A Brief History of Uselessness on the web

A Brief History of Uselessness on the web

In search for new useless websites to offer our visitor we came upon something really big. Big as in Colossal, something like the Big Bang of pointless, useless websites. You are going to witness the birth of The Useless Web, the real and original one, not our contemporary one. This is a work in progress, you can expect changes as soon as I get my hands on new material about the useless pages.

What you will read in the next lines, is an article written by Paul Phillips in 1996!

A Brief History of Useleness on the web

(Unlike most of the Useless Pages, I’s in this text refer to Paul Phillips, not Steve Berlin. You have been warned.)

Sometime in 1994 (yes, Virginia, there WAS a web back then) I encountered “Kenny Z’s CD list” during a late night search session. Its utility was nil, its style banal, its content embarrassing, its unintentional humor value high. Through Usenet I brought this to the attention of other like-minded sorts who experience pleasure through the ridicule of others, who deluged me with pointers to ever more useless creations.

And so the Useless Pages were born, christened with approximately the following text, inaccurately preserved for posterity (it is uncertain just how much this has mutated from its original form.)

The discovery that someone had typed in his entire 30K CD collection for WWW consumption prompted me to generate the useless pages page. I have since found that this 30K list is a pale imitation of far more useless efforts — see below. Since you’re wasting your time even now, the useless pages page is first on the list of useless pages.I don’t mean to preclude those outside the Americas from being considered useless. Actually, they’re quite well represented. I just thought the subtitle was amusing. [Note of explanation — for a while the Useless Pages were subtitled ‘America’s Funniest Home Hypermedia‘ but we’ve moved on.]

“Useless” in this context doesn’t mean poorly done or of no value at all, it just means that there isn’t any point in making these things available on the web. [Note — we’ve expanded the meaning of “useless” quite a bit since then, it’s more of a Zen thing now: if we have to explain, you’ll never get it.] If you see a page and think “Good God, WHO CARES?” you have found a likely submission. If you see your own pages here, don’t come after me with a pickaxe, I didn’t choose all these personally. (I have been amazed at the number of people that submit their own pages for inclusion. Research into that phenomenon is left for a future project.) Furthermore, some of these pages are intentionally useless: that is, they poke fun at their own subject matter. Some aren’t. If you can tell which is which, you’re one up on me.

Things got out of hand quickly. I shamelessly promoted the pages to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. Persistence paid off, and they and I were eventually featured in a whole bunch of online and offline publications, inaccurately enumerated on the Awards Page.

I knew I couldn’t keep it up. The pressure started to wear on me early in 1995; fighting through media throngs and angry picket lines to get to my home was wearing me down. Okay, so maybe “throngs” overstates the one time somebody took my picture, and maybe I did request it, and maybe there were no picket lines. I was weary anyway. Can you imagine trying to come up with new and creative ways of insulting people, every day? I know, it sounds like a walk in the park (Central Park, anyway) but let me tell you, kid, it wasn’t.

So maintenance lagged, update frequency diminished. My “pending” mailbox grew even as the volume of submissions finally started to subside. It was at this moment that someone who was simply BORN for this job stepped forward and said “Hey, you stupid twit, the Useless Pages are not cutting it any longer. Hand ’em over.” Those were not his exact words, but paraphrase is not my specialty.

That man, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, was Steve Berlin. So he took over, and uselessness blossomed anew. The pages moved from their longtime URL at Primus Consulting to their next longtime URL at Chaco Communications. I stuck around as a sort of “Useless Emeritus”, which in a happy coincidence was (and is) an accurate description, however parsed.

Most of the content before you is the product of Berlin’s mind, not mine. The inconsistent use of ‘I’ and ‘we’ and particularly the way that ‘I’ changes meaning on the same page and sometimes in the same sentence is easily explained by the haphazard evolution of the Useless Pages combined with our belief that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Not to mention the enjoyment we get from the confusion and puzzlement of the readers.

Fast forward to present day at the moment, late 1996. I’ve got a nifty job at a company called go2net that admires the wit, wisdom, history, and of course established audience and borderline cult following of the Useless Pages. Naturally we just had to have them here, so I ask Steve and he says “sure, but only if you write a history for them.” Okay, this time I’m not even paraphrasing, he didn’t say anything like that. I just decided to do it, and now it’s almost done.

