It's late, the night before the YBNBY Deathclock will finally reach zero. I've just gone through the system revoking author permissions for all the other writers who have already bid you their final farewells. And I've opened a bottle of Chardonnay.
In other words, the place is cleared, the chairs are up on the tables, and I've locked the front door. All that's left is for me to turn out the lights, and then lock the door again behind me as I leave.
Quiet, isn't it?
But first, there's no hurry. It's our final chat, so pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass, and let's reflect...
First of all, some Thank You's
A few thanks are in order, and I have to begin with you, the readers. Whether you've been reading for six days or six years, you've all provided something I never expected when I began all this in 2005; not just readers, but a community of voices who enjoyed, criticized, commented and shared. All in all, 13 million individual visitors read at least one story on YesButNoButYes.com over the years, a number that it's very difficult to get my head around. And while not everyone stayed and said hello, each helped build the site into something I never dreamed it would be when I started.
Time for a final shout out to The Loyal 77, our dedicated and vocal fans who became part of the family. Leo, Tim, E, Dave, Bill, Pablo, Chad, Phatlard, Effen, Frank, Vicky, Evangeline, Jeni, S.O. - I know I've probably forgotten some, but you all know who you are.
I have to also thank the other sites and blogs that helped me out over the years, with words of encouragement (like Alex at Neatorama), sending so much traffic our way (like Ryan at Gorillamask), or just making me feel like I wasn't alone every time I hit a problem, (like Dustin at Pajiba).
Next, I have to thank the writers who have graced us with their words. It's been awhile since we've seen some of these folks, but nevertheless, at one time or another, they amazed me with the quality of their submissions: Clickety Clack, Aquaman, BigFatCreative, DNAGal, BPBS, Evil Richard, Iloverobots, Razen, Supersternio, The Muggler, Conservalibercrat_08, Jeem, Bigus Dickus, TurkeyBurgerDLX, Haterade. Anyone here still remember them, or their long-forgotten features like "Notes from the Blogosphere", "Ugly Animal Kingdom" or "The Grindhouse"?
Our current set of writers deserve a special mention for keeping this site alive the last year when my own interest waned a little - the effusive and eloquent monkeylover Johnny Wright, Miss Cellania (who stuck with us almost from the start), Baierman (who did more to keep the site going in the last year than anyone else), and Echowood (who I think is one of the funniest and most talented writers we ever had). I'm sorry to see them go, and hope that you follow them all at their respective blogs.
And finally, a extra special thank you to Jellio, for many years my main partner-in-crime here. When I asked Jellio to write a final goodbye, he declined, believing that the site had moved on and that he didn't have anything that could be said to the current readers. But if there's one person to thank for YBNBY's success, it's Jellio, because so many of the things that propelled us into the upper reaches were his ideas - the Top Tens, Where Are They Now, Lunchtime Veg, Breakfast Links. Thanks Buddy, I really appreciate everything you did.
Founding and editing YesButNoButYes has been one the happiest creative experiences of my life. In the last six years, it's taught me so much about what is and isn't popular, and how to get people to pay attention to what you have to say, that it basically served as an apprenticeship for my current career in marketing.
Some things I've learned along the way
- Pornography is the most popular entertainment format on the planet. But it's not because we're all perverts, it's because it's just about the only form of entertainment that completely transcends language and cultural boundaries. Music around the world has cultural nuances, so has fine art, or movies or comics. But people have sex pretty much the same way everywhere. Except possibly in Greece. Even the North Koreans. Which is why our story on female streakers has a huge readership across the world. Boobies are boobies, no matter where you're from, regardless of whether or not you like to draw Mohammed.
- People are deeply schizophrenic about "NSFW" content. Several advertising networks refused to let us carry ads unless we deleted a list of stories they sent us. That list matched with our most trafficked stories of all time EXACTLY. So ultimately the very thing these networks were trying to disassociate their advertisers with was the same thing the customers for those advertisers wanted the most.
- You know what the biggest deal in "social media" is for sites like this? It's not media darlings like Twitter, and Facebook. It's Stumbleupon. Getting popular on Stumbleupon.com can guarantee success, and $500 spent on advertising there is money very well spent.
