Ryan Chartrand

Everything epic must come to an end at some point; the Roman Empire, Harry Potter’s life (yeah, he’s dead) and even mustangdaily.net’s “Greatest Sites Series.” We’ve learned a lot from our friends at eBaum’s World, SomethingAwful, CollegeHumor and Fark and I thought we’d take a look back at some of the important points made by the leaders of the growingly popular world of humor sites and where exactly they are headed.

The wonderful world of video

While sites like eBaum’s World and CollegeHumor thrive on the new trend of video (i.e. YouTube), sites like SomethingAwful only use it when necessary. Fark is even more of an outcast in the world of video, simply because they’re a news aggregator, nothing more (or at least until January 2007). Video has always been a big issue for humor sites for a variety of reasons, compatibility seeming to be one of the worst. With Flash, Windows Media Player and QuickTime all fighting to be the “standard,” and a growing number of Mac users adding another layer of format troubles, pleasing everyone is impossible at this time.

Most importantly, however, as Zack Parsons of SomethingAwful points out, video is expensive. It’s hard to comprehend how much bandwidth it takes to show video to millions of people on a daily basis. Bandwidth, of course, isn’t on the dollar menu of the Internet, so finding ways to pay for it usually ends in delightfully providing an endless bombardment of ads (something no humor site wants to succumb to). When the format wars finally end and there is a victorious standard online video player, maybe video will finally become a dominant force on humor sites.

Are subscription fees inevitable?

One of the growing concerns for readers of these sites is that, soon enough, not even the bare minimum will be free anymore. eBaum’s World doesn’t see any type of fees in the future of their site, saying they want to keep everything as “user friendly as possible.” SomethingAwful, which only requires a subscription fee for its forums, has started to reverse the use of fees in exchange for selling merchandise and goods. CollegeHumor went through their short, unsuccessful period of fees with “CollegeHumor: Raw,” but did away with it once they realized they were competing with free. Thankfully, they were still making enough money from advertising and survived without the fees.

But if you look at Fark, which provides “Total Fark” for a monthly fee, it’s hard to say that humor sites can avoid fees forever. As Fark’s creator Drew Curtis pointed out, advertising revenue doesn’t always come in every month and can sometimes take up to 120 days. A subscription fee, on the other hand, comes in every month and is far more reliable. Curtis also noted that advertisers like Maxim have no problem advertising in the New York Times, but telling your boss about advertising on some average Joe’s amusing headlines site takes more convincing. While it may not seem like such problems would apply to such well-grounded sites like CollegeHumor, which was acquired by InterActiveCorp and seems to have no financial trouble in its future, I think it’s still safe to say that subscription fees are certainly not out of the question. It might seem like it’s all about the comedy, but these are still people trying to make a living by providing free content (which is ironically provided primarily by users).

So what is the future of humor/viral media sites?

It’s hard to imagine where humor sites could possibly go from here, let alone where they should go. All of the sites we talked to, aside from Fark, all want to or already have contests that reward their viewers for contributing to the site. Fark was picked up by a “large media company” for an exclusive online show run entirely by users (how’s that for a reward?). Humor sites are starting to recognize their users instead of reaping all the benefits themselves. When you watch sites like YouTube and Fark prove to the world that viewers provide more content than any staff ever could, the future of humor/viral media sites is clearly all about the users.

What more should we expect from these sites? Day in and day out they are able to entertain millions of people, either through user submissions or their own content. What more can they give us? What more can they offer that would be worthy of throwing down money for? CollegeHumor, SomethingAwful, eBaum’s World and Fark have all mastered the base on which their sites are formed, which is entertainment on a mass scale. The only real changes that we will ever see and probably ever should see are all technical, behind-the-scenes work that help make a viewer’s experience of the content that much better. Humor sites are so community based now that making changes any more drastic than that might start a revolution. As the Internet continues to change and reshape itself daily, perhaps such change will only be inevitable.

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