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.

June 27, 2008

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Windows 98

Windows 98 is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. While few people remember this OS with any particular fondness, it ran on millions of machines, and I'm sure that there must be a handful of people (perhaps on a tropical atoll) who continue to use it today.

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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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March 24, 2008

Video Ghosts of Enron Online

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

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

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February 19, 2008

In Praise of Hand-Typed HTML Dinosaurs

This ancient shrine to George Harrison is still soldiering on after 10 years of faithful serviceA Ghost Sites correspondent named Jorg sends word that his Web page, devoted to the albums, songs and lyrics of George Harrison, is still alive and ticking after 10 years of faithful service.

I really like this ancient page, which despite a few updates, hasn't changed its basic form in more than 10 years. Check out that fabulous tiling background graphic, the centered text, and the complete absence of trendy Web 2.0 artifacts such as Adsense code and social widgets. Sites like this remind me of the shark, a life form so efficient that it hasn't evolved in hundreds of thousands of years.

This site is clearly an exception to George Harrison's rule that "all things must pass."

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January 27, 2008, Influential Cyber-Culture Blog, Has Not Been Updated Since November, 2006, a venerable New York-based cyber-culture ezine that went live in 1999, has been lying in a state of suspended animation for fourteen months, leading observers to believe that it has posted its last story. Founded by Donald Melanson, a self-described "media junkie and technological inquisitor," faithfully chronicled the rise of cyber-culture with the aid of a stable of high-profile contributing writers, including Justin Hall and Cory Doctorow.

As recently as November, 2007, the site contained a notice that the site was "retooling and should be ready to go in a few weeks" but no signs of life have emerged from the servers of since that time. The site might still rise from its current coma; but because this seems unlikely, we award it our "Dead But Well Preserved" award.

Ghostie Award: Site is Dead But Well PreservedThree Ghosties (Site is Dead, But Well-Preserved)

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January 26, 2008

"Internet '96:" a Jaundiced Look Back at the Late 20th Century Web

A Jaundiced Look Back at the Internet of 1996What was it like surfing the Web of 1996? A fellow named Wickensworth who runs a site called has put together an amusing exhibit called "Internet '96" which purports to answer this question using screen shots culled from the Internet Archive. "Internet '96" provides a fun, eye-opening trip down memory lane, when website designers didn't know a JPEG from a GIF, big brands didn't have a clue, 14.4Kbps modems ruled the on-ramps to the "Information Superhighway" (remember that corny phrase?)" and the world had somehow gone batty for "101 Dalmatians."

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January 22, 2008

Ghost Blogs of Yahoo

The Dead Roam Here (<br />Ghost Blogs of Yahoo)Of Yahoo's 26 "official" Blogs, eight of them haven't been updated in the last month. Two of them were last updated in September of 2007. We're not sure why these Blogs are "calling in sick;" could it be low morale among the Yahooligans? A lack of things to say? Burnout? Whatever the reason, it's not a healthy sign for Yahoo.

Bix Blog
I'm not sure what "Bix" was, but this Blog was last updated on 11/1/07

JumpCut Blog
This service is still online, but the Blog is showing its age; it was last updated more than a month ago. News
Not sure what "Upcoming" was or is, but the Blog is definitely dead (last updated 11/22/07)

Yahoo! 360° Product Blog
A Blog about Yahoo's failed social network; last update 10/24/07

Yahoo! Digital Home
The product is still alive, but the "Happy Holidays" message marks this Blog as severely underutilized; updated 11/20/07

Yahoo! Local & Maps Blog
This Blog is looking tired, and was last updated 12/18/07.

Yahoo! Research Berkeley Blog
This crusty Blog was abandoned last September.

Yahoo Music Blog
The music world is falling apart, and so is this Blog, last updated 9/30/07.

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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 01, 2008

Look Back in Anger (The Netslaves New Media Caste System Revisited Nine Years Later)

Look Back in Anger (The Netslaves New Media Caste System Revisited Nine Years Later)The simple concept behind the Netslaves Project (1998-2003) was that there was a hidden "caste" system which invisibly controlled the career mobility possibilities of tech workers. Now that almost a decade's gone by since The Netslaves New Media Caste System was formulated, it's time for a quick look back at how each Caste has fared. While many have fallen and a few have risen, the system remains remarkably intact.

