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 17, 2008

The End of Cyber-History (My Small Part Of It, Anyway)

The End of Cyber-History (My Small Part Of It, Anyway)I've been publishing Ghost Sites of the Web since the Summer of 1996, and it's been a great ride. But as live forces its changes upon us, we must adapt. This year, I've gone through two tragedies that have completely altered my life. Both my beloved mother and sister committed suicide earlier this year. I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to understand how this could happen, faulting myself for failing to prevent it. One can only try to move through such an experience on a day by day basis, and try to keep moving, because depression, it's said, "has a hard time hitting a moving target."

As I survey the range of my current online activities, and weigh the costs of carrying them forward against the benefits they have granted me, I have realized that I do not have the resources required to responsibly maintain all the various content areas of Ghost Sites, so I am moving the Museum of Interactive Failure, the Pathfinder Museum, and the Netslaves Archive off line to a ruggedized 1 Terabyte disk. I have made plans for these files to be donated to a historical institution sometime after my own death, which I hope is still many years away.

I will keep updating Ghost Sites, because I enjoy having a Blog wherein I can comment on contemporary developments on the Internet with an eye to their historical context, and I've met some good people here. Among the best of them is Morbus, whose unique talents have created the sprawling zone of "content for the discontented" that constitutes

One in a blue moon, some of the historical data I've gathered might even make it back on the online. But I think it is time that I retire some of the old material, which will give me more time and mental space to stay in touch with joyful living in the real world, and less time facing the solemn issue of death in the virtual world, which I hope I've covered to the Internet's satisfaction for the past dozen years. If you'd like to check up on my current activities, please check out my other site, I don't know how much you know about wild Quaker Parrots, but I've found that watching them is a sure fire cure for sadness, and I plan on spending as much of my free time with them as possible for the foreseeable future.

Of course, cleaning up the vast museum of historical cyber-flotsam I've compiled will take a bit of time, and this process might be messy. Please forgive any 404 "File Not Found" and/or broken image errors you might encounter here in the next few weeks.They will disappear soon enough, making this site a "clean, well lit place" again.

Who was it that said that "the only thing constant is change?" He or she was certainly correct. Thank you for your support for these many years. I hope to have informed you about the Web's early years, and hope these efforts have enhanced your own appreciation of this extraordinary medium.

Keep on Fetchin'! (for you youngsters who may not understand this statement, "fetchin'" was a popular synomym for FTP'ing back in the early 1990s).

Steve Baldwin
Editor, Ghost Sites of the Web

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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 09, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Files (Updated)

Raiders of the Lost Files (Updated)(Update 8/4/2008: the links to these rare artifacts have drifted over the years, so I've updated them so that the assets remain visible).

No history of Silicon Alley is complete without discussing On November 11, 2003, our skeleton crew of researchers, while digging through another midden heap of cybergarbage, discovered a rare and extraordinary find of images, sounds, and movie files developed to promote - a star-crossed Internet project that was well known to New Yorkers and San Franciscans in the late 1990s. This find, we believe, significantly expands the supply of first-generation digital artifacts associated with

Before discussing the gems found within the 11/11/03 Find, let's look at the digital artifacts that are known to exist today, and the gaps in the historical collection. First, it should be noted that the Internet Archive does appear to contain a fair collection of, a list of which can be viewed by going to*/

Unfortunately, much of did not survive the WayBack Machine's data collection process. None of the examples from 1998 appears to have been preserved intact, and only one recorded example from 1999 survives - the one archived on October 13. The reasons for this seem to be associated with the CGI scripting that used in this period, which seems to have thrwarted's Web-whacking efforts.

Of the 33 efforts the WayBack Machine made to archive the site in 2000 and early 2001, the results are slightly better. One can clearly make out the Kozmo logo and some of its product offerings. Unfortunately, only the home page was preserved in these passes - what was once inside Kozmo is invisible. The last image that survives of in its pre-failure mode is from March 31, 2000. Ghost Sites made its sole screen grab shortly after this time. So Kozmo isn't very well preserved, which is sad for those who grew to love this service.

Here is where the Ghost Sites Find of 11/11/03 serves to fill some of these gaps, so let's take a quick tour. All of these artifacts were recovered from the Web site of DiMassino, the ad agency that sought to make a household word in the late 1990's.

On the agency's main Kozmo page, you'll see a quick overview of some extremely strange Kozmo offline branding objects, including a Kozmo Metrocard, a Kozmo business card, the uniform of one of its messengers, and one of its phone booth ads. It's interesting to note that actually went so far as to trademark the phrase "We'll Be Right Over" (which means that you might want to refrain from ever saying or writing these words unless you're prepared to be sued by whichever liquidator wound up owning the corporate assets!).

Unfortunately, you can't see much more by clicking anywhere on this page - the really interesting stuff is buried deep within unlinked areas of the agency site that our skeleton crew had to find by resorting to a set of sneaky and stealthy means passed directly to us by Indiana Jones.

So without further ado, here is a list of precious, historically significant digital matter that very few people outside of DiMassimo's tight circle of brand identity experts have likely ever seen:

Now here is where the real fun begins - the next two pages are embedded with Quicktime movies - the first, the "Kozmo Challenge" starring Lee Majors - the famous "6 million dollar man". The second, more obscure TV spot, in black and white, plays on the Lucy and Rickie theme. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to save these two movies - the Javascript forbids their capture.

The next two pages present examples of Kozmo's attitudinally-driven rest-room advertising (a method also used by, which placed its ads at the bottom of urinals in the well-trafficked mens room at New York's Grand Central Terminal).

One such ad is "He's Such a Loser - Why Don't You Go Home and Rent a Movie", and a similar one from the male point of view - "That Girl's a Bitch - Why Don't You Go Home and Rent a Movie". Each speaks far more eloquently about American sexual attitudes in the late 1990's than you'd ever find in a skidload of sociological texts borrowed from your local university library. and contain screenshots that neither nor was able to capture. They are perhaps less interesting than the other examples here, but do serve to illustrate what the site actually looked like during its brief sojourn on the Web.

The next two pages in the Lost Archive contain fascinating radio spots, the first of which is a fake testimonial from one of Kozmo's messengers; the next a curiously homoerotic interview between a customer and a video store owner that was targeted for use in San Francisco.

The Ghost Sites Find of 11/11/03 presents an extraordinary look at the life - both internal and external - of a legendary dotcom that time and memory have not been kind to. Unfortunately, this view - one of the greatest surprises to Web historians since the discovery of the Lost Pathfinder Archive - may not last for very long. Although the GIFs and JPEGs can be saved by historians, neither the Quicktime movies nor the radio spots - the richest data forms in this collection, can be captured for posterity, and DeMassino may have have wanted it this way. In the flick of a switch, we will lose these few remaining pieces of Kozmo's history and it could happen tonight or tomorrow.

The pages on DeMassino's servers provide a rare look into the past that illustrate much more about our time than even its brand identity gurus could have ever intended. One might hope that DeMassino donates some of this material to one or another of the Internet's many data depositories, but this is unlikely. Commercials, in radio, TV, print, or hypermedia, rarely survive more than a few years before they are destroyed completely, and I doubt that Kozmo will provide any exception to this immutable rule.

Note: on November 16, I heard from someone who states that the Kozmo .MOV and audio files that I said "could not be saved" can in fact be saved, and that he has saved them. This is very good news and I hope to have more information about this soon.

For more on, follow this link).

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August 08, 2008

Does Anybody Remember the Following Doomed NY Tech Companies?

Does Anybody Remember the Following NY Tech Companies?Over the past week or so, I've been contributing articles for Fred Wilson's timeline of Silicon Alley project. I don't know Fred personally but I'm glad that somebody is working on a project to immortalize the glory and disaster of New York's tech economy. Anyway, I've been coming across a bunch of companies that glowed like diamonds when they launched but are barely remembered today.

Most of us who were active in the industry at the time remember the big NY-based disasters (,, IGuide,,,,, etc.). But there were plenty of smaller failures that few remember: here are some of them that might jog some ancient brain cells.

ToggleThis: A games developer that briefly worked on animating Bugs Bunny for Warner Brothers, thus validating the notion that "Silicon Alley" had arrived). Unfortunately, one dancing bunny doth not an industry make.

MethodFive: Talk about a forgotten interactive service agency! I don't know a soul who remembers MethodFive, but it was once the talk of the town. One of an ugly gaggle of push technology vendors that (very briefly) seemed poise to ban Web surfing forever.

Comet Systems: Does anybody out there remember the infamous and incredibly annoying Comet Cursor? Well, it was born in Manhattan. Truly a forgotten dotcom. But at one point it seemed to be ready to take on Another blast from the past. When it did its IPO in April of 1999, some claimed that this 25-person teen portal was worth more than $1 billion!

Interworld: Another huge NY-based player (e-commerce) that few remember today.

Big Star Entertainment: Lots of press, lots of money, but not even a memory today.

Snickleways: Snickleways? Incredible that an otherwise serious e-commerce company would have had such a silly name. Another project that people are probably too embarassed to remember. the Web site that was going to kill Talk Radio is completely forgotten today

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August 07, 2008

Pioneering Silicon Alley Games Developer Hyperspace Cowgirls Site Lies in Ruins

Before there were Web developers, there were CD-ROM developers, and New York's Silicon Alley was host to plenty of them, perhaps the most important being Voyager, which failed way back in 1997. Hyperspace Cowgirls (whose name was hatched in a dream experienced by its founder, Susan Shaw) was a project that had more success, but it foundered in the wake of the near complete destruction of New York's technology industry in 2000-01, and ceased operations in 2002.

The Hyperspace Cowgirls site ( is interesting to poke around in especially in its unlinked News area, which provides valuable insight into the star-crossed history of New York's Silicon Alley.

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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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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February 04, 2008, Pioneering Podcasting Site, Falls Silent, Pioneering Podcasting Site, Falls Silent, "a free mp3zine / podcast for the hip-clectic crowd" has gone silent. Launched in early 2005, DailySonic uploaded device-agnostic MP3 files whose content was an NPR-like mix of news, narration, and licensed underground music content.

DailySonic's four New York-based founders, Aaron Taylor Waldman, Adam Varga, Anni Katz, and Isaac Dolom, didn't seem to care too much about whether ever made money; they just wanted to do something cool on the Web, and it was precisely this quality that gave DailySonic purchase with its listeners. Unfortunately, the Web's very voraciousness augers against the pure of heart; the fun and cool can turn into a hellish grind in just a few months, unless of course, one can motivate people through fear or greed, which usually destroys friendships. Perhaps the four friends decided that they wouldn't let a Web site get between them.

Sadly, nothing remains of DailySonic's quirky podcasts, so it will be impossible for the world to know just how cool this site really was.

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January 01, 2008

An Interesting Thread on Steve Gilliard's Early Writings

An Interesting Thread on Steve Gilliard's Early WritingsAs you may know, I was Steve Gilliard's editor for several years when we were both associated with the Netslaves project. Some might call a pioneering pre-Blogospheric experiment in controlled high-pressure rage channeling; others an incredibly botched attempt at building a bona fide Web brand. By the time it was all over I was hopeless, penniless, and emptying dumpsters in Yonkers to stay alive. Steve wasn't doing much better, and neither was Bill Lessard,'s co-founder.

The irony that those who sought to chronicle the worst of the dotcom era were undone by the same destructive madness that took down the "New Economy" has never been lost on me. But that's all ancient history now: what counts is that incubated the great writing talent that became Steve Gilliard (1964-2007), and some very talented folks are keeping the Gilliard flame alive at a site called The Group News Blog. This week, they're looking back at Steve's early writings, many of which have been archived here. Check out the discussion for a good look at Steve's work both while at and elsewhere.

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September 17, 2007

New York Times Comes to Its Senses, Abandons "Walled Garden" Content Plan

Back in 2005, I wrote an article for Ghost Sites excoriating the New York Times for putting much of its best content (including columnists Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Judith Warner, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, and others) behind a subscription wall.

The Times was making $10 million a year on its subscription scheme, but its management clearly recognized that it could be making much more by opening up its content and making it ad-supported. Abandoning the "walled garden" approach is great news both for the Times and for those who continue to regard this institution as an indispensable resource. Bravo!

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September 11, 2007

The Search Engine Marketing Weblog Dies, But Will Remain Active to Collect Link Juice

We're written in the past about Jason Calacanis (who we like) and the fact that his meteoric career has left an unprecedently large trail of dead Web flotsam in his wake (which we don't like). First there was, then, then,, and lately Some might call this aggressive serial entrepreneurship; others might use the far simpler analogy of the proverbial bull in the china shop to explain Jason's record.

Which brings us to The Search Engine Marketing Weblog, a foundational Blog for Jason's empire which he shrewdly sold to AOL for more than $20 million. Like a sizeable percentage of Blogs which formerly operated under the umbrella, this one has been languishing for some time, and finally gave up the ghost in early August of 2007. The Search Engine Marketing Weblog was of course devoted to covering SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), two topics which have spawned a phalanx of similar projects.

The Blog author's farewell message contains the interesting tidbit that the site, while defunct, will not be decommissioned, presumably to preserve the "link juice" it earned in its heyday (The Search Engine Marketing Weblog ranks very well for the term "Search Engine Marketing" in the organic section of Google's SERP). Unfortunately, this news-oriented site grows more irrelevant with each day that passes, and so it will inevitably drift downward towards invisibility, ceding ground to better-maintained Blogs, once Google's spiders determine that it is an antique.

