Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

August 17, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Baldwin
Editor, Ghost Sites of the Web

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August 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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March 31, 2008 (the original site of the Mozilla Corporation) is Back Online!

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Mozilla, a fellow named Jamie Zawinski, who has an interest in Web history, reconstituted, the original Web site of the Mosiac browser. Doing this wasn't easy, in fact it took some high-level exchanges with both Time Warner and AOL; the full story is here. If you've ever yearned for the glory days of 1994, back when the Web was truly interesting, check out!

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March 19, 2008

Ancient DEC Video Depicts the Web of 1994

I found this great video on, Philipp Lenssen fascinating, frequently updated Blog. Created by DEC (the Digital Equipment Company), it shows a succession of early Web pages, accompanied by portentous narration. Of course, these battleship gray pages (they seem to have acquired a greenish tint, perhaps from mold) look hopelessly antiquated to us now, but this video does recapture the initial sense of absolute wonderment that many felt when seeing the Web for the first time.

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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 01, 2008

An Interesting Thread on Steve Gilliard's Early Writings

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

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

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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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August 30, 2007

WebJunk.TV Dies an Annoying Death

WebJunk.TV is one with the ages.
WebJunk.TV was a site supporting the VH1 series of the same name. In a message date-stamped June 15, 2007, WebJunk.TV announced that it is "going away for awhile," and that a new show/site called "WebStars" will take its place. The site has now disappeared completely, yielding a "site not found message." This is actually pretty lousy practice on the part of Viacom: why not keep the old site up and simply redirect it to the new one? I guess Viacom's Web team needs a refresher in SEO 101.

I actually saw the WebJunk show once or twice back in the days when I watched broadcast/cable television (today, I either watch YouTube or don't watch anything). I found the program incredibly annoying to watch, and it appears I'm not alone. Watching a television show about the Web is damned boring, whereas reading a Web site about television shows isn't so bad. Hmm - I wonder why that is?

In defense of WebJunk.TV, it did actually break some news this year by finding the elusive Forgotten Web Celebrity Jennifer Ringley, about whom I've written about on this site. Ringley is evidently employed and living somewhere in California as a Netslave... I mean, as a Web Developer. This is the first bona fide sighting of Ms. Ringley since she abandoned her famed Jennicam in early 2004.

You can watch a clip on IFilm devoted to Jennifer Ringley but again, the WebJunk TV show is so damned irritating that you have a good chance of breaking out in a rash. Only do this if you're still obsessed with Jenni or are a hard-core Internet Historian.

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July 31, 2007

Return of the Ghostie Awards!

Return of the Ghostie AwardsBack in the early days of Ghost Sites, we had a scoring system based on the level of bit rot in any given site. It made sense because the degree that a site is considered to be "bitrotten" is a function of its periodicity. For example, a corporate media kit that's six months out of date really isn't out of date, whereas an online daily that's gone two weeks without an update is probably in serious trouble. The five levels of "ghostliness" were as follows:

Ghostie Award: Site is Calling in SickOne Ghostie (Site is Calling in Sick) This generally indicates that a site, while a bit out of date, has a fighting chance of pulling itself out of its comatose state. Many sites that have received the "Calling in Sick" award have come back. Frankly, Ghost Sites has "called in sick" more than a few times.

Ghostie Award: Site is Dying in ICUTwo Ghosties (Site is Dying in ICU) Two Ghosties mean that the prognosis for the site isn't so good. Experts have examined it and shaken at its prospects. Revival is possible, but unlikely. I don't issue many "Dying in ICU" awards, because few sites spend much time there on their way out.

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

Ghostie Award: Site is Dead, Shows Advanced DecayFour Ghosties (Site is Dead, shows Advanced Decay) Very few sites lying in a state of advanced decay ever come back. "Advanced Decay" usually indicates a lot of broken links, possibly some broken applications, and a "Last Updated" sign from many months ago.

