Embracing the Useless

For years I’ve said that I build products that no-one wants or needs and yet somehow they find an audience. This couldn’t be more true if you take a look back at my past projects and see how they’ve taken off, and been embraced by people all around the world. From How Many Midgets Could You Eat – the first website I created back when I was a teenager that allowed users to take a quiz to figure out a score to an incredibly stupid question – to Ship Your Enemies Glitter and then to the more recent Hardcore Prawn Lawn.

All of these sites share a similar theme which is why it makes sense that Dan and I would eventually come to create UselessWeb.com, an aggregator of all the crazy, useless websites that people like us have created.

Acquiring UselessWeb.com

Let’s take a step back, as the process for acquiring the domain name was quite interesting. See this particular domain has a bit of value to it, it’s similar to the largest competitor and was already receiving hundreds of organic visitors a day – you would expect it to sell at auction for a decent amount. Late last year, I received an email from an individual from Sweden who was familiar with Random Useful Websites (now known as Discuvver) and was curious as to whether we could include his website (Anystart) in our collection of sites. Towards the end of the email was the line: “One funny thing is that i own the domain UselessWeb.com, and I’m redirecting the type in traffic to anystart.com”. My interest was piqued.

I enquired as to how much traffic the domain was receiving, and was told around 250 unique visitors a day. We went on to talk about strategy for Anystart and how forwarding the traffic from the UselessWeb.com domain wasn’t beneficial ,as he was essentially sending useless traffic to a website that specialized in useful websites.

After a bit of back and forth, and being told that when it was parked in the past, it was earning a substantial amount of money, I realised that we needed to own this domain. I’m not a fan of paying more than the registration costs, so I started doing what so few people do nowadays: bartering.

Bartering – Because Buying is Boring

In the past I’ve used bartering whenever I can instead of normal buying; mostly because I love my money too much to give it away, but also because I can offer services that have a perceived higher value than what I’m receiving. For example: I once built a website for a mechanic in exchange for car repair and maintenance work – sort of on a retainer. I hosted the website (cost to me: $0), built the website in less than 2 hours (cost to me: time) and the mechanic paid all the domain registration fees. In return, I received thousands of dollars worth of automotive work on my piece of shit car and both of us were happy.

The bartering for acquiring UselessWeb.com went as follows:

Dan and I would offer:

  1. Inclusion into RandomUsefulWebsites.com database for AnyStart (guaranteed traffic, and the site is actually useful, so that all fits)
  2. A shout-out in the Discuvver newsletter (3,500+ readers)

The owner came back to us with a few points:

  1. He already had a cash offer for the domain from someone else
  2. Coming from a domain flipping background, he mentioned that the domain earned on average $109/mo, and apparently he would have no issues selling it for close to $4,000
  3. He wanted $400 thrown into the mix so he could purchase a premium promotional package on Killer Startups
  4. He also wanted me to tweet out an image and link to the Anystart website

Alright, so we’re in the zone, we have a starting point. I take a look at what he’s after and I knew that I didn’t want to budge. I double down on not being able to offer any cash for the domain and I tell him about my experience with Killer Startups; that it’s an absolute waste of money. I used it years ago when it was semi-relevant and even then it didn’t yield any meaningful results. I finish by saying that the only thing I can offer is relevant, recurring traffic to his startup which is something he can’t buy and something the individual offering cash for the domain can’t give.

We Love Useless Websites

One week after conversations started, UselessWeb.com was transferred over to our domain registrar and we were the new owners. If you would like to see my 2 email pitches, you can check them out here and here. At the end, all of us were happy with the deal. We acquired an awesome domain name that we wanted to use as an alternative to Discuvver, and the previous owner now receives consistent, recurring traffic to his website every day. Which brings us to the website as you see it now.

What we’ve done isn’t new, it’s not a unique idea and it’s not going to make us a shit ton of money, however, it is something that’s a lot of fun. The user visits the website, clicks a link and is taken to a random, useless website. Websites range from Build Shruggie to Sometimes Red Sometimes Blue to even more ridiculous ideas. I’ve wanted to build an aggregator like this ever since Random Useful Websites gained traction and ever since I built Hardcore Prawn Lawn.

Hardcore Prawn Lawn wasn’t the only useless website I had built. A previous partner and I built a website called My Big Black Clock. As a play on words, the website compromised of a phallic shaped clock that took up the entire screen. When the website was posted online, people loved it. I was in Canada at the time and we were watching the realtime analytics shoot up to 1,000 concurrent visitors and people were sharing the site all over social media; we were pretty happy with how it was being perceived so we decided to submit it to TheUselessWeb.com.

A few days passed and we’d heard nothing. After some follow up emails, we discovered that it had been rejected. This sort of rubbed me the wrong way, here we have a website that aggregates useless websites and when a popular one is submitted, it wasn’t included. How could I fail at building something useless? What’s wrong with My Big Black Clock? I did a bit of digging and came to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything wrong with it, it’s just that the owner doesn’t seem to be accepting any new submissions that he doesn’t benefit from. After some quick digging, I realised there were many, many websites that the developer owned in the rotation, including one that seemed to exist purely to earn commission via the Amazon Affiliate program. It’s like its only job now isn’t to serve useless websites, but to be a personal traffic referral system that makes money.

Truly Useless

Which is what got me thinking: are there other people out there spending time building useless sites that are unable to get an audience? That’s not cool. We want to help people build useless websites and get eyeballs in front of them; not leverage other peoples work to generate commissions for ourselves. I get that if you own an aggregator you would want to build products for it, but not when you turn down community submissions in favour of your own personal, revenue generating websites. Adverts on the launch page are fine, after all there are hosting bills to pay, but when you’re using other peoples creations to help get visits to shady affiliate sites, you’re no longer running the site for the right reason.

This may come across as me being salty, but truth be told I just want to see useless websites shared around the web again, that’s why we built UselessWeb.com. We both love the creativity and ingenuity people have when there are no limits or restrictions on what sort of website you can build. Minds go to weird places, brains unleash a flurry of outrageous ideas and beauty is eventually born.  Truly useless websites are a fun art.

We Want You!

This brings us to something we have planned in the near future: a competition that will have the makers and creators building the next best useless websites. The winner will receive a miscellaneous selection of weird and whacky prizes and we’ll have entries that are deemed useless included in the database where traffic will be sent to them, and we’ll hopefully have a new community of individuals that love building useless websites. That’s the plan anyway.

Mat

1 Comment

Phil Ipsan

about 8 months ago

Awesome article! Because of you I shall now use "bartering" in all appropriate (or inappropriate) opportunities moving forward. I would love to borrow your ear for a brief moment about moolah & sofa talk. Please let me know if we can make that happen.

Reply

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