The Nifty Archive has been dear to me for as long as I’ve known it, but what becomes of an all-text empire in the time of unlimited, uncensored hardcore visuals?
I can still remember being a bad kid on the internet and waiting endlessly for my parents to leave me alone with the computer long enough to look up the previews of the newest Handjobs magazine each month (I couldn’t afford to download the full versions, and my days of piracy were a ways off still), and then skate over to nifty.org/nifty/gay. This was long enough ago that browers didn’t autocomplete urls, and I was operating on a shared family computer, so bookmarks and history were completely out of the question. I had memorized all the urls of favorite sites, and knew exactly where to go when these rare opportunities presented themselves.
Nifty (or the Nifty Archive) played an outsized role in my online sexual development, partly because it was a one-way enterprise that felt safe and relatively discreet. I was a reader as a kid anyway, and so the site’s all-text format suited me fine. And in contrast to chatrooms and forums, I didn’t feel the pressure of two-way communication; I could just read and jack my dick in peace. And the selection felt limitless – endless entires into nearly two dozen categories.
It was a haven and an accompanying set of rituals (browsing favorite categories according to today’s mood and then seeking out tried and true favorite stories in each) that would follow me to college, to my first apartment, and all through my adult life. Other porn would come and go, but Nifty would always be there for me with new stories each week and month in almost every category; a blessing I could just take for granted.
I had a chance last year to ask some questions of the guy behind the site – the Nifty Archivist – and talk a bit about where Nifty fits in to the internet landscape in our current era. It seemed like a given to me that this site had always been and would always continue to be, but he was less sure.
Here’s what we discussed:
Oh boy. Where to even begin!
I read the history lesson in the About section of Nifty and was so fascinated by the journey that’s brought this site to where it is today. There is a sense of ubiquity to Nifty, for me personally, because it has always been, in my understanding. When I first got online in the late 90s, Nifty already WAS; felt like it always was.
It is very gratifying to hear from people that have been helped by Nifty – either feeling less alone in their sexuality or fetishes, or people who found a mutually consensual relationship. It sounds cliche, but it’s nice to feel that Nifty and I have been a net positive influence and have created a little more happiness and love in the world.
I would absolutely agree that you have, and (pardon the circle jerk) am really heartened that you view it that way! Would you say that the struggles the Archive has faced in the past have been largely because of discrimination about the subject matter and the fact that so much of it is homosexually themed (although lots of it really defies precise classification)?
I am not aware of any problems specifically due to homosexual themes. There are many outlets for homosexual writing, including major commercial publishing sites. The topic was more taboo in the past and there were bookstores, for example, that specifically catered to homosexual topics, but I never specifically felt those restrictions on the Internet.
I’m not sure how to phrase this exactly as a question, but do you (and the rest of the people who have been involved with Nifty over the years) understand what a big deal this site’s continued existence is? How much it matters?
Honestly, no. It’s difficult to measure. I see the website statistics, but it’s hard to gauge what that means. I think that it matters more as a touchstone for a generation. There definitely is a generation that grew up with Nifty, like a generation for whom a particular band was meaningful. Nifty remains active, but it’s viewed somewhat nostalgically.
[Editor’s note: I politely disagree, and actively use Nifty for practical, ejaculatory purposes several times per month. There’s nothing I have to be nostalgic for – this site remains part of my present day life.]
Within the LGBTQ+ erotic story community, Nifty remains well known. I’m trying to ensure that Nifty doesn’t completely fade away into irrelevance, but everything peaks. I try to remain unattached to the fame or the fade. It’s not the hot, pretty young thing anymore.
I don’t go around surveying people, but anecdotally, there are large portions of the LGBTQ+ community who never have heard of Nifty, especially among younger generations. Each generation has its own preferred media.
I get that. I don’t like the idea that it might disappear into history some day. But I see the realities of competing media, for sure.
When I discovered it as a young man, it was mind-expanding to have so many different sexual possibilities and ideas collected in one space this way. I could hop from centaurs to intergenerational romance in the space of a few links. It really gave me a kind of freedom or a permission to fantasize and not feel weird or conflicted about it.
I’ve written similar stuff about Handjobs magazine and the role that publication played in letting my sexual imagination loose, but Nifty covered so much more ground in the sheer breadth of their publishing. There are hopefully still people discovering Nifty and going “oh shit! I’m not alone in this weird thing I like, and here’s a bunch of cool stories about it written by others who like it!?”