A final anecdote. I attended a party at Jamie Zawinski’s house in late October. He still introduces me as “Mr. Useless”, so I politely informed him that Steve Berlin is Mr. Useless now, and he can stop calling me that. Without missing a beat he replies “OK, as soon as you do something notable.” Ah, what a two edged sword is obscurity.

Go forth in uselessness.

The article ends with the Go forth in uselessness advice, Unfortunately I couldn’t recover any of the pages or references about useless websites on Primus/Chaco.  Not true anymore, just found the original text of the page entitled  “America’s Funniest Home Hypermedia”  that was originally on primus.com. It is dated 08/07/95, And Steve Berlin was already part of the team.

Next up will be some text that was on the submit section of the useless pages.

if you want you can submit you own useless web page to anotheruseless.website

Submitting a Useless Page

Submitting a Useless Page

Do you think you found a truly worthless site? Well, see if it will pass our strict, patented Useless-O-Meter Test!

  • Is it your personal home page? You can stop reading right here – I’m not interested in it, and there’s no way in Hell I’m going to list it.
  • Is it on any of the Retired Page lists? Better check them all! Then check them again. If you spent less than a week on this stage, you didn’t look hard enough.
  • Is it a list of something, especially a list of something truly useless? If so, you probably have a winner on your hands.
  • Is it on one of the sub-pages? Especially the Food Page.
  • We DON’T want your homepage, no matter how useless you think it is. We formerly recommended you submit it instead to the Mediocre Site of The Day, but we were informed that your home page is too useless and mediocre for them, too. So face facts: NO ONE WANTS TO SEE YOUR HOME PAGE! We have trained professionals to sniff out what we consider our “Useless Home Page of the Week”, less experienced Web Serfs can be maimed or killed if they’re not careful.
  • Are you sure it’s not in ANY of the lists of retired pages? I think it is.
  • Again, I repeat: NO PERSONAL HOME PAGES! If you submit your stupid personal home page, I will name you “Mailbomb Site of the Day”, and the thousands of fans of The Useless Pages will send you gigabytes of junk, upsetting your SysAdmin, and you will LOSE YOUR ACCOUNT. Well, I wouldn’t REALLY do that. (maybe). But I sure would THINK about it!
  • We are looking for unique. If we see another site that just counts the number of people who’ve accessed it, we will personally come over to your place and replace your computer with a hand-held “Pac-Man” game.
  • In case you STILL don’t get it (and it’s AMAZING the number of people who don’t – even some folks WITHOUT AOL accounts!) – I DON’T WANT PERSONAL HOME PAGES! Personal home pages are BORING! This is the Useless pages, NOT the Boring pages! So I don’t care if it’s yours, your roomate’s or your aunt’s – if it’s a personal home page I won’t list it! – however, I found these folks who call themselves The Generic Homepage Association who will gladly take your stupid page!
  • A personal home page is not necessarily a site you personally created. But if you have a link to: Your resume, Yahoo, sites which talk about your favorite band, and “My KEWL links” – guess what? I DON’T WANT TO SEE IT! Do I make myself clear? GOOD! If you HAVE to send it somewhere, go bug the folks at The Totally Ignored Site of the Day, The B.L.A.H. pages, or The Loser Site Web Ring instead.
  • Unless you say WHY it’s useless, if it’s from Geocities I’m not even going to BOTHER to look at your boring site, because for some reason the IDIOTS who use Geocities don’t seem to think the “No Personal Home Pages” rule applies to them, and they’re the ones whom I MADE it for in the first place! Sheesh!

Still want to submit your page which you’ve determined is NOT your home page, is not on the retired list or any of the sub-pages, and is pretty darn unique yet still utterly useless? Well, then, send it to [email protected] Just make sure it’s not your personal home page first!

They were very clear about what they want and what they don’t want that’s for sure.

Now let’s take a look at the awards page, this is from 2001.

Useless Awards

useless awards

Does that mean “Awards for the Useless pages” or just what it appears to mean? That’s up to you — but always remember what’s first on the list of the Useless.