Ghostie Award: Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet MuseumFive Ghosties (Site is Stuffed, Embalmed, and Ready for Internet Museum) Getting one of these awards indicates that the site in question was updated so long ago that it's almost supernatural that it's still here. Any site that was last updated in the 20th Century instantly qualifies it for this prestigiously mordant award.

I'm bringing this scoring system back, because it's a pretty accurate way of judging cyber-decrepitude. So please welcome the return of the Ghostie Awards!

(Note: you are of course free to display a "Ghostie Award" on your own Web site if you believe that it is a repository of bit rot, but you should understand that doing so will probably nullify your award, because any updating will reduce your BQ (Bitrot Quotient), which the Ghostie Algorithm takes very seriously.)

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June 20, 2007

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

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

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

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

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June 16, 2007

Is This the World's Oldest Active Web Page?

I went looking for the oldest active Web page the other day and came up with a handful of sites which, because of their age, deserve some kind of lifetime achievement award.

Vigilante Electronics
Vigilante Electronics claims to be "the oldest active web page selling used electronic test equipment," and it might just be true. This plain, cream-colored HTML page eschews clickable e-commerce features. There's just a list, a phone number, and according to the Internet Archive, the layout hasn't changed a bit since 1997. Hey, if it works, don't fix it!

Abigail's Dream
Abigal - whoever she is - maintains a page that, despite copyright notices dating up to 1999, is very old, and its "revolutionary" concept of putting up a dream sequence on a Web page, is even more dated (heck - I'd argue that the whole Internet Economy of 1995-2000 was nothing more than a dream sequence written on a bunch of Web pages). Abigail's Page was apparently reproduced in the book, Official HTML Publishing for Netscape, which makes it seem even older than its 1995 date of origin.

About Temperature
This document, prepared for science teachers, resides on the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and it was last updated in December of 1995. A multimedia tour-de-force (Wow - text AND graphics - now that's a teaching tool), it's a refreshingly simple mix of H1, H2 and H3 tags. Even with global warming, it seems that the principles of temperature haven't changed much in 10 years.

Government Crisis News
Which Government? Well, the Irish Government. Which crisis - well, whichever one the Irish had back in the early 1990's involving John Bruton, Dick Spring, and the Fine Gael Ministries. I think this page is from 1994 (there isn't any indication of the date on the page), but I'd need an authority on Irish Government Crises to verify this claim.

The Internet Classics Archive
Here's a Web page that hasn't aged gracefully. Marred by broken graphics, a misfiring search function, and a raft of Error 404's, the Internet Classics Archive was last updated in 2000, which puts it out of the running in our little contest. Still, it's certainly the oldest looking page in our roundup.

Pinball Expo 1994
Well, I think we may have found our winner. This page (it's a site, actually, with more than one page), which resides undisturbed on the servers of the Lysator Academic Computer Society, went on line in November 1994 and has been serving up increasingly outdated information ever since. Bless the university administrators who decided, against all reason, not to flush the fact from the Web that pinball's joys are eternal.

If you know of an older page than those in the list above, please send me e-mail. I'm always interested in cyber-antiquity, especially it's been a page, or a site, that's been continuously operating for 10 years or more without substantial modification or enhancement. It's amazing how little is left of early Web efforts: the shifting sands of Internet time leave very few bones on the beach.

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June 13, 2007's Fiction Archive To Be Destroyed

What happens to user-generated content when the company that hosts it decides that it no longer wants to host it? Well, it's destroyed, wiping out thousands of hours worth of collective effort.

The most brutal, unconscionable case of such destruction occurred in 2003, when C|Net, after acquiring, unilaterally destroyed the collective work of thousands of musicians who had freely contributed material to this site. See Crimes Against History: CNET, to Destroy World's Largest MP3 Archive, 11/23/2003.

This Friday,, a property owned by NBC Universal, will destroy its user-generated Fiction Archive. Currently, the archive contains material submitted by users as early as 2000.

The stupidity of this move astounds me. Some of these articles apparently have a ton of in-bound links, which benefits in terms of PageRank. I can only imagine the scenario, six months from now, when drops off the Google SERPS and an investigation is launched to find out who authorized this clueless move. Whoever did it will probably lose their job.

