Monday, October 26, 2009

Remembrance of websites past (Part 1: Broken Newz)

A website generally goes through stages; initially, newbies are delighted to make any connection they can with like-minded people/websites, and every backlink is a treasure - an affirmation that one's work is appreciated, somewhere, somehow, at least enough for someone to copy and paste your URL into their blog/facebook page/etc. Next comes building an audience, the routine of defining a voice for the site and building upon its possibilities, often with frequent posts that assume an urgency visible only to the webmaster. And then?...

Some sites settle into a quasi-retirement, with less frequent posts. Some are simply left as is, their creators moving on to different things. But let's face it: maintaining a website costs money, even if you're not doing anything. Not everyone wants to pay bandwidth fees indefinitely for a project that occupied their attention for a few months in 2003-4.

And that is the stumbling block for the internet as data repository: websites are like kids - they keep asking for money even when you think they ought to have moved out of your basement years ago. A few inactive sites remain online, but the vast majority fall by the wayside sooner or later. While the laudable internet archive project is valiantly caching material left and right, the truth is that storing content is only half the battle. The other half is maintaining the connections, the all-too-vital links that bring interested people to your site in the first place. The Wayback Machine may be storing your precious content for the ages, but unless someone goes looking for it specifically, they're not going to find it. Once your content resides in archives only, it's off the radar; the days of someone happening across your site through a random link, a relevant post in a blog or a mention in the news somewhere, are gone.

What I'd like to do in the coming weeks is raise a virtual glass to a few members of the online humor community that have gone offline. You may remember them, you may not, but in any event, they are worth a mention in the annals of cyberspace. (And we'll link to whatever content we can from the Wayback Machine, because these sites are offline.)

Up first...

Broken Newz was a pioneering site founded in 2001 by Bill Doty, a writer who later helped co-found the short-lived Fark TV. Snarky, brash, and adept at surfing the waves of public interest, Broken Newz attracted a huge audience at its peak - more than a million pageviews a month - with over a dozen contributors feeding nearly daily updates to the site under Bill's watchful eye. A rare humor site with a somewhat more conservative slant than many, there were few topics Broken Newz didn't take on. The site gained notoriety for its "Olsen Twins Countdown", which tracked the minutes, hours and days until Mary Kate and Ashley turned 18.

Bill Doty was a driving force behind the online satire community that came together in 2002 and co-founded HumorFeed with 'Uncle Sharky' of U.S. Press. Without Bill Doty, and the support he gave through the tremendous drawing power of Broken Newz and through networking with other sites, HumorFeed might not exist today.

Broken Newz didn't always take the high road, but it always took a funny road (or tried to). Bill sold the site in 2008 to one of his contributors, and the domain has been inactive ever since. RIP Broken Newz, 2001-2008.

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Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.