The Internet's most famous ghost towns


In the 23 years since Tim Berners-Lee's marvelous invention of the World Wide Web, we've seen plenty of Web pages come and go. Some suffer from irrelevance and die. Others go because hosting and traffic bills become prohibitive, or the site owner burns out. Still others simply linger, online but neglected. Their U.S. user base all but disappeared. Where have all the people gone?  Here are 10 once-thriving communities that are mere shells of their former selves. 

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Kuro5hin, inspired by the Slashdot community, fell apart because it couldn't sustain itself financially.  Unfortunately, the collaborative discussion site never enjoyed Slashdot's popularity, and in 2002, founder Rusty Foster published a notice entitled "We're Broke: The Economics of a Web Community." He shared income and expense info asking readers to help meet the site's $70,000 annual operating budget.  The plea worked, and the site raised $35,000 in under a week. Since then, the site has limped along and has been the subject of many death rumors. Last updated on May 11, 2013.

MySpace supplanted GeoCities as the place to be for personal Web pages, and communication. Bands in particular began using their MySpace page as a way to connect with fans. But MySpace began facing challenges. It was built on ColdFusion, making it difficult to modify. It also earned a reputation as being a place no one over 25 should be caught dead. Eventually, MySpace's primitive, clunky interface couldn't keep up with the likes of Facebook. News Corp. bought the site in 2005 for $520 million, and sold it in 2011 to ad network, Specific Media for just $35 million (with Justin Timberlake also taking an ownership stake). The site relaunched in January 2013, wiping out old MySpace content without allowing users to recover pictures or personal information which has not helped build goodwill for the new site.

Created by developer Brad Fitzpatrick as an online diary, no single moment led to LiveJournal's downfall. It became a pool of teen angst and whining, the interface was clumsy, and competitive site, Blogger, was simpler and more powerful. Its purchase by a Russian firm SUP Media and closure of the U.S. office in 2009 led to a de-emphasis in the U.S.  In November 2012, there were 39,663,771 accounts on LiveJournal, but just 1,790,795 were listed as "active in some way." shows a continued downward slope for users. Its most popular page is a celebrity gossip page called "Oh No They Didn't," where submissions are contributed by LiveJournal users, and accounts for about one-sixth of all LiveJournal traffic.

Formed as a BBS in 1985, The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (The WELL) became one of the earliest ISPs in the early 1990s. It was the hub of San Francisco online activity for a while. Members of the Grateful Dead hung out there and interacted with fans, and The Well is where John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore, and Mitch Kapor met and formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It also played a role in the arrest of hacker Kevin Mitnick. Content to be a small community of Bay Area iconoclasts and oddballs, Wired's profile outlined the almost constant state of civil war among its members and owners. When it went up for sale in 2012, 2,693 users remained.

Before the advent of the Web and Web-based message boards, Usenet was the message board for Internet discussions. As the Internet opened to the public in the 1990s, spammers crept into Usenet's mostly unmoderated groups driving users away. Worse, almost all ISPs dropped Usenet entirely fearing lawsuits because the alt.binaries heirarchy was loaded with copyrighted software, images, video and music.  Today, the only way for most people to get Usenet is through a paid subscription from places like Giganews and Supernews. Most groups are dead. Some hang on with the support of old school Internet users who remember when you could list your phone number in your signature file and not worry about prank calls.

Second Life took off like a shot as the shiny new place to hang out. Even IBM's CEO, Sam Palmisano, reported having two characters in Second Life -- one for his real identity and one for his fake one so he could walk anonymously among the masses. The site failed, because there were better engagement options. TelePresence became far more advanced. Webcams improved and Skype let you talk to multiple people at once.  Its maker Linden Labs also never embraced mobile. Having 600,000 active users is nothing to complain about, but that's the same number it's had for years.

Friendster was meant to compete with dating sites based on the premise that friends of friends make for more likely romantic partners than strangers. Unfortunately, the friend connections were weak, and when rumors emerged in 2004 about the site charging feeds for basic services, users fled for the up-and-coming MySpace.  By 2006, the site was only used in a few regions such as southeast Asia, and a very poor redesign with no support for mobile devices, geolocation apps, and so on sealed the deal three years later. The site exists today, but as an online gaming site.

The social network was born out of Google's 20% time policy and named after its creator, Google software engineer, Orkut Büyükkökten. In 2004, Affinity Engines filed suit against Google, claiming that Orkut was based on InCircle, a network Büyükkökten created while at Affinity Engines. Since Orkut had nine identical bugs found in InCircle, it was hard to deny. The Orkut community required an invitation by an existing member, although people soon found ways around that. Word of mouth in Brazil drove the greatest growth, and most of these people spoke Portuguese. Americans began bailing in favor of MySpace. Today, the site is almost entirely used by people outside the U.S. Its last user count puts it at 33 million, with 62% from Brazil and 19% from India.

"Death by Redesign" could be the title of Digg's biography. Launched as a news aggregator, the company was its own nemesis. Its DiggBar was despised. A small clique of users controlled much of the content. The company redesigned the front page so much driving users nuts.  Digg version 4 was missing so many features such as bury, favorites, friends submissions, upcoming pages, subcategories, videos and history search that it drove many users to Reddit. Digg was sold in pieces to three companies in 2012. Betworks got the site, LinkedIn got some patents and Washington Post's SocialCode got some staff. The new owners finally gave it a  decent interface. Traffic is rising, and Digg is starting to recover.

A&R executive Julie Gordon found an AOL message board called Record Industry Dirt that had no dirt. She used multiple identities to share the insider information she knew, and the board exploded in popularity. In 1995, she moved to the Web with The Velvet Rope. Although intended to be strictly an insider's board for music industry pros, outsiders wandered in. However, reflective of the implosion in the music industry, The Rope imploded. Gordon sold the site to Tiwary Entertainment. Their neglect is so bad a banner ad hyping Brooke Shields's run as Morticia Addams in a New York theater version of "The Addams Family" is still up, even though the play ran in 2011.

Tripod: One of the first personal page sites, along with GeoCities and Angelfire, today limps along in slow decline.

Lycos: The owner of Tripod, this search engine is still in business but falling fast.

Angelfire: Owned for a while by Lycos, it's still in business but does not offer free pages and is also fading out.

Excite: Another original search engine, but barely registering a pulse. The site still looks like something out of the 1990s.

 See the other Honorable Mentions in the original article.