Faithful NUblog readers will be aware of our erinbrockovitchlike habit of driftnetting through kilotons of publicly-available data to piece together narratives, rather after the manner of a dramaturge, who explains a work to its own author. It is deemed admirable – busty, even – when Erin Brockovitch or her surrogate does what is known in the industry as research, yet it is held in unaccountably low esteem online, where there seems to be an emphasis on GETTING SOMETHING OUT THERE! rather than getting something out there with more heft than one’s undocumented opinion.

But you’re entitled to our opinion, right?

That, at least, is the slogan of Hissyfit, the bitchy discussion site memorably profiled in these very pages. (Sibling sites include Fametracker and MightyBigTV.) We mused that reusing other people’s “content,” and getting banner ads rewarding that practice from an outfit called ChickClick, seemed like an ominously easy way to earn an annualized estimated salary of US$137,000.

How the mighty have fallen. Wing Chun (Tara Ariano) writes:

In other news, by the time some of you read this, the forum will be gone. It was a tough decision, but one I’d secretly been considering for a long time....

The Hissyfit and Fametracker forums are run on the same server, and since both are very busy, we were getting a lot of blank folders and server time-outs. Since Fametracker is the site that might have a future in other media and which gets enough traffic that it is still attractive to ad brokers, it makes the most sense to give the available space to Fametracker (which, since we ditched the Hissyfit forums, has had no blank folders, server time-outs, or lost posts).

...Realistically, we’re never going to make money off Hissyfit again – or, at least, not enough to make the amount of effort expended on the forums worth our while. In the time it would take me to read through a few days’ worth of Hissyfit posts, I could write two newspaper columns for which I’d get paid actual cash money. I’m not saying it was all about the money, because it wasn’t....

All right. Glad to see the goal of a profitable Hissyfit is out in the open. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, other than the fact that contributors are not paid while Ariano and co-owner Glark (David Cole) are.

It’s the culmination of an ongoing Hissyfit trend dating back to 2001.08.09:

I was waiting for The Man from FUNKLE’s contribution to the Fametracker book proposal... I started sobbing. “I can’t write a book – I can’t even write a proposal! I’m a total fraud! I can’t do this without Niki! Why did I even start?” And the like. Glark settled me down, reminding me that MFF and I can work out some kind of schedule so that we can run the site and write the book’s content at the same time, and that we could use the advance to get Niki to take on some freelance editing for MightyBigTV, if need be, and that surely there would be a few people willing to guest-moderate the Hissyfit boards while I was working on the book, and so on [an option later dismissed in contemplating Hissyfit forum closure – NUblog].

[...] The recession in the ad market has hit us pretty hard, and it’s especially frustrating because fixing things is so far out of our control.... We’ve changed the way we run ads on MightyBigTV and have signed on with an ad provider that really knows what it’s doing. We’re closer than ever to making something happen book-wise.

Banner ads have never worked in their intended purpose: To get the viewer of an ad to buy something. Now, do they work as a kind of slush fund, along the lines of Telefilm cash funneled into the maw of Canadian oligopolist broadcasters? Are banner ads a nice way for everyone who sells and hosts banner ads to make a living? Well, they can be, yes. And that was the “revenue model” of Hissyfit and its stablemates.

Banner advertising was not quite as fictitious as, say, startup venture-capital financing or even junk bonds, but the pseudo-jobsian reality-distortion field had to dissipate sometime. (Cf. textads.)

It got worse (2001.11.26):

It’s over. Hissyfit’s relationship with ChickClick.com is no more. I’m still not sure whether I’m allowed to get into all the details, but suffice it to say that things at their end are going to be going in a very different direction. Our contracts for Hissyfit and Fametracker ended last week, and couldn’t be renewed....

ChickClick did a lot of good for us. Even as they placed ads on our sites, they never once had a problem with any piece of content we ran. Hell, when they struck a strategic partnership with Columbia Tri-Star Television, they even ended up running ads for MightyBigTV precursor DawsonsWrap.com...on DawsonsDesktop.com. And I never would have been able to quit my job two years ago if not for ChickClick, and despite the fallout from IPO-mania and the virtual crash of the online ad market, I still think the basic model of the company was a good one. Hell, if I won the lottery this week, the first thing I’d probably do with the money (well, the second thing, after taking about two months off) is turn Damn Hell Ass Kings into a real ad affiliate network, like ChickClick was back in the day when we first joined. The principle behind ChickClick – back then, in the heady days of 1998 – was that if your site gets a lot of traffic, especially from the young, savvy women advertisers really want to reach, then you can turn that traffic into revenue. These days, if your site gets a lot of traffic, it mostly means that your server crashes all the time. I hope things will turn around again someday, but I’m not holding my breath. My point – and I do have one – is that there wouldn’t have been a Fametracker or a MightyBigTV if ChickClick hadn’t gambled on Hissyfit, and I’ll always be grateful for that. [...]

Last week, I realized that I’ve been doing this job – running the sites full-time – longer than any other job I’ve ever had; not only that, it’s a job I’ve been doing pretty much non-stop since I started, in June 1999, with few breaks or holidays or weekends off, even. It suddenly made sense, then, why I’ve been sort of generally tired and wan lately. Back when the ad market was better, there was an appreciable cause and effect: we put in the hours, and we were adequately compensated. Now it takes just as much work to break even, which sucks.

It is not clear exactly what kind of “work” Ariano refers to here, given that other people wrote most of the content published on Hissyfit, Fametracker, and MightyBigTV. Quelling catfights in discussion fora are one thing, and Ariano and Glark’s labour-intensive, heavily interventionist message-board philosophy is clearly unworkable for a large site, as the death of Hissyfit’s fora has proved. System administration and Web design suck up time like a collapsed red giant. But content creation? It’s so far down the priority list that “columns” for dead-tree newspapes (NUblog infra) are a better use of her time.

So, apparently, are old-media variants of existing sites, as in the much-namedropped Fametracker book:

The Fametracker book proposal is chugging along. I’m aiming to finish the content part of it (the last chunk) by Monday so that we can send it to our agent; we’ll be meeting with her a week after that, and I hope she’ll be able to get something going relatively quickly. Of course, I have no idea how long a process this is, and I’m excited to find out.

We wonder if the contents (note the plural) of said book will be the original work of Ariano, Cole, Adam Sternbergh (“the Man from FUNKLE”), and other equal partners in a legitimate book contract, or if online contributors will find their work “repurposed” with little or no compensation.

There is something to be said for the back-to-basics approach of the new Hissyfit, however. It brings Ariano back to the real world of personal Web publishing. The site will now host Hissyfit “rants” written by her and a small roster of preferred contributors. As such, the diaristic nouveau-régime Hissyfit fits squarely into the Weblog paradigm, putting Ariano’s in the same realm as “rantings of lunatic, obsessive Webloggers... in their jaw-droppingly, staggeringly-fucked-in-the-head online journals,” to cite a Hissyfit post that, like all of them, no longer exists.

Noble company indeed.

Posted on 2002-02-02