The lesson here is that you should never trust media companies to treat the material you send them with any respect. Keep local copies of everything you hold dear, or you'll wind up rueing the day. Properties change hands, people change their minds, and unless you actually control your data, you'll eventually get burned.

Thanks to Joel Schlosberg for bringing this imminent destruction to my attention.

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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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December 19, 2003

Call for BitMagic Movies

I received e-mail from a reader bewailing the demise of - whose Web Elegy exists elsewhere on this site. The reader claims to have a large library of BitMagic animations, and has graciously offered to help me view them, using an old player.

I am looking forward to helping unlock this lost genre of early Web animations, which were delivered via a proprietary player used in concert with e-mail during BitMagic's brief reign as a serious challenger to Shockwave. I cannot at this time know whether the BitMagic animations contain any gems, but am grateful to have a chance to inspect this lost archive. If you happen to run across any stray BitMagic movies on an old hard drive, please let me know - the long term plan is to build a complete filmography listing of BitMagic films.

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November 25, 2003

"No Way to Run a Culture"

Officialdom is regarding the phenomenona of disappearing Web pages with increased seriousness. Take this recent article from the Washington Post, which dwells at length on the problem afflicting scientific writers who footnote their research with URLs. Often, by the time the article is published, all of the source material disappears, making verification of one's findings difficult or impossible. See:

This article makes clear the need for researchers, writers, and historians to take account of the fact that Web sites disappear. It doesn't provide a remedy, but there is one - an easy one

Frankly, I find it surprising that backing up source material - rather than citing URLS that live on the Web, isn't yet standard practice with most people doing science.

Caching one's research material in .html is very efficient. Most projects could probably be documented in 100K to 500K of .html documents. It's as easy as "SAVE AS". While this is not a perfect solution, it eases the pain of being confronted with dead URL footnotes that were not cached by search engines or the Internet Archive.


November 07, 2003

Holes in Web History

I am a great admirer or the Internet Archive. It represents the greatest single repository of dead Web-related matter that is publically available today, and whenever I give a talk or send an e-mail about my own modest work in this field, I always mention it in glowing terms.

Still, one cannot fully serve the cause of digital history preservation without pointing out that there are flaws many of the artifacts in's collections, and that these flaws are already making it difficult for Web historians to glean much more than a surface understanding of what many of the early Web pioneers were up to.

What am I talking about here? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few screengrabs taken this week from exhibits in's collection. (caution: these files are fairly large - I intend to put lower-resolution images up soon, but am not currently at a machine that has a copy of Photoshop aboard it).

Exhibit A:, circa 1999


As you can see, the page, as preserved, reveals very little about what the IBM webmasters intended to show back when they put this page up in 1999. It's not even clear that it's an IBM page, because even the famous "IBM 8-bar" logo is missing, and so is a date-stamp.One can presume that the large grey areas of the page contained some sort of graphical images, or perhaps Java elements (I very much doubt whether the very conservative IBM would have ever deigned to put shockwave on its pages!). But in truth, the grey areas could have contained almost anything, and given that it is unlikely, although not impossible, that any other copies of this page exist anywhere, future historians will be left with far more questions than answers as they ponder this page.

Exhibit B:, circa 1998


This page is a bit better preserved than IBM's, but not by much. One can readily identify the MSNBC logo, and see a date-stamp, but the most important story of the day - the one that would have appeared in the large blue area - is missing, as are what appears to have been a "scrolling headline" that would have appeared in an area immediately above the blue area, and the navigation bar to its left. What did MSNBC's editors think were the most compelling issues on the date of April 28th? We'll never know.

Exhibit C:, circa 2002


Could any article about Bitrot be complete without referring at least once to Tina Brown's extraordinarily ill-conceived venture into cyberspace known as Of course not! Unfortunately, future historians using to see exactly what Ms. Brown built with her millions of dollars of funding will be hard-pressed to say anything more than "we know that there was a site called and it seems to have used frames and a bunch of navigation buttons along the top". Of course, I have chosen this example not just to skewer the honorable Ms. Brown, who now has a spectacularly well-paying job at the Washington Post while other better writers are starving for a single paying assignment, but to point out the fact that a screenshot in my own collection happens to do a better job of presenting a good illustration of Ms. Brown's site was doing. I hope, but by no means expect that future social critics of our celebrity-glutted age will thank me sometime after I've died.

