This Week’s Weirdest Technology: Ghost Sites and Science Fiction Future

Living in the heart of what most would consider the “Old West”, I’m on friendly terms with places that were home to outlaws, stage coach robbers, cattle rustlers and horse thieves. It takes only moments to visit old, long-abandoned homes that look like they should be in a painting. And ghost towns litter the mountains to mark the passage of people who went for their dreams but didn’t quite make it.

I can’t help but think of the Internet’s beginnings as a gold rush. When businesses and consumers first met on the virtual highway and realized how easy it was to do business there, a massive boom happened. People were rushing to cash in on the digital gold just waiting to be mined out of the Internet.

With all “rushes” comes “booms”. If it starts big, it tends to crash under its own weight.

Chronicaling the crashing fall of today’s most popular websites comes this week’s first weird technology: Ghost Sites of the Web. Run by Steve Baldwin, a writer with an impressive resume that includes Ziff-Davis (ZDNet) and Time Inc, this website is absolutely stuffed with entries.

What’s great about Ghost Sites is that Baldwin doesn’t stop with simply placing a headstone and calling a site “dead”, but he gives insight as to why it might be. In one entry, he marks the closing of the New York Times’ “The Walk Through” and points out that The Times have been making a lot of changes – including the dumping of its broadcast holdings. In another entry, Baldwin shows off a great deal of humor:

“Today, the OS/2 e-Zine is a spectral Ghost Site: its broken banners howl in the wind, its links lie rotted and disused, and its listing in Yahoo’s Directory will, someday, inevitably, be purged from the Web’s active memory.”

So what’s the point to dedicating an active website to all the Ghost Sites out there? As Baldwin describes it, the idea began in the summer of 1996 – “Late in the evening of July 4th, while piloting a small craft across Long Island Sound, I had what only can be described as an epiphany.From out of the depths came a cruel vision of the World Wide Web. It wasn’t a friendly place – an innocent place of community, commerce and chat. It was a great and utterly pitiless electronic ocean that swallowed up sites, careers, and venture capital like a ravenous killer whale. Great sites – sites like Mecklerweb and iGuide – were going down with all hands. Great fortunes were collapsing and proud content sites lay wrecked on the bottom. No one seemed to care. The future was a vast abyss – who would record these days of New Media folly, disaster and despair?”

People continue to make a trek following guidebooks and maps to find the ghost towns of Colorado, to visit their now-forgotten streets and peek inside the wrecks of buildings once called home. What Ghost Sites has done is create a virtual map of all the dreams that the Internet has killed.

Of course, some people could care less about history – they’re forward-thinking people with an eye on the future. What gets them excited are things like flying cars, smell-o-vision, and the idea of living underwater. They know what soylent green is and can tell you exactly what kinds of benefits nutritional substitutes have.

So we’re living in the 21st century now – where are all the cool things that we were supposed to have by now? There are no flying cars, and I’m not sure we really need to see (or smell!) smell-o-vision. On the plus side, we do have something that when Back to the Future came out was only science fiction – we can see the people we’re talking to on the phone.

In fact, science fiction often predicts the future. Look at it this very stereotypical way: what kind of kid were most of today’s scientists? Were they not (in general) the kids who faithfully followed their favorite comic book hero through the hard journey to destroy the mad scientist? They read the science fiction books and dreamed of one day being able to do something as now-simple as look at someone a continent away while they held a phone conversation. Those scientists are all grown-up now and bring us the most awesome – and sometimes strange – new technology.

Yes, I’m going somewhere with this. Right into this week’s second weird technology. We’ve covered the past and now know exactly where to go online to learn about which sites have succumbed to digital rot. Now, let’s jump into the future with “Welcome To The Retro Future“.

A truly funky little site, this thing is totally retro with clipart that reminds you of the 50’s. Their home page offers up a “This Week in Retro Future History” bit that is perfect for cramming into the annals of your useless-trivia portion of the brain.

What “stuff” is here? Everything you’ve ever dreamed of having! Straight out of the comic books and ripped from the pages of science fiction we get to learn about perpetual sunlight, skyscraper utopias, 2-way wrist radios, Cronkite’s space pad, rocket mail, and sex in space.

So there you have it. Weird technology that looks at both what has come-and-gone and what has never come at all. Kinda makes you want to sit down and invent something, doesn’t it?

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