Earlier this week, the popular early internet meme machine YTMND.com went down and no one knew why, or whether it was going to come back. The news led many to write obituaries for the site, and, when the site came back up with a page that said “rip DB” and a cryptic, very confusing IRC chat.
In an attempt to clear up the confusion, Motherboard got in touch with Max Goldberg, the site’s creator and caretaker for almost 20 years, on a Discord chatroom that he set up to talk to a very confused community about the site. Goldberg said he doesn’t know if YTMND is coming back, and what shape it’ll be in if it does.
“I had no idea anyone cared about it really,” he said. “But yesterday when I woke up and I see articles in numerous publications and ‘ytmnd’ is trending on twitter, and hundreds of people are contacting me, well it was sort of surreal.”
Goldberg learned the site was down yesterday when he woke up to a text message telling him it was dead. Right now, he’s still not sure what happened.
“Still trying to determine that, but it appears the current database has been completely wiped,” he said. “The hardware is roughly eight years old I believe.”
YTMND, also known as You’re the Man Now Dog, was a repository of early internet weirdness. People could create flash animations that linked gifs or still images to looping audio. Users voted on the creations and shared them across the internet. It was the place a lot of early memes were born.
Goldberg proved his identity by emailing Motherboard from YTMND’s support email.
“I have backups, but frankly not much worth saving has happened on the site in the last five years and rebuilding the whole thing from scratch is a lengthy process,” he said. “Hence why it isn’t back yet.”
According to Goldberg, the site has been on autopilot for years. “I did all the programming and system setup myself, and I did it in such a way that I didn't need to touch it basically ever. Which worked pretty well for the last [seven to eight] years,” he said. “I’d login once every six months, delete a large swath of trolls and then go back into hibernation. But my inattention caused the current situation.”
It costs him $250 out of pocket every month to keep YTMND.com functioning. It used to be a profitable venture, but Google flagged content it called offense sometime in 2012 and asked Goldberg to remove it to keep AdSense, Google’s ad platform. He pulled the URL Google wanted gone, but couldn’t get AdSense back and couldn’t get Google to respond to his emails. At that point, he pulled AdSense from all the user generated content. It made his life easier, but stopped the site from making money.
“Up until that point a significant portion of my job was trying to segregate ‘nsfw’ content in order to please advertisers,” he said.
The community support he got yesterday motivated Goldberg to reconsider opening the site but he’s still not sure if YTMND.com will come back fully functional, or as a memorial. He’s leaning towards a memorial.
“My idea was to make sort of a ‘time machine’ where you could see the front page at any given date/time. See what was popular on some day in 2006 or during major events in world history, etc,” he said. “But it could change depending on a thousand different factors.”
Goldberg said that bringing the site back would be difficult, because of the way it was written.
“It was written 100% by me without any frameworks, in a variety of languages and over a period of nearly 20 years,” he said. “I've wanted to turn it into a more accessible archive with a modern player that doesn't use flash for a while, but every time I sat down to work on it I just couldn't bring myself to be interested in it.”
Goldberg said that no one has used the site in a meaningful way in five years or more, but he wants to preserve its legacy. “I think it fostered creativity in a lot of early internet users but it was also from a time where four corporations didn't run the entire internet so it's much less sanitized than a lot of the internet feels today,” he said.
According to Goldberg, the freedom of the early internet was both good and bad. “Good in that it housed a thriving community of people who were being artistic and having fun and making some amazing stuff,” he said. “It was a community which it seems hard to find these days. On YTMND everyone sort of knew each other despite it being such a large crowd. On sites like reddit or 4chan or whatever, there are still thriving communities but it's rare that there's that same feeling.”
“As for the bad, plenty of shitty people use the internet, upload garbage, illegal or disgusting things, harass people...etc,” he said. “And when a group doesn't have a common enemy, they tend to in-fight. I think some limits help. I don’t want to host the next 4chan or /r/the_donald.”