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 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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June 27, 2008

How to Read a Yahoo Reorg Memo

How to Read a Yahoo Reorg Memo

I was inspired to provide a machine-to-human translation of Yahoo's memo detailing its attempt to save itself. This post originally appeared on the pages of Silicon Alley Insider.


SUNNYVALE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - News), a leading global Internet company, today announced changes to its organization aimed at improving its products, technologies and execution.

Translation: Our products are undistinguished, our technologies are iffy, and our execution has been egregious. We're going to throw all the chess pieces in the air now, and hope they magically rearrange themselves in a way resembling a credible strategy.

The moves support its strategy to be the starting point for the most users, the must-buy for the most advertisers and the platform of choice for developers.

Translation: We haven't evolved from a portal, we still depend on "bulk tonnage" media buys, and we're desperately hoping that outside developers will do something interesting with Yahoo before Carl Icahn and his buddies bail out and send the stock to $10 a share.

Key Elements

Yahoo! announced are the centralization of consumer product development to enhance the company’s ability to release products worldwide; the creation of a U.S. region focused on bringing products to market for users, advertisers and publishers; formation of an insights strategy team; and enhancements to the technology infrastructure to optimize the use of data and improve coordination between product and engineering teams.

Translation: Somewhere along the way we lost track of where our people worked, what they did, who they reported to, and why we even hired them in the first place. We haven't developed many consumer products that have been of any interest to users recently (because we've been so busy talking up advertisers and publishers), and have been so focussed on on the Far East, where has been making us money (at least on paper), that we plain forgot that it kind of matters what we do in the U.S., hence the new group. As far as our new "Insights Strategy Team," we're hopeful that they can come up with a more interesting strategy than this tired portal-start-page business, which nobody takes seriously in a Web 2.0 world.

“These moves accelerate the ability of our deep and talented team to build great products, grow our audiences and improve monetization globally,” said Jerry Yang, CEO. “They are designed to put us in an even better position to leverage our leading global audience and capture the opportunity we see in the convergence of search and display advertising.”

Translation: Peek-a-boo: I'm Jerry Yang and miraculously, I'm still here! By the way, our whole game is dependent on the dubious proposition that display ads (which don't work) can be turned into gold by making them stalk you as you surf around the Web. It's inevitable that some sorehead will eventually point out that this idea is a chimera but we'll all be outta here by then.

Business and Product Changes

The company is creating three new teams that will report to President Sue Decker. An Audience Products Division will assume responsibility for companywide product strategy and product management.

Translation: We still think of our users as "an audience" that should be talked to, not listened to. After all, the main thing that keeps us going is big brand spenders who really don't care about all that fancy-dancy "conversation" stuff.

It will be led by Ash Patel who previously managed the company’s Platforms & Infrastructure group. A U.S. region with accountability for all go-to-market activity in the U.S. will be led by Hilary Schneider, who previously headed the company’s Global Partner Solutions group. Finally, an Insights Strategy team will assume responsibility for centralizing and executing a common strategy for the use of data and analysis across Yahoo!. The company plans to name this group’s leader within the next few weeks.

Translation: We're enshrining "Failing Upward" as our new company slogan.

“The changes we’re making today will help deliver superior global products for users and enable faster and better decision-making,” said President Sue Decker. “This is a logical next step in light of our success last year in moving to a more centralized approach to developing world-class marketing products. We have planned these changes deliberately over the past several months to clarify responsibilities and to capitalize on the scale advantages while allowing for fine tuning to meet local market needs.”

Translation: I'm Sue Decker and I speak in mind-numbing generalities. I don't expect you to know what the heck I'm referring to when I speak of last year's "success... in moving to a more centralized approach to developing world-class marketing products" but trust me: we're on the right track. Oh, and we weren't panicked into making these changes by everything that's happened since February. We've been planning them since 1997.