Mole People (Level 1)
Back in 1998, "Living Large" meant burrowing out a virtual cave on "obscure chat channels, restricted-access newsgroups, abandoned BBS' -- basically, anywhere far away from the maddening crowd." Today, however, while Mole People live "in the crowd," on social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook, their penchant for narcissistic paranoia remains intact: the only thing that's different is that it's easier for marketers to reach them (which makes them even more paranoid). While Mole People used to be flat broke back in the late 1990's, today many of them are making up to $.60 per day via Google Adsense, just enough to keep these tiny mammals alive.

Social Workers (Level 2)
Social Workers ("the tireless servants who endure the endless stream of nonsense emanating from the Net's Tower of Babel") have taken a major hit in the past decade, because chats and BBS's have been replaced by texting and ephemeral Notice announcements on social networks. But members of this long-suffering Caste are still around, breaking up fights on mailing lists, controlling comments on Blogs, and otherwise keeping anarchy at bay. One would think that Social Workers would have flocked to Social Networks, but most of them are so frightened by the idea of a random unmoderated Facebook-style encounter that they continue to huddle in their own lonely sites, from which they offer words of wisdom that nobody reads.

Cops & Streetwalkers (Level 3)

The career possibilities of both Cops and Streetwalkers have actually improved in the past nine years, because their role is now to manage primal urges in a total surveillance society. This can mean big bucks for Cyber-Cops, especially in places like Iran and China, where U.S. technology is being used to round up people who just can't adjust to a totalitarian life. Streetwalkers have taken a hit, given that online porn's subscription model is weakening, but all you have to do is peruse Craigs List in any U.S. city to see that the world's oldest profession is very much alive online.

Garbagemen (Level 4)
Very little has changed in the world of Garbagemen (AKA "techies") in the past ten years, because software (especially the Microsoft variety) continues to be buggy and users continue to get dumber (especially the young ones, who've never even seen a circuit board). But the hellish life of your average troubleshooter is still brightened whenever he thinks of Linux, which remains a beautiful, unattainable dream he'll probably take to his grave.

Cab Drivers (Level 5)
Freelance contract slaves took a major hit during the dotcom downturn, and a fair number of them are driving real cabs today. But there's still a vast need for low-level content production people, and Google is employing vast numbers of them today (without any fancy benefits, of course). Living hand to mouth will never go out of style, here or in Bangalore.

Fry Cooks (Level 6)
The past nine years haven't been kind to Fry Cooks (AKA project managers and mid-level managers). Those which escaped the technology downturn by getting a "sane job at a stable company" have often seen the rug pulled on these same companies by disruptive external forces, including outsourcing, the endless need for more profits, and yes, the Internet itself. But there will always be a need for Fry Cooks in this business. After all, if they really went extinct, Microsoft would have nobody to sell PowerPoint to.

Gold Diggers and Gigolos (Level 7)
The depraved social butterflies of Web 1.0 have been almost completely wiped out, which is a very good thing, because these invasive species were responsible for more waste in the party-crazed culture of the late 1990's than anyone. Unfortunately, they've been replaced by an equally evil caste of smooth-faced, jargon-spouting miscreants who continue to shmooze unabated at conferences such as Search Engine Strategies and various Web 2.0 conferences. These shows waste more money than all the parties conducted from 1995 to 2000, but as long as Google's footing the bill nobody cares.

Hustlers and Sharks (Level 8)
The big consultancies that ruled Web 1.0 (Sapient, Viant, MarchFirst, Razorfish) are history, so this Caste is virtually extinct. Few miss them; even fewer understand what they ever really did to earn their massive salaries. But many of these sharp-eyed predators are still employed, often in the digital subdivisions of massive advertising holding companies. Sharks can smell blood oozing from a big brand from miles away, and they're still first in line with a "turnkey solution traced in blood."

