How One Merchandiser Lost $1M Trying to Monetize the 'Hamster Dance' Site

The CBC is marking the 20th anniversary of the notorious Hampsterdance web site with a 10,000-word oral history by arts reporter Leah Collins, promising "the twisted true story of one of the world's first memes."

An anonymous reader writes: Deidre LaCarte, a Canadian martial arts instructor, created the site as part of a contest between her friend and her sister to see whose site could attract the most visitors by December 31st, 1998. Deidre won -- then remembers later waking up to news crews at her front door asking about that web site she'd created that had become a worldwide phenomenon. Slashdot's CmdrTaco linked to the site on February 9th, 1999, and hundreds of millions of pageviews later the CBC traces the site's evolution into Hampsterdance -- the Album, which included the less-remembered rock song "Hampster Party." (Recorded under a pseudonym by The Boomtang Boys, it was described by the Onion A.V. Club as "the definitive hamster party anthem of the new millennium," in their year-end retrospective "Least Essential Albums of 2000.")

The CBC also interviewed members from a competing U.K. band that created knock-off versions of the site's hamster-y song for their own hit record, Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia. The Canadian hamster band enjoyed some popularity on Disney radio -- one song even became Hannah Montana's ringtone, and Britney Spears reportedly expressed an interest in recording their soulful hamster ballad, "Life is Good." Hallmark also says they ultimately used hampsterdance songs in over 100 different products. But whatever happened to the web site itself?

Bill Porfido, president of a merchandising firm called Abatis International, eventually purchased the site, and described the resulting disaster as "How one man sunk a million trying to turn the world's most annoying website into the biggest thing in kiddie entertainment." Failed monetization attempts included a cartoon series about a world-travelling "Hampster" band -- the official site is still selling a DVD titled How The Hampsters Saved Winter. "One million dollars. It's almost a million, what we lost," Porfido complains, saying the site is now maintained by his old business partner, Brian Hoffman -- and adding "I haven't spoken to Brian in about three years, but I know he's tired of it."

But Porfido later admits that "even though it was a money sponge, I enjoyed every minute of it. "People are like, 'Hampsterdance? That's you? That's you?!' It kind of gave you a little taste of fame even though it was -- bogus. (Laughs)."