So, the most unexpected thing happened to me in late 2011.
The Onion published an article about a fake website that is designed to attract jerk commenters away from real websites. I bought the domain name and created the website, getting over 10,000 visits on the first night, and things were amazing and crazy for a couple weeks.
On the morning of October 20, the Onion published this article, the headline for which was "New Decoy Website Launched To Lure Away All Moronic Internet Commenters." The article described a fictional website called Outkube.com, which was created and funded by news organizations to lure jerks away from their own comment sections, by posting inflammatory content which would occupy their attention. I estimate that several thousand people tried to go to the website to see what was there in the first hour, and I'm sure I wasn't the first one. I was apparently, however, the first one to actually try to register it.
It wasn't until I was staring at the confirmation email from reserving the name that I realized that (1) I had no idea what to do next, and (2) I had no time at all to decide before the opportunity was lost. I obviously couldn't actually create the page they described, so should I post a picture of myself and a resume? A link to my music? Should it just redirect to my website?
But reading over the article again, I realized I actually could create the website they described. The main difficulty was in scale: I didn't have a way to create thousands of articles, and no real interest in doing something that was as automated as described. To buy myself some time until I could get out of work and create the site, I made a quick landing page that would suggest Twitter's "fail whale" (a message indicating that Twitter is over capacity). I used the logo from the Onion article and the message, "We are experiencing high call volume. Your call is very important to us. Please remain on the line and outkube will be with you shortly."
By the end of the workday I was armed with some notes about what I wanted to do, for better or worse, and headed home in a rush to get started.
It really only took me about two hours to create the actual Outkube site, using Wordpress as a backend (hoping somebody would criticize it in the feedback section, though no one did) and basing the design on the one in the article. I decided that I wanted to try to write real narrative articles, and that I wanted to write many of the comments. My hope was that the site could work as an integrated whole; that when the articles and comments were taken together the result could be funny, and that a website based on this idea could be sustainable. I elected to allow completely anonymous, unmoderated discussion, which would create an interactive element--a sort of crowdsourced performance piece. In short, I wanted to come as close as possible to the site described in the article, with any changes in favor of creating something interesting, hoping people would forgive those changes.
Reading that over I guess I was reading too much into it, but I think I got halfway there, maybe.
The site went live around 7:30 or so on Thursday night. Only two minutes after launch, the first comment showed up, and it grew from there. All of the initial commenters were in on the joke and did the job admirably. We had every form of anger and hate replicated with exacting detail in the discussion threads, and in one or two cases I wasn't even completely sure they were in on it--that's how good they were. That first night I only slept a few hours; I kept checking the comment queue and laughing over all the great contributions.
I created an Outkube Twitter account and got an encouraging message from a person at the Onion, who was involved in the original Outkube article, saying she had seen the site. That was, and remains, the most exciting moment in this entire experience. I can't explain how incredible that was.
Conversation around the internet, which had really taken to the original article, started to move toward Outkube.com itself, with most of the things I read being pretty positive. The site was linked from Gizmodo, TechCrunch, The Stranger, The Millions, Reddit, I Heart Sites, and countless blogs and comment sections, all of which contributed to a steady flow of traffic. It was flattering to note that despite my disclaimer to the contrary in the site's footer, many people believed that Outkube.com had been created by the Onion as a companion to their article.
Speaking of which, there was one more mind-blowing moment when the Onion's Week in Review for that week covered Outkube again, including screen captures from my site in the segment. That was a huge highlight for me.
Visitors to the site slowed down steadily as the novelty wore off and as the Onion article fell down their page. The mistakes I made in the early stages--quick content, the launch delay, and probably countless others--finally overwhelmed the thing, and though even now the site still attracts some people, it just wasn't enough to keep things going.
However, I did see some encouraging statistics even near the end. The number of people going directly to the site stayed relatively steady after the big bursts, and people were starting to arrive having searched for phrases and ideas that are put forth in the articles themselves, rather than general phrases like "is outkube real" or just "outkube," which suggested that the site was actually starting to create its own culture.
It may be encouraging to people who supported the original stated purpose of Outkube to know that we did wind up getting some people who weren't in on the joke, occasionally. However, the number of visitors ultimately shrank to the point where there really was no value in continuing to post new articles, and on Jan. 31, 2012, I posted the last one, thanking everyone for being part of it. It really was an amazing experience and I like to think I learned a lot, and hopefully entertained some people.