Ghostie Award: Site is Dead But Well PreservedThree Ghosties (Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved) I used to issue a lot of these rewards. Basically, the site's lights are still on, but nobody is home. Sometimes these sites come back, but I'd say more than half either vanished within a short time or began to suffer from serious bit rot, which can get very unpleasant.

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July 22, 2007

A Very Sad Ghost Site is DeadFilmmaker and game developer Theresa Duncan committed suicide in New York on July 10th; apparently her companion, artist Jeremy Blake, is also now missing, and may have drowned himself in the Rockaways.

Duncan had considerable success in the late 1990's as a pioneering CD-ROM game designer; her titles included "Mimi SmartyPants," "Chop Suey" and "Zero Zero." These games featured quirky, non-violent scenarios that proved popular with young girls, and were both well-reviewed and well-received by the market. Mr. Blake collaborated on the illustrations for these games, and became a well recognized graphic artist in his own right who showed at New York's Whitney Museum.

Theresa Duncan leaves behind her Blog, located at, which for two years chronicled her thoughts; its formal title is "The Wit of the Staricase."

It's always tempting to view the online writings left behind by a suicidal soul as both a last testament to life and a trail of clues that might explain such a tragedy, and I'm sure we'll be reading many such interpretations in the coming weeks, especially because Duncan made some eerie statements on her Blog in her last days, including:

  • "Goodnight, Children, We're In The Arms Of The Great Lover"

  • "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." -- 2 Corinthians (3:17)"

  • "What I hope you will do in the coming week, Scorpio, is rescue from obscurity any important thing that is on the verge of becoming unspeakable. Be a retriever of that-which-is-about-to-disappear. Be a rememberer of that-which-is-close-to-being forgotten."
Are these fragments clues? If so, where can they lead us? The Web gives us such enormous power to peer into the inner thoughts of others that it is easy to forget that the heart is dark and mysterious, and there are thoughts and feelings that can never be reduced to a mere form of words. One's online writings are, in the end, just a part of what one chooses to put out to the world. What one withholds, however, can never be known, and may in fact be more responsible for the actions one takes.

It's an awful thing when people take their own lives; and it is especially terrible when they are young, talented, and might have gone on to illuminate more of this dark world for the rest of us. May the friends and family of Duncan and Blake find peace in the future.

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July 12, 2007

Suffer from Nostalgia? This Video Will Cure Ya

A messenger narrowly avoiding being crushed by a car in lower Manhattan, circa 2000 died more than six years ago, but many Netizens (don't you hate that word?) still miss it. But take a gander at this 6-minute video of the back office operations, which aired shortly before went kaput, and you'll see a different view: workers crowded in a dank warehouse, founder Joseph Park bragging that he "lives there in a sleeping bag," middle-aged employees noting that they work 80-hour weeks, and bike messengers careening around lower Manhattan, probably without health or accident insurance.

The video, which was clearly promotional in nature (it aired on a network called FinanceVision) attempts to show us how all the craziness and hard work paid off, but because we now know the fate of Kozmo's 1,100 employees and how dearly Kozmo cost investors, all the adolescent lunatic energy looks like nothing more than a bone-headed exercise in pure Netslavery.

For more on Kozmo, see Cyber-Nostalgia: Why the Web Still Weeps For, originally published on Ghost Sites May 2, 2004, or click the "" tag below.

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July 10, 2007 is a Ghost Site

Faith Popcorn's Amazing, Search-Invisible is an intriguing Ghost Site I stumbled upon today while researching the history of New York's Silicon Alley. The title statement on its home page ("It's Been a While/Let's Reboot/Who's New/It Sure Beats Surfing the Internet") suggests that the site is an active reunion site for New York based tech workers who survived the New Economy crash of 2000-2001. And its META description tag ("SiliconAlley.Com - It's where SiliconAlley gets down to business. Everything and Everybody you need to know to do business in SiliconAlley, the largest online community in the world!") suggests that much robust activity occurs within its confines.

But when I ventured further within the site, I found areas that seem to be completely abandoned, with the most recent postings from March 2006. Other signs of cyber-decay include a dysfunctional "Newswire" link, an empty "Updates" area, and a "Forum" area whose most recent posting is from May of 2006 (I'd link to these areas directly but because the whole site is built with frames, linking is just about impossible).

New York's Silicon Alley may rise again someday, but if this site is any indication, we might have a long time to wait before Resurrection Day.

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July 04, 2007

Omar Wasow's Blog is a Ghost Site

Omar Wasow's Blog is a Ghost SiteOmar Wasow is a fairly famous guy who the mainstream media have dubbed "a Cyberspace Pioneer." Several years ago, Newsweek Magazine named him one of the "Fifty Most Influential People in Cyberspace;" the New York Times heralded him as "Silicon Alley's Philosopher-Prince."

He even taught Ophrah Winfrey how to surf the Web.

But Wasow's Blog (which runs on Blogger but has been branded a "Media Kit") hasn't been updated since November of 2005, and that's an awful long time to be absent from the medium you're supposed to be a pioneer in. Even media kits need to be updated every few months or people get the impression that one has stopped appearing in the media. And people who run more than one blog (Wasow maintains a secondary Blog at, which has no content on it at all) are obliged to keep all of them populated with content unless they intend to abandon them.

Maybe these basic Blogging rules are too harsh, but I didn't invent them. Maybe it's too much to ask any authentic digital luminary to update his blog more than once a year, much less seize upon the more interactive possibilities of this medium. But in my book, people who market themselves as "tech gurus" and make big bucks talking about digital transformation need to roll up their sleeves and actually do something in cyberspace from time to time. Otherwise they come off as cyber-poseurs.

Omar - you taught Ophrah how to surf: that's terrific. Please don't teach her how to Blog until you can prove to the rest of us that you understand that Blogs aren't supposed to be static, moth-eaten media object dumps or content-free containers. You don't have to take comments from the unwashed if you don't want to, but please update your content and keep it fresh if you expect anyone to take your princely pronouncements seriously.

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July 03, 2007

From the Netslaves Archives: E-Bitch's Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles

"When was the last time you had a meaningful discussion about laundry?" -- Steve Gilliard, 2001

Steve Gilliard was's star writer, but he wasn't's only regular contributor. For a brief time between 1999 and 2002, Netslaves functioned as a low-rent cyber-salon for the stylishly unemployed, servicing a roster of contributors who submitted articles because they had something to say, hoped to become famous for a few nanoseconds, or had nothing else to do, having lost their jobs but not yet their Internet access.

When was destroyed in 2003, its writers scattered to the ends of cyberspace. Steve Gilliard found temporary shelter at The Daily Kos and ultimately founded his own site, but others, including the writer known as "E-Bitch," remain unaccounted for. Before she disappared, however, E-Bitch left behind a remarkable multipart series dubbed "Unemployment Journal" which chronicled what it was like to be young and unemployed in New York during the dotcom bust. (Hint: it wasn't fun.)

While the bulk of the writing that went into concerned itself with dystopic futurist issues, E-Bitch's writing refreshingly concrete: the way the walls looked at the New York State unemployment office, the way cheap food tasted, the way decomposing hair feels when it is removed from the shower drain. Because it wasn't really "tech writing," it rarely got much attention from's readers, who clearly preferred articles about the flaws in Linux, The New Economy,, or Jason McCabe Calacanis. Consequently, E-Bitch probably took more online abuse for her choice of subject matter than Steve Gilliard did for repeatedly using the F-Word or failing to use a spell-checker.

Still, E-Bitch's articles provide an acerbic look at how desperate New York was back in the early '00's, and her best work continues to stand the test of time. Among my favorites is Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles, a free-verse ode to the most prosaic task imaginable in the Big Apple: taking steps to ensure that your clothes don't stink. While the New Economy of 2001 bears little or new resemblance to the Google Economy of 2007, laundry remains a constant in our lives, and people feel as strongly about it as they do about Rupert Murdoch, Sergey Brin, or Yahoo. Laundry remains relevant, and it's amazing to me that VC's haven't become involved in the laundry industry, especially because geeks, as long as six years ago, were clamoring for more connected laundomats. One wrote:

Are there any e-enabled laundries in New York? You know, with three dollar an hour 56K dial-up terminals? I've been looking to drop a load in one for a while. This might be a great business opportunity for the owners - they could simply recycle old machines (computers, not dryers), run Linux/GNOME on them, and put them to money-making use. Could give Linux a big boost too.

One can only hope that this geek didn't wait too long before "dropping his load" because E-Laundry parlors never did became established in New York City.

You can read (but not discuss) E-Bitch's Unemployment Journal IX: The Laundry Chronicles by clicking here.

More Classic E-Bitch Articles from The Netslaves Archives

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July 02, 2007

More Vintage Steve Gilliard Articles from the Netslaves Archives

I continue to labor to restore Steve's articles to their former glory. This job threatens to turn me into a Netslave again, but I'm willing to pay the price! So here's a "10-Pack" of classic Steve Gilliard articles that highlight Steve's pre-Blogosphere career: reading these articles is a bit like watching The Beatles perform in the Cavern Club in 1962.

My personal faves for this week? The Rich Are Different From You and Me (Comments on the Digital Mafia, Boss Bloomberg, and the Stanford Billionaire Boys Club) and The Great Geek Trap.

Latest Restored Steve Gilliard Articles: 07/02/07

You can read more of Steve Gilliard's classic articles for by clicking here, here, and here. This material will eventually be consolidated into one central archive.

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June 21, 2007

More Updates to the Netslaves Archive

I continue to make steady progress on the task of restoring Steve Gilliard's work for My aim is to make all of Steve's articles available to the Web again, and expect the restoration work to take most of this Summer. The work involves a lot of HTML gruntwork, but it's worth it. I'm really enjoying reading Steve again, and his old articles really stand the test of time. In a funny way, I feel that I'm bringing his body of work home to where it all began so many years ago: on the servers of

Here is this week's chunk of restored material. It includes:You can read more of Steve Gilliard's classic articles for by clicking here and here. This material will eventually be consolidated into one central archive.

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June 20, 2007

Time Magazine Editor to Staff Writers: Write Online or Go Home

An article on summarizes the earnest efforts of Time Magazine Managing Editor Richard Stengel to induce his reluctant, pre-Web staff of writers to write online, and I got a nostalgic chuckle out of it. Way back when I worked for Time Inc., our division was one of a handful of entities in Time Inc's vast fleet of publications that was serving up content daily on the Web, and we were regarded as low-end-of-the-totem-pole geeks by Time's "real" writers, who wrote their copy at a leisurely pace, went home at 5:00 PM, and got very drunk each Friday when the liquor cart appeared on schedule.

We Web geeks, confined to an area of the Time-Life Building that had recently been vacated by Security, worked 12 hour days, earned less, got less respect, and were ultimately terminated when our division was shut down after it was denigrated by Don Logan as a "black hole."

Good luck, Mr. Stengel: you're going to need it. Writing content for this medium is more like operating a chattering Telex machine in a noisy newsroom than it is composing and endlessly rewriting golden sentences, lovingly massaged to blandness, in a well-carpeted skyscraper. Web writers write dispatches, not polished articles. We write for an invisible, often ungrateful audience. We're used to being dissed by "real writers" and aren't even granted proper press credentials.

We're a tough bunch that writes fast, and while we may not always get it right the first time, we know there are no truckloads of paper to recall when we make a mistake. For us, writing is organic and iterative, not a process that etches words in stone or lead. Some people hate the fact that we can do this, and the tone of your memo suggests that you've got your share of such Luddites working for you right now.

I hope that many of your old guard will adapt to this medium, which was new 10 years ago when I worked for Time Inc., but is now the mainstream. And I hope that those who can't or won't will be thrown out the window, just as we were tossed 10 years ago.

The only difference will be that they'll have Golden Parachutes, whereas we fell the full 37 flights flapping our arms in vain.

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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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Ghosts of New York's Silicon Alley Live on at Silicon Alley Station

Silicon Alley Station Has Not Been Updated in Almost Three Years
Silicon Alley Station, an independent Web-based radio network whose beat was New York's technology sector, has not updated its content in almost three years.

This is sad, because SAS, in its day, provided high-quality, hype-free coverage of technology developments in New York in an appealing, free format that generally bettered the efforts of the deep-pocketed mainstream media. To my knowledge, no one is about to enter the vacuum left behind by SAS; a sure sign that as far as the Internet Rapture is concerned, New York is a city "left behind." Clicking through the SAS site is a surreal experience: a bit like discovering a long-buried railroad terminal with Pullman cars still on the tracks, waiting for passengers that will never arrive.

SAS and New York's technology scene might be dead, but the site's streaming audio archives live on, although it's likely only a matter of time before they too become inaccessible. Highlights include interviews with many former luminaries of New York's late 1990's technology scene, making it a virtual time capsule of Gotham City's high hopes, world-dominating dreams, and wackily star-crossed illusions of the late 1990's.

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June 18, 2007

From the Steve Gilliard Files: The Incredible Flying Scooter

Back in January of 2001, hardly anybody was talking about Osama Bin Laden, Global Warming, or Saddam Hussein. Across America, the big buzz was about a miraculous invention dubbed "IT," whose impact might be bigger than the atomic bomb or the internal combustion engine. And somehow, only John Doerr, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos had actually seen this remarkable machine in action.