Yes. I’m glad that it has helped people feel less alone, less isolated, and less strange because of their fetishes. I definitely have learned a lot more about the wide variety of sexuality and activities that sexually excite people. I’m not personally excited by all of the themes that are published on Nifty, but I respect people’s unique interests.
Haha! Yeah, there’s some… interesting corners. For sure.
What is the process like when somebody wants to publish a story on Nifty? Do they just send you a word doc and you read/approve/categorize it?
Yes, basically. It helps me immensely when authors send stories that are properly formatted and suggest categories appropriate for Nifty based on the descriptions and precedents on Nifty. I hope one of the benefits of Nifty is the fairly consistent categorization policy. The policy isn’t perfect, but hopefully readers can learn the rules and have a better chance to find a theme that they will like.
The single, consistent viewpoint helps readers. I realize that the policies of Nifty don’t always match the desires of authors. I appreciate when authors try to understand and accommodate the Nifty definitions in their category suggestions, which simplifies my work.
I think the system works pretty effectively. I can’t ever recall coming across something and thinking “why is this listed here? There’s nobody peeing at all!”
Do you reading everything that gets published on Nifty?
I can’t read every story in detail. I gave that up a long time ago. I try to determine which stories need more attention and how to rapidly categorize a story. I rely on honest, well-intentioned suggestions from authors who aren’t trying to trick me or to game the system. And I rely on feedback from readers about mis-categorized stories, or stories that slipped through or evolved to violate Nifty guidelines for acceptable stories.
Have there been major challenges to any of the content published on Nifty? There is some obscure stuff in the Archive, which I can picture causing some folks’ feathers to be ruffled and angry emails to be sent.
I have a large feather pillow collection.
[Editor’s note: Ha!]
I realize that not all of the content on Nifty is everyone’s “cup of tea”. People have a lot of different tastes. With the 100,000’s of stories on Nifty, I hope that if someone dislikes a story, he or she can close it and find another one.
Vive la difference.
What is the biggest challenge to a platform like Nifty going forward, and with the profound changes in things like Net Neutrality and FOSTA/SESTA in the US?
Nifty publishes fiction. It is not a platform for personals or hookups. It does not promote or assist connections for the purpose of sex. Other commercial, online publishers continue to operate and continue to publish sexually explicit stories, so Nifty is in large company.
The challenges for Nifty are the volume of story submissions, the antiquated design of the site, the expectations of the next generation of users, and the long-term future of the site. Nifty can’t afford to provide the eye candy user experience of highly commercial Internet sites; I wish that it could, but that’s not practical unless someone wants to make a huge donation to create a financial endowment to support and maintain such a massive improvement. I am exploring options for the long-term disposition of the site. I thought that there was interest from a major academic archive of LGBTQ+ material, but they unceremoniously cut off communication without explanation.
Can I ask how many daily visitors the Archive enjoys in 2020? I suspect it’s quite a lot.
Nifty receives about 125,000 unique visitors per day. The traffic is rather impressive for a site that is predominantly text. Nifty doesn’t display ads and displays no visual, sexual content, so people can read it discreetly. It also is intentionally simple to navigate without a lot of user interface complexity and layers.
I have my own reasons that I think people ought to support Nifty by contributing stories, visiting, or donating cash. But do you have any pitch you’d like to make about why folks should invest in a community (which it really is in so many ways) like the Nifty Archive?
Nifty is a unique resource on the Internet. It is not part of some huge porn empire and the Nifty Archivist is not a generic account for an office of reviewers and customer service agents. All of the donations are used for the operations of the site. There are no paid staff.
Nifty is a unique record of LGBTQ+ culture during this recent period in history. And, yes, it has been used for academic research. It contains the collected works of tens of thousands of authors. And over the past 27 years of its existence, thousands of individuals have donated to support its continued operation.
I’m personally very grateful for the work that the Archivist continues to put into this site, and for taking the time to tell me a little bit about what that role has been like. I feel confident that its place in the internet jack off canon is most certainly assured, but only time will tell.
If you’re not already acquainted, I encourage you to to poke around Nifty now, or read this story or this story, or this one which are reproduced from there with author permission. It’s virtually unimaginable that you won’t find something that pulls you in a little deeper, or helps you ask some exciting new questions about why your boner reacts the way it does to some subjects.
Some of my personal favorites from the Archive:
But work is work, and if you’re able to toss a couple bucks toward this organization (which operates as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt entity – so any and all donations are entirely tax deductible), you really ought to. You’ll always find Nifty as a permanent tile on my wishlist (charity gifts make me just as happy as underwear or cockrings, for what it’s worth), but you can jump right to their entry here.