Street Vendors (Level 9)
Street Vendors ("executives of countless New Media start-ups who hawk their wares from dusty roadside dives along the Information Superhighway") are still around, although their lingo has changed profoundly, and so have their wares. Anyone using the words "viral, social media optimization," "conversation," "behavioral targeting," "widgets" or "monetization" is likely affiliated with these guys, whose only mantra is "Exit Strategy," and whose only chance of success is a shot at another IPO or an acquisition by Google, Microsoft, or perhaps even a bumbling Old Media conglomerate.

Priests and Madmen (Level 10)
You don't hear people mentioning Mark Andreeson, Steve Case, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rhinegold, Jaron Lanier, or Esther Dyson much anymore, but just because these Web 1.0 visionaries are old hat doesn't mean that they haven't been replaced by a younger, hipper crowd, many of whom now work for Google. Ego and psychotropism is very much alive in Silicon Valley, and that hasn't changed a whit in nine years.

Robots (Level 11)
Robots did very well in the past nine years. While lesser Caste members were tearing their hair out over lost paper wealth and crushing AMT rates, the Robots simply soldiered on in mechanical fashion and built multi-billion dollar companies whose growth is fueled exclusively by the destruction of all prior human institutions. Google's founders typify the new face of "Kill, Crush, Deploy" in a particularly frightening way, because they appear to be actual human beings. But this illusion is just the result of better simulation technology. To these perpetual winners, humanity is merely a resource to be scanned, indexed, and reconfigured, a temporary problem that will be transcended someday by a more elegant solution.

God bless them all.

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December 24, 2007 To Go Dark Jan 1, 2008 To Go Dark Jan 1, 2008, which for 12 years provided a vigorous Web-based companion site to the CourtTV network, will close on January 1, 2008, victim of a rebranding by Time Warner, the network's new owner, that will morph CourtTV into the more reality-themed "truTV."

A farewell note from's Editor in Chief Jim Lyons provides a good summary of's milestones. His note suggests that the site will remain "in frozen form" for the benefit of future historians of crime, media, and culture.

Among the more interesting revelations in Lyons' note is the somewhat ghoulish revelation that the site's photo gallery of the last words of condemned Death Row inmates was one of its most popular features.

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October 30, 2007 A Decaying Bone in the Craw of the Internet, a Decaying Bone in the Craw of the Internet, Shows Advanced DecayMirsky (and I never really learned his first name: sometimes it was Phillip, sometimes it was David, most of the time it was omitted) was one of those Ivy League-educated Kerouacian madmen who "burn, burn like fabulous roman candles" extinguishing themselves long before we even have an inkling that they exist. In Mirsky's case, bright-white fame came from the launch of his infamous "Mirsky's Worst Of The Web," in January of 1995, long before negativity became an authentic and bankable meme on the World Wide Web. But a deluge of hate mail caused him to stop producing WOTW by late 1996, passing the negativity baton to others (including this site).

Mirsky drifted for a few months, and even hooked up with the hapless crew for several months, producing strange, often-misunderstood ideas for commercial websites before he drifted back into self-styled obscurity. In November of 1999, his site announced what millions had waited for: a comeback in the form of a new site, featuring a line of completely blank T-shirts.

We all held our breath, and are still holding it, for eight years later, Mirsky's main site ( and, which featured a haunting audio track entitled "Lament for Maiden in Mirsk t" (Irish Folk Song Traditional) are, in Ghost Sites parlance, "dead, showing advanced decay. Mirsky, like other Forgotten Web Celebrities, has quietly turned his back on the Web's clamorous multitudes, and I imagine him drifting somewhere in the West, lost in the purple shadows, drawing his cartoons in the shifting sands.

He could have been rich, he could have been a kingmaker, he could have been Cyber-Seinfeld, but he chose, for reasons that he would never share, to simply be alone, a strength that the rest of us will never know.

Wikipedia has a good page on Mirsky at:'s_Worst_of_the_Web. Thanks to Bill Lessard, of, for pointing out the rubble of Mirsky's legendary electrons.

