Fidgetspin is a one-trick site, designed around a fad likely to fade into obscurity before the year’s end. It lets visitors spin a virtual fidget spinner. No more, no less. Similar to sites like chihuahuaspin, tacospin, or leekspin, its enjoyment is brief, dependent on your discovery, and likely to disappear from your brain the second you click away.
Sites like these continue to exist in their own tiny corner of the web, long after their moment of viral fame as part of the “useless internet” — a term that extends beyond a simple spinning pupper or foodstuff. As a genre, useless internet isn’t even limited by form. It could be a standalone website, an abstract Flash game, a forgotten soundboard. It’s almost always a punchline with no setup.
Like a potato chip, it’s a challenge to enjoy one without craving another. Fortunately, there are thousands to choose from, whether you want to watch a disastrously spilling ketchup bottle, find out whether or not it’s dark outside, catch your hand in a gum fingertrap, stare endlessly at your favorite bucket meme, or watch gnomes party. Thiswebsitesaysitall.com is literally a website that says “it all.” “Endless.horse” is a horse, depicted through keyboard glyphs, that scrolls endlessly. Eelslap.com is an interactive photo of a guy getting smacked with an eel, while Beesbeesbees.com is a looping GIF of Oprah unleashing bees upon a studio audience.
As with any good viral content, they spread by word of mouth online. People share links on message boards, send funny sites to friends, or post them to social media. Through the web’s connected presence, they make the rounds. People move on to other distractions.
A single person collecting them in one place is a Sisyphean task, but a collective is far more suited to the challenge. Over the years, sites like The Useless Web Index have removed the heavy lifting of finding these forgotten sites. They aren’t built like a library, however. Instead, they re-create the context of any bit of useless internet: click a button and you’re flung to a random site in the directory.
A developer from Germany who goes by Martin created The Useless Web Index — a site that touts itself as “the world’s largest index of useless websites” — in 2015. He says it started after he and a few work friends spent their lunch break on their very own time-waster of a site, devoted to a former colleague’s cats.
It began as a database with a subdomain list. “At the beginning there was just a short text and a simple button that promoted a random useless website to the user, but I quickly realized that I had to offer more for recurring [visitors],” he says. “Now users can participate by adding pages, and after a short check they´re part of the index.”
To date, The Useless Web Index houses more than 1,000 sites. About 75 percent of the contributions were suggested by users. Martin says he spends about five hours a week maintaining the site: archiving useless sites, checking mail, logging files, and creating new posts for a “most useless website of the week” feature.
For Martin, the investment is about more than a collection of digital goofs. “The internet is full of useless websites and to me it’s not about how long you stay on one of them,” he says. “Sometimes you spend only 10 seconds and get something to talk about for years.”
Martin has become something of a connoisseur of the useless web. He points to a site featuring a man screaming “Dan!” — a joke that has become a running gag for one of his own friends named Dan. “A perfect useless website,” Martin explains, “has to be simple and straight to the point.”
Martin is joined by a small community that is trying to collect, if not outright preserve, the useless internet. In the mid-‘90s, there was The Useless Pages, a now-defunct collection of sites The New York Times called a home for “ruminations on the Web as a garbage depository.” PointlessSites broasts that it only features sites that are “pointless and useless,” but with a “family friendly” flair. On Reddit, the subreddit InternetIsUseless is home to just over 700 users. Members share sites they find, many of which have a purpose so simple you can guess it from the URL alone, like po.ta.to (just a photo of a potato), or whereisthesloth.com (locate a sloth). YouTube channel DONG posted a video just last month, where host Michael Stevens highlights several sites that serve rather singular purposes, like a “wiki” for muscles or a site in which you try to click in intervals perfectly timed to a second.
Developer Tim Holman launched The Useless Web, a site that redirects users to a random useless site, in 2012. It’s enjoyed cycles of popularity since its creation. “Sometimes someone will create and share a new ‘useless’ website, which will remind people of the useless web, and that will kick it off again,” Holman says. He explains that from March until mid-May, the site has garnered more than 5 million views, with an average session lasting about eight minutes.
“these weird, experimental sites are a piece of the internet that we're losing.”
“Since its creation, people have spent a total of 1,040 years of viewing,” he says, adding, “Damn.”
Holman says he continues to comb through The Useless Web’s catalog once or twice a month to make sure everything still runs. “Whenever I go through, I try to add more than I take out,” he says. “I've literally received thousands of submissions over time.” It’s been shared by a huge variety of people, he says: developers he respects, YouTubers, internet users old and young. “I think everyone saw something a little different in it. Some see it as art, some see it as a funny joke.”
But as a genre, the sites congeal into something more. “I think [useless internet is a] testament to the creativity of each individual site, and that sparks excitement and imagination in the people using it... which is why I think it’s stood the test of time this long. Damn, that sounds so corny.”
The Useless Web has even inspired creators to add more strange sites to the web. Murat Mutlu — creator of the “Dan” site that Martin is fond of, and longtime fan of viral one-hit wonders — blogged about how it urged him to create his own gag. Mutlu tells The Verge he still pays to host the “super useless” site. “It's that small hit of goodness for a few seconds — doesn't even pretend to want your brain to work,” he says of useless sites. “Get your hit then leave.”
For such a small payoff, the act of creating the site and continuing to pay for a domain seems like an unequal amount of effort. But many creators of useless sites, as well as these catalogers of useless internet, credit this genre as some of the most popular work they’ve ever created. Or, in the case of Mike Bodge, who made the “heeeeeeeey” “hooooooooo” site, the most popular thing he’s ever made online. He calls the very idea of The Useless Web “a bit of a cheeky name.” Perhaps, despite their brief schticks, they’re not as good-for-nothing as they seem.
“All of these sites are useless in the fact that they don't need to exist, but to me these weird, experimental sites are a piece of the internet that we're losing as social network news feeds vacuum up all of people's time,” Bodge says. “The internet is a lot less interesting these days, and sites on The Useless Web are fighting against that by being simple and subversive.”