"IT," (later code-named "Ginger") turned out to be nothing more interesting than a gyroscopically stabilized scooter, and seven years later, it's just a big, expensive novelty, not the planet-changing machine it was hyped to be.

It's easy to forget how our collective minds can be warped by corporate hype, but Steve Gilliard was a hype-buster extraordinare. In an article posted to Netslaves on January 12th, 2001 entitled "The Flying Scooter," he takes Doerr, Jobs, Bezos, and their media partners in mega-hype to task.

As Steve so accurately noted, "the whole thing smells familiar. They should have a tag line: the super scooter, from the same people who brought you the Mac, mail order books online and VC funding."

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June 15, 2007

From the Netslaves Archives: The Story of Jane

I've been digging through old CD-R disks in search of Steve Gilliard's lost writings for Netslaves. I figure it will take at least a year to locate all this material, and probably a decade to re-format it for the Web. Still, I think I owe it to my old pal to bring his lost writings back online. In the meantime, I'm discovering other artifacts from the Netslaves project that never made it online. Here is such an artifact: the story of an HTML programmer who worked for a corporation known as "Edler-Watson." This story was actually based on the memoir of someone who worked at Time-Warner's Pathfinder, but back in those days we changed the names because we were afraid of being blacklisted in Silicon Alley.

The Story of Jane
Jane Dantzig thought that she had seen it all. She’d worked in New York’s fast-paced New Media industry for a year, and paid her dues in high-tech sweatshops from Chelsea to Broad Street. Jane was a freelance HTML coder – a production grunt – one of the thousands of invisible people whose job it is to build, maintain, and refresh commercial Web sites so that the titanic dreams of their visionary masters can be realized, instead of sputtering to a halt on a broken link or a badly placed "DIV" tag.

Jane liked doing HTML – it would never make her rich, but it paid the bills. And she liked the independence the freelance life gave her even more. By being free to choose her clients, she could regulate the bullshit in her life, and control her destiny in a way that no full-timer, chained to the fate of her company, ever could.

Jane worked hard, didn’t goof off, rarely fucked up, and never kissed ass. But the mere fact that she controlled her destiny didn’t mean that she ruled Fate. And when Fate, in the guise of Challenger, Edler-Watson’s gigantic Web site, offered her a three-month production assignment in the Fall of 1995, Jane took the job.

It was a decision that led her into the Stygian depths of hell itself, and culminated in the single greatest disaster in the annals of New Media. For a brief 15 seconds that shocked the world, technology, human will, and reality itself suffered a simultaneous, cataclysmic failure whose ramifications are still being felt today.

It was the Day the Web Stood Still.

Jane’s long road to disaster began when she accidently injured the left foot of her African Grey Parrot, who had let himself out of his cage, and had mischievously alighted on the top of her bedroom door. The door closed, the bird howled with pain, and Jane immediately rushed the parrot, whose name was "Mr. URL," to the Animal Medical Center on 92nd street. X-Rays proved the bird’s mashed leg wasn’t broken, and Mr. URL was released within two hours, which made Jane, who felt horribly guilty, feel a bit better. But Mr. URL’s emergency treatment would cost Jane $320, and this was enough to send Jane’s carefully calculated personal economy into disarray, because she just didn’t have the money.

Jane blamed herself for always being short on cash, but it was part and parcel of the freelance life she’d been living for about a year. Formerly employed as a full-time professional typesetter, Jane had given up the steady life of twice-monthly paychecks to pursue a Web builder’s career at age 28. Because she knew page design inside and out, and had figured out that HTML was a much simpler page description language than the cryptic markup tags she’d been using for years to compose business forms, she quit her job and set up her own design shop, called “Rational Bits” in early 1995.

Although freelance site building provided Jane with a much higher hourly income than she’d made as a typesetter, she still found it difficult to make ends meet. Jane didn’t spend extravagantly, nor did she pay more than $1,000 a month in rent for her 1-bedroom on Waverly Place. The problem lay on the supply side of the equation: in the fact that many of her clients held on to her invoices for months, or sometimes didn’t pay at all.

By the fall of 1995, Jane’s accounts receivables were about $9,000 – about half of this from a slick uptown design house that built Web sites for several international petrochemical companies that, as far as Jane knew, weren’t hurting for cash. She’d hassled her debtor for two months, received plenty of promises, apologies, and assurances – but no check.

Another small startup that Jane built sites for went belly up after its largest client went broke, and never paid Jane the $5,000 she was owed. With her quarterly self-employment taxes coming due September 1st, Jane’s bank account was approaching zero, and she feared that she’d soon be unable to even afford parrot food, which meant she’d have to keep Mr. URL alive on pizza crusts.

"That’s not going to happen, sweetie, don’t you worry”, Jane said, as the parrot balanced on his good leg and made clicking sounds that sounded exactly like her keyboard.

Scanning The List

In the following days, Jane tried hard to drum up some business by continuously monitoring the job postings that scrolled across the New York World Wide Web Workers e-mail list. The WWWNY (or “Winnie”) list circulated among 2,000 Web professionals in New York, and it was a good place to hunt for freelance assignments. The Winnie list also provided a forum for a lot of quirky blowhards to rant endlessly about Aggro Software’s browser, or attack NetScathe’s flaky table support, but Jane tolerated the noise. She didn’t give a damn about the fate of VRML, or the future of interactivity – she just wanted to find a short-term job to pay her bird’s medical bill.

Unfortunately, most of the jobs posted to the list that week advertised intern positions that Jane was overqualified for.
“The fucking interns are ruining the job market”, Jane would complain.”
“Oh no”, Mr. URL answered back.

On Thursday, one listing did appear. It read simply:
HTML Production: Challenger
Long-term freelance opportunity. Must have extensive knowledge of HTML. Must be familiar with cross-platform, cross-browser compatibilities. Opportunity to expand your knowledge. Send email to

Jane usually didn’t apply for long-term assignments, because most didn’t pay out until the project was completed. She’d already been burned twice speccing her time on long-term projects, and needed some instant cash.

She’d also heard weird things about Challenger from other HTML grunts who’d worked there.
“It’s chaos”, said one.
“Don’t go there. It’s a sick building”, said another.
“They use image-maps for everything”, said a third. But Jane fired off her resume anyway -- she didn’t want to feel that she’d left a stone unturned in her search for work.

On Friday, Jane was going over her $239 Bell Atlantic bill, when her mother called from Cincinnati. She hated to hit her mother up for money, but realized that if she didn’t, she’d be relinquishing her best shot of making it through the next week.
“Have you ever thought of trying to find a real job?”, Jane’s mother asked.
“Mom – I’ve got six jobs. I’m making more money freelancing than I could at a real job.”
“If you’re making more money, why are you asking me for a loan?”
“InterPetrol owes me $6,000. They’ve got to pay me -- I just don’t know when.”

After wrangling for a few more minutes, Jane’s mother agreed to mail her a check for $600, a sum that would go a long way in Cincinatti.
“Shit”, said the parrot.
“Well, it’s something”, Jane said.

Picking up Fares
Jane’s luck began to change the following week, when she got a call from LaserCrab, an ultra-hip downtown design house, asking her to come in for a couple of days of HTML coding. She’d worked at LaserCrab before, and had profoundly mixed feelings about going in, because its rarefied, design-driven atmosphere was, as she put it, “all sizzle and no steak.”

Jane also felt out of place among its pretentious crew of 20-something design mavens, who drank endless amounts of coffee, discussed Foucault and Hegel, and produced top-heavy, Java-dependent prototypes that seemed to crash every browser except the latest Mac version of NetScathe. Even though she felt like a hick in the place, Jane went down and spent three full days trying to unravel the weird code the designers’ WYSIWIG editors spat out.

The next week, she landed a two-day shift at Hedge-Downs, a publishing company that had recently fired 30% of its work force in a bloody restructuring, but still needed to crank out Web pages with gigantic tables comparing hundreds of computer components. Unlike LaserCrab, whose SoHo loftspace was a packed, dingy sweathouse of activity, Hedge-Downs plush offices were practically empty – either the editors were all at Comdex, or they’d all been fired.

Jane took Thursday and Friday off – her hands and wrists were hurting her, not so much from typing, but from clutching the crappy, non-ergonomic mouse that Hedge-Downs had made her use. Living with pain was something that Jane had grown used to, but as long as she gave herself a few days of recurperation from frenzied clicking, it seemed to disappear. She hoped she wasn’t doing permanent damage to her wrists, but really didn’t know – she hadn’t seen a doctor in a year, because she had no health insurance coverage.

She e-mailed her two invoices off – 32 hours of work, at $30 an hour – a grand total of $960 billed to two solvent clients who’d been pleased with her work. $30 an hour was the going rate for HTML production people of Jane’s caliber – fast coders who checked their work, proofread and corrected mistakes (even if they weren’t theirs), and made sure that all was safe and sound on the servers before clocking out for the night.

Jane knew that neither RazorCrab nor Hedge-Downs would be likely to call her back soon – both companies were looking for a full-time coder that would work cheaper than Jane, and they’d probably fill the positions before too long. In truth, these companies only called in Jane when one of their people burned out – a fate that often stalked full-timers who were forced to do HTML, and nothing but HTML, for months without a break.

Jane actually enjoyed producing massive tables, cleaning up crappy code, and all the other minutia associated with hand-crafting HTML pages. But she couldn’t bear the thought of doing HTML all day, every day. Beyond the torture it inflicted on her extremities, Jane also suspected that too much Web production could actually drive one crazy. After a certain point, it became like Chinese Water Torture – a sinister thing whose evil lay in the fact that none of its victims ever believed that innocent little drops of water could be capable of inflicting such crippling psychic pain.

The fear of mindless repetition, beyond any any other reason, lay at the root of Jane’s hatred for permanent jobs. It wasn’t, as her mother suggested, that Jane was “afraid of commitment”, or “suspicious of long-term relationships”. Jane had nothing against men, beyond the fact that most were hopelessly messy creatures who felt they’d been granted an inaliable right to interpose themselves in Jane’s life, and talk for hours – usually about themselves. In this respect, they were like Mr. URL, but took up much more space.

If Jane had had the time to see a shrink, he might have advised her that her strong bias towards “independence” might be causing her to miss out on things that only long-term relationships bring: security, a family, a sense of being more than a nomad who lived by the clock. But Jane had no desire to change her life – it hitch her chain to some flaky man, or an even flakier Internet startup. And Jane’s reluctance to “commit” to long, drawn-out affairs of the heart, or of the workplace, stemmed from the simple fear of boredom – the dreary, mind-numbing sameness that, like Water Torture, ultimately became unbearable.

The Challenge
On Saturday, around six PM, the phone rang – it was Challenger’s Head of Production, calling about the resume she’d sent in a week before.
“I need coders”, the voice said. “Your resume looks good. What’s your availability?”
“Well, this week is clear.”
“Report to 3724A. You’ll need a visitor’s pass. Be there at 10:00”.
“But I…”
The phone clicked. It was the shortest conversation Jane had ever had.
“Oh no”, said the parrot.
“Well, we do need the money”, Jane answered.

On Sunday, Jane was sleeping late, when the phone rang again.
“Where are you?”, asked the voice, and it took a few seconds for Jane to properly associate it with Challenger.
“I thought you were talking about Monday”, Jane said.
“I’m talking about now”, he said. “Can you make it in or not?”
She looked at her clock radio, which read 10:20.
“I’ll be in as soon as I can”, she said.

Jane took the 6th Avenue subway up to the Edler-Watson building – a 50-story, modernistic slab of concrete in the low ‘50’s. She got a visitors’ pass from a sleepy guard in the visitor’s center, and waited for the elevator. The lobby was empty and echoic – a mournful mausoleum to 1950’s modernism. But when she stepped out on the 37th Floor, and was buzzed through Challenger’s security system, Jane entered a scene of bustling activity – people were darting back and forth among a long corridor of cubicals that stretched the entire length of the building’s East wall.

Jane began to sweat – it was hot in the massive room, and clouds of condensation had formed on the inner services of the sealed pane glass windows. She wandered through the bullpen of cubes, and circled back to the entrance, disoriented and confused. At last she found Room 3724A, a small, windowless office that she’d walked right by when she came in, mistaking it for a utility closet.
“I’m Jane Dantzig”, she said to the man hunkered down behind two gigantic monitors on a cluttered wooden desk.
“Good”, he said, without looking up. He rustled with some forms, and handed them to her. “You need to fill these out, and these, and these. Your rate is $20 an hour. Fill out the time sheet when you’re done.”
She filled out the tax forms and waited for more instructions from the man, but he was busily clicking away at something.
“It’s pretty hot in here”, Jane said.
“Building services doesn’t like running the air conditioners on weekends”, he said.
“What would you like me to work on?”, Jane asked.
“We’re redesigning the site today”, he said. “I need a report on broken URLs. Find a vacant cube.”
“Do you want me to fix them?”
“No. Just a report”.

Jane found an unoccupied office near Challenger’s coffee machine, and logged on to the network. She launched NetScathe, and began tooling around the Challenger site – a massive collection of content from about 80 of Edler-Watson’s magazines. She explored the sites’s top level pages, and although they were slow-loading, image-mapped monsters, none of them were actually broken.

