The Spot – lonelygirl15’s beach party ancestors

A popular old post reprinted from my former “New Tech Heroes” blog, way back in 2008:

In late 2006, when the fuss over lonelygirl15’s real identity and the fact that her YouTube videos had been scripted was at its peak, I had a sense of deja vu. I remembered The Spot.

Wired ran a cover story on actress Jessica Rose and lonelygirl15 co-creators Mesh Flinders and Miles Beckett, and writer Joshua Davis breathlessly described the cloak-and-dagger behind the scenes action that made lonelygirl15, in Davis’ words, “a mashup of homemade video diary, soap opera, and mysterious, hint-laden narrative like Lost. It’s all the more engrossing because viewers can correspond with the characters and even affect the plot.”

Although YouTube didn’t exist in 1995 and broadband connections were rare outside of the workplace, Flinders’ “thrillingly uncharted creative landscape” had been tried before, and had produced the same reaction from the much smaller number of regular Internet users at that time. The Spot, or “Melrose-Place-On-The-Web,” as Wired called it in June 1996, was produced by American Cybercast and was the first website to feature episodic fiction in the style later used by Flinders with lonelygirl15. It also had banner ad sponsors, which made the site a pioneer in online advertising, and won one of the original Webby Awards.

Without video, the site made clever use of photo galleries and online diaries to create interest in the lives of the Spotmates, a group of attractive young men and women in their early twenties. The Spotmates were portrayed “on camera” by models from the Los Angeles area, and their “diaries,” which predated the term but were similar in tone to a personal blog, were written by creator Scott Zakaran and a team of writers. Fans (“Spotfans”) were encouraged to comment on the diaries and give advice to the Spotmates, sometimes affecting the plot line with their suggestions.

I’ve never been much of a soap opera fan. When I was in college, the peak of the Luke and Laura wedding hysteria meant General Hospital was “destination television” for many girls in my dorm, as well as a lot of the guys (though they probably won’t admit it now). But The Spot was fascinating to me, especially in the beginning when, like lonelygirl15, it wasn’t clear whether it was real or not. Keep in mind that there weren’t dozens of blogs coordinating to figure out the truth about The Spot in the way lonelygirl15 was finally outed in 2006, so individual web surfers were mostly left on their own to decide.

The conflicts between the Spotmates as they shifted alliances between each other, moved in and out of the house and dished the dirt on each other was enough to keep me coming back for more, but there was one “event” that happened at The Spot that was particularly memorable. While photos of the Spotmates on the beach had always been a big part of the appeal of the website, the legendary Spotmate Lingerie Party provided hours of clicking fun (especially on a dial-up connection). Sadly, I can find no leftover images from the site anymore other than the few archived on The Wayback Machine. They were tame compared to the terabytes of pr0n available on the web today, anyway, I suppose, which probably accounts for my nostalgia for The Spot and the Spotmates.

The Spot fizzled out in 1997 when American Cybercast went bankrupt, but at its peak it had over 100,000 hits a day, the equivalent of millions of hits today. The Spot was revived in 2004 for a couple years, but it wasn’t the same. It was truly one of the defining moments of the early Internet for me, and I still remember it fondly. Anyone else have Spotmate memories?

Author: Tom Kephart

Actor, director, writer. Social media guy. Higher ed drone. Sings for beer in karaoke bars.