On October 1, 2017, an anonymous Wikipedia user noticed that Rotten.com, one of the internet's oldest shock sites, appeared to be down. A few Reddit users also noticed, and assumed the site was defunct. The news went largely unremarked upon until nearly two months later, when blogger and internet personality Andy Baio tweeted that, “After 20 years, http://Rotten.com seems to be permanently offline.” The most recent snapshot of the site on Archive.org, which checks in on Rotten a few times a month, was on September 7.
A Google search turned up only two websites — both of them Greek news aggregators — that covered the story. That isn’t terribly surprising, given how far Rotten has fallen since its heyday. The site is still culturally relevant, in a stomach-turning way: In a recent profile in the Atlantic, a former friend of Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, called Rotten Anglin's “preferred online destination.”
A relic of Web 1.0, Rotten and sites like it — Stileproject, Ogrish.com and so on — exist to horrify you. The site traded primarily in images of death: the aftermaths of car crashes, suicides, terrorist attacks, depictions of unusual diseases and deformities, deranged pornography. The domain name was registered in 1996 by Thomas E. Dell, a former software engineer at Apple and Netscape who went by the alias Soylent. According to Salon, the site drew 200,000 visitors a day in 2001. But like many Web 1.0 holdouts, Rotten.com hasn't done well on the post-Facebook web. Today, if it’s lucky, it draws that many in a month, according to the web analytics tracker SimilarWeb. The site hadn't published any new content since 2012.
After a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one person died, Anglin’s The Daily Stormer was dropped from its hosting company. Other hosting companies and domain registrars followed suit, cutting off white supremacist organizations such as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, while Twitter, Facebook, and Google have taken steps to police racist content on their platforms. It seemed possible that Rotten, where Nazi and Holocaust imagery were common, had been swept up in this wave.
But Dell, contacted over Google Hangouts, says Rotten is not gone forever. According to Dell, the site is only temporarily down because of a hardware issue. What that issue is, Dell wouldn't say. “It’s too old,” he said. Dell declined to say when he expects the site to be back up. For now, at least, one of the most horrifying relics of the early web is gone.