But when Jane began exploring the pages of the magazines themselves, she found hundreds of errors, and had soon filled up an entire page with notes on their locations. By the time she was ready to leave, around 8:00 PM, she had accumulated a list of about 1,400 hundred bad links.

The Production Head studied her printout. “That’s good. That’s very good”, he said. “Can you come back tomorrow?”
“I’d like to, but I usually get $30 an hour”, Jane said.
“You’re just checking links. This isn’t rocket science.”
“Yes, but if I do this gig, I can’t do my other jobs, which do pay me $30 an hour”, Jane said.
“Well, I could probably use someone on PowerStager. It’s rolling out next week. I tell you what - I’ll pay you $25 an hour, but we’d have to train you, so you’d have to agree to stick around to make it worth our while.”
“All right”, Jane said.

The next day, Jane began to learn how to operate PowerStager, an elaborate piece of software designed in-house by Challenger’s software engineers to streamline the way content was uploaded to the site. PowerStager was built to correct a problem that had plagued Challenger from the beginning – a problem known as “Update Gridlock”.

Challenger, like many large Web sites, used two physical machines to store its massive collection of content: a public server, and a staging server. Editors would “fetch”, or FTP new content to the staging server, and then, after a period of time, the staging server would refresh the public server, so that users could see the new stuff.

Unfortunately, as Challenger aggregated more content, and refreshed content more frequently, the staging queue often backed up, causing the time lag between server refreshes to grow to a point where it might take three or more hours for a “fresh” news item to appear on the public servers.

Challenger’s Editor-in-Chief, Jeff Marshall, yelled and screamed about Update Gridlock, because it caused Challenger to get “scooped” on breaking news stories. Others were screaming too – sometimes, the site’s hopelessly constipated content queue would actually cause the staging server to fail, which caused a wave of hair-pulling and subcritical brain embolisms to sweep through Challenger'’ short-tempered crew of editors. Each knew that in a matter of moments, their phones would light up, and they’d be treated to obscenity-laced tirades from their Content Partners, who couldn’t update their sites.

PowerStager, on the other hand, was designed to selectively bypass the staging server, so that Challenger’s editors could write content directly to the public server – a very powerful, but very dangerous capability that filled the tech team with dread. The potential for disaster -- through accident, miscalculation, or madness – was very real, because PowerStager provided a way for technically inept editors to inadvertently overwrite the entire site – the equivalent of typing “FORMAT C:\” in a DOS window. If this happened, the technicians’ only recourse would be to restore Challenger from an archived tape drive, a maddening process that took them three days to finsh in their dark, subterranean server farm complex across the street.

To prevent any unauthorized overwriting, PowerStager’s Web-based interface was deliberately made very complicated, to mislead Challenger’s editors into believing it could only update a single file at a time. As a secondary security measure, PowerStager included a feature which forced editors to click through three seperate “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?” screens before they could update anything. As a final line of defense, PowerStager automatically created a log file capturing the IP address of the updater, and, it was rumored, “did a lot of other things” to identify editors screwing with the public servers without permission.

While Jane had no trouble understanding the theory behind PowerStager, she found its practical operation somewhat erratic. When she tried using the software to move some non-critical test files to a test directory, she observed that it only worked about half the time. Sometimes the GIF would arrive corrupted, and HTML files didn’t always arrive intact either. PowerStager also seemed to slow down at certain points in the day, which meant that Jane had to wait around for 10 minutes before she could get through all the “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?” screens.
She called up her contact on the Tech Side about this.
“We know all about the bugs”, he said.
“Is it something I should worry about?”
“When it launches, they’ll be gone”, he said.

By Wednesday, Jane noticed that some of PowerStager’s bugs had been eliminated, but others were mysteriously appearing. Sometimes PowerStager would “hang” in the middle of an operation, forcing her to reboot her machine. Sometimes her hard drive would start spontaneiously spinning by itself – Macs had a tendency to that, of course – but it still seemed peculiar, and Jane wondered if PowerStager wasn’t probing her machine for reasons of its own. Later in the afternoon, Jane received a real scare when a file she was working on completely vanished from her desktop, even though she hadn’t deleted it.
“That’s a new one”, said the engineer. “It may have something to do with the resolver.”
“Sounds a lot like Rocket Science”, Jane said.

The OJ Files
Before Jane left for the weekend, the Production Head specified that she make a special attempt to arrive early on Monday – something important was going on.
“Another redesign?”, Jane asked.
“No, it’s this OJ thing”, he said.
“What’s the OJ thing?”
“Aren’t you following the trial?”
“Well forget about it. Just be in place early. It’s probably going to be a busy day.”
“OK”, Jane said, signing her time slip.

Jane spent a quiet weekend at home, and didn’t think much about OJ Simpson, Challenger, or PowerStager. She was aware that OJ had been on trail in Los Angeles for months, but had more or less blanked it out. The whole thing seemed to have very little to do with her life – it happened far away, in a city that she didn’t like very much.

But Challenger felt very different about the fate of OJ Simpson, and one of its most popular subsites, OJ Central, had served as the Internet’s greatest single touchstones for Web users who, in many cases, seemed obsessed by the whole saga. OJ Central provided an interactive map of the murders, daily trial transcripts, and a message board which teemed with thousands of ranting, raving, and hand-wringing opinions on what the whole mess meant to the future of the Western World.

Like the networks, Challenger was making big bucks off of OJ, and knew, as Jane did not, that it was likely that the Simpson trial would likely reach a verdict on Monday, October 3rd. So to capitalize fully on their expanded OJ coverage, Challenger had made it known to OJ Central’s users that it would be the first site to announce OJ Simpson’s verdict, within minutes of its rendering.

Over the weekend, an emergency OJ team camped out in the overheated confines of Edler-Watson’s 37th Floor, planning the best way to make sure that nothing went wrong. Although everyone on the OJ team believed that Simpson would surely be found guilty, they didn’t take any chances, so the Art Department was instructed to prepare two different, image-mapped GIFs to replace Challenger’s default home page. One read “GUILTY!”, and showed a dour, depressed OJ Simpson appearing to scream at the Judge. In an inspired flourish, the GIF also included within its sidebar the ominious notice that said: “LA POLICE ON ALERT”.

The second home page, “OJ Innocent”, showed OJ Simpson in a completely different pose: quiet, somber, and beautifically grateful to the jury that had let just him off the hook. Obviously, no “reports” of the LA Police’s alert status were included in this image. Temporary pieces of ersatz text reportage were hammered out by Challenger’s News Editor, to serve as placeholders until someone could grab enough text from an incoming Reuters wire report to flesh things out in more detail.

By late Sunday night, all of the new OJ content had been finished, the weary team had retired for the night, and all the OJ Files were plopped into two folders, named GUILTY and INNOCENT, which sat on Challenger’s LAN.

At 8:30AM on Monday, Jane took a position in her cube, and waited for instructions from her masters. It was quiet in the Challenger’s massive bullpen, but things came to life when its staffers started appearing around 9:30, with members of the OJ team looking sleepy and unkempt. A large 21-inch television mounted on the wall was turned on at 10:30, and Jane listened into the pre-verdict coverage on CNN. The OJ jury had been sequestered all weekend, and, and reliable sources said that they were finally ready to pronounce a definitive verdict on the football player’s crime.

At 11:30, a small crowd began to gather around Jane’s cube, which was right below the big TV. Minutes later, Pathfinder’s Production Head soon appeared at Jane’s cube, and showed her where the INNOCENT and GUILTY folders resided on the LAN.
“Okay, all you have to do is make sure that the right files go up”, he said. “Just select the right folder” when I say “Go”, and get through those damned confirmation screens as fast as you can”.
“Right”, Jane said.

At 11:59, all of the major networks pre-empted their normal programming, and switched to a live satellite feed from the LA County Courthouse. The OJ jury filed out of its deliberation room, and the foreman began speaking into a microphone.
"We find the defendant OJ Simpson... Not Guilty of the crimes..."
"Go," said the Production Head.

Jane dragged the INNOCENT folder into PowerStager’s “put” window, and hit OK. She rapidly clicked three times more, to get through the confirmation screens. She then switched to Challenger’s home page, and hit “Reload” on her browser.

It was a moment that was just like the expanding, slow-motion, head-through-the-windshield impact of a terrible car crash. All the moments of Jane’s life seemed to pass through the terrible funnel of that frozen five seconds. Time stood still, and there for all the world to see on Challenger’s public servers, was the wrong home page – the one that said “OJ Guilty: LA Police on Alert”.

Jane had just uploaded the wrong fecking file.

“SHIT!”, the Production Head said. “Oh Shit! UPLOAD IT AGAIN. AGAIN.”
Jane repeated the steps in PowerStager. She hit reload again. An interminable moment passed as the browser’s cache refreshed.
“OH, Thank God. Thank God. It’s OK. It’s the right one”, said the Production Head, his face whitish, drained of blood.

A relieved murmer rippled through the room. People started to return to their cubes, although they remained in a state of shock, because few among Challenger’s staff believed that OJ Simpson was innocent of murder.

But within an hour, there was more bad news. Although the OJ GUILTY GIF had been on the public servers for less than fifteen seconds, a user in the Far East had retrieved the file from his cache, posted it to a Web site, and was spamming USENET with news of Challenger’s mistake. All through that terrible afternoon, “OJ GUILTY” mirror sites sprang up all over the Web. By five o’clock, Ruport Murdoch’s own site, iGuide, was running a headline story comparing Challenger’s journalistic fumble to the legendary “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper debacle of 1948.

"Jane," said the Production Head. “We’re going to have to talk about this”.
And with that, he called her into his office, and closed the door.

“What do you mean, I’ve got to appear at a hearing?”, Jane asked the Production Head.
“It’s not a hearing – it’s more of a fact-finding conference”, the man said.
“I don’t think I want to get involved in this.”
“Well, the Editor-in-Chief wants to get to the bottom of this. There’s a lot of fingerpointing going on here – the Editors are blaming the Art Department, the Art Department is blaming the Tech Side, you’re blaming the software, and some people are blaming you.”
“I know the difference between a folder called INNOCENT and one called GUILTY”.
“I believe you, but can you convince them?”
“Look mister. If you’re going to make me the central figure in some kind of an inquest, you’re going to have to pay me a lot more than $25 an hour.”
“What’s your price?”
“It’s high”, the man said, “but I’ll pay it”.
“Yeah, well I’ve got better things to do”, Jane said, and walked down the corridor toward the elevator. She never came back.

Jane was the only one of the various participants in the Great OJ Disaster who refused to attend the grueling, day-long inquest that was held to investigate the incident. As a result, she was fully blamed for the whole thing – one editor speculated that Jane, being a woman, couldn’t bring herself to believe that OJ Simpson was really innocent of murdering his wife. Instead, in a “trancelike state of denial”, she’d acted reflexively, without thinking, and grabbed the wrong folder. One woman at the inquest objected to this interpretation, and suggested that Jane was probably just a closet racist, who just couldn’t handle the truth.

But the inquests final report rejected both of these interpretations, and simply concluded that Jane was an incompetent who should never have been hired in the first place. She was quickly removed from Challenger’s list of “approved” freelancers, and was never called back to the site.

Although PowerStager’s role in The Great OJ Disaster briefly surfaced at the inquest, no one seriously believed that such an elegant piece of software could possibly have mixed up the INNOCENT and GUILTY files, and it was placed in service the next day. All ran well for a couple of weeks, until, one morning, Challenger’s entire site disappeared from the Internet, just after the News Editor updated a small, insignificant file to the public servers. After technicians spent a week restoring the massive site, PowerStager was quietly taken down for “routine maintenance”, and was never returned to service.

Jane, on the other hand, is still in service, and continues to live with her parrot on Waverly Place. She still builds Web sites in New York, and still makes about $30 an hour. She rarely thinks about OJ Simpson, or the Great OJ Disaster, but admits that if she ever saw another copy of PowerStager, she’d run a knife through its heart.

No jury would ever convict her.

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June 13, 2007

The Day That Sydney Schanberg Invited Netslaves' Steve Gilliard to an Editorial Rumble

When Netslaves hired Steve Gilliard as writer and "media operative" in early 2000, we knew that we were in for a wild ride. Gilliard had already proven himself to be a sharp-barbed skewerer on Silicon Alley's WWWAC list, so we knew that whatever he did for Netslaves would likely create enemies. But none of us knew that his first major action for us would be to piss off Sydney Schanberg, one of New York journalism's major luminaries, to the point that Schanberg invited our editorial team to an impromptu riot.

The whole mess began after Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Killing Fields, hooked up with a project called Remember, this was a time when many Old Media journos (including Lou Dobbs) were bailing from their slow-moving Old Media companies and staking their claims in cyberspace. was among the first of Silicon Alley's content startups to get into serious trouble, and when it began to run out of cash in June of 2000, it asked its staff to continue to work for the site for free.

Gilliard saw this as an outrageous assault on the principle that writers should be paid for their work, and immediately attacked APBNews in what he called "An Open Letter to APBNews" He began it with the following passage, which is one of my all-time favorite Steve Gilliard openings:

The crash and burn of was no surprise... except to its employees.

They called you in at 9:30 AM Monday and said it was over. That's right. It went from 140 employees to zero just like that. Management never dealt honestly with their people and were still hiring until the final countdown. They had given you the news after a weekend where you were feted at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel's ballroom. That's one of the best places on earth to eat mediocre hotel food.