- You can also forget Digg, or CNN, or The Washington Post, or USA Today, or even Sports Illustrated and ESPN. All of them have linked to us over the years, and all drive some traffic. But nothing - and I mean NOTHING - can compare to the one site that very few people mention, but can kill your server in a matter of minutes. Hitting the front page of Fark.com is a goldmine.
- How to make money blogging - write a blog about something people buy. We all love funny stuff, it makes the days easier, and it's SO much more fun to write. But getting advertisers to pay anything except the lowest rates for advertising on a humor blog is impossible. The sister site I ran for awhile - PodGuide.TV, that was basically a shill for the iPod - got 100th of the traffic here, but some months brought in more revenue.
- Regardless of the last fact, you'll probably never make money blogging, so only do it if you love it. YBNBY regularly got up to 500,000 visits a month. That's not BoingBoing level, but it's definitely B List. And most months we usually made less than $1000 in total. Split between all of us after operating expenses. In other words, for most people, even for a popular site like YBNBY, blogging pays less than flipping burgers at McD's.
The things that made me proudest
In amongst all the high flying posts and top commented stories, the ones that I look back on with most pride are the ones that probably slipped by you.
- The interview with KC Armstrong that revealed for the first time what happened between him and Howard. Man, I remember when we ran that, we really felt like we were journalists.
- The series of articles I wrote for Axe for The Kentucky Derby, and the piece on Second Life whorehouses. I was never happier than when I was channeling my inner gonzo.
- The photos I took for the Naked Cowgirl Calendar and the various Underwear Days. At my heart, I always considered myself a photographer first, a writer second, so I loved when I went out on a photo assignment.
- The 2008 Election Liveblog. A moment in history, and a night I will never forget.
- Above all, the interview with Bambi Woods. No-one ever believed it was real, and to this day, I have no idea if it was or not. But being able to possibly tell the story of what happened to Debbie from Debbie Does Dallas was, in most ways, exactly what YesButNoButYes was created for.
Forget all that crap - Why are you closing??
We've had a bunch of emails asking this, along with offers to "save the site", so I know I have to address this somehow, but for many of you, this is going to be a bit like the Lost finale. In many ways, the answer you want is too complicated to sum up properly. But let me take another swig of wine and try.
For most of its life, YBNBY just kind of "worked". Writers had no quotas, no deadlines, no censorship or restrictions. People could write what they wanted, when they wanted. The stories just kept coming, and the site kept going. But there have been a few key moments, when I reflected on what this was, and whether it needed to radically change track to survive.
The first time came when I lost a few of the original writers and I was faced with having to replace them or close. Luckily, I did and things kept moving, and made me realize that YBNBY was bigger than just it's "founders" and could continue to grow and evolve.
The second time was when big business got involved, when a large, fairly famous publishing company approached me to buy YBNBY for what I thought then (and even more so now) was an stupid amount of money. No, I'm not going to tell you how much. Just imagine me rolling on a bed made of $100 bills, laughing deliriously. They courted me for months, offering all the existing writers contracts, and finally we all agreed. And then, on the eve of the deal - literally the night before - the publishing company backed out. It was disheartening, and frustrating. And I responded bullishly with a complete redesign, and - for many people reading this - the start of the renaissance of YBNBY. That was two years ago.
And so there's now. This time, it wasn't so much a big event as a creeping feeling that we'd gone as far as we could go, done as much as we could do with YBNBY. The curve of our early traffic growth had reversed, and while we were not exactly in a tailspin, I would call it "a funk". Flat traffic, the same kind of stories, and a slow attrition of writers to better jobs, other opportunities. I realized that YBNBY needed another shot in the arm - a new set of writers, a new format, a new design, if it was to grow again.
Or - maybe, just maybe - it was time to call it a day.
And the more I thought about that option, the more it called to me. There was a certain poetry to going out with a bang, while we still had a strong readership, on our own terms, through choice rather than necessity. Over a two week period where we could all get drunk and have an Irish wake.
And because YBNBY has always been kind of a socialist utopia (all revenue was split based on pageviews), I gave the team the option to carry on or close, and after some cajoling, somewhat reluctantly they all agreed we should close down. But ultimately the decision came from me, and they all just acquiesced. So there's no-one to blame but myself.