Seriously, as with all collaborative efforts, a large part of the credit goes to you, the viewer, and you over there, the submitter. Yes, you. That list of email addresses on the Useless page isn’t just for show. Someday I’m going to write to each and every one of you and tell you just how I feel. There’s a tear in my eye as I compose this.

Hey, somebody named “Ashley Dunn” wrote an article that uses about a thousand references from my pages without crediting them. Everyone cancel your NYTimes subscription. We’ll show THEM who’s useless, oh yes we will.

The fact that people on the ‘net like this site, but the fact that folks in the real world have noticed us, too, scares us.

the quaint old world of paper and ink

  • The Washington Post covered us in that slow-news period after OJ and before Monica.
  • The New Yorker did a nice little review of us. But I’m not going to link to it here since they don’t have a web site.
  • The Sacramento Bee says we’re “Comedically Derisive, although I can not think of anything more comedic than naming a newspaper “The Bee”.
  • Wired finally got around to talking about us (Issue 4.02), calling us a “waste of electrons”. They meant it as a compliment. Really.
  • Yeah, being listed in a book or magazine is nice, but you know you’ve made it when you’re mentioned in one of those day-by-day calendars! Well, we are, in the Whole Internet Calendar, on, appropriately enough, April 1st.
  • Rolling Stone had a blurb on us. Now my lifelong dream of being mentioned in a magazine with “Hootie and the Blowfish” on the cover is fulfilled.
  • The Houston Chronicle judged us “Most Entertaining Internet Site of 1994” on 12/25/94. In fact, they like us so much, they voted us “Most Entertaining Site of 1995”, and runner-up for Most Entertaining Site of 1996, too! (Thanks to Dwight Silverman, who liked us even when we weren’t famous)
  • The San Jose Mercury News wrote a front page article on us, in addition to featuring us in their editor’s picks site list
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a long article for ComputerLink, a weekly supplement. It featured a picture of yours truly looking around uselessly. (Some insane caption writer wrote “Paul Phillips, also known as the Internet’s Mr. Useless […]” which has of course led to my friends permanently branding me as Mr. Useless.)
  • .net, a UK magazine, wrote a blurb that used the words “highly amusing”, “well-maintained”, and “wonderful stuff”. (in reference to us, really!)
  • The San Francisco Chronicle calls us a genuine Web treasure on 2/9/95(Arr, maties! Take twenty paces due south and click)
  • Personal Computer World, which according to the “Cutting Edge Editor” has a circulation of 142,089, wrote up a blurb on us in their March 1995 issue (I can’t quote the whole blurb because of that darn copyright thingie, so in rebellion I will quote none!)
  • The Guardian pronounced on Feburary 9: “THE funniest site l’ve ever found on the Web is the Useless WWW Page[…]”
  • The Observer observed on Feburary 12: “check out Paul Phillips’s brilliantly funny Web site, which links you directly to some of the most useless Web pages in existence[…]”
  • NetGuide had a blurb on us in their May issue. Their online site likes us, too giving us an overall Five Stars!
  • PC World (No relation to Personal Computer World above) has a blurb by Paul in their June, 1995 issue with him listing his favorite useless sites.
  • (Insert a few dozen media mentions between February and July that I was too lazy to add)
  • Peter Lewis of the New York Times calls us “A more efficient way to be useless” on 7/11/95. Yee-ha. But before you re-subscribe to the Times, first note three mistakes in this article that Steve spotted.
  • Internet Underground Where you can find out all the personal information on Paul ‘n’ Steve normally associated with People.
  • Computer Currents says “You’ll gasp at the cluelessness, guffaw at the goofy concepts, shriek at the silliness. A must-visit for the taste-impaired.”
  • The net (No relation to that amazingly accurate Sandra Bullock movie) says “Anybody can point out the good, but there is an art to finding the bad. Of course, there’s a fine distinction between something that’s useless and something that’s plain bad…” For our efforts, they gave us a respectable B+. Even more respectably, the said we were one of the First 10 Sites you should visit on the Web. I guess it’s to warn you off.
  • Toronto Computes said we were one of the Way Kewlest Web Sites(their words, not mine). Extra kudos for also saying nice things about my T-shirt List.
  • We were Mentioned in two magazines from Finland, “City” on March 3rd, 1995 and Helsingin Sanomien Kuukausiliite on an unspecified date. I only mention this because I like saying “Helsingin Sanomien Kuukausiliite”.
  • Websight calls us the 37th Most Important People on the Web. It’s not just because I have a column with them, would it?
  • I*Way magazine says we’re one of the Top Internet Resources (which probably says more about the dearth of good Internet resources than it does about the quality of this site).
  • A Newspaper that is actually called The Press of Atlantic City ran an article written by David Benson, who said, in a moment of self-fulfilling prophecy, “We found the Awards Page …to be the most fun…because so many major reviewers have stopped by to commend the Useless Page on it’s research into the banal. Imagine that. Complimenting someone for a good job done on poor jobs. And now we’ve joined them.”
  • Infoworld says we’re one of the Ten Most Entertaining Sites. That’s Entertainment?
  • The New York Times FINALLY has a Website – and they finally got it right! You can re-subscribe to the Times again.
  • Yahoo! Internet Life named us one of the Web’s 10 Funniest Sites. They gave the wrong URL (but we’re not bitter, are we?)
  • Time Magazine did not write an article on us!
  • Neither did Newsweek!

