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The Sad Internet: 2014 in Review

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

The Internet is a place of both joyous wonder — and corrosive meanness. There are delightful and hilarious memes and GIFs and videos made by GoPro-wearing puppies. And there are nasty troll attacks, flame wars, and outrage galore.

In 2014, however, we noticed a number of projects and sites that don’t fit either trope: neither Happy Internet nor Angry Internet.

They suggest, instead, a Sad Internet.

Some manifestations of the Sad Internet make a mockery of the pervasive cliché of the magical technology that connects us all, builds community, and generally permits the “crowd” to find and reward the wonderful.

The Sad Internet is a place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.

Join us, if you will, for a tour of the Sad Internet.

Can you hear me now?
The online music service Spotify gets lots of attention for its mind-bogglingly humongous catalog of songs. This year it also got attention for a previously unnoticed footnote to that feature: Millions of those songs have never been listened to by a single Spotify user.

Forgotify screenshot

The website Forgotify plumbs Spotify’s unheard depths to present you with a random selection from the zero-listen archives. Think of it, my colleague Alyssa Bereznak suggested earlier this year, “as the equivalent of scrounging through a Tower Records (RIP) bargain bin.”

Indeed, you might discover a hidden gem. Forgotify’s motivation seems to be positioned as giving all this unknown music a second chance. Or, you know, a first chance.

Unpopular imagery
Similarly, there’s a note of optimism, or at least yearning, in the name of No Likes Yetyet! As a practical matter, the site is designed to let you “discover” Instagram photos with zero likes.

No Likes Yet Instagram screenshot

As I noted in an item about the site earlier this year, it’s also designed to prod you to help these lonely photos (of Starbucks cups and unremarkable hotel rooms and so on) with a redeeming like: “As you mouse over each image, you see an exhortation to offer some positive reinforcement as you see fit.”

Or you can just indulge in the potential schadenfreude of narrowing results to your own circle of Instagram contacts. Or wallow in the self-pity of reviewing your own unliked pictures.

Only fail to connect
If there’s a cheerful rationale for Sad Tweets, it escapes me.

The concept: Connect the application to your Twitter account, and it presents you with a lowlights reel of your attempts at “sharing” that attracted no likes, and no retweets.

Sad Tweets screenshot

In short, it’s “a graveyard for your most depressing Twitter failures,” as my colleague Jason Gilbert put it earlier this year. And despite his (rather depressing!) wish that the service would expand to allow users to peruse other people’s sad tweets, for now it remains purely a mechanism for self-loathing.

No one is watching
Petit Tube is a French site launched this year that, according to New Media Rockstars, plays a stream of YouTube videos with zero views. Local advertising and real-estate clips, along with some random baby, figured prominently in my brief — and somewhat excruciating — exploration of the service. Visitors may vote on what they see: “Cette vidéo est bien?” or “Cette vidéo n’est pas bien?” (Roughly translated, that means “Yay or nay?”)

N.M.R. also points out two other low-to-zero-view offerings.

Underviewed scrapes YouTube for “the lesser seen, the underviewed,” and contends that “there are innumerable videos out there waiting to be discovered.” And what appears to be a Sad Internet early mover, the Tumblr 0 Views promised “the best of the bottom of the barrel” — although its last post was actually in 2013.

I suppose it is possible that one of these projects might lead to the discovery of an unviewed treasure that subsequently goes viral. But I notice that despite their relative age, the entries on 0 Views remain mired in the land of four-figure view counts, at best. Sad.

The silence of the crowd
Surely Kickstarter has proved itself the source of some of the Internet’s most inspiring success stories — people raising money for worthy art projects, useful gizmos, and, you know, potato salad parties. Stuff that simply wouldn’t have happened without the support of the Internet crowd.

Sadly, that’s not always how Kickstarter stories end. And thus, Kickended, a site that collects campaigns launched on the crowdfunding platform that failed to attract a single backer.

I wrote about the site here earlier this year, and strained to find a silver lining: “It’s a useful, albeit bleak, reality check. Yes, the Internet makes magic and wondrous and unprecedented things occur. But only sometimes, and not for everyone.” (Sheesh, what a Gloomy Gus!)

Popular despair
While it’s clearly been a big year for the Sad Internet, I need to give full credit to a pioneer of the form: the Tumblr Screenshots of Despair.

Launched back in 2012, it set out to collect “a bunch of screenshots illustrating the feelings of desolation that can often accompany social networking and life online,” its creator wrote. “SO FUN!”

Specifically the site collects the accidentally despair-inducing text and imagery — often submitted by readers — that gets presented to us by the many digital and social-media services we deal with all day.

Item from Screenshots of Despair

(Screenshots of Despair)

Item from Screenshots of Despair


(Screenshots of Despair)

Oddly, the site is fun, in a dark-humor sort of way. And apparently popular: Its amusingly depressing posts regularly attract tons of likes and reblogs. Which just goes to show that, on the Internet, even sadness can go viral. Yay?

Somebody likes you! (Not really)
And, finally, there is the “Lonely Sculpture,” created by artist Tully Arnot. This consists of a silicone finger rigged to a servo motor, so that it bobs up and down, nonstop. Positioned beneath this ever-tapping digit is a smartphone displaying the dating app Tinder.

Tinder, which is one of the least subtle apps in the world, offers a parade of pictures of potential partners who also use the service, inviting users to signal interest or rejection with a tap or a swipe. The Lonely Sculpture’s automated finger is positioned to mindlessly “like” every single candidate the app presents.

Lonely Sculpture (2014) from Tully Arnot on Vimeo.

Lonely Sculpture is a reflection of both our desire for human contact, and of the isolating nature of social media networks and online dating,” Artnet glumly observes. “As we become more and more dependent on technology, the lines between man and machine are blurred.”

Alternatively, perhaps one could interpret the piece as pumping a stream of positivity into a digital ecosystem that often seems to be built around the seeking of quantifiable approval.

Then again, even that reading doesn’t make it an antidote to a year’s worth of online bleakness. It makes this absurd mechanism the perfect mascot for the Sad Internet.

And on that note, hey — have a happy New Year, everybody!

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.