So why did I feel that way? It all comes down to being able to predict the future.
The future is not what it was
I'm not claiming clairvoyance, or even the kind of foresight that makes venture capitalists very rich, but in my day job - as a Creative Director and Partner for a fairly forward-thinking marketing company - my speciality has always been seeing trends waaaay in advance of the mainstream. In many cases that really helped YBNBY. We were the one of the first blogs to talk about Gary Brolsma and Tay Zonday. We ran an April Fool on Twitter before most people had a clue what it was. I remember having to essentially fake a .edu email account to get onto Facebook, because when i thought it was "something important", it was still campus-only.
I use a lot of this type of intuition in my day-to-day work - telling brands what Foursquare means to their business, or the potential impact of the iPad, or yadda yadda yadda. YesButNoButYes was actually set up in frustration in 2005 when I worked at the world's largest advertising agency, and got tired of trying to convince confused clients that "blogs were going to be important".
So what does this have to do with YBNBY? Well, once again, I think I see the future coming. And blogs like YBNBY have no place in that social dystopia. Because what we did best - curating the best (or worst) of the web, unearthing those pop culture gems from the dark corners of the internet with a wry commentary - that no longer has value. You guys don't need a blog for that. Twitter and Facebook have changed that forever, you can just go there.
That doesn't mean there isn't a place for personal writing, or sites on specialist subjects. But honestly, the reason we started has ceased to be. If CNN can't be the first place you hear about an earthquake, how the hell is YBNBY supposed to be the place that first brings you Keyboard Cat? Anything that's even remotely interesting online percolates to 1000 blogs overnight, becomes a twitter trend, and ends up being something your grandmother posts as a status update before breakfast. Inside information is no longer the province of the elite, it's the currency of the masses.
And so, it's time for us all to move on.
The most important thing I ever learned in my life
My Dad is a Packrat - I was brought up to believe that anything and EVERYTHING was worth saving. He's a man who literally breaks down old radios to get the screws out because "you never know when you'll need them". It was a lesson instilled in me at an early age, and so my life became full of ephemera and memorabilia. Books, movies, magazines, comics - because you never know when you'll need that thing, that story, that picture, that reference.
Have you ever played Katamari Damarcy? That was my life.
Then I met a woman on the internet, in another country (this one), and realized she was the only thing that would ever make me truly happy. (And 14 years and four children later, that's still true). And so over the course of a month, I sold EVERY SINGLE THING I OWNED, just to raise cash for a trip across the ocean and enough funds for an extended stay. A lifetime of millstones shed in a month.
It was the best thing I ever did. Because it really taught me how letting go of something that once meant a lot to you, isn't the end. It's the beginning. It leaves you free to explore new pathways, to try new things, to stop being "safe" and to take a risk.
YesButNoButYes was the best thing that I've ever done. And now it's time to try something new, and maybe better.
So, what now?
So, the deathclock will run down, and nothing with explode, or disappear. All of the old stories will stay up, a permanent archive of over 11,000 moments of craziness from six fantastic years. In a week or two, I'll probably redesign the home page to feature our most popular stories. But there will be no new posts, at least for a while. YesButNoButYes.com is being mothballed.
Forever? Well, forever is a long time. I think one day YBNBY will probably rise again, in a different form, with a new team, to try once again to do something no-one else is doing. But for now, go outside, get some fresh air, turn off the damn computer once in awhile.
As for me, aside from my family, and my work, and my hobbies, and the chance to just breeeeeaaaathe for awhile, I'll be writing a novel. It's something I started to think about seriously earlier in the year, and shedding myself of YBNBY allows that to be my main writing focus.
For those that have enjoyed my writing and might possibly pick it up in the future, the working title is "Irreversible", and it's a kind of a historical cyberpunk thriller. Set in modern day Princeton, it's the story of a boy who became notorious for preventing the assassination of JFK, only to have his life ruined by a conspiracy dating back to the murder of Archimedes in 212 BC.
And if any YBNBY readers are also publishers, you know where to find me.
And in the End.....
So - here we are. Thanks for staying with me until the end, it would have been lonely if no-one had showed up. But in the words of Robert Falcon Scott, "I am just going outside and may be some time".
Thanks, everyone. It was a blast.