Where Web surfers go when they haven't slept a wink.
When Mike Kuniavsky bought the Internet domain tired.com from a friend in November 1997, he wasn't planning to set up an anonymous confessional. He wasn't planning anything at all. At the time, Mike and I were both Web workers developing sites for the company that owned Wired magazine. "Tired" puns about Wired were de rigueur, so Mike grabbed tired.com for laughs.
While deciding what to do with his new domain, Mike typed a few lines of HTML as its home page. The site welcomed visitors with six words in a bland typewriter font: "Are you tired? Tell us why."
"It was a joke," Mike says. "I put it there on a lark as a placeholder." But he linked the word "us" to a nondescript e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, that forwarded to his personal inbox.
The first e-mail arrived almost instantly, from an East Coast university where the time showed as 2:28 a.m.:
let me get this straight. you have a website about people being tired? hmmm...sounds sketchy. either you guys got too much time on your hands, or..something else. Anyhow, I got work to do.
Kuniavsky, who now makes a living as a user-experience consultant for the designers of Web sites and gadgets, hadn't realized that on some browsers, idly typing "tired" into the URL field and pressing return would automatically open www.tired.com. The minimalist page loads so quickly it catches surfers off-guard with its short, unexplained request. "Are you tired? Tell us why." Amazingly, people do.
The first message was followed by another 20 in the next 24 hours, and nearly 100 in the first week, a rate that's continued steadily for almost seven years, neither rising nor falling with the growth of the Net. To date, he's received more than 32,000 messages. Each one is personal, but most of the people who write in—like the underslept student who started it all—fall into one of a few familiar categories.
There's the overworked parent:
Because I work two jobs and have two kids. My husband is a 13 year old trapped in a thirty year old body. My sister lives with us and doesn't work or take care of herself. My kids are great, but between my other two jobs and this house I'm exhausted. I went to school as a single mom, finished high school with my son, finished college with him. I didn't get married until I graduated college, and I can't find a good paying job without relocating. You can't relocate without a good paying job. It's a vicious circle and it's eating me alive!
The world-weary teen, the site's fastest-growing demographic:
Paul Boutin is a writer living in San Francisco.
Photograph of sleeping woman on Slate's home page © Royalty-Free/Corbis.