is the New a Ghost Site?

Most of you know about, the Web-based broadcasting company started by Josh Harris in 1994. Well, after burning through a medium-sized fortune, the company went bankrupt and relaunched. In fact, if you go to today, you'll see that there's a live site there.

Or is it? Take a stroll through the new site's Forum area and you'll see that the most recent message was posted in late March. A dead forum area is one sure sign of cyber-decay, especially on a site that's supposed to serve up cutting-edge music content.

To find out whether was really dead or just sleeping, I tried to call the company. First, I went to, whose pages listed the wrong address for the company and a disconnected phone number ( itself should be spanked for allowing this sort of outdated information to exist on its servers).

Then I found the "corporate information" page on that listed the company's office as being at 485 Madison Avenue. I called the operator and asked for the phone number for

"Sorry, sir," she said. "There's no such company."
"How about Pseudo Entertainment?" I asked.
"There's no company in Manhattan with the word 'Pseudo' anywhere in its name," she said.
"This has got to be the flakiest dot-com I've ever come across." I answered.

My bet is that the new is following the footsteps of its prior incarnation. If anyone would like to step forward to correct this suspicion, please send e-mail.

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March 02, 2005

Mad About The 1990's: The Rebirth of

Remember, the notorious Soho-based DIY video portal whose founder, Josh Harris, predicted would someday "be bigger than CBS?"

Well, it's back after being dark for almost 5 years, providing the Web with a peerless opportunity to study video slices from "the roaring 1990's" in the form of preserved video streams, including material from the defunct Silicon Alley Reporter, Tech Rap, Wonks, BizTech 2000, and other long-forgotten Pseudo sources.

Many of these ancient (circa 1998-99) files feature erstwhile enfants terrible Harris, Fred Wilson, Jason Calacanis, and other boosters of the dotcom boom at the very top of their game.

Mad for the 1990's? The best place to start your trip back in time is to simply go to the new's search page and look for "Josh Harris", "Fred Wilson" or "Jason Calicanis".

You can spend hours of fun reviewing yesterday's wide-eyed Web boosters, their wacky prognostications, and smirk at their post-boom fates. It's a hell of a lot more amusing than attempting to wade through the tepid video offerings on the site's home page.

Pseudo's new site:
Compare historical screen shots in the Museum of Electronic Failure:

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