What to do with a dead site

By | May 2nd, 1996

Like flesh-eating zombies in a second-rate horror film, travel Web sites never really die. Their un-updated corpses stay preserved on the Internet as colorful monuments to their creators’ folly.

The dead sites mingle with the living as they might in a Stephen King novel, and even people with a trained eye often can’t tell the difference between the real thing and an impostor.

That’s hardly a new problem for Internet users, who are haunted by an occasional “URL Does Not Exist” error. But it’s reached frightening levels in this industry, where the undead aren’t just tolerated, they’re celebrated.

Frank Kogen, a managing partner with Advanced Travel Management, the Manhattan corporate agency, thinks it’s time to end the shenanigans. If a site’s dead, he says, we should pull the plug completely. “Otherwise, the page annoys people,” he says. “It turns them off.”

Kogen’s favorite lifeless sites: Rosenbluth International and Direct Travel. Not only are the pages dead on arrival, but there’s no one at the other end answering electronic mail, he says.

“There was a huge race to get a presence online,” he notes. “But now that people are here, they’re realizing that the best they can do is attract 12-year-olds who are surfing the Net, and that’s not the audience they want.”

Biztravel.com, the ambitious Web-based travel magazine I was involved with during its first days, was an early victim of that online race. It is widely considered one of the oldest cadavers in cyberspace today. Although some might argue that the project was doomed by inept planning, inadequate funding, and incompetent leadership, the fact is that the e-zine had no reason for being in the first place and therefore is now nothing more than a meaningless shell.

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Mary Moslander knows about death on the information highway. A vice president for marketing at Digital Ink, the electronic publishing unit of the Washington Post, she saw her company’s first foray into electronic publishing run off the road.

The Post had been a part of AT&T’s Interchange project, a proprietary dial-up system similar to America Online. The project went bust, but Digital Ink regrouped and is now aiming for a June 1 Web-based launch.

“It’s difficult to die when there are multiple platforms and new technologies,” she says. “When AT&T decided not to move forward with Interchange, we decided to go to the Web. We’re moving quickly to make our sites one of the best for news and information.”

Moslander is fortunate. Her project will get a second chance. But what about biztravel.com and the other zombies in our midst?

Paul Gudelis, the IBM Webmaster responsible for bringing sporting events such as the U.S. Open, the Masters golf tournament, and the Olympics to the Web, offers an answer. His sites are active for a few days and then lie dormant, sometimes for years.

“The proper thing to do would be to alert people that this is not a maintained site,” he says. “I think there are various degrees of ‘not maintained.’ You could just put [out] information that’s not time-sensitive. For an example, if you’re running a hotel in the Cayman Islands, just put a picture of your property up there and publish your e-mail address for queries.”

But the next stage of “not maintained” – posting information billed as “hot news” that’s 16 months old – is unpardonable. “Take it down,” he advises. “If you go out of business, so should your Web page. It’s just the right thing.”

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