The reaction to Gilly's missive was stunned, hurt, and vituperative.'s semi-employed survivors wasted no time lambasting, not for what it wrote, but for the way it was written:

Name: David J. Krajicek
Comment: You see, Mr. Gilliard, APB--however flawed--was a news site peopled by adult journalists. Someone like you, who posts infantile, uninformed screeds, who confuses obscenities with deep thought, who so desperately needs a professional copy editor reading his work, could never understand.

Others supported Gilly, and all day, an escalating flame war consumed the pages of Finallly, Sydney Schanberg himself laid down the challenge:

Name: syd schanberg
Comment: I'd be much more impressed by the brave insults gratuitously spewed at us by Messrs. Gilliard et al if they had the spine and character to come to our news room at 65 Broadway and deliver them in person. Do come. Show us you're really grown-ups. Sincerely, Syd Schanberg

Netslaves' Bill Lessard, somewhat stunned by our close brush with journalistic royalty, asked Schanberg to clarify:

Comment: Syd,
Should we bring baseball bats? Does this mean that you want to rumble? Sorry to sound arch, but if you don't agree with us, that's fine. Call us idiots, dismiss us as sub-literate morons, but don't cheapen yourself with threats.

We didn't hear back from Syd, so we didn't make a move. Maybe we copped out by not grabbing a bunch of hand tools and heading over to 65 Broadway. How tough could Schanberg et al really be? But was the challenger really Schanberg or just an agent provacateur? (this all happened before we installed IP-logging on the site).

I'll always wonder what the outcome of a physical struggle would have been. But we never took Schanberg up on his challenge, because we really didn't know what to bring. Clubs? Bolt-action rifles? Lawyers? So we just pulled down our window shades, made sure that we weren't being followed, snd stayed close to our computers, stoking the virtual fires from Yonkers and East Harlem.

It was clear that Steve Gilliard was unafraid of breaching one of New York journalism's most important but unwritten rules: that you must never, EVER attack one of your own. From that moment on, we knew that Gilliard was a major talent. Having this kind of talent on staff might get us all killed, or at least blacklisted as working journalists, but way back then, when we were young and spry, we just didn't give a damn.

For further informed vitriol on "l'affaire," see Steve Gilliard postings on's demise:

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June 12, 2007

Anti-Gilliard Blogger Impales Herself on Her Own Posts

No, Steve Gilliard didn't reach out from beyond the grave to "take out" a Blogger who posted racist remarks about Steve while cashing an ABC paycheck for WKRN, a radio station in Nashville, Tennessee. This person, whose name is Brittney Gilbert, reposted vicious remarks about Steve that I will not repeat here. While she did not write these words, she posted them without distancing herself from them, and in her farewell message, she side-stepped her own responsibility by blaming the Blogosphere and calling it "a mean place."

Let me tell you something, Brittney Gilbert. The Blogosphere isn't "a mean place;" it's just transparent. If you make an outrageous, indefensible statement, or repost same without putting it into the proper context, it will come back to haunt you. John Lennon called this "instant Karma" but I'm almost positive you've never heard of him. You can play the victim game all you want but unless you accept some personal responsibility here, you will continue to misunderstand this game and will likely repeat your mistake again and again.

This isn't a left vs. right wing thing, Ms. Gilbert. It's about the limits of acceptable discourse in a civil society. Believe it or not, there are actually ways you can express disagreement with a point without resorting to name-calling or epithets. Please try to find them, and remember: the Web isn't a consequence-free video game, regardless of which corporate logo you wear on your sweater.

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June 11, 2007

NPR Pays Tribute to Steve Gilliard

There's an excellent radio piece on Steve Gilliard's life and work on NPR's Web site. This 2-minute segment was produced by Farai Chideya. You can listen to it online.

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Updates to the Netslaves Archive

I was busy over the weekend digging up more ancient content that Steve Gilliard wrote for in its early years. I've found a lot of material and will be restoring it in chunks as time permits. So here's a chunk of vintage Steve Gilliard content from early 2001. More to come soon! (Note: If you want to see all of the articles that were written for Netslaves in this time period (not just Gilly's contributions), please inspect The Netslaves Archive.) If you want to know which of these articles is my personal favorite, it's definitely Valentine's Day: The Meaning of Hell (What To Do On the Most Miserable Day of the Year?)

This week's restored Steve Gilliard Articles:
A list of Steve's pre-February 2001 articles for is available here.

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June 07, 2007

Is a Ghost Site?, a site against which fought a disastrous war which ended in 2003 with the destruction of, appears to finally have succumbed to the forces of entropy. Its once-popular Bulletin Board now yields a "Server Not Found" message. Word on the street is that Phil Kaplan, AKA "Pud" agreed to muzzle to smooth the acquisition process for his ad company, Adbrite, which is now backed by Sequoia Capital, a fabulously wealthy VC firm.

Steve Gilliard thought a lot of Pud, and became the most popular site of the so-called "post-boom" dotcom era. But it's time has passed, and Phil Kaplan has reconstituted himself as an online ad baron. Good: Phil worked hard enough, although I remain critical of the way he ran his board. Everyone is entitled to a few sour grapes.

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June 06, 2007

More on Steve Gilliard from the Netslaves Archives

I was rummaging through an old, uncompleted draft of a "History of" document that's been languishing online since the Summer of 2003. You can read this document here but you'll probably find most of it boring (unless you're a true Netslaves freak).

I was chuckling about the section I wrote about Gilly. Here it is:


Steve Gilliard's arrival on the Netslaves List in January of 1999 portended a different brand of change for the site's stream of text. Robin Miller might have been the wise old uncle in the trailer, but Gilliard represented a new, hitherto unseen urban breed of tough-typing, take-no-shit tech journalists inspired by such editorial firebrands as Jimmy Breslin and Murray Kempton.

A Harlem denizen whose DIY ethos and low toleration for being lied to had already made him enemies on New York's influential World Wide Web Artists' Consortium Mailing List, Steve Gilliard would soon become's most prolific writer. He would also figure prominently in the most critical, traumatic moments the site would experience in the next few years - especially in 2002. The tone Gilliard set - the voice of a man who had seen it all and who plainly had had enough of it, would significantly influence the site's sharp-edged tone in its first year of operation. It would also frequently antagonize people who felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had a particular personal animus against them.

Here is a classic example of a Gilliard-ism directed toward Micheal Wolff - the author of 'Burn Rate' - that appeared on the List in January of 1999:

Well, I can discount the asshole factor as well. But, he's both wrong and an asshole. Around NY, his book, Burn Rate, is widely regarded as fiction. I don't know anyone who takes him seriously in NY. David Futrelle, Austin Bunn, and a number of people I've interviewed for an article on Wolff, have absolutely no respect for his opinions.

He's little better than John Scully. A failed manager selling his expertise.

Gilliard minced no words, suffered no fools, nor did he give an inch when challenged. While others were sleeping, or watching TV, or trying to forget about the scandal-ridden inequity of the New Economy, he was up. Often, like Miller, his responses to queries were borderline brusque one-liners that made your brain bristle with what certainly appeared to be arrogance. He painted a picture of himself as a guy you didn't want to cross - on a list such as [site], on a Web site, or presumably, on East 118th Street. If he didn't like what you had to say, he'd one-line it, and throw it back in your face - a brusqueness that some find hard to take. In person, offline, in public, it was another matter. Gentle, circumspect, more nuanced and more forgiving than any amount of text-parsing of his online toughness would ever indicate.

On the NS List, poised, at any hour of the day or night, to strike at anything that set off his bullshit alarm, Gilliard was fierce, hyperactive and dug deep enough to bring forward something from the vast data pit of the Web good to resonate with the peculiar space the community was in.

Gilliard was the best that Netslaves had - a tiger who wanted, more deeply than anybody the authors had so far encountered - to do journalism online - with a vengeance. He was also one of those people who seemed to never sleep (Baldwin, who had lived in East Harlem during the early 1990's, speculated that the reason that he was online so much was to escape from the streets, which rolled up at night in that part of the world, making any physical move into RL a potentially deadly experience).

There was a mystique about him that you couldn't really beat. When UrbanExpose's John Lee stepped from behind the shadows, Gilliard knew exactly who he was. He was relentless, omnipresent, like, as Lessard would describe him, 'an angry Burt Lancaster'.

Regardless of the cause underlying his restless, hyperactive online behavior, Gilliard's emergence brought with it a broadening of the site's content beyond the close world of the back-office into the far more frightening world of military history, sports issues, and sex - a subject that Gilliard was as willing to broach as Robin Miller. He had learned his online ettiquete late, from mailing lists, USENET, and on his own. The authors - older, steeped in outmoded, Compuserve and Prodigy-era administration rules - sometimes could not understand it. But they tolerated it, because Gilliard was, from the very beginning of the NS List, the mainspring of discussion. He was there - all the time - and he kept the posts flowing.

By March of 1999, discussions on the list had trashed (or at least violently deconstructed) Jeff Bezos, Joe Firmage, Candace Carpenter, Bill Gates, Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, and Michael Wolff. Popular conversational topics included worker discontent at, volunteer discontent at AOL, and Other, more peaceful threads discussed movies, music, and books. Polls included 'Are You a Slob?', 'Your Longest Day, 'Your Shortest Job', and 'The Worst Part of Your Day'.

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New York Times Obituary: Steve Gilliard

The New York Times posted an obituary for Steve Gilliard on its Web site; this notice also appeared in the Times' print edition. A few days ago, I suggested that the mainstream media would completely ignore Steve's passing; I am very glad that I was completely wrong about this.

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June 05, 2007

Donations for Steve Gilliard's Funeral

Steve Gilliard wrote his heart out for the Web but never made a lot of money. There will be a service for him in Harlem this week and funerals are expensive. If you want to donate to his funeral fund, please visit his Website and click on the PayPal icon. All monies go directly to his family.

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Steve Gilliard May Be Deleted From

This one just makes me sad. Steve Gilliard's Wikipedia entry is being considered for deletion. His detractors insist that because he wrote for the Web, he isn't noteworthy enough to remain there.

Fear not, Steve, wherever you are. Your memory will live on here and on other sites whose admins know who you were. Those Wikipedia weenies can go to Hell.

(Update 6/5/07 5:48 PM EST: The "subject to deletion" notice has been removed from Steve's entry. Thanks to the Wikipedia gatekeepers for letting sanity prevail).

More on Steve Gilliard, including my memories of him and a list of articles he wrote for, here.

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June 03, 2007

Remembering Steve Gilliard (1964-2007), a "Web Writer and Damn' Proud of It"

Steve Gilliard, 1996-2007
Steve Gilliard at the Netslaves 2.0 launch party, February 2003. Photo by Teri Baldwin.

The mainstream world of media has never taken Bloggers seriously, and I very much doubt that they'll take the news of the death of Steve Gilliard, at the very young age of 41, as anything more than a transitory blip on their antiquated radar screens.

I had a chance to work closely with Steve for several years back in the late 1990s and early 00s. Myself and Bill Lessard had hatched an unlikely plan for a Web property called At the beginning we wrote all the content ourselves, but began opening up the doors to our readers, and then, to voices that we believed echoed our main concerns at the time, which can be summed up in the statement "something's rotten in Silicon Alley." This kind of statement was heresy in 1998: everybody was getting rich and the "Long Boom" future seemed infinite.

Steve was the first writer to come forward as a regular contributor to Netslaves. He wrote for the site brilliantly and prolifically from 1998 until 2003, when the site closed. His heroes were Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Breslin, and George Patton. His prose was terse, direct, and in-your-face. He was an iconoclast who did not suffer fools lightly. His words brimmed with fire and anger: he, perhaps better than any of us, could see where the maniacal boom was heading, and he had zero tolerance for bullshit or evasion.

Steve was also an amazing financial analyst, and his series, "How to Read a 10Q," was one of the most popular regular features on Every week or so during the height of the shake-out, Steve would perform a forensic autopsy on a particularly benighted dot-com, and the results were both horrifying and hilarious (sadly, this material did not survive Netslaves' transition to a BBS in 2003). He could have become rich by proferring such insights to paying customers, but he chose to give them away to the world. I tried to push Steve into writing a book based on the "How to Read a 10Q" series, and he liked the idea, but there just weren't enough resources to push this idea through, although I'll go to my grave believing that such a book would have been a success.

As morphed from an e-zine to a bulletin board, Steve's role changed. He continued to write for the site, but also became frequently embroiled in flames between members, especially those between two pseudonymous characters named "Uncle Meat" and "Cheopys" who had recently defected from Phil Kaplan's In the Spring of 2003, I went to Rochester for a week and left Steve in charge of the Netslaves boards, and while I was away things spun out of control. Although I can't remember what the issue was, Steve ran out of patience with both Cheopys and Uncle Meat and banned them both from the site, as well as a group of their sympathizers.

I was very angry at Steve for what I believed to be the rash action he took against these two prominent Netslaves community members, and argued vainly with my business partner, Bill, that his actions should be reversed, but Bill sided with Steve, and so the site basically imploded. The investment of many thousands of hours, dollars, and dreams of building a lasting presence on the Web went up in smoke. Within six months, I was living on a $3 a day starvation diet and emptying dumpsters to keep alive, and Bill was waiting tables at a catering hall. It took both of us years to get back into the Web business, and I know that I blamed Steve for being the cause of's self-destruction for a long time. (For those interested in the sickening blow-by-blow of's demise, read Forgotten Web Celebrities: Netslaves' Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard).