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October 14, 2007 A Very Cool Ghost Site A Very Cool Ghost, the home of a firm known as @once! Marketing & Advertising, is a virtual archeological dig of great Web 1.0 artifacts from the early days of this medium. Its home page, which is built in frames, brazenly sports a broken logo graphic while proudly announcing that it's a "Magellan 3-Star Site" (remember Magellan?). Its "Search Central" area is a musty time capsule of early search engines, including AliWeb, Alta Vista, AOL Netfind, Apollo, BizWeb, Excite, GoTo, Excite, the New Riders Yellow Pages, Starting Point, and other classic Search oldies. Remarkably, it doesn't even mention Google, which was likely not in existence the last time this site was updated.

If you're nostalgic for the Web's early days, give a spin.


September 14, 2007

New Age Web Soap is DOA

New Age Web Soap is DOAIf you haven't heard of, an "Internet Series and Social network from Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick" that's been getting tons of credulous press coverage in the past few weeks, it's yet another attempt by old school Network TV/Hollywood types to convince the Web's teeming billions that ersatz (but real looking) serialized drama, marketed stealthily, will be an attractive alternative to the hundred million other things going on in the infinite channel universe.

In other words, Quarterlife is a Web Soap, an expensive ($50,000 per episode) exercise in serialized fakery that's supposed to buy our loyalty away from the user-generated amateurishness of Youtube by giving us something better, "better" meaning content that's scripted, shot with expensive equipment, professionally lit, and powered by big promotional bucks.

Sorry, folks, this one is Dead on Arrival. Web Soaps are among the oldest, tiredest content templates. Remember "The Spot?" "The East Village?" Quarterlife looks better (great lighting), but its higher production values actually work against the grain of the genre. One of the (only) charming thing about LonelyGirl15 was that its production values were low enough for us to believe that this character was real. Quarterlife, however, looks like a network pilot that was simply dumped to the Web after it was turned down by ABC (which is exactly what happened). Its very glossiness makes it unbelievable. Given the broad range of real-life crises being acted out daily on Youtube, Quarterlife's scripted conflicts aren't just unbelievable: they're laughable.

You'll see plenty of hype in the next couple weeks about, because its high-visibility producers have plenty of PR flaks to wave the flag for them. I've already seen these guys in the New York Times, heard them on NPR, and elsewhere in the trade press. But it's just the latest go-round of a tired old idea that the smart money had pegged as dead in 1998.

Seems like we're all doomed to learn the same bitter lessons again and again: dolled-up Soap Opera fakery won't cut it on the Web. This is a full-duplex, two-way medium, more like the telephone than the television. Entertainment is experienced as doing, not just watching. Old Media types might think that the Web is filled with empty eyes and empty heads willing to fill their time with the glossy twenty-something nothingness that Quarterlife offers, but they've completely misunderstood this "audience." There is no audience anymore: the Web's eyes are active and in search of actuality, not high-priced Hollywood-style fakery such as and its ilk.'s tagline is "Figure it out." The tragic thing about this mis-conceived effort is that we did figure it out -- 10 years ago, when Web Soaps failed to gather more than a yawn from the multitudes. I've seen this train wreck before, and it isn't pretty.

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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 13, 2007

Wild Women of the Web is a Ghost Site

Wild Women of the Web is a Ghost SiteTen years ago, Myspace, LiveJournal, and Friendster didn't exist, so Web newbies chose Tripod, Geocities, and to host their pages. In fact, I firmly believe that Myspace and its brethren are nothing more than gussied-up versions of Geocities et al upon which the Web 2.0 label has been attached, and that these properties are incredibly overvalued, given their potential to serve as advertising platforms. But now I digress... the point of this article is to talk about Wild Women of the Web, a site launched in 1999 on whose home page invites netizens of the female persuasion to "Come, explore with me and find your own inner self! "

There's not a whole lot of content on "Wild Women of the Web," just some links to fellow "Wild Women" (the majority of which are broken), a few articles on self-esteem which seem to have been written a long time ago, an archaic awards page, and a link to a marketing site long ceded to a doman squatter. The whole place has the feeling of an abandoned parlor whose occupant vanished into the mists sometime in the late 20th Century.