Technology and Infrastructure Changes
Yahoo! is making changes to its technology organization, led by Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh, to better position the company to execute on its strategic priorities. Principal changes are developing a world-class cloud computing and storage infrastructure; rewiring Yahoo! onto common platforms; and creating a stronger partnership between product and engineering teams.“Since my arrival at Yahoo! earlier this year, we’ve carefully evaluated the best possible configuration of our technology group to support our business strategies,” said Balogh. “I’m excited by the depth of our team which—combined with the talent we continue to recruit—will execute even better under this new structure.” In order to expand its cloud computing capabilities, the Company will form a Cloud Computing & Data Infrastructure Group, charged with developing a computing infrastructure that balances scalability with cost effectiveness. It will move all consumer-facing platform teams to the Audience Technology Group, led by Venkat Panchapakesan. In addition, it is putting new leadership in place behind Yahoo!’s search group, naming Prabhakar Raghavan to direct search strategy and Tuoc Luong as the interim leader of the search product team. Both Prabhakar and Tuoc will also continue in their roles as the leaders of Yahoo! Research and Search Engineering respectively. In addition, David Ku will lead the Advertising Technology Group within Search. Yahoo!’s Marketing Products Division, Connected Life and Corporate Marketing groups will continue to operate as they do today.

Translation: Lots of fun changes afoot in the engine room! We can't tell you what the heck cloud computing has to do with our unchangeable portal strategy, but maybe we can finally develop some kind of product beyond Flickr that people would actually pay for so we're covered when the banner ad bubble pops. Hey - did you notice that we haven't actually mentioned any layoffs in this memo? Don't worry: they're coming, and it's more than likely that the grunts, not the execs, will take the brunt. Why cut fat when you can cut muscle?

About Yahoo! Inc.

Yahoo! Inc. is a leading global Internet brand and one of the most trafficked Internet destinations worldwide. Yahoo! is focused on powering its communities of users, advertisers, publishers, and developers by creating indispensable experiences built on trust. Yahoo! is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.

Translation: We still live and die by raw, undifferentiated traffic. Just about everything we do is duplicated by competing services, so the "creating indispensible experiences" phrase is there strictly for laughs. We still have a hell of a memorable domain name, however, and it's for sale at a price that I'm sure you'll all find reasonable.

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June 23, 2008, The Lookup Portal That Nobody Used, Now Goes to Verizon Property

InfoSpace, The Lookup Portal That Nobody Used, Now Goes to Verizon Property
Interesting story in the New York Times about Infospace, a formerly high-flying Silicon Alley wunderkind once valued at $31 billion. While Infospace is still in the meta-search business (, only the shedding of assets, including its once popular lookup portal, is the only thing keeping it profitable today.

Today, if you go to, you'll find yourself at, which belongs to Verizon, which recently bought the property from Infospace. But there are still a couple of domains around that haven't been moved over (yet); one of them is Here you can see the way looked in its pre-sale prime.

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January 21, 2008

Whatever Happened to... was a prize-winning business idea. It offered parents a chance to stream live pictures of their newborns to other folks who couldn't be at the hospital. What better way to tap into the ego-stream of proud mothers and fathers? But it failed in 2002 and few even remember this site, which before it died had become a bona fide media darling.

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January 07, 2008

From The Steve Gilliard Files: "How to Read a 10Q" Financial Reporting

From The Steve Gilliard Files: By the Spring of 2001, Steve Gilliard had come to the realization that the only way to win online arguments with his many critics on was with facts, not assertions, and so was born his "How to Read a 10Q," which ran from April through May.

"How to Read a 10Q" was a big hit on, and I encouraged Steve to market the concept as a short business book. Steve was receptive to the idea but was less enthused with writing an actual proposal, so the book concept was still-born. Still, we are left with nine marvelous articles (plus an intro) providing a blend of hard facts, terse (and often hilariously funny) commentary, plus Steve's keen-eyed analysis that's eminently readable today, even though most of the companies Steve discussed are gone and forgotten.

These articles are being made available as a complete online set for the first time since their initial publication on in 2001. Make sure you scroll down to read the comments that Steve made during post-publication discussion -- he would often lurk and strike with an able epithet when you least expected it!

  • Introduction (Exploring Public Documents (A Forensic Analysis of Failed Internet Companies) (April 22, 2001)
    "I only learned how to do this over years of training and research. It was not easy to learn, so there is no reason to feel bad about not knowing it. Examining the earnings of small, public companies can prevent you from making serious errors in the future."

