Purple, Obama, and Single Serving Websites

Over the years, the web has assumed a few forms. That of a technological catalyst, a representation of the the times, a community ground. But it also can be very weird, and quite silly. That’s probably how we got single serving sites.

Single serving sites follow a pattern that’s probably familiar to you. The site itself is hosted on a domain name that explains exactly what it is (IsThisASingleServingSite.com). And the site itself does just one thing, as simply as possible (A white background with the word “YES”). The clever label for these sites was coined by Jason Kottke in 2008. The term cast a pretty wide net, covering websites, in Kottke’s words “comprised of a single page with a dedicated domain name and do only one thing.” But the single serving site tradition stretches back way further than 2008. All the way back to 1994 and Purple.com.

Purple.com is purple. That much should be obvious, but I want you take my meaning. It is just purple. A plain, purple colored background. The site’s creator, Jeff Abrahamson, has added a FAQ page since the site first launched, but for a very long time, it was just a single, very purple page. Clever, but undeniably strange.

The idea sparked what could probably be called a movement. Single serving sites began to sprout up everywhere after that. They do have a way of defying categorization though. Some of these sites keep with the color theme Abrahamson started (SometimesRedSometimesBlue.com). Others answer a simple question (HasTheLargeHadronColliderDestroyedTheWorldYet.com). Then of course, some sites sport a novel pop culture reference (WebHamster.com) or provide some simple instructions (HowToCookAPotato.com) or an easy to install tool (HeyGirl.io).

Underlying each of these sites, however, is a similar spirit. In almost all cases, the design is stark and relatively unadorned. These sites often feature a simple background, some text or an image, and maybe a looping soundbite. It’s a manifestation of an ethos really. In its most frustrating moments, the web can be nauseatingly complex. Single serving sites keep things enormously simple and direct as a sort of counterpoint.

The web quickly filled up with the likes of single serving sites. Then, in 2001, Max Goldberg decided to create his own. He had recently watched Finding Forrester and became mildly obsessed with the Sean Connery quote, “You’re the man now, dog!” So Goldberg created YoureTheManNowDog.com, featuring ostentatious 3D text of the quote, and of course, the eponymous looping Connery soundbite (he later added a mosaic tiled image of Connery as a background). That seemed to… strike a chord.

Goldberg’s site is probably the most popular single serving site. Ever. As it grew, Goldberg thought it might fun to let others join in on the popularity. So he created YTMND.com. The site allowed users to create their own single serving sites, hosted on the YTMND website. It came with a built-in tool for contributors to add text, sound clips, and images to a page. Pretty soon, there were thousands of WeirdCatchphraseWebsites.ytmnd.com hanging around.

Quick side note. YTMND is actually still around today, but Goldberg has become increasingly jaded by the site. The content was hard to regulate, and abusive users took over even as it became harder to monetize. So there are hundreds of thousands of contributors to the site, but it may close down in the near future.

Single serving sites continued to explode in popularity, whether hosted on YTMND or elsewhere. The sites themselves are vastly different. What’s strange is how similar the stories behind them are. Here is typically how it goes. Someone finds a catchphrase particularly funny. In less than 24 hours, she has a dead simple site up, with that phrase as the URL. The site’s popularity skyrockets. There are thousands (if not more) of views a day. Maybe imitators pop out of the woodwork. Maybe derivative memes spread like a virus. Either way, the punchline is shared far and wide. And then, the site quietly fades away. But the creator doesn’t care, she had a blast doing it.

At least, that’s the story with BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle.com. During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, Matthew Honan realized that the then-Senator had become a new obsession for his wife, replacing even her greatest love, cycling. So he created a website which, each time it loaded, randomly generated a nonsense hypothetical good deed performed by Obama, like “Barack Obama commented on your blog” or “Barack Obama warmed up your car for you.”

The timing was just right, and the site spread like wildfire. So much so, that it prompted Jason Kottke to write an article finally giving this 15 year old tradition a name: Single Serving Sites. The name was pretty clever. It caught on. There’s even an academic research paper on the topic. And of course, once you give something a name, it only grows more.

Chances are you’ve seen a single serving site. My guess is that quite a few launch every day. Some maintain their status by inserting themselves into a particular zeitgeist. Others just sizzle out shortly after launch. But when the web first launched, it was meant to make publishing incredibly easy. Anyone with some patience and a good idea could put out a site for all to see. Certainly, single serving sites honor that tradition.

Okay, okay. I know you just want the hits. So here’s some of the more enduring single serving sites out there (still in existence):


Added to the Timeline

February 15, 2008 - Single Serving Sites

Jason Kottke gives a name to sites that have a single purpose and a URL that speaks for itself. Kottke was inspired by BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle.com, and wrote an article gathering similar  examples. From there, the phenomena of single serving sites only grew as more and more were added to the web.

October 7, 2001 - YTMND

After watching Finding Forrester, Max Goldberg becomes obsessed with the line “You’re the man now, dog!”, and creates a single serving site dedicated to it. Later, Goldberg shortens the title to YTMND and allows other users to host their own single serving websites with simple tools.

August 31, 1994 - Purple.com

The earliest example of a single serving website, Jeff Abrahamson quietly launches Purple.com. The site is purple. Just purple. Though it originally is released with a background color of #DD00FF, this is later changed to #7D26CD to make the site more “purple” looking.

View the Full Timeline

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