Inside Jokes, Outside Laughs: How sites gain popularity by creating universal “inside” jokes

By Matthew Inman

A smiling group of friends huddles together to pose for a snapshot commemorating their spring break at the beach. After a few seconds, the enthusiastic smiles turn to confused looks as the photographer realizes the digital camera has been taking a video of the scene the whole time. The resulting movie is a five-second masterpiece of awkwardness.

This is precisely the moment that Zack Bornstein is hoping to capture with his new website, a site devoted to the uploading and enjoying of instances of accidental video-mode movies. Bornstein has a simple reason for creating the site: “I thought it was funny and relatable.”

As he admits, this concept is not completely original. The idea of making a site that takes an ordinary occurrence that would otherwise only be funny to a few people and instead makes it available for the entire world to enjoy essentially dawned with the age of the Internet.

Sites like Texts From Last Night, (which, with its spawns Damn You Autocorrect and When Parents Text, features different funny texts or text conversations received by the submitter), Passive-Aggressive Notes (which displays pictures of written or typed messages of a genre indicated by the site’s title) and Awkward Family Photos (which more than lives up to its promise and provides clever captions) all follow a similar pattern.

Bornstein explains, “Every one of these style of sites takes a common everyday thing that when mined for a rule becomes funny. It’s a style of comedy, where you make a rule and provide examples.”

These “examples,” which once would be private jokes between a limited number of acquaintances, can now be broadcast via Internet to billions of strangers in every country. Even though the casual web surfer has no idea who uploaded the picture, video, or text, he or she can immediately relate to the humor of the situation. Herein lies the genius of this type of website.

Like Bornstein says, “funny and relatable” is the key, and the “rule” that he mentions is what makes the websites’ popularity possible. The creators of these sites found a rule, or category, that they found funny specifically becauseit is relatable. This means that anyone can and likely will find it funny, and also that this sort of category is something that people will want to share with others.

Though the Internet has for years been connecting us in ways that not so long ago would have been considered nothing less than magic, this sort of novelty site speaks to a slightly different connectioc. “It says that everyone is more similar than they thought they were,” says Bornstein.

Many people believe themselves to be distinct individuals, unique in their thoughts and actions and decidedly different from others. Yet the Internet, and in particular these sorts of sites, shows the surprising similarities between all of us. “Everyone thinks they have their own little idiosyncrasies, but if you ever go onto Reddit or whatnot and look at the little things that people ask if anyone else does, it is remarkable,” says Bornstein, citing another Internet sensation that houses an online community of uploaders and commenters.

Bornstein prefers to see this as a comforting insight into the collective consciousness. “It may seem dissatisfying at first, but rather, it is nice to know that everyone is sharing the same human experience. It’s how relationships are built. On the little things.”

Sites like Bornstein’s give the Internet community a forum to both enjoy and share what would otherwise be “inside” jokes, but they also work to strengthen the connections within that community. And though has not yet risen to the ranks of Texts From Last Night, Bornstein hopes “to at least garner a few bored college students once it goes full-live.”

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