All right - you've seen my three exhibits. So what's the "takeaway" from them? Well, it certainly is not to bash - which has done more to preserve our collective digital history than any single institution I'm aware of. In many, many cases, the Web sites in archive'org's collection are much better preserved than the three you've seen here - especially those that didn't use fancy home pages elements such as Java, Shockwave, or other history-resistant dynamic elements.

This brief tour of inadvertently-induced "bitrot" does, however, show some of the limitations of the robotic spidering approach to compiling digital archival matter. Spiders and robots, however efficient, have not had the capability of recognizing the presence of dymanic elements as a condition warranting any special action by a human being. Perhaps some day they'll have this ability, but this doesn't help any of the three cases above. Whatever they looked like a few years ago, whatever content was served up - well, it's as much a mystery now as it will be in a thousand years.

Should we mourn and tear our hair out because's history collections aren't perfect? Of course not. Nobody in his/her right mind believes it's possible or desirable to save every last bit that's been churned through cyberspace over the last ten years. One might have hoped that IBM and MSNBC - major, well-funded sites that one might have thought "socially significant" entities - might have survived the historical mill with fewer broken parts. But both of these organizations clearly have the wherewithall to have performed internal archiving on their own, and if they're particularly bugged about this, well, they can simply FedEx a tape drive over to's offices in San Francisco's Presido. And if they don't, well, they obviously don't give a damn about the problem, in which case history will give them what they deserve: obscurity.

One thing is clear, however, and it's a lesson worth noting by anyone building Web sites today: if you want people in the future to see your site the way you intended it, you really should eschew fancy, faddish "gimmick du jour" technologies and stick to good old fashioned plain vanilla HTML, GIFs, and JPEGs. Unless you resist the temptation to load up your pages with Java, Shockwave, Flash, XML and other fancy-dancy presentational goodies, the only thing that people of the future may see when they key in your URL is a big grey hole in Web history.

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October 28, 2003

Why Study Web History at All?

I've been collecting all kinds of cyberjunk for years. Old Microsoft Developer T-shirts, Flooz handerchiefs, pre-AOL Time-Warner frisbees, and yes, pictures of old dead web sites. I also collect old railroad timetables and match book covers - maybe there's a connection there somewhere.

So I'm a pack rat - on the Web and in RL - and I know I'm not alone. In fact, pack rats are probably less interesting and less numerous creatures than Jackdaws, which steal, horde, and festoon their nests with any shiny bright bauble they fly over during their work day. Neither Charles Darwin nor anybody else has figured out why these strange birds collect the shiny effluvia left behind by human beings: they just do it, and perhaps their behavior furthers their attempt to gain a long-term foothold in evolution's spiral that we'll never completely understand.

Perhaps you're a digital jackdaw too. Perhaps there's a part of you that will really never get over the first hallucinogenic moment - perhaps in 1993 or '94, perhaps last week, when you saw the Web for the first time. In the same way that drug addicts will spend their life savings trying to recapture that first mad moment of ecstacy, people deeply impressed by their first exposure to the World Wide Web frequently return to it, or perhaps it returns to them. Either way, the Web provides constant reminders of its past - and a vortex back into time, when we were all younger, richer, fresher, and life at 56K was the norm.

Nostalgic sounding, doesn't it? Web Nostalgia isn't really big right now - the last 10 years are still with us - some would say "all too much with us". But it will come, in the same way that Saturday Night Fever keeps coming back, or scooters, skateboards, yo-yo's, and mindless rhythmic music. At the risk of sounding like a latter-day Joe Franklin (the "world's number one collectible of memorabilia"), it's all too likely that the Web soon take its place in the pantheon of lost fads, and perhaps that's where it belongs, right next to one's old 386SX notebook, an Apple IIe, and one's never used Radio Shack CB Radio.