Book reports:

I can’t understand why someone would actually buy a book of URL’s. Before the ink is dry, half of them will be changed! But if you have to spend money on a book about the Web, these are the ones you should get:

  • U.S. Robotics (before they merged with 3com), mentioned us in a cute little book that came with their modems. Note: you can view the page here
  • We were written up in NetGuide. Fittingly, we were awarded this “honor” after the print magazine went 404.
  • The World Wide Web Bible by Bryan Pfaffenberger which gives us four stars (see page 437).
  • Atlas to the World Wide Web by Bob Powell and Karen Wickre, mentions us on page 203, and comes with a CD ROM. I have no idea where we’re listed on that.
  • Internet International Directory by Mitzi Waltz. For some reason, she only mentions the Uselessness of Fortune Telling page. (Page 292 of her book).
  • The World Wide Web Unleashed – Second Edition by John December and Neil Randall. This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about above. It states (on page 632) we have “at least 100 pages”. Now, including the retired pages and all the sub-pages, we have over 600 useless links!
  • What’s On the Web? – Not much more for me to add since they have their entire review on the Web. We’re link 2605!
  • NetGuide Vol 2 by Michael Wolf & Co. admire our “Cult following of sorts”.
  • The 1996 World Wide Web Unleashed by John December and Neil Randall. They say, “Visit this site when the pressure’s getting to you.”
  • Cyberhounds’s Internet Guide to the Coolest Stuff Out There, which has such a long title they couldn’t fit the editor’s name anywhere, asks of us, “…with so many good sites out there, why hang out here and dwell on the bad?” In a last-ditch attempt to give them a clue, WE want people to ask, “With so many good sites out there, why bother to make your own stupid site?”
  • Web After Hours, by Bill Mann, talks only about our Food Page. Bringing to mind the phrase “back-handed compliment”, he says “Despite its somewhate grubby appearance…[it] is a pretty useful guide to grub on the web. Actually…, it seems to be the only food and drink index on the web.” In case you’re wondering if he gets it or not, later on he says it’s “somewhat sarcastic…Heavy emphasis on Spam pages.” as if that’s a BAD thing!
  • Que’s Mega Web Directory, by Rositano, Rositano, and Stafford (does that sound like a law firm or what?). I have serious doubts they looked at the sight, or even have a basic grasp of the English language, since this is their entire description: “Interactivity! The uselessness of many subjects or the Useless Hall of Fame. Try the contest.”
  • Walking the World Wide Web 2nd Edition talks about our various useless links, saying “Paul and Steve will lead you to them”.
  • IDG Books, publisher of Yahoo Unplugged, mentions us in not one but TWO of their “For Dummies” books: Creating Web Pages for Dummiesand The Web After Work for Dummies. Sometimes one doesn’t need a sarcastic comment…
  • None other than best-selling pulitzer-prize winning Dave Barry said, in Dave Barry in Cyberspace, “I found this site, along with many other excellent ones, at a very useful site called Useless Pages, http://www.chaco.com/useless/index.html. Check it out.” (page 161)

If you are just interested in awards we got that you can see conveniently on your computer screen (as opposed to, say, inconveniently on your toaster oven), well, we have those, too!