  • Part 1: (April 19, 2001)
    "IVillage has lost $384.3 million since it began operation in 1995. It has lost $351 million of that sum since 1998. This is the largest single loss of any dotcom and could go higher. "

  • Part 2: Salon (April 20, 2001)
    "In our look at Salon, we see a company which is losing money steadily, with no real hope of profitability, not now or in the future."

  • Part 3: Razorfish (April 23, 2001)
    "Word on the street, and from former Fish employees, is that their customers were pissed with both attitude and delivery."

  • Part 4: (April 24, 2001)
    "One gets the feeling that they are nibbling at the edges of solutions and they may never be able to capture the audience they need to survive."

  • Part 5: (April 27, 2001)
    "Watch the losses climb. $6m to $52m to $189m. Wow. You have to wonder what management was doing to get their losses to exponentially increase every year, besides their silly commercials and marketing campaigns which no one seems to remember."

  • Part 6: (April 28, 2001)
    "So who doesn't it compete with? Crack dealers and gun stores? This is everyone from Kroger and Piggly Wiggly to CVS and Rite Aid to Wal-Mart and K-Mart. They are taking on American retailing."

  • Part 7: (May 3, 2001)
    "We are a high falutin' Web hostin' kind of company. You will pay us a lot of money to use our software, which seems to have had its genesis in technologies Netscape was using in 1996."

  • Part 8: (May 4, 2001)
    "By going public, the Globe ensured that a few key investors would get rich, but as we all know, the stock has dropped to being nearly valueless today."

  • Part 9: (May 7, 2001)
    "They aren't as embarassing as Razorfish, but because the recipe is flavored differently doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't eating liver. Nor does it necessarily mean that they are hiring experienced people who actually know what they are doing."

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January 04, 2008 Pays Homage to and the Museum of Interactive Failure

CourtTV's transition screen to TrueTV
Thanks to writer Helen A.S. Popkin for linking to the Museum of Interactive Failure in her lengthy (and very funny) online memorial to, which was published today on I agree with Ms. Popkin that Time-Warner's decision to shut down was "lame" but unfortunately it seems to have no shortage of lameness when it comes to interactive media.

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January 03, 2008

You Can Own a Genuine Piece of Web 1.0 History

A screenshot from's distressed auction sale, January 2008
If you're in Chicago next week, you're well-positioned to own a genuine piece of Web 1.0 history, because the assets of, a Web 1.0-based, teen-oriented social networking site will be sold at auction.

Like latter-day social networks such as and, Bolt moved quickly from its user-generated grass roots to a commercial site with major brand sponsors eager to relentlessly target Bolt's young, male audience. Because a sizeable percentage of this demographic think nothing of stealing copyrighted material, in 2006 the site was targeted for massive copyright violations by Universal Music and folded in August of 2007.

The lesson from Bolt's demise is clear: those who live by the teen may well die by the teen. In fact, I'd say that there's at least a 50-50 chance that we'll be poring over the auction by 2011 (after all, about half of the images on are stolen; all that's needed is a few strategic lawsuits). In the meantime, enjoy the pickings at the auction.

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December 07, 2007

Rare Video Artifact of Surfaces!

Web historians were astounded this week when a rare video recording made within the offices of appeared on the World Wide Web. The recording provides a tantalizing look inside the Creative Department of this legendary dotcom flame-out. The surprise to many historians is how plush and sunlit's offices were, unlike many Web 1.0 companies who conducted their business in dimly-lit subterranean spaces or within decaying lofts.

Several employees are visible in this short 28-second recording; it is not known whether they were among the group of employees who, after being shut out of their offices when closed its doors, were forced to break into MarchFirst's offices to retrieve their personal effects.