But wait a minute - wasn't the Web - yes, this thing that somehow is bringing you the thing that you are now reading - going to be a lot more than simply a fad that would come, go, and expire as soon as something better more interesting came along? Didn't the Web represent a quantum leap for humanity, in terms of realizing the global "noosphere" predicted by visionaries such as Tielhard De Chardin? If so - if there was and is something culturally unique going on here that is the very beginning of what is a much longer-term trend - are we not obligated to treat it with a bit more respect than yesterday's garbage?

This isn't just idle "jackdaw-level" curiosity at all the bright shiny baubles we've created in the last 10 years. The very idea of studying Web History (as opposed to Net History or Computer History) supposes that there was and is something unique on the Web - especially in terms of how it synergetically combines text, image, speech, and anciallary forms in a special "sensory web" that makes it more than simply "all that there stuff that uses the Hypertext Transport Protocol), And yet the sad truth is that most of the Web - perhaps 99% of its terrabytes of information - is cybergarbage whose evanescence is probably well-deserved. The problem, of course, is deciding which part gets preserved and which thrown out. Who controls history? Well - we do - at least until the historical record disappears (Note: the average life of a Web page is a mere 44 days).

One thing we - historians, amateur ones like myself and profession ones inside the academy - can say is that the Web is a creature with a big brain but no memory facilities. In fact, one could almost call it brain-damaged in terms of its inability to retain much of its own past. Dystopians term it an Orwellian medium that doesn't even need a poor sot like Winston Smith to rewrite the files maintained at the Ministry of Truth - the Web deletes itself, through a complex web of interactions - some technological, others purely social - all of which conspire to make it an ephemeral, malleable, and impermanent.communications channel - more like the telephone than the telegraph.

Why study Web History? Well - because it's really damned strange, when you really start to sort though the digital dumpster. And once in awhile, one can find a discarded pearl or two of wisdom there. But more importantly, as computer-mediated information grows (in 2002, human beings created about 800 megabytes each), it's clear that nobody - outside a handful of institutions that each have their own approach to the problem - is making the connection between our digital past and our digital future.

What was the Web Generation up to in its first 10 years? What did they build here? Was it good? Was it bad? Was it blind? Was it stupid? Could it hold a key to what's next? Is it simply rubbish that's as dead as yesterday's news? Or do all of these questions pale when compared to the ultimate question - did Karl Marx's prediction that humanity will reach "The End of History" actually refer not to a triumph of socialism, but to our arrival at a cliff heralding a new, possibly digital Dark Age, wherein history will actually disappear in some undreamt of meta-systemic-crash, like an "info-stroke"? Is History Itself "Obsolete"? That's the "ah-hah" question that lurks - like a ghoul - at the end of any extended meditation upon this subject.

Web Historians are not futurists, but anti-futurists who reason that our strange, jackdaw-like behavior and our habit of looking backward, not forward, is no more dangerous than focussing exclusively on the road ahead. Studying the past through the Web presents a view that cuts against the grain of the future-bias of this medium, which always and forever will be focussed on the Now and the Next (as it was designed to do). Many of us reject the notion that a central canonical "Web History" can ever be written, or that it even should be written. That perhaps a decentralized set of "histories" might more accurately describe the actual zeitgeist of digital culture, even if they suffer from an alarming lack of comprehension.

What unites us is that there is something about the notion of all this impermenance that deeply disturbs us. Perhaps we see that the New Library of Alexandria is being made not of marble, but of straw. Perhaps we're just a bunch of jackdaws whose Quixote-like quest to capture and preserve artifacts from early digital culture is ultimately pointless. Maybe we're just stick-in-the muds suffering from a kind of nauseating motion sickness that Internet Time induces over long periods of exposure. Or brave "Necronauts", as Bruce Sterling puts it, who just dig banging around in abandoned industrial sites. We ourselves do not always know who we are. But these and other considerations go a long way to answer the question: "Why Study Web History at All?"

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