In retrospect, it's easy to see that it wasn't Steve's fault. Management (myself and Bill) should have just let Steve do what he did best: write, investigate, and think, and left the moderation to others. But Steve did enjoy "mixing it up on the boards," and was a hell of a flame warrior who could "dish it out and take it." It's sad that his best discussions didn't survive the site migration. I know they live on a hard drive somewhere and perhaps they'll reemerge someday. In the meantime, there's a lot of Steve that lives on at The Netslaves Museum and I encourage you to take a look at some of his classic articles about worklife in the New Economy.

In a way, I'm glad that's implosion happened when it did. After the events of 9/11/2001, it had been impossible to keep the site on target. The entire "New Economy," at least in New York, had been destroyed, everybody was out of work, and consequently there was less and less for Netslaves to talk about. Steve also wanted to write about global issues and Netslaves was too narrowly focused on workplace and tech issues for him to spread his wings and really fly. But fly he did, first to the DailyKos, and then to his own news Blog, which became very popular. At last, Steve was where he belonged: in the upper reaches of the Blogosphere, where he could confront evils far greater than those offered by Silicon Alley.

We didn't talk or e-mail each other much in the past few years, but I continued to read Steve, following his rise from obscurity to new-found influence in the burgeoning liberal Blogosphere. I always found his work exciting, provocative, and on the mark.

Steve really soared in his incarnation as a "Fighting Liberal Blogger," and I'd like to think that Netslaves served as a kind of Blogging Farm Team that had a hand in conditioning his raw talent and eventually producing a legendary home-run hitter. I'm only sorry we weren't able to pay him as much as he deserved, but Bill and myself (who worked on Netslaves without a salary) rarely had a spare nickle to spend on anything, and I'm glad that we did pay him whatever we could whenever there was money in the till. I am very glad that this latter work received much more exposure among his peers -- the new generation of Bloggers that have risen as a major alternative media force.

Steve and I didn't always agree with each other. In fact, Steve was often a royal pain in my ass. As the editor of the site, I found it maddening that Steve refused to use spell-checking software, and I used to grind my teeth when he went "off topic" or "off message" or took a position that I considered to be extreme. And my jaw repeatedly dropped when Steve introduced himself at conferences or in his bio as "The Editor of" What was I, a potted plant?

So Steve and I had our "issues" but that's always the case when you work with real talent. Steve was a rare, independent mind with a fierce, uncompromising soul, and that's why we hired him. If we had wanted pap or tripe, we'd have hired somebody else. He had heart, soul, brains, and the kind of drive you rarely find in a writer today. I will always remember him fondly. In 2000 and 2001, Steve became's most powerful, articulate voice, and I'm glad to say that much of thie early, formative work is preserved at the Netslaves Archive.

I am proud to have known Steve and his companion and co-author Jen during their formative years as Web voices. I hope that the rest of the Blogging community, even those who are not Left-wing, appreciates his contribution to the Web. He was a pioneer, a truth-teller, and in person, a very nice guy. Steve inspired me in my own work and I know that he inspired others, and this energy will not be lost, but will continue to flow through all of our connected synapses and joined hearts. He was "a Web Writer and Damned proud of it," and to me and a lot of people like me, this epitaph means something.

Rest in peace, my fellow teammate, Web Writer, and brother Steve.


Surviving Steve Gilliard Articles at the Netslaves Museum
I wish I could share with you all the great articles Steve Gilliard wrote for Netslaves, but many of them were lost when the site migrated to a BBS format in early 2002. Fortunately, I was able to save many of Steve's early works, and this list comprises his contributions from June of 2000 to February of 2001. These articles are arranged chronologically, because Steve often wrote multi-part articles. These articles capture Steve in fine form, and highlight an aspect of his character that many may have missed from his postings on DailyKos and elsewhere: the fact that he had pretty good "geek" credentials (check out his story on building his own PC from scratch), and that he had a softer, introspective side (Winter Wonderland). He also had an absolutely wicked sense of humor, which came into play whenever he confronted and skewered the many clueless miscreants of Web 1.0.

These articles come in three groups: those articles written for The Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve's "Between the Lies" column, and articles once the site gradated to an automated posting system that also allowed comments. They show the evolution of Steve's writing, and provide a hint of the greater glories to come when he left and staked his claim in the larger Blogosphere.

Steve Gilliard-authored articles written for "The Netslaves Combat Manual."

These are the earliest articles Steve wrote for the site, and they were contributed before the site allowed for commenting.

Steve Gilliard's "Between the Lies" Series Written for

After adding much to the Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve was given his own regular column, which he called "Between the Lies."

Steve's Articles for Netslaves' "General Topic" section, March 2000 - February 2001
These articles include comments from Netslaves users.

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May 21, 2007

Ghosts of the Razorfish Subnetwork

To celebrate Microsoft's announced acquisition of aQuantive, a company which is the corporate successor to famed Silicon Alley agency Razorfish, we bring you this tour of the Razorfish Subnetwork, which first ran on Ghost Sites in May of 2005.

The Razorfish Subnetwork was an underground channel maintained by the legendary Silicon Alley Web design company Razorfish.

The idea behind the subnetwork was to serve as a kind of "playground" to test new and cool stuff that wouldn't alienate Razorfish's growing list of A-level clients such as Time-Warner. If any of the ideas gathered sufficient buzz, it might even break free of the subnetwork to become its own self-sustaining Web property. The subnetwork, in other words, was an online "incubator," from which something good might hatch.

I inspected the current state of the Razorfish subnetwork recently, and found it to have many of the worst earmarks of bitrot and cyber-decay. For the first time, its pages are defaced by sleazy ads promoting cheap loans, cheap love, and risky poker games. One cannot concieve of Jeff Dachis and Craig Kanarick, Razorfish's founders, approving of these commercial intrusions. But, of course, Dachis and Kanarick are long gone, leaving their prized interactive playpen to vending vipers. And while the subnetwork's various Flash animation features continue to function, including Brain Girl, Central Toilet, and the Pod People, none of them have been updated since sometime in 2002, which suggests that this incubator is no longer functioning, and that the eggs within it will never hatch.

Still, for those who appreciate late-1990's CyberKitsch, this ghostly subnetwork is an interesting place to spend a few idle minutes. One can almost hear the delightful squeals that must have emenated from Razorfish's cubicles when "Brain Girl" made her surreal, Keith Haringesque entrance into our collective consciousness, or when Central Toilet first flushed, or when the Pod People first delighted the goateed, black-clad digirati within Razorfish's senior management.

Today, with the benefit of many years hindsight, these "cutting-edged intereactive animations" just look like sad, amateurish early experiments made by overworked designers stealing time from the real business of Razorfish, which was to become the J. Walter Thompson of the online world. One really wonders why these artifacts of the mid-1990's are still hanging around, except, as is the case with many sites on the Boulevard of Broken Links, they are preserved because someone, somewhere, hopes their aesthetic merit will, one sweet day, be finally appreciated.

If you wait around long enough, it's been said, everything comes back into fashion. But I don't think we've yet arrived at the day, and I often wonder whether it will occur in any of our own lifetimes.

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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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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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June 18, 2006

Razorfish Subnetwork Devolves Into Porn

Ghost Sites wrote about the Razorfish Subnetwork last year when we discovered its ghostly remains. The Razorfish Subnetwork (RSUBOX) was, of course, launched by Razorfish's original creative team, many years before the famous NY-based interactive agency underwent a series of often painful metamorphoses which ultimately resulted in it becoming Avenue A Razorfish, a firm that does far less creative but more lucrative things today(such as Search Marketing).

It was nice to view the old Subnetwork site and to know that somebody had taken care to preserve its prehistoric Web artifacts, but lately, its owners (whoever they may be) have converted it into a portal running sexually explicit text ads (don't go there if you're likely to be offended by such text).

This can hardly be the fate that its original owners intended for it. Sad, sad sad...

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June 10, 2006 Is Virtually Embalmed

Remember It was a somewhat pretentious New York-based e-zine which, at least for a time, epitomized "way new" Web-publishing. UD ran smoothly from 1994 to 1998, stuttered to a halt, was revamped as a surreal repository of first-gen interactive art, and then, sometime in 2002, turned into a permenant morgue for Urban Desire's first three years of content.

It's a bit strange to study this ghost site, which has been been dead far longer than it ever was alive. Was UD's content sufficiently weighty to justify this sort of everlasting headstone? Evidently its publishers think so and perhaps that's enough. There's more than enough to look at in this archive to inform us of the feverish 1990's zeitgeist.

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August 08, 2005

More Amazing Kozmo Artifacts

A kindly correspondent in Massachusetts reports that a large truck full of Kozmo-related promotional merchandise recently appared at an MIT flea market. Of this load, he acquired a helmet, a video drop off box, and a collection of caps. He took some amazing photos of this gear, which he has put up on his Web site. This collection may be the world's largest stash of historical Kozmo gear - a cornucopia for any connisseur of cyber-kitsch!

Kozmo is dead, but will likely be remembered for a long time. I don't know if you've ever spent much time studyingvideo drop off boxes but they rust very slowly.

For more on Kozmo, please read: Surreal Echoes of the 1990's

Cyber-Nostalgia: Why the Web Still Weeps For

Raiders of the Lost Files

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June 28, 2005

Aliza Sherman Clarifies the Record

Aliza Sherman, who I had written about recently for Ghost Site's "Forgotten Web Celebrity" series, sent me an e-mail with a number of corrections and clarifications to my original article, viewable here.
She writes:

Ah, the high price of pseudo-cyber-fame!

Thank you so much for your kind words on "Ghostsites." Loved your embellishments ("she stripped off her Armani business suit and revealed the cape to a stunned crowd, running her hands over it as if she were stroking the future itself.") You encapsulated my Internet experience beautifully.

Just wanted to make a few factual corrections.

1. "She ran a large gender-specific network called "Cybergrrls" with 100 local affiliates."

Actually, the networking organization was called Webgrrls International. The company was Cybergrrl, Inc. and we consulted companies such as Estee Lauder and Avon, JANE magazine, and built one of the first custom shopping carts for the very first web site for Dr. Atkins.

2. "Then, on a dark morning in March, 2000, when the NASDAQ took its first precipitous dip towards the stygian depths, her once-glittering
career hit the very same wall that pulverized the dreams of so many first-generation cyber-visionaries."

I actually left Cybergrrl in 1999 due to a business partner dispute - turned over all assets, stocks and ownership to the corporation and tried to start another online venture -, a bilingual site for Latina professionals. THEN the market crashed and we gave back our angel funding ($250K) and licked our financial wounds.

3. "Aliza made what in retrospect was her smartest career move: she left town and moved to a place about as far from cyber-hype as you can get: Alaska."

Actually, I left NYC in September 2000 in an old RV I purchased off the Internet and drove around the country for over a year ( In the meanwhile, two more of my books were published so I turned the trip into an extended, self-financed book tour. The books were "Cybergrrl@Work" (Penguin Putnam) and "PowerTools for Women in Business" (Entrepreneur Media). I am currently working on a book about blogging for Adams Media and also developing a book about miscarriage and another book about my solo RV adventure.

Then 9/11 happened while I was enroute back to Manhattan. I took a detour and ended up settling down in Wyoming for 4 years (1st Cheyenne, then Laramie and Lander). During that time, I took a 9-5 job with state government doing PR for 2 years, started my own Internet/PR consulting firm for a year, then began producing a 12-part documentary series for the local PBS television station. I also did freelance radio work for the local NPR station and freelance writing for publications such as ENTREPRENEUR during that time. I am still a freelance writer ( among other things.

Finally married (late 30s) and just moved a little over 2 WEEKS ago to Alaska. Recently started a film production and media company with my husband (Moonbow Productions, Inc. - and am in production on my first independent documentary film - about miscarriage. I have some other film ideas in development but the miscarriage documentary - "babyfruit" - is in production.

Like one of my idols, Madonna, I continually reinvent myself, looking for ways to work independently, creatively and passionately and hopefully empowering and inspiring others in the process.

And check out my recent cover story on My Business magazine ( where I talk about the high price of "fame." Not bad for a cyber ghost!

All the best,

Aliza Sherman Risdahl


June 27, 2005 Surreal Echoes of the 1990's

Back in late 2003, I was overjoyed to discover a trove of ancient digital artifacts stowed aboard the servers of, the ad agency that ran Kozmo's advertising campaigns. Sadly, as a reader recently pointed out to me, in recent months's admins have purged the site of all of this historical matter, which is a great loss to all of us who wish to study the rise and fall of, one of the few sites that continue to inspire widespread affection among its former customers.

Fortunately, all is not lost. The Internet Archive has a partial, but still revealing collection of Kozmo's ad campaign-related artifacts, including the following:

The classic Kozmo Metrocard
Imagine showing up at a subway token booth with one of these babies today. You'd either get slapped or hugged by the token clerk!

Kozmo's Classic Urinal Ad
One thing I'll say about those DeMassimo people: they sure did know how to inspire gender-based hatred back in the 1990's. What a hot ad agency!

Kozmo's Classic Women's Room Ad
Who could claim that we're not an enligthened culture when both men and women view each other with the same degree of contempt? Now that's equality!