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October 12, 2007

Memories of

I found myself in the middle of a discussion last week whose subject was the critical mistakes that can really torpedo a company, and I immediately thought of, which at one point in time was one of the infamous "Fast Five" Web consultancies that included Razorfish (which later became Avenue/A, now owned by Microsoft), Scient, Viant, and IXL. Few people remember marchFirst today, but at one point it was a gigantic interactive powerhouse that employed almost 9,000 people, the vast majority of which were consultants.

marchFIRST died hard and fast when the dotcom bubble collapsed in 2001, but it would likely have flamed out by itself even if the market had held steady. Why? Excessive marketing costs, including a $50 million nationwide ad campaign extolling "the universal human desire to be first." This kind of ridiculous spending was par for the course in those heady days, and it's tempting to think that it's behind us. It isn't, of course: it's just found a different destination. Instead of giving $10,000 parties, buying $60,000 newspaper ads and million-dollar superbowl ads, or sponsoring the Golden Gate Bridge, they're spending it on keywords, banner ads, and trade show booths.

For more on marchFIRST, please see the marchFIRST exhibit in the Museum of Interactive Failure.

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August 01, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could not agree more.

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

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

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

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

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

The Horror... The Horror...

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Video Memories of was a truly notorious dotcom that overestimated demand for its instant grocery delivery service, overspent on infrastructure, and overpaid its CEO, George Shaheen, who walked away from WebVan's 2001 bankruptcy with an agreement to pay him $375,000 for the rest of his life. Investors, especially those who paid up to $25 to buy shares when WebVan when it went public in 1999, soon saw these shares decline to $0.15.

Think about those investors as you watch the WebVan commercial below, which seems to celebrate mindless violence as its protagonist rips apart a grocery store. We can only imagine that those investors would wish the same kind of violence to be visited against those who engineered WebVan's spectacular fall from dotcom superstar to feckless bum.

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July 09, 2007

Jane Magazine Closing, Leaving Web Clutter Behind

RadarOnline reports that Jane Magazine, a 10-year old womans' magazine, is closing.

No big surprise here. Magazines are dropping left and right, killed off by the unstoppable juggernaut of the Web. Magazine execs deny this at every turn, but it's the most obvious trend in the world. I mean, the iPhone literally lets people surf the Web in the bathroom, the last bastion of the magazine. Yes, people read them on the subway and in doctors' offices but most people don't ride the subway and most don't spend much time in doctors' offices.

Jane's website (at never got much traction on the Web. With all the money that Conde Nast stuffed into it, its current traffic rank is 159,485, which makes it LESS popular than, which has a budget of exactly zero.

When I went to Jane's Blog to check out how its readers were taking the news, I got a script error that froze my browser (see screenshot above).

Truly pathetic work; I doubt many will miss this monster, which will close sometime in August, when the last print issue ships.

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On the World Wide Web, timing is everything. You can have the greatest idea under the sun, but unless the infrastructure supports it, or the ephemeral, irrational memes of the electrosphere conspire to proclaim it "cool," or some other exogenous factor (perhaps Microsoft) decides to kill it, it will fail, and wind up in the Museum of Interactive Failure.

You can hire all the futurist consultants in the world and still fail, because these consultants and brand gurus really aren't futurists at all, but guys who are simply great salesmen. You can plan, plan, plan, and execute, execute, execute, and still fail because your project is either too far ahead or too far behind the zeitgeist of the time.

Case in point:, a site which accurately tailored its content to the lowest demoninator, identified its demographic with drop-dead accuracy (young males of below average intelligence, of which there are many), got great press, was well-financed, and failed in 2001. YouTube took many of these same elements and made itself a success years later by wisely refusing to inject its own editorial sensibilities into the dopey content stream. (Note: not all content on is crap, but most of it is).

Reality is non-linear and fate is cruel. If some butterfly hadn't flapped its wings in Indonesia, we'd all be living in a world where ruled the Web's content, was acquired by Google, and Tim Nye would be closing a purchase on a $250 million house in Palo Alto. But history isn't like that, and is just another failed effort in a long line of failed efforts that reach back to and beyond.

VC money isn't enough. Brains isn't enough. The best business plan in the world isn't enough. Unless you've got timing, you can do everything right and still wind up as another broken, angry guy in Palookaville, which is another way of saying that you should never rule out the role of dumb luck in creating today's interactive millionaires.

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