Virtual Museum Remembers Dead Web Sites

Enter www.petstore.com, www.etoys.com or www.den.net into your Web browser and you will see little trace of the sites that originally did brisk business or garnered considerable hype while operating on the World Wide Web.

Their dying gasps, though, are saved at the Museum of E-Failure.

"You have reached www.24-7.com," reads the frame grab of a defunct site. "Unfortunately, we are now closed."

"24-7 gets the irony award," says Steve Baldwin, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based freelance writer and co-producer of the netslaves.com site.

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For five years, he has been grabbing frames from dying Web sites and storing them in the Museum of E-Failure, a virtual exhibit he created at http://www.disobey.com/ghostsites/.

Here Today, Gone TomorrowHe says he wants to document a key moment in Internet history.

"You go to Yahoo, or whatever, and say, 'What a great site, I've found it.' And then, bang, it's gone," he says.

Often, Baldwin notes, the sites are simply pulled off the Net, and former employees can have a tough time getting examples of their work.

"In the old days, if you were a civil engineer and worked for a firm that went bankrupt, at least you could drive by a bridge and say, I built that," he says. "But if you worked for a dot-com, you have nothing to show you existed."

Baldwin knows the feeling. Since starting his project, he, himself, has become a survivor of the dot-com scrap heap. He worked at Time Warner's now-defunct Pathfinder site, which collected content from the media giant's various publications. At the time, it was one of the largest sites on the Internet. Now, people who enter www.pathfinder.com on a browser are bounced to the Web site for Time magazine.

"Everything that we did is just gone and the people have scattered in a kind of diaspora," Baldwin says. "Pathfinder is long gone now and there are no fragments available."

Instant Web NostalgiaThere are remnants of Pathfinder stored on his site, as well as a record of dailyradar.com's top-12 reasons that it failed, and self-penned notices that checkout.com "has well, checked out" and "eAuto has run out of gas."

"It's like instant Web nostalgia," Baldwin says. "Everything changes so fast. That's part of my motivation for doing this, to preserve some of that wackiness. I wanted to capture something of this period, where everybody had kind of a free reign and pretty much a blank check."

He also wanted to preserve the look of the Internet, circa the present day.

"If a company goes bankrupt, they can usually sell their domain name and sometimes a company database, but I don't think they can sell their Web site," he says. "I think they consider that kind of useless. If they come back, they're going to have a different look."

He believes that sense of disposability and the speed of change makes preservation even more important.

"Everyone really values currency in this medium," he says. "It's not like, 'I hate the new Coke. I like the old Coke.' Nobody's saying, 'I like the classic Web design you had in 1997.'"

But historians may one day want to know what these sites looked like, and former employees might want to remember.

"Ten years from now, I don't know, I think it will be really interesting," Baldwin says. "I think it will be really sad."

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