Tedium - Let’s Bring Back Small Tools 🔧

Why I think small tools matter on the internet right now.

Hunting for the end of the long tail • June 07, 2024

Let’s Bring Back Small Tools

Thoughts on the misadventure of udm14, or what I hope to gain from successfully reviving the single-serving site for a couple of weeks.

In the past two and a half weeks or so, I’ve found the interest in my pseudo-search engine udm14 fascinating. It solved one simple issue for a lot of people—the type of folks who see digging into the settings on their web browser as scary—and it was simple and clean enough that a lot of regular people could figure it out.

And as a result it’s seen close to 250,000 unique visits in two and a half weeks, a number that blows my mind. (It finally appears to be slowing down somewhat, making now a good time for a postmortem.) It usually takes me six months to hit a number like that with Tedium, and that’s with posts that get shared semi-frequently.

Little sites like udm14 don’t go viral anymore, and it was nice to be a part of a little viral wave. (Ironically, its second-biggest source of traffic was Google—essentially, people were searching for “&udm=14,” finding udm14.com at the top of the results, and clicking. Talk about a sign that you broke the UX! LOL.)

Sites like these, back in my day, were called “single-serving sites,” and were often focused on doing one thing well. (One of the best ones, ever, is Kay Savetz’s Fax Toy, which I wrote about in 2017.) I’m sure people are having success with them now, but they’re much fewer and further between.

My question is, how do we get that all back? I guess, the place I’m going to start is simple: I’m going to start making my own single-serving sites when I feel like it and am inspired. Someone suggested I offer a directory of bin stores, so they’re not having to dig all over the internet to find them. Why not just do that?

The website for The Dumb Domain Store. I can’t believe I made this. LOL. But there is a great reason for this to exist—a cheap domain makes a great hub for self-hosters or light bloggers.

And then, just yesterday, I had an idea for another single-serving site, something I call The Dumb Domain Store. It’s essentially a name generator, along the lines of the ones that were popular on the internet back in the day, but it encourages you to buy little domains for a couple of bucks for the first year. It’s an affiliate play admittedly, with one of our partners, Namecheap, but it is actually helpful, and I think that is important right now. (That said, if you do use it, know that this is technically advertising.)

So why do sites like these feel like the exception nowadays, rather than the rule? I think one answer might be that we leave our guard up a little more in the modern day.

To offer an example: One of the concerns I saw raised about udm14 was that it was a “proxy site,” which made it less trustworthy. It’s a credit to Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo that he raised it, but on the other hand, I want to offer a counterpoint: We have spent so many years focused on the importance of security that it sometimes makes us scared of innocuous things when much more dangerous things get normalized. Meanwhile, Google operates our email, our search histories, and our lives. They have a lot of control—and recently, they accidentally deleted a company from its servers by accident! It feels a little like worrying that a bucket on the front porch might get a drop of water in it when it’s raining outside.

Nonetheless, I did everything I could to ensure it was a minimally dangerous site. I turned off server logs, making it impossible to see the IP addresses of who visited, and made the website itself static. There are no third-party cookies. The analytics tool it uses doesn’t do anything but give me high-level anonymized data, and it can be clicked off with the use of a standard ad-blocking tool. I couldn’t tell you who searched where if I wanted to.

I was very concerned that this critique would somehow turn into misinformation about what the site does, and I tried to get ahead of it to some degree. At one point, a guy from Reddit ended up harassing me, following me to Mastodon to challenge me after I called him out for spreading falsehoods about what I created. (I don’t post on Reddit very much, but his misleading comments were enough to step in.) Who would ever use this site, he asked? You can do all of this in your browser. But sir, you don’t understand the average user. They just want something that works. I made it slightly simpler, and folks responded.

I think we keep forgetting that, with all the stuff computers can do, that there are people who just do not get this stuff at a high level. I can, personally, keep up. But there is an opportunity to help people keep the pace.

So, I guess with that in mind, I’m a tiny sites entrepreneur now. I started in search engines, now I focus on domains. What tiny site should I work on next?

Not So Tiny Links

I was going to write about the Adobe thing, but I’m kind of sick of Adobe right now. (I may write about them next week, that said.) As users, we are right to feel like we have been brought to our limits. Honestly, I think Adobe started the recent anti-consumer trend with Creative Cloud. It is getting close to the point where we need to pick up our digital artists’ easels and going with the alternative.

Tyler Kleinle, the YouTuber behind the popular Antenna Man channel, is an excellent example of an interested amateur becoming as good as the experts he’s talking to. Here’s a presentation he gave to an audience of television-industry technicians. His depth of knowledge rules.

Coffee shops should consider offering a subscription model in exchange for free or deeply discounted coffee. There, I said it.

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