A couple of years ago, Rob passed me a link to a hilarious/fascinating web documentary/experiment. Up until yesterday, I had completely forgotten about it, but having somehow awakened that memory I decided I wanted to read it again. What resulted was a little "internet archeology", payoff at the end...

So all I remembered is that the project involved a man and a woman coming to live in an apartment (hosted by the website) and the contest involved having them try to gain as much weight as possible within 30 days (at the end of which, the winner would receive some money). The website documented each day and showed the participants progress along with amusing commentaries. In some ways it was my first glimpse at what a "reality TV show" would be like (though I believe MTV's "The Real World" preceded this experiment) and it was the polar opposite of NBC's "The Biggest Loser".

I didn't remember what the project was called, but from my memories I also remembered it was vaguely associated with another more disgusting project involving documenting rotting meat. I also seemed to remember it was associated with fark.com.

Searches on fark.com for 'Fat Contest' and varying search terms did not yield anything yesterday. Eventually I widened my search on google.com and searched for 'rotting meat fat contest' in hopes of snagging a related website/link. I came across this site which lists Stinky Meat (warning! Not for the squeamish or hard-core vegetarians). That entry also mentions "Stinky Feet" and "Fat Contest". That was my first clue along the trail. Unfortunately, stinkymeat.net left me no clues, but the cypressfilms.com article had reminded me about a third web documentary about the author documenting his progress on contracting athlete's foot.

I next googled for 'stinky feet fat contest' and hit on this article from salon.com. It was there that I learned that it was TheSpark.com and not fark.com where I had first read the article. My silly brain...

Investigation into TheSpark.com revealed that it had been a popular website amongst teens and college kids around the turn of the century but had been swallowed by Barnes & Noble and now simply redirected me to sparknotes.com (their site which sells/hosts study notes for college students). This page tells the story of what happened to TheSpark.com with some user comments. This comment by monkeeboy was illuminating:

where can i now find stupid news reports, stinky meat, stinky feet, date my sister, or the fat project? i might as well go kill myself...the world is devoid of laughter once more... bring it back! bring it all back!

"Barnes & Noble Killed The Spark!", a blog post in January of 2005, tells a fuller story of what happened with TheSpark.com and Barnes & Noble. It mentions the author of these articles was Christian Rudder and that he had sold the website and its contents to Barnes & Noble some time in 2001. In 2004, Barnes & Nobles closed TheSpark.com altogether (redirecting to sparknotes.com), effectively "scrapping" the content of TheSpark.com.

Thank God for the Internet Archive (also known as the "Wayback Machine") which has recorded a good chunk of the internet as it has evolved over time. A comment in the above blog post gave me the link I was looking for: http://web.archive.org/web/20010330123058/www.thespark.com/content/sparkive/sparkive.html. I read the entire Fat Project again and had a good laugh (the pictures are also preserved, though in some rare circumstances the Internet Archive pages fail to load them). I then read Stinky Feet and remembered how funny Rudder's writing style was.

I remembered there was one final page in The Fat Project where the girl ("Nicole") had emailed some pictures from months after the contest to Rudder and he posted them. It kind of gave a nice bit of closure to the whole thing (plus hey, she was cute and in her underwear), so I googled for 'nicole "fat project" update' and came across this article which mentioned the URL as http://www.thespark.com/science/fat/nic_update.html. Of course the original article is no longer there, so we append the above URL to the Internet Archive URL and come up with this link.

In summary: Go read The Fat Project and its post-mortem Conclusion. Ironically most of the above links (except the Internet Archives ones) will probably die eventually. It will be interesting to see this entry in a year or two to see how many links are still alive. Broken links are the internet's tragic flaw...

One Final Take Away: Careful what you post on the internet. It just may be preserved indefinitely (unless you know how to handle your robots.txt).

§177 · November 10, 2005 · Entertainment, QuickLinks, Technology, Web · · [Print]

9 Comments to “A Little Internet Archeology”

  1. Jon says:

    Dude, I was looking for StinkyFeet and came across this after my ‘WTF?!’ response to thespark.com being an exclusively barnesandnoble.com affair now. I’d not been to Christian’s site in quite a while. Sadly, it’s gone, but I share your sentiments about the web archiver getting everything down. I’d forgotten about all the wonderful Spark Science.


    I hate it’s gone.

  2. The electronic medium is suited to archaeology for a myriad of reasons. The discipline is essentially non-textual; the written word is not at its core. Archaeology is a visual, spatial, sensual discipline.

  3. Nef says:

    Wow, you’re my hero. I was searching for the fat project tonight and was gutted to see the spark has gone! Brought back lots of memories though, reading the wonderful spark science again!

  4. Adrean Wolvers says:

    Go to okcupid.com… under Fun Stuff>Humor they have both the Fat Project and Stinky Feet in all their glory… because Christian is a co-founder of OKC.

  5. KellyT says:

    I just googled thespark fat test for a little reminiscent chuckle. This blog came up instead. I LOVED THAT SITE!!!! I was so pissed when they took it away! I followed that entire experiment from beginning to end. And the meat project, and the feet project. I remember that as being one of my favorite “first sites” on the World Wide Web. 🙂

  6. taylor says:

    aaaaagh, this made my day! for some reason, i thought of the stinky feet project and wanted to read it all over again. wonder what christian’s up to these days? man, i had a crush on that guy…

  7. Jeff says:

    He’s the author of the OkCupid blog, which is awesome!

  8. Hindo says:

    Thanks, I was looking for this contest, too and couldn’t find it!

  9. Phil says:

    I used to love/frequent thespark back when I was a freshman in high school. It was probably my first homepage. Its pretty amazing you were able to find all this. A tip of the hat to you, sir.