In the spring of 2008, I started a Tumblr called Postcards From Yo Momma with my friend Jessica Grose that published emails, texts, and IMs from people’s moms. Today, this is basically just a BuzzFeed post. But at the time, as hard as this is to believe now, it was one of the first websites of its kind, taking its place alongside sites like Passive-Aggressive Notes as a funny, anonymous, user-generated (though curated, by us) content site. Like PAN, Postcards From Yo Momma was an immediate hit. We got international press coverage and, within a few weeks, had landed a book deal. And one of our biggest coups came a year later, when our book came out, and the national edition of the email newsletter Daily Candy devoted an issue to us. We were warned to make sure our servers could handle the spike in traffic that always resulted from a Daily Candy hit — and our traffic did indeed surge that day.
At the time, in the fashion and lifestyle world, there was almost nothing better than getting a Daily Candy mention. But by 2011 or so, I started noticing that its newsletters were piling up in my inbox like the stack of unread issues of the Sunday New York Times that stared at me from my coffee table, reminding me that I was a culture-less heathen who was also destroying the environment. Daily Candy’s information on sample sales, new boutiques, must-read books, gallery shows, and the like, which was at one time exciting and exclusive, was now readily available elsewhere. I quietly unsubscribed, and while I was at it, canceled my print NYT too.
Still, I felt a pang of sadness when I found out that NBC Universal would be shutting down Daily Candy, as well as pioneering TV criticism and discussion site Television Without Pity after failing to find a buyer, and not just because nearly 70 people will probably lose their jobs — 64 at Daily Candy and three at TWoP (NBCU told Re/code, which broke the news, that the employees “might” be offered other jobs within the company) — but because it feels like the book has been irretrievably closed on a chapter of the internet that launched my career and many others’. NBCU bought TWoP for an undisclosed sum in 2007 and Daily Candy for $125 million in 2008, just before the recession hit, and also at a point that would turn out to be the beginning of both of those sites’ irreversible declines. Like Daily Candy, Television Without Pity’s recaps and forums were at one time a regular stop for me in my internet routine. I wanted to know what their writers — people who’ve gone on to places like the New York Times Magazine, Go Fug Yourself, and NPR — thought about the most recent episode of Six Feet Under. I wanted to commiserate about Friday Night Light’s terrible second season. I wanted to spend hours getting lost in the Lost forums. But slowly — as every other site started doing recaps, and then as the discussion around TV began happening in real time, on Twitter — I stopped reading.
Despite their different subject matter and audience, both Daily Candy and TWoP were in the at first enviable position of being innovators in their fields — it’s hard to imagine a world where Thrillist, Urban Daddy, Flavorpill, Very Short List, and Tasting Table, among others, exist without Daily Candy coming first. And likewise, TWoP paved the way for every culture site under the sun doing their version of a recap. But the problem with being an innovator is when you can’t keep up with the changes around you, and that’s what happened to both these sites. Tara Ariano, one of TWoP’s founders (who has not been affiliated with the site since selling it to NBCU, and now runs Previously.tv), told me that the longform recap “feels like a relic of a time when there wasn’t video online — they really served a functional purpose. In some cases, we would hear, ‘I’m overseas, I can’t watch Angel!’ Their only recourse was the recaps.” And in an age before widespread adoption of DVR, TiVo, or OnDemand programming, Ariano recalled, people in the forums would sometimes have VHS tape exchanges of episodes they’d missed.
And certainly, social media has usurped the utility of sites like Daily Candy and Television Without Pity. In a world where I can go on Twitter while Scandal is on and not only see what the audience is tweeting, but also what the cast and showrunner are saying as the show unfolds, I don’t want to wait two or three days for the TWoP recap, or scroll through hundreds of comments in a forum. (TWoP always did a quick mini-recap soon after the episode aired, but the long recaps were the most fun to read.) And if I’ve already found out via Facebook that my favorite store is having a sample sale, I don’t need Daily Candy to tell me.
But Daily Candy and TWoP themselves were not equipped to handle the social media age. Their content existed in inherently closed systems — yes, you could forward an email newsletter, but it was hard to share it on Facebook without going to the Daily Candy website and then sharing that URL, and who had time to do that? And no one shares a message board thread. Daily Candy tried to launch different products — a sample sale site, an expensive video channel — but the sample sale site failed to capture users away from sites like Gilt Groupe and the videos failed to find an audience. The magic that had distinguished Daily Candy was gone.
Not only that, but Daily Candy and TWoP also seem to have been caught flatfooted by the changes not just in where people get their media from, but how they consume it. Both of them were built when people read things on the internet on their desktops at work; going through a TWoP forum was best experienced in that post-lunch period in the afternoon when your boss was in a meeting. Even today, TWoP’s mobile site is an abridged, forum-less version of its full site. You can view the full site on mobile, but it looks like, well, shit.
Perhaps the saddest part of the Daily Candy and Television Without Pity sale is that NBCU has said that it will be keeping their archives but not making them available to the public. (I can only speculate that this means they’re keeping them with the hope that someone will decide to buy them, and will want the archives available.) Coincidentally, I recently emailed Jessica, my PFYM co-founder, because I got a hosting bill for the site and was reminded that we haven’t been updating the site regularly in awhile. I suggested that maybe it was time to pack it in. “Is there a way to archive it?” she asked. “It would be a shame to lose everything.” But that’s the double-edged sword of online media: The thrill of being able to publish quickly and cheaply, and connect more readily with readers, is occasionally dulled by the reminder that all of our work can vanish in an instant. Maybe the 21st century analog to being dust in the wind is that at the end of the day, we’re all of us just pixels on the screen.
CORRECTION: NBCU bought TWoP for an undisclosed sum in 2007 and Daily Candy for $125 million in 2008. A previous version of this post stated that they were purchased together. (3/27/14)