Kozmo's Business Card, Phone Booth Ad, Messenger Uniform
Kozmo's little orange business card is really quite elegant looking. But is that little man running or falling? Also, note the Kozmo phone booth ad whose copy reads "Dirk Diggler and Fresh Samantha," a reference to a character in the 1997 film Boogie Nights and a fresh fruit drink that was evidently popular in the 1990's). Also on this page is an image (blurry, of course) showing a typical Kozmo messenger's distinctive orange uniform and bag.

Kozmo's Jumbotron Copy
Imagine this: it's 1999 and you're on your way to a Cocktails with Courtney party. You've just gotten out of the subway at Times Square, using your Kozmo Metrocard. You reach into your wallet to make sure you have enough Kozmo business cards, and then you look UP and there's Kozmo, on the Jumbotron! What could be more exciting?

Being almost run over by the bus, of course!

If you're interested in reading more about Kozmo, you can read Cyber-Nostalgia: Why the Web Still Weeps for, published in Ghost Sites in May of 2004. Some of its links to EBay areas and Craigs List postings have, however, been broken with the passage of time.

Note: when I first wrote about the DiMassino archive, I was approached by at least one person who claimed to have actually captured the famous Kozmo Lee Majors TV ad and the Kozmo radio spots from If you are out there and actually have these files, please contact me. Kozmo's history is rapidly disappearing from the Internet and obtaining these files would be of great interest to me, as well as to future Web and cultural historians who will wonder, fifty or a hundred years from now, what all the hoopla was about.

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June 04, 2005

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Netslaves' Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard

The Web 1.0 Golden Era (1995-2000) may have had its share of bird-brained ideas, but none more ridiculous than, a preposterously grandiose attempt to document the lives of dotcom workers that most people barely remember today.

Unlike many dotcoms, which were launched with great hopes for the future, was a final act of desperation on the part of its authors, Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard, who had recently had their book proposal turned down by several prominent New York book agents. "This would make a fine magazine article," said one, "but it's not a book." Cyberpundit Michael Wolff said it even better: "cute idea, but you'll never make any money from it."

Oblivious to such sagacious advice, the authors launched the site in October of 1998, and when a couple of screwy online magazines linked to it, they convinced an agent who should have known better that the project had "buzz." Within two weeks, they had a book deal - proof that the Web's power, at least in the year 1998, had the power to cloud otherwise sane peoples' mind.

Once the writing of the book was behind them, the authors began expanding the threadbare content on, most notably by hiring Steve Gilliard, who years later would rise to enormous fame as one of the Web's most renowned political bloggers, to write for the site.

For a while, everything worked, because Gilliard's logomaniacal articles kept's content fresh, plus the fact that there were enough angry IT workers to provide a continuous stream of content. New features, some funny, some embarrassingly sophomoric, were added to the site with dizzying speed. At some point along the line, a "comment on this" feature was added to each article on, which transformed what had been a quiet little electronic e-zine into what at times seemed to be a boiling pit of hair-pulling rage and brooding cyber-despair.

The authors would have been well-advised to keep the way it was. Steve Gilliard's razor-tipped posts succeeded in pissing just about everybody in Silicon Alley off, which generated great traffic but caused Baldwin and Lessard to become instant industry pariahs, destroying their chances of finding anyone to pay them for their writing. Still, the period of 2000-2001, when Gilliard wrote for Netslaves on a daily basis, was its high point.

Unfortunately, in 2000, just as the dotcom bubble began to collapse, a site called was launched which was much better at revealing the white-hot rage of investors and dotcom workers than was ever designed to do. Overnight, whatever marginal Web celebrity status Baldwin and Lessard once enjoyed evaporated when Phil Kaplan, who ran, was anointed the avatar of Web-based negativity by the mainstream media.

Enraged, envious, oblivious, the authors attempted to fight back against by launching a bulletin board of their own and merging with a low-rent dotcom gossip site called But the game was over before it began, because Phil Kaplan would simply mobilize his thousands of anonymous minions to mob the Netslaves board, post porn, spam, and otherwise "troll" it whenever it suited him, which was most of the time. Once someone from FC (and we'll never know who it was) hacked into the site, jamming it completely. If we'd been contentious, we'd have sued, but who? Phil Kaplan wasn't a saint, but he had his nose to the ground and we were all on the same side, ultimately, in the way that's conveyed at a funeral.

Defeated, but too pigheaded to simply give up, the authors tried one more ploy: they attempted to poach's best writers, who were clearly unhappy with the purile, juvenile prose written by 95 percent of the people who posted there. This strategy seemed to work, especially after Cheopys and Uncle Meat, two of FuckedCompany's most erudite posters, decided to take up residence on in late 2001.

For about four months, was actually winning its pointless war with, but then, in June of 2002, the corruscating online flame wars between Uncle Meat and Cheopys grew to such an intensity that Steve Gilliard, who, ill-advisedly, had been granted the power to ban people from the bulletin board who pissed him off, banned Cheopys for the rest of his natural life.

Baldwin pleaded with Gilliard to let Cheopys stay, but Gilliard would not relent, nor would Lessard support Baldwin in his efforts to restore Cheopys' membership. Within a very short time, so many users had defected in sympathy that soon found itself empty of anything resembling robust authentic discourse, and while the site limped on for another year, it was never the same, and closed in June of 2003.*

There are several lessons in the sordid saga of which aspiring Web proprietors would do well to study. First among these is this: if you're running an e-zine and it's working, experiment with commenting carefully, because it can completely screw up your editorial mission. If you do make the fateful decision to add a bulletin board to your site, be very careful about who you give administration rights to, because your best blogger might just turn out to be the Sysop from Hell, and once the damage is done, it's likely to be irreparable. Finally, do not ever let the notion that you are popular and powerful enter your mind, for pride always goes before a fall, and once you've fallen, nobody on the Web will ever let you forget it.

* Note 06/07/05: I have received e-mail from a former user of who wishes to take issue with me over this statement. In his view, there was actually a "content renaissance" which took place after Cheopys was exiled in June of 2002 which, had the authors' correctly perceived its importance, might have led to a much happier outcome. I will leave the sentence as I first wrote it, but agree that the statement " soon found itself empty of anything resembling robust authentic discourse" was probably overstated, and erred by overlooking the contributions of users such as the correspondent, who did engage in such discourse. Unfortunately, no data was preserved from this period of the site's operations (even by the Internet Archive), making it far too easy to overlook these contributions.

Which leads to another interesting lesson: if you want your words to survive your site's destruction, don't use ASP to power your Bulletin Board - just won't archive it!

Update: 06/08/05

Another former NS member offers an insightful message that adds much to the historical record:

I would like to add my $.02 about the Netslaves demise: I always thought that the downfall was due to the content straying from tech issues to political issues. I lost interest in the site when the articles turned into "Why can't Liberals tell the truth," followed by "Why can't conservatives tell the truth." I personally don't find such writing on a tech site to be at all interesting. Also, when sites stray into the political, Hiroshima-style firefights inevitably follow, as they did on Netslaves. After that happened, RIP Netslaves.

I still miss Netslaves. I haven't found another site that tackles tech and lifestyle issues in the same way. The article on that appears in the archived snippet recently posted on Ghostsites is a good example. I also found the reporting on bogus employment agencies that appeared at the tail end of the Netslaves run to be excellent. I agree that there was a content resurgence on the site during its last months.

One note: I think a lot of people found out about your site via its mention in the ultimate house organ for dot-com self-aggrandizement: Fast Company Magazine.

I found your comments about Pud to be interesting. was interesting for its first year or so, but since then has been a sewer of racism, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, and even support for terrorists. Has anyone ever explored who the source of this crap is? Is it Kaplan himself? I wish we still had Netslaves around to explore issues like that. I might even write that article myself if I had an outlet for it.

(name omitted to save him from assault by the Spam Spiders)

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June 02, 2005

Forgotten Web Celebrities: Courtney Pulitzer

Once upon a time, a woman named Courtney Pulitzer, descendant of the famed journalist Joseph Pulitzer, became the most influential woman in Silicon Alley, and the most important Web Celebrity in New York.

Her beginnings were modest: in the early 1990's, she'd been a Web designer working for a small company with a couple of Madison Avenue clients. Shortly thereafter, she wrote a social column for @NY, a New York-based technology magazine with no real circulation beyond its Web site. But on August 9, 1995, Netscape went public, opening up an invisible channel linking the billions of dollars gathering lint in the pockets of Wall Street brokers with the Manhattan-based, mouse-wielding entrepreneurs who bravely stepped forward to spend it.

Music and revolution were in the air, and Courtney, pounding out her social column in her cramped cube, could clearly sense the changes in Manhattan's mood. One night, she ventured out into the darkness to sample this new world, awash in money, sex, and the sweet madness that only gathers when fabulously wealthy young people stride into the night to claim it as their own.

Being an attractive woman in a world where most men's experience of females came from the thumb-smeared advice columns of Maxim or the pixelated images of hard-core porn sites, Courtney found it easy to infiltrate the lavish parties given by freshly-minted Alley-based startups. She began carrying a notebook, and jotted down who was seen with whom, what they ate, what they drank, and what they talked about. She transferred her musings into an email newsletter she named The Cyber Scene and began firing it out to people she knew.

To the socially-starved geeks of New York, The Cyber Scene newsletter was a refreshing alternative to the flame wars, sanctimonious posturing, and mind-numbing, nit-picking technical squabbles that were endemic on New York's New Media mailing lists. The Cyber Scene's writing might have seemed goofy to those whose only daily chuckle came from studying broken IP packets, but most people loved it because it gave to each of them the sense that they weren't just cube-bound Netslaves trapped in a world of bits, but members of a "scene" with a world-historical mission. Membership soared and The Cyber Scene quickly became the most widely-forwarded newsletter in Silicon Alley.

For the next year, like some latter-day reincarnation of J.J. Hunsecker or Walter Winchell, Courtney Pulitzer raced up and down Manhattan in a limousine, chronicling the gin-soaked, IPO-stoked hedonism of New York's ascendant class of 20-somethings, telling told the world Who was Who. Her breathlessly hectic nightly journeys were best documented in a Business Week article entitled "Six Parties a Night? It's a Living."

But going to other people's parties wasn't enough for Courtney. She soon launched her own branded parties, dubbed "Cocktails with Courtney." These parties glued together the money men, the mouse-and-modem men, and the young women with dollar signs in their eyes who hoped to hook up with them, no matter how drunk they got, and were an instant success among the paper-rich and cyber-horny.

People - those with money and those who wanted it - flocked to the parties, and soon Pulitzer had become a Web celebrity in her own right. "In just a year," wrote Red Herring, "rubbing shoulders with Ms. Pulitzer and her cohorts has become a de rigeur for established executives and hopeful entrepreneurs alike." Wrote Business 2.0: "Courtney's monthly cocktail event is known as the newcomers' first stop when making their way inside the business and social network of the alley."

At the height of her fame as "hostess to tomorrow's billionaires," The New Yorker, whose coverage of the Internet had always been execrable, ran a full-page spread of her wearing a full-length, fire-engine red evening gown. At a black-tie dinner, Mayor Rudi Guiliani called her "Manhattan's Breath of Fresh Air." Soon she was hosting parties not just in New York, but in Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco. America seemed completely smitten by her hospitality -- would not the world be next?

Of course, that's not the way it worked out. When the NASDAQ peaked and fell in March of 2000, all of the partying stopped, and the big Internet hangover began. For someone like Courtney Pulitzer, who had done nothing to challenge the media's definition of her as "Silicon Alley's ultimate party girl," her suffering must have been acute.

Still, she tried to persevere. She turned her back on the party scene and tried to organize nanotechnology conferences. She archived the many hundreds of pictures taken at her parties and offered them to the world as a gift. She even launched a site called, a wistful gesture to a world that no longer cared about her.

Her own site, Courtney Pulitzer Creations, is looking more than a little melencholy these days. CyberScene TV, a cable TV channel she attempted to launch, is completely dysfunctional and replete with broken links., a site prominently linked to from within her site, has been decomissioned. Her press clips area has not been updated in five years. And perhaps most sadly, her most recent CyberScene newsletter bears the date stamp of August 6th, 2004.

To many, Courtney Pulitzer is an unforgivable icon of yesterday: a painful time which the world, especially those still active in the technology industry, would prefer to pretend never happened. But those who witnessed the once-in-a-lifetime madness that overtook New York in the late 1990's, a hallucinogenic fever which had not happened since the Jazz age, will never forget her.

She beyond all the others realized that the real business of networking has nothing to do with RJ-45 connectors or Ethernet cards or Web sites or business plans, but with people, flawed, driven, desperately lonely, crowded into tight spaces, played upon by dancing blue lights, intoxicated by liquor, speaking in strange tongues of the future: America's one and only real God, that invisible force that can be placated only by work, a smile and a handshake, or a well-placed bet on a Lotto ticket or a penny-stock.

Times and technologies may change, but the principle that Courtney Pulitzer discovered is forever unalterable. Using nothing more high-tech than old-fashioned gossip, an unquenchable instinct to party and a brilliant smile, she was the one who made much of what became New York's New Media scene happen for as long a time as Fate would allow it.

Unfortunately, as Walter Winchell noted, "nothing recedes like success."

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June 01, 2005

Ghosts of the Webby Awards

God help us, the Webby Awards are happening in New York next week, so it's perhaps appropriate to take a look back at some Award-winning sites from a few years ago which, despite all the Webby confetti showered on them, haven't survived.