The electronic world:

GNN listed us on their illustrious Best of the Net, even giving us our own page! (Not to mention we’re listed ahead of the White House In your face, Hillary)

  • Yahoo thinks we’re a COOL link (But not a K00L!!!!! link, so there are still mountains to conquer)
  • Netscape Guide by Yahoo! Hey! Netscape and Yahoo! got together and called it… No, no, NO! I’m not going to repeat that beaten-to-death joke!
  • InfiNet named us Cool Site of the Day on 12/13/94 (Five cool sites marked Useless — and counting)
  • We got the not-very-coveted Cool Site of the Minute, along with 44,640 other sites this month!
  • We won the OSO Cool Site award. Get it? “Oh so cool”? What? Oh, nevermind…
  • We got the Good Taste-Keeping Seal of Approval? You have GOT to be joking!
  • The folks at the Insane Hockey News awarded us something or other – I’m not sure what because I’m not sure what sane hockey is.
  • We were listed in the elite – some dare say elitist – Selectsurf humor listings.
  • We were awarded the Bottom of the Gene Pool award. We’re the life guard, you see…
  • We won Jelloboy’s Superfly Pimpin’ Web Page Award., which is the NEW winner of “Best Award Name”.
  • Amdahl deems us a Hot Topic (thank the stars we weren’t Cool Site and Hot Topic at the same time, or the resulting carnage may have taken years to conclude and cost millions of lives)
  • Next Online opines that we are not only Hot but Just Plain Weird
  • Netsurfer Digest listed us first in their Surfing Sites, 12/24/94 issue, but gave all the credit to Joe Rumsey. (They issued a correction in the 1/15/95 issue, taking the opportunity to express further praise.)
  • Euphony named us a netlink-of-the-week around 2/15, but ALSO gave all the credit to Joe Rumsey! (They’re no longer there, which serves them right!)
  • We were one or the other in One Useful Thing and One Cool Thing on 12/12/94. And a year later, the Useless Awards were listed, on 12/28/95, to be precise. And again on March 11, 1997. (Useful or Cool? Which one? Duh.)
  • eye Weekly calls us “a must in one’s evolving net.education”
  • The University of Wolverhampton inducted us into their hall of fame. We are the first! (I wonder if I can finagle a scholarship in Useless studies out of this)
  • The Seeress of the Web picked us as her Vision of the Day on 4/14/95. For this awe-inspiring achievement, all I can say is, “huh?”
  • Point Communications says we’re one of the Top 5% of the sites out there and, by law, we have to display their tacky little gif:
  • Let’s see… last time I checked Alta Vista they had 16,000,000 URLs, and who knows how many URLs AREN’T on there. Which means we are part of the ELITE 800,000 sites out there!
  • We were featured on the Caught in the Web part of the show WeekNight Edition on KUHT in Houston, Texas on August 31, 1995. I assume it was part of their pledge night – “Give us $10,000 or we’ll show this episode again!”
  • On June 9th, 1995 we were declared GEnie’s HotSpot. We didn’t find out about this until early October – some publicist isn’t doing their job! I’m not going to paraphrase what they said about the Useless Pages because you can read it yourself.
  • Our Pi page was declared to be Barbara’s Intelligent Site of the Week, which is pretty good indication that Barbara never actually looked at the site.
  • Webaholics calls us a “Legendary Link”. Funny, you’d think this page would be a CURE for Web Addiction!
  • CyberSurfer Webzine (Motto: “Cramming as many cliches as we can into six syllables”) as one of the “Top 100 or so Sites”, and one of the “12 Best Wastes of Time”, which pretty much sums of the sad state of the Web.
  • David Hipschman’s column, Cyberland mentioned a lot of sites beloved by Useless Pages Fans, and in the next column gave us credit for finding them. Of course, with such lines such as “Go check out their work, it’s completely useless, and good at it.” I could see why some grammar-happy editor would have removed it.