Still, there's a palpable Web 1.0 charm to this antique. Check out the cloud backgrounds and crude buttonized navigation buttons. They'll surely bring you back to the days when the Web was new, standard templates didn't exist, and everything was built out of hand-crafted HTML.

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July 08, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 20, 2007

Dead Web 1.0 Sites: Were They Really Web 2.0?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 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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April 06, 2007

Antique Web Browsers Still Surfing at DejaVu.Org

Old Web Browsers Soldier on at
A few nights ago, I came across an extraordinary site that's been online for several years called It isn't a new site (it went online in the late 1990's), but its main offerings - a timeline of Web development, and a uniquely compelling WWW browser emulator that lets the Web surfer see sites the way early Web pioneers experienced them, using vintage NSCA Mosaic 0.9, Netscape 1.0, Internet Explorer 2.0, Lynx, line-mode, and even my personal favorite: the famed HotJava browser - have grown even more appealing as time has moved on. We were so moved by the experience of viewing the Web in this way that we reached out to's creator, Par Lannero, and he granted us this brief interview from Stockholm.

Ghost Sites: What was the inspiration behind

Par Lannero: As you can read in the timeline part of, I was watching and taking part in the development of the Web from a very early stage. Everybody I knew in the IT sector 1996-1998 was playing around with fun Web ideas, and dejavu was simply one of many ideas I came up with. Another one was a Web-based buddy list system which I finished the day before Somebody told me about a similar project from a company called Mirabilis. With the speed that their project spread over the Internet, there was no use in releasing my own project. Yet another idea was a system to manage Web bookmarks on the Web instead of in the browser client. That one I actually implemented, and I have been using it almost every day since 1996. It wasn't just me - everybody seemed to come up with fun ideas those days... :)

Ghost Sites: It looks to me that several people besides yourself were instrumental in creating the browser emulators. Who did what and how long did it take to get it going?

Par Lannero: My friend Elias Bengtsson and a Ville Hising at produced a few images. Per Gullfeldt of Digital Equipment Corporation provided a server as sponsorship. Daniel Bergström has made sure the Web server is (almost) always up and running. The rest of the people in the credits list are colleagues from the time when I was working with dejavu. They provided the necessary encouragement for me to actually launch the site. I did all programming and writing by myself. Mostly in 1997-98, but I have been fixing a few things since then.

Ghost Sites: As you're probably aware, there is a lot more historical Web matter online than there was back in the late 1990's. I speak specifically of's massive "Wayback Machine". Do you have any plans to work with this organization so that your browser emulator might be used to view some of the preserved historical sites?

Par Lannero: I have thought about that, too. But since I have no income from the dejavu project, I can only spend a few hours now and then. If I get sponsorship or if I lose my job or something I might be able to develop the site further. One big advantage, though, when dealing with history, is that it doesn't change very quickly, so there is no hurry. :)

Ghost Sites: Your excellent Timeline of Web Innovation seems to stop at the end of 1999. Why does it end here? Did innovation trail off or did you stop work on If the latter, do you have any plans to revive it?

Par Lannero: I have not spent much time updating the site since 1999. Of course, a few things have happened since then, but I definitely think innovation slowed down around 1998. Before that year I always used a beta version of Netscape - every new improvement was worth the time it took to download and install. Today I don't care what browser I use, since there is nothing much happening.

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October 23, 2003

Exploring the Lost Canon of ANSI Art

It's eye-opening to get a glimpse of what online life, culture, aesthetics, and graphics were like a mere 10 or 12 years ago. One of the best places to get reacquainted with the lost zeitgeist of this prehistoric, pre-Web era is by pointing your browser to one of the Web's many obscure repositories of ANSI Art. What was ANSI Art? Well, according to the Webopedia, this brief but important computer art movement owed its origin to the inclusion of a device driver called ANSI.SYS that was first bundled with MS-DOS 3.3. This driver allowed "extended screen codes", otherwise known as "escape sequences", to be used to define a series of colors that considerably spiced up MS-DOS's traditionally ominous and forbidding "jet black" screen interface. Images created in this way frequently migrated out to Bulletin Board Systems, in fact, it was the very popularity of these BBS's which created a demand for so many of them.