In 2000, there were 135 sites nominated for awards; today most of them are still in existence, which isn't that extraordinary, given that the Webby Awards do a very poor job of awarding any underground Web content at all. Instead, they spend a lot of time awarding well-established sites such as,,,,,, etc., and pay lip service to a very short list of outsiders so that they appear to be open-minded.

This kind of mutual back-patting and cronyism among New Media "players" has always been an earmark of the Webbies; cynics will note that award-giving to media outlets is nothing more than a way to ensure that the people who get them will prominently place news of their award status on their home pages, which will raise the profile of the Webbies (something this organization desparately needs these days).

FWIW, I actually went to a Webbie Award ceremony; one of the first, back in the late 1990's. Back then, it was a big-budgeted affair held at New York's Webster Hall. The ceremonies were long, boring, and painful to listen to, and by the time they were half-concluded, the smell of powerful marijuana (every third or fourth person in the audience seemed to be lighting up) was so powerful that I actually had to leave. I'll never forgive myself for missing George Clinton's Interstellar Spaceship, which landed much later in the evening, but I learned something important about the Webbies: nobody in that stoned-out crowd is to be taken seriously.

I won't waste your time with an extended tirade against the Webbies; instead, let's get to the meat of it: which sites were awarded by the Webbies in 2000 which no longer exist or linger on in an advanced state of decay? One would think that their "fabulousness" would have given them enough of a jolt to continue their grim sojourn through cyberspace, but for the sites listed below, fame didn't translate very well into fortune.

Dead/Severely Wounded Webby Award Winners From the Year 2000

Feed Magazine
Webby Award Winner, 2000, Prints and Zines
Status, June 2005: Domain stilll active, site not operational, although site displays "...returning soon..." message which has evidently been there for years.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Music Category
Status, June 2005: Site gone, domain inactive.

Webby "People's Voice" Award Nominee, Weird Category
Status, June 2005: Site is active, but was last updated in December of 2000.

Green Witch Internet Radio
Webby Award Winner, Radio Category
Status, June 2005: Domain still active, site displays small graphic icon, but is not otherwise operational.

Happy Puppy
Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Games Category
Status, June 2005: Site is still active, but spits out so much truly dangerous-looking pop-up SPAM that I feared that I would have to power down my computer.

Webby "People's Voice" Award Winner, Radio Category
Status, June 2005: Site gone, domain inactive.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Services Category
Status, June 2005: Site gone, domain inactive.

Lonely Planet's CitySync
Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Travel Category
Status, June 2005: Web site still active, but the service it promotes was discontinued June 30, 2004.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Commerce Category
Status, June 2005: Site gone, domain inactive.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Film Category
Status, June 2005: Site now points to a page identifying itself as "a place holder for your future web site."

Quokka Sports
Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Sports Category
Status, June 2005: URL now points to a German company that appears to sell outdoor grills.

Respect Your Mind: Protect Your Body
Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Health Category
Status, June 2005: Forget about respecting your mind or protecting your body - this site now redirects to a hard-core porn site.
Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Sports Category
Status, June 2005: Site still active, last updated in July of 2001.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Music Category
Status, June 2005: Site still active; last press release issued August, 2001.

Webbie Award Nominee, 2000, Living Category
Status, June 2005: Site still active, daily calendars malfunctioning.

Thrive Online
Webby Award Winner, 2000, Health Category
Status, June 2005: URL redirects to Oxygen Media.

Stile Project
Webby "People's Voice" Award Winner, Weird Category
Status, June 2005: Site has devolved into a hard-core porn site. Don't go there.

Webby Award Winner, 2000, Broadband Category
Status, June 2005: Site is gone; URL now points to a generic search page maintained by the same mysterious organization that powers many of the Web's dead sites.

Webby Award Nominee, 2000, Services Category
Site gone, domain inactive.

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May 27, 2005 Wishful Thinking Written Large

I have been thinking a lot about the history of New York's fallen, now almost completely forgotten "Silicon Alley" in recent days, so I was intrigued to find a site called, and decided to find out more about it. Was it possible that the same cyber-shysters who had brought us the maniacal boom-and-bust that ravaged New York back in the late 1990's were attempting to regroup somewhere?

Not exactly. The domain was registered last year by a fellow named David Kirsch, who works out of the Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Point, Maryland. If you go to this site, you'll see a pretty picture of the Flatiron Building (the New York architectural icon that stood right next to Doubleclick's famous $1.3 million billboard that used to proudly announce "Welcome to Silicon Alley!").

You'll also read this, from the site's mission statement:

Our goal is to use the technology we embraced to help build an interactive historical archive of and by the people who were there. Silicon Alley was the result of a tremendous investment in human and social capital. Now, after the downturn it is time for reflection: How should history remember the birth of Silicon Alley?

OK; all well and good. I'm a big advocate of people remembering stuff, especially in an era when it seems American culture is suffering from an acute case of collective Alzheimer's. And in the case of Silicon Alley -- a subject that nobody wants to discuss these days -- the world could use a big dollop of remembering, especially this: does anybody remember where all that money went?

So I had high hopes for But they were dashed the moment I tried to open up an account. Here's the message that greeted me:

Microsoft JET Database Engine error '80004005'

Unspecified error

//global.asa, line 37

Wow - now that's a user-friendly error message!

Yes, friends, is more dysfunctional than any weird and wacky project hatched by the overheated minds at Razorfish, Avalanche,, or even Time-Warner's Pathfinder. It's so broken that -- well, it almost works -- as a sly joke played on the entire world.

And, given the actual history of Silicon Alley, maybe that's exactly the way such a site should be.


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 10, 2005

Remembering March 10, 2000 (The Day the Tech Bubble Burst)

Need I remind you that exactly five years ago, on March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ reached its peak valuation? That on that date, the extraordinary technology bubble began to deflate, a phenomenon whose ultimate culmination erased the hopes, dreams, and retirement plans of many who had bet their livelihood on the New Economy (not to mention about 9 trillion dollars worth of investors' money).

It is not my purpose to depress you with this solemn anniversary. Instead, let's enjoy some wonderful antique banner ads I whacked in the year 2000 - a time when irrational exuberance was still fun, dotcoms were still cool, cyber-jobs were still plentiful, and the world's future still looked bright, or at least brighter than it does today.

No - this ad wasn't lying. Back in 2000, there really were thousands of IT jobs over at, and you didn't have to move to India to find one. still exists, of course, but the pickings are slimmer than an HTML coder hooked on crystal meth.

Here's an ad whose Darwinian headline boldly hints of the career extinction soon to follow for thousands of knowledge workers. Clever, prescient, and attractively ominous!

Ah - Cybersuds - the New York New Media Association's monthly drinkathon for overworked developers, e-marketers, content dweebs, and other social misfits. New York lost something special when NYNMA tanked. This banner - and perhaps a few lingering hangovers - are all that is left of New York's biggest New Media booster.

Alas - the site called "" didn't survive the shakeout, and one is tempted to say that they simply fell victim to the "Webvolution".

Remember Jupiter - the company formed by Pseudo founder Josh Harris whose job was to impartially research the evolution of the New Economy but whose role became chief evangelist of the, er "Webvolution?" Back in 2000, they were still on top. Today, Jupiter is a subdivision of a larger company, and while the site still exists, it's not so clear whether anybody is still listening.

Jupiter, amazingly enough, even went so far as to host forums designed to train kid entrepreneurs in the black art of the Internet business plan.

This 2000 ad harkens clearly back to happier days, when the term "ground zero" was not synonymous with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Another ad from the same era whose invocation of the word "bootcamp" did not have the same martial connotations it has today.

Back when wallets were fat and waistlines were thin, New Media dating and mating was an industry unto itself. Today, dotcommers are probably the last people anybody wants to date, and HTML doesn't stand for "How to Make Love", but "He's Taking More Lithium".

If you could jump into a time machine, and zip back to this ancient forum, what would you say to "the people driving the content industry?" Might it perhaps be something like the phrase, "slow down?"

Here's one from Microsoft, the most innovative software company in the land. Interesting that way back in 2000 it was already touting its anti-spam technologies. Glad it only took five years to get them to make it work!

I have many more moldy banner ads on my dusty CD-ROMs and plan to post more soon. If you know of any oldies, please send me e-mail.


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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May 02, 2004

Cyber-Nostalgia: Why the Web Still Weeps For

I have a rudimentary method of looking at Ghost Sites' hit traffic, and I study these reports from time to time to see which sites incoming surfers are interested in viewing. While there appears to be a wide-ranging interest in many different kinds of dead Web sites, turns up more frequently than just about every other site (with the possible exception of

I'm not sure what it is about Kozmo that continues to fascinate people so many years after this brand departed, but I'm convinced that Kozmo has more active fans than those of any other corporate disaster with the possible exception of the Penn Central Railroad Company.

These suspicions were confirmed when I hopped over to E-Bay tonight and did a search for Kozmo-related "shwag" (otherwise known as throwaway promotional paraphenalia). More than 15 items showed up, about the same number that turned up the last time I did this, which was months ago. Over at, you can pick up a mint condition PVC Kozmo bike bag for the not inconsderable sum of $60 (marked down from $90). Even hard to find items such as Kozmo scooters show up now and then on the Web - Craig's List Atlanta had one advertised as recently as this past March.

What other dead dot com continues to support such a robust posthumous market? Certainly not UrbanFetch, Kozmo's main competitor (I could only find one item, a used T-shirt selling for just $0.01).

What accounts for Kozmo's lasting popularity? In the overall scheme of the so-called "dotcom bubble", the company's rise and fall wasn't that significant. Is it just that the company manufactured so much promotional junk that it's taken people three years to unload it? Is it that people in New York and San Francisco formed lasting personal bonds with the Kozmo messengers who brought them their candy and VCR's back in the 1990's? Or that Kozmo's advertising campaigns, featuring 1970's icon Lee Majors, were weird enough to stick in people's minds for years?

I think that best summarizes our recent, irretrievably lost decade of innocence because, for an all-too-brief, vanishing moment in time, convenience really was the main obsession in most urban American's lives. Not war, or terror, or the economy, or Condeleeza Rice, or Al Franken, or even the melting polar ice caps or growing ozone holes. For better or worse, the name "Kozmo" encapsulates our lost innocence more succinctly than any other name, and I'm starting to believe that historians of the 2100's may well refer to the 1990's as "The Age of Kozmo".

Stranger things have happened. I'm sure a lot of people who were alive in the 1920's who didn't listen to Jazz were shocked when this decade began to be referred to as "The Jazz Age". And being one of those unbelievably old people who were actually alive in 1967, I can tell you that I spent most of that summer riding horses and shooting tin cans with BB guns, so the label "Summer of Love" applied to that era has always seemed puzzling to me.

I don't know what historians will call our recent past, but I think they'll liken it to the Edwardian era that came just before the Great War (which is what they called World War One before World War Two happened).

Like the 1990's the Edwardian era was an excitingly giddy period of rapid technological change, its culture was whimsical (some would say fatuous), and its economic excesses and social inequities were enough to earn it the title of "The Gilded Age". One hardly need mention that each era met its end with the onset of a long and terrible war.

No historical parallel is perfect. But I firmly believe that a lot of people who never ordered a video from Kozmo secretly wish they had when they had the chance. Just so that they could have greeted Kozmo's cheerful bicycle messenger and given this panting, orange-clad fellow a friendly clap on the shoulder, standing together, protected from the abyss that was to come, trading small talk and laughing about being bright young people in a world where inconvenience was the greatest enemy, lateness the greatest terror, and lack of choice the greatest horror that modern life could ever know.

That world is gone forever. So close yet so far away - Kozmo - where are you when we need you?

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April 25, 2004

Pioneering Web Ads Persist at the Banner Ad Museum

Banner ads - what would the Web be without them? These floating 468 x 60 pixel rectangular billboards grew like kudzu during the Web's middle years, and they came in many flavors, including static, GIF-animated, Java-animated, and Flashified.

Of course, banner ads were never very popular with Web users, especially those using dial-up connections, nor could it be said that they were particularly popular with advertisers, who grew increasingly dismayed by their typically abysmal click-through performance. Thus we got the pop-up, the pop-under, and the context-sensitive text ad - an ad medium that Google seems to be pinning much of its future on today.

In my travels, I have unearthed a number of early banner ads, and discussed them in various articles here, but a site called the Banner Ad Museum has done a much better job of preserving a large, historically significant corpus of them.

Perusing this online museum yields key important facts about the birth of the banner ad, including the fact that while 468 x 60 became the most widely adopted size, many other standard sizes were promulgated by the IAB (Internet Advertising Board) way back in 1996.

More importantly, the Banner Ad Museum has done an excellent job of preserving and displaying thousands of early banner ads in its massive gallery area, including classic animated banner ads from now-defunct Web properties such as WebVan, Kozmo. and even

The Banner Ad Museum's collection is broad and deep (it claims to have gathered a whopping 3,500 banner ads), and while the site's public collection has not been updated in several years, its proprietor tells me that BAM continues to gather ads and plans to put more recently collected examples online soon.

This is a worthy project and if you have a few bucks to spare, I suggest that you give a few to BAM to keep its collection online. Suggested donations are between $1 and $3; a small price to pay to keep so much fascinating Web history available to the world.


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