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.

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

November 21, 2007

BrightSpot.TV Sleeps With the Fishes

BrightSpot.TV Sleeps With the Fishes
When the history of our era is written by future historians, the story of will be cited as an extreme example of the grasping-at-straws desperation into which the advertising industry had fallen by the first decade of the 21st Century.'s idea was simple: to pay people to watch ads, a compensation scheme that had never been necessary before in the good old analog media days, when advertising was hard to avoid. Aimed at low-income teenage males, the thinking seems to have been that such people would flock to, gorge on ads, and be happy with the crumbs thrown at them in exchange.

Nobody seems to have asked the obvious question: why would advertisers be interested in foisting their brands to such low-income losers? Unfortunately, with so few advertisers willing to come forward with big bucks,'s viewers never earned enough money to justify the annoyance of watching the ads, so the site's already shaky value proposition quickly became openly risible.

Interestingly, wasn't hatched in a typical Silicon Valley marijuana den, but in the heartland of jocks. Its backers included Jerry Coangelo, of the Pheonix Suns, Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, and other midwesterners, who ponied up millions to fund this clunker.

Labels: , , ,

November 07, 2007

Facebook Advertising System: Not Ready for Prime Time

Forget the hype about Facebook's new advertising system. How well does it work? Can advertisers even buy its new-fangled "social ads?"

Well, I tried to buy an ad this morning and I was stopped dead in my tracks by an "Unknown HTTP Error #302."

You'd think that Facebook's 20-something engineering geniuses would have worked out the bugs BEFORE making this thing public, but I guess that kind of thinking is too "old school" for them.

What a frickin' $15 Billion joke.

Labels: ,

October 22, 2007

MySpace Roommates: Yet Another Rise of a Dead Meme

MySpace Roommates: Yet Another Rise of a Dead MemeThe "Web Soap" meme is as old as Netscape Navigator 2.0, and is just as obsolete. The idea that linear, time-based storytelling can be effectively imposed on the Web (which is non-linear and simultaneous) has proven again and again to be bankrupt. The only exception to might be termed the "LonelyGirl15 Fakery Exception" in which something that is presumed to be authentic is in fact a manipulated artifact.

The latest mindless re purposing of the soap formula is Myspace's "Roommates." Like its fallen brethren from the late 1990s, it features young nubile unknowns falling over themselves to follow a vacuous plot line. The only thing that Roommates has that its predecessors lacked is raw Murdoch marketing power, plus enough credulous journalists to pimp it to the public.

We all know why Web Soaps persist: because most people lack imagination, and there is enough dumb money in the coffers of the Big Brands to support a nearly endless chain of these ridiculous projects. Peoples' eyes glaze over when I mention "The Spot," "The East Village," and other now-forgotten soaps of the late 1990's. They have no knowledge of or interest in Web history, so Web Soaps rise again and again, like the reflexive throes of a body without mind enough to know it's already dead.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Click Here to Return to the Ghost Sites Home Page