One of the ear­li­est and most influ­en­tial meme cul­ture web­sites, You’re The Man Now Dog, went dark over the week­end. It’s since returned with a main­te­nance page, but the near-death expe­ri­ence has been enough to bring vis­i­tors into a site-run Dis­cord chat to briefly relive the inter­net as it was — a wild, over­grown gar­den of things that were enter­tain­ing and hor­ri­fy­ing in just about equal mea­sure.

The site’s appar­ent demise was inevitable, even if it’s not quite final. YTMND had been in decline for years, hav­ing slow­ly lost its place in the inter­net pan­theon, just like the rest of its peers from the old inter­net. Many of them have strug­gled for years to mon­e­tize their large and often quite tox­ic user bases. The web, too, has changed; cre­ators of inter­net cul­ture can expect to make some mon­ey from their con­tri­bu­tions now, and as the inter­net tran­si­tioned between web 1.0 and 2.0, social media cen­tral­ized society’s expe­ri­ence of what going online was.

“It’s the bar every­body remem­bers, but nobody goes to because they all have kids now.”

The site, named after a throw­away line in a Sean Con­nery movie, was found­ed in 2004. Devel­op­er Max Gold­berg reg­is­tered the domain name ytmnd.com and made it into a place to share gifs — which, at the time, were uncom­mon and dif­fi­cult to make — paired with loop­ing sound files. It became one of the first main­stream inter­net com­mu­ni­ties, some­thing akin to 4chan or Some­thing Awful, its peers. The site quick­ly became one of the dom­i­nant pur­vey­ors of inter­net cul­ture; it was a place where memes flour­ished and spread, all before peo­ple called them that. The most pop­u­lar YTM­NDs passed into ear­ly meme cul­ture — the Picard song, this Bat­man thing, and the orig­i­nal ham­ster dance all start­ed there.

Before the appar­ent shut­down, the Inter­net Archive had pre­served a copy of the site’s 787GB of data. (You can browse the site as it was through the Way­back Machine; although, as with most cul­tur­al prod­ucts cre­at­ed by anony­mous users, a lot of the offer­ings are at least some­what offen­sive.) The site, how­ev­er, start­ed dis­ap­pear­ing long before then — the last admin post was made in 2014, and the site had been bleed­ing users for years as its pop­u­lar­i­ty waned and social media became the place where memes were cre­at­ed and spread. In 2016, Giz­mo­do pub­lished a sto­ry fea­tur­ing an inter­view with Gold­berg about the site’s impend­ing death. “Besides being a time cap­sule I don’t real­ly see a rea­son for it to con­tin­ue to exist… It seems like the inter­net has moved on,” Gol­berg wrote in an email. “And I’ve moved on too. I don’t have much inter­est in the site beyond it being good mem­o­ries.”

Those good mem­o­ries are part of the web’s cul­tur­al his­to­ry, but they’re not some­thing peo­ple often need to revis­it. “Peo­ple are very strange with their cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions,” says Jason Scott, an archivist at the Inter­net Archive, when I reach him by phone. “They’re hap­py to know it’s there, out there, but they don’t make it a part of their lives.”

So can I delete it now?

— Max Gold­berg (@YTMND) August 29, 2018

That’s part­ly because the inter­net itself has changed. As more peo­ple came online, and the web became less a place for nerds and social mis­fits, and as the inter­net became more cen­tral­ized because of plat­forms like Face­book and Twit­ter, com­mu­ni­ty-first sites like YTMND became less and less impor­tant. The locus of online cul­ture had shift­ed to places that were pred­i­cat­ed on mas­sive, unchecked growth and propped up by mil­lions in ven­ture cap­i­tal. “We’re so dri­ven by web­sites that have to make a mil­lion dol­lars in their IPO, that peo­ple seem to have been sur­prised that there are web­sites that are lit­er­al­ly just run, like side­line hob­bies,” says Scott. Cre­ators — the peo­ple who would have made YTM­NDs back in the ear­ly 2000s — also now have more places than ever to post what they make, and they get paid for it, to boot.

After a com­mu­ni­ty drifts away, there’s a point where the work need­ed to main­tain one of these hob­by sites becomes not worth the effort. “So it just goes into this ghost ship approach where a few peo­ple still use it, a lot of peo­ple remem­ber it, but it’s not doing any­thing. It’s the bar every­body remem­bers, but nobody goes to because they all have kids now.”

YTMND is from an era when web­sites could just be a weird, fun diver­sion

YTMND with­ered because we all moved on. The host­ing costs had become bur­den­some; mod­er­at­ing the anar­chic com­mu­ni­ty had stopped being worth it after most of its users had left. “I don’t like to see sites go down,” says Scott. “But I’m hap­py that we could gath­er it.” YTMND’s effec­tive dis­ap­pear­ance means anoth­er era of the inter­net has end­ed, the time where a web­site didn’t have to be any­thing but a weird, fun diver­sion — where a project didn’t have to grow at 10x speeds, or make enough mon­ey for investors after an IPO.

Peo­ple seem to have a hard time with that idea now, says Scott; the idea that, well, of course it went down, YTMND didn’t make any mon­ey is insid­i­ous because it means that places on the inter­net should have to jus­ti­fy their exis­tence mate­ri­al­ly, in terms of cap­i­tal. “And so, to me, I’m sad to see it go,” he fin­ish­es.

Of course, as a hob­by, Gold­berg could bring YTMND back any time he wants. “If [Gold­berg] was to flip the switch back on again and be like, ‘fine, you bas­tards, I put up a GoFundMe or a Patre­on,” he can just do that, says Scott. After two days offline, that seems to be what he’s done.

Even so, I’m still sad. YTMND was my first expe­ri­ence with what online cul­ture was, and it showed me what the inter­net could be. Which is to say: anar­chic, obtuse, wild­ly cre­ative, and just plain weird. Nobody was in it for the mon­ey, and peo­ple came there to be enter­tained — to have fun, away from all the chaos in the world. I mean, can you imag­ine? Bet­ter yet: Can you remem­ber?

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