The Social Media Phenoms of Yesteryear: Where Are They Now?
Somehow, social media still feels new. Maybe that’s because platforms like Twitter (which dates back to 2006) and Tumblr (launched in 2007) continue to spit out new entertaining novelty accounts and super-specialized projects for the rest of us to follow and share instead of doing our jobs.
The fun never stops — for us.
But what about the social media fun-makers themselves? Do their viral hits change their lives? How much, and for how long?
You could almost imagine a VH1-style gauzy-memories documentary on the subject, evocatively reminding us of the stuff we used to like and reblog, when we were all younger and more innocent, and still had a handle on what “a BlackBerry” was.
While we wait for some cable-TV genius to launch Behind The Sharing, let’s see if we can remember what was online-hot five years ago, and discover what became of that which used to be trending.
By the time Twitter and Tumblr came along, the idea of the Internet phenomenon was already established — bloggers getting book deals (from humor like Stuff White People Like to the street-fashion photography of The Sartorialist), Web celebs (Tron Guy, xkcd), weird hits like The Million Dollar Home Page, and so on.
So it makes sense that what some say was the first known parody Twitter account was really just an adjunct to a viral blog: When Fake Steve Jobs launched on Twitter in early 2007, the blog version had existed for months. Consisting of phony “diary” entries by a cartoonishly fictionalized version of Apple’s CEO, this Web sensation soon spawned a book — Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, published in 2007.
And that more or less ends the story. The actual Steve Jobs passed away, of course, and both the blog and the Twitter account have been dormant for years. Their author, Daniel Lyons, is now a “marketing fellow” for HubSpot, a software platform for businesses, and will apparently help write the next season of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley.
But the social-media hijinks continued, and perhaps the real breakthrough came in the form of “S*** My Dad Says.”
Just as it says on the handle, this was writer Justin Halpern’s rolling catalog, started in August 2009, of humorous and profane remarks by his father. The ornery old cussing of this ornery old cuss attracted millions of Twitter followers and placed a related book on the best-seller list.
But evidently the masses had had enough of that s*** by the time a sitcom variation (starring William Shatner!) arrived on CBS … and swiftly departed. Halpern published another book (I Suck At Girls), which became the basis of another TV show (Surviving Jack) … which was also canceled.
His original landmark Twitter account’s most recent update is from June, promoting a Father’s Day-themed GQ essay by Halpern. So presumably its productive and legitimately attention-getting life is basically done. Still, it seems fair to say that it transformed Halpern’s career. And it arguably transformed our perception of just how much pop-culture noise a social media account could make.
For others, the aftermath of social-media stardom has been more fleeting. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.
How long does one serving last?
In 2008, blogger Jason Kottke famously identified the concept of the “single-serving site” — that is, websites “comprised of a single page with a dedicated domain name” that “do only one thing.” Conceptually, the “single-serving” idea of seizing on a relatively narrow gimmick and repeating it endlessly became a staple of social media.
Tumblr (which is now owned by Yahoo) became a single-serving staging ground and remains full of contemporary examples — Screenshots of Despair, The GIF Connoisseur, and so on. Over the years, a number have had moments of genuine crossover hotness, like Garfield Minus Garfield or I Love Charts, two of the many that have landed book deals.
Consider Unhappy Hipsters, a Tumblr that juxtaposed images from the aspirational shelter magazine Dwell with bleak captions that fell somewhere between microfiction and design critique. Or Scanwiches, which boils down to the following: a sandwich, sliced in half, and scanned to offer the viewer a cross-section view of its innards.