www.zombo.com is one of the first internet memes. I remember seeing Zombocom’s weird flash bubbles around 2002 in my dark teen bedroom with white Christmas lights and awful cheap guitars. It was the sort of thing a dark teen in the early aughts needed: weird, confusing, flash-heavy, and mysterious. Zombocom wants you to know one thing and only one thing and it’s the most important thing Zombocom could tell you: you can do anything at Zombocom. Welcome!
The only limit is your imagination. There’s nothing else to give this baritone voice context. Just the flashing orbs, the comic-sans header, and him, speaking directly to you. You can do anything at Zombocom, the only limit is your imagination. Zombocom. Zombocom! Its insane simplicity is a huge part of its survival. There isn’t massive upkeep, there aren’t multiple pages, there’s nothing to update, there’s just one animation, one voice, telling you: anything is possible.
Zombocom is emblematic of what the early internet was all about. Things are equally weird now, but there was something else then, back when we had less advertising incentive, less cashflow. There was this idealism surrounding those early internet people during the pre-dot-com bubble days. There was a genuine belief that the internet could do anything and would do everything, which is maybe still true, but only insofar as people still want to do it all.
A generation of post-60s, post-Reagan, post-grunge hippies started to embrace the early internet. You got things like Mondo 2000, cyberpunk, and boing boing in the early 90s. McLuhan’s global village was more like a global commune; the political ideology of a radical generation was slowly transformed into a very much drug-influenced but still science-and-tech based utopianism. People believed in the radical transformative capabilities of increased tech and connectivity. People still do, although tempered by big data, government surveillance, and algorithmic marketing. Zombocom appeared just before the dot-com bubble collapsed in 2000, just at the peak of the hype, and embodies the dismembered spiritual belief in never-ending expansion in a digital space.
There’s speculation about Zombocom. The common story says that Zombocom is meant to parody early internet flash intros. But if we follow this path, Zombocom becomes an empty promise, a shell of itself, something standing in for something else, a useless referent, an anachronism. Zombocom is none of these things. Zombocom is vital. Zombocom is necessary. Welcome to Zombocom. We still have Zombocom to tell us everything will be fine so long as we believe. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. Zombocom is our benevolent spiritual guide.
This is Zombocom. The carnival-like muzak in the background, the pretty lights, the lulling gentle voice that gets progressively more manic and infused with a kind of knowing effluent joy. This is Zombocom, and welcome to you who have come to Zombocom! There’s one last joke at the very end of the animation. The music climaxes, the spinning lights see to grow more hectic, though they really don’t, and the words “Sign Up For The NewZLetter” scroll on screen. If you click them, the page reads, “Sorry this is not working right now. ThankZ for your patience.” Simple, almost like its an afterthought. The link doesn’t remain on screen for long. Move slowly and it all starts again. An infinite loop, a progressive chain, a braided zero-sum path.
What do we do with the NewZLetter? More theories, more explanations. Another joke on early internet sites with half-implemented features. But jokes can’t be the everything of Zombocom. Listen to him. The unattainable is unknown at Zombocom. And I believe him.
I know there is more out there about Zombocom. I know there is a parent website with an FAQ and t-shirts for sale. I know the parent site looks like a failed parody site along the lines of Something Awful. I know Zombocom was updated to HTML5 at some point in the past few years. But that’s all excess information, unnecessary, extraneous detail. This is Zombocom.
How do you monetize possibility? How do you sell against potential? Anything is possible at Zombocom, and so anything is permitted. Zombocom is the early internet’s theory made practice, made art. We wanted a heterogenous space, both open and free, and Zombocom delivered. No banner ads on top and side, no donation button. No tracking software. Zombocom is only what Zombocom is. It’s welcoming to you, who have come to Zombocom. You won’t find what you’re looking for at Zombocom, but you also won’t find a space ostensibly developed for the good of the humans who use it, but is really just an advanced advertising platform. It won’t mine your data. It won’t force you through complicated hoops to export your photos. Zombocom is simplicity and possibility. Zombocom is spread through itself and you, back into what the internet was before, when the social web was social and not a sandbox for the rich to extract resources from their users in order to get richer.
Social media wants to gather your data. Social media isn’t exactly social anymore, social media is more like data trawling software. Wide nets, scooping up whatever. Advertisers, marketers, anybody in the position to make money off the structures of the internet want to buy and sell the things you say and do on their platforms.
But not at Zombocom. There is nothing to sell at Zombocom, there is no updating or uploading. Just pure, unobtainable suggestion. Just that glowing hypnotic sphere of influence telling you to embrace its unbroken definition of radical openness. Welcome to Zombocom.
If Zombocom teaches us anything, it’s that meaninglessness can be as freeing as it is difficult. I stare at Zombocom’s lights and listen to the baritone, I watch it for an hour, I let the muzak become a part of my day as much as the hum of the refrigerator. Zombocom opens itself to me the minute I forget it’s there.
Our websites are often defined by use. Our social media all have specific functions, our streaming video sites are all utilitarian entertainment beams, our forums are connective tissue. Zombocom is unique because it has no actual function. Zombocom exists as it is, welcoming and weird, and continues on. The internet changes. People change faster, and the internet tries to keep pace. But Zombocom is timeless exactly because it asks nothing from us and gives nothing in return. Twitter, Facebook, these places will eventually become ruins. They may try to pivot, late career movers like Yahoo! or MySpace. But they will all eventually become just passing glances of their former selves. Only Zombocom is permanent. Only Zombocom is forever. Welcome.
There is a lot of weird on the internet. It lends itself to weird, it needs weird to sustain itself. There is no fixed format like there is on TV. Genre barely scratches the surface. We have no easy form. There are limits, but so far these limits are structural. You can do what you can code.
But people crave structure. For all the random-seeming nonsequitors, image macros are actually highly regulated. Memes become embedded in our daily thought patterns, and these patterns lead to genres. But because of the pace of the internet, no single meme has been around long enough to transition into canon. Zombocom is an early example of what can happen when there are no traditions. Zombocom is the inspired other, the shaman in powergloves, the oracle at the game over screen.
You need Zombocom. The infinite is possible at Zombocom. You must listen to Zombocom, we all must listen to Zombocom, because its message is still important. You can do anything at Zombocom. Zombocom! Zombocom.
Drew Kalbach is from Philadelphia. His website is www.drewkalbach.com and his Twitter is @drewkalbach.