  • c|net gives us four stars, and has a review you can read which contains many verbs and adjectives.
  • The award we’re MOST proud of: The Anarchy Award for Best of the Web! Actually, if you look at this page, I’m pretty sure this is how the folks at Point give out their awards, too.
  • Beep Beep! We won Roadrunner Site of the Week
  • The award we’re SECOND most proud of: We made Dumbass of the Day!
  • Homeboys Webvertising named us Best of 1995. We certainly relish being honored by 45-year-old businessmen calling themselves “Homeboy” who use words like “webvertising”.
  • Starting Point named us “Today’s Starting Point” sometime in December ’95. But since they don’t list past “Today’s Starting Points”, you’ll just have to take my word for it, won’t you?
  • Cafenet says to check us out “When you have a lot of free time on your hands”. Considering they are Internet vending machines (really!), no wonder they love us!
  • Magellan gave us three stars, but they gave the Hall of Fame site four stars. OK, you can stop boycotting them.
  • The Asylum featured us on their wacky Rumor Mill. “Cool Page of the Day”
  • iGuide calls us “A Collection of frivolity” (which sounds like something Matt Groening would say). They also say we’re a Three Star Site.
  • The Biggest List of Humor Sites on the Web lists us first, calling us “Great!”
  • We were awarded The Funky Mama Award, which only goes to prove that all the GOOD names for “Cool Site of the Day” awards have been taken.
  • Is there anyone left on the planet who does not have their own “Cool Site of the Day” page? On April 17th, 1996, we got the WeirdGuy’s Cool Site of the Day award.
  • You’re nothing on the Web until you’re insulted by Suck, and we finally made big-time on April 30th, 1996 (albeit in a very pot-calling-kettle-black kind of way).
  • OGS Quality Links says we’re “Utterly brilliant.”
  • The most impressive-looking award we’ve gotten: The prestigious ZUG-O-RIFIC(tm) Badge!
  • The folks at the Excellence in Oddity Awards gave us one, along with another gif that was even larger and uglier than the “Zug-O-Rific” graphic so I’m not putting it on.
  • We’re honored to get the Kultig Award. OK, so we’re not – in fact, I’m getting sick of these “Fake Award” pages, but I put this one on ’cause it’s in a funny language.
  • Here’s a real award, but I’m pretty sure they got the wrong page because they say we’re one of the
  • Best Human Interest Site
  • Someone named Gloriana said we’re a Class Act! And yes, we do scratch our balls in public in a VERY classy way!
  • We’ve been named HRDDRV’s Cool Site of the Week. Don’t let the filename in the URL fool you – we didn’t pay them THAT much money for the honor.
  • Are you wondering if we won HomeArts Hot Link of the Day award? Well, yes, we have!
  • Make your own OJ joke as you check how we won the Judge Link of the Week
  • We won the Links I like Best of 1995 awards (Whoever this mysterious “I” is).
  • The Morgies, winner of the “Most Gruesome Award Name” award.
  • Yeee-HA! We’ve been approved by the Shotgun-Toting Bourbon-Tasting Hemingway-Appreciation Society!
  • The Mining Company said I am a God of Uselessness. I like that.
  • TechMall claims we’re “Hilariously Weird”.
  • In the “Best Award Name of the Week” category, we won George and Julanne’s Crap of the Month award!
  • Because our obvious attempts to Think Different, such as pointing out bad grammer will NOT make a company get out of debt, we’ve been awarded Brandon’s Bookmarks on the Macintosh News Network.
  • Since we don’t get to use the word “Nutty” enough in daily conversation, we’re proud to say we’ve won the One Nutty Site award.
  • We’re What’s funny on the Internet Today. Not yesterday and not tomorrow.
  • We were noted on Web Today, but I’m not going to make the same joke twice so see above.

Not bad huh? And remember, this was in the ’90 ! Long before smartphones, tablets, even laptops where scares then. To accomplish such a thing in the dial-up era really is notable.