The easiest way to get a feel for the ANSI Art genre is at Here, through clever use of a Java applet, 35 early ANSI works - many of them serving as the home pages of BBS systems - are easily accessible. ANSI Art was never really accepted by "serious digital artists" (who used Macs with better resolution and higher color depths), and perhaps the state of psychological exile - imposed from within by the limitations of ANSI, and from without by the scorn of the "fine arts" Mac-heads explains the negative images we often see in ANSI collections.

At mjbdiver's site, we find more than our fair share of images reflecting situations of conflict, alienation, destruction, death,
repression, and
. Happy/positive images are frequently presented by alien presences, or as an experience that a human is enjoying in solitude (eg. fishing or walking on a beach).

Images in "Remembrance Pack", a remarkable collection of 1989-91 ANSI work by the artist SHADOW DEMON available for download at: explore the outer limits of abstraction possible within ANSI - to the point that some observers need to spend many minutes studying these images before being able to parse through any possible meaning. This artifact - I term it "ANSI image blanking", is caused by the fact that viewing these images locally is a very different experience than viewing them when using a slow 2,400 BPS modem - the delivery platform for which they were designed. Of course, the users experiencing these screens in 1990 or '91 had a very different experience - the screens scrolled, often at 14.4K, slowly from top to bottom, hence the consistent placement of text at the upper-left hand corner, where it would be displayed first - tipping the user off as to what was being illustrated, which appeared slowly, line-by-line, as the data was passed from the BBS to the user.

As a result of this low-bandwidth delivery method, ANSI Art became spectacularly, floridly abstract (one might even say "fauvist"). Artists like SHADOW DEMON freely used the 640 x 480 space to move and morph text to reaches of abstraction often seen in subway graffiti, but very seldome elsewhere. Blocky figures - human or otherwise - looked cartoonish in the same way that Keith Haring's subway chalk drawings were crudely symbolic - pictograms made on the fly, as temporary interfaces - pre-Web, proto-interactive experiments that existed free of any necessary expectation of permanence (Haring's early chalk drawings were literally often wiped off subway walls, often in just a few hours, by the movement of rush-hour crowds). Other examples - animated crudely, with strangely sized ASCII text elements mixed in, recall Stuart Davis, as well as just about every artist ever commissioned to design a jacket patch for the Hell's Angels. (Note: there are two "erotic" ANSI images in the aforementioned collection which might conceivably offend some people, so please do not download the pack if you are likely to be offended by these images, are under 18, etc.)

Is ANSI Art "Fine Art?". Probably not. Several fine arts institutions have actually recognized ASCII Art, a distant cousin, as worthy of curatorial respect, but never ANSI, which is likened more to digital folk art - a provisional form that had too many limitations - both technical and those resulting from the uneven design training of its artists - to make it acceptable to the digital art critic or a wider circle of enthusiasts beyond those using the systems in which it was embedded. One factor that keeps it a surpressed, or at least largely unknown digital art genre is the fact that few of the pre-Web BBS's are still running, nor are there any legitimate efforts to memorialize these systems in the same way that there are multiple efforts to memorialize the Web in projects such as the Internet Archive. Computer historians, however, see that ANSI Art tells us a lot about the state of pre-Web culture in the early 1990's - a world of BBS's, 14.Kpbs modem, and SYSOPs. Embedded in its clunky, boxy screens is a concrete representation of a common, widely-shared online experience likely to provoke a measurable shock of recognition for those using these systems in those days.

For more on ANSI Art, see History of the Underground Scene: ANSI Art, available at:

(Note: acknowledgements need to be made to Morbus, the mysteriously influential webmaster of, who introduced me to ANSI Art several years ago. I've been wanting to write something about the genre for some time, but never quite got around to it until now.)

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