Cell phone fodder makes website gold

(703) Just woke up wearing a top hat and simpsons boxers. i also found more money in my wallet then what i had before going out, about $1000 more.

Lolz · Textsfromlastnight.com founders Lauren Leto (left) and Ben Bator spoke on-campus about their experiences running the site, which showcases hilarious text messages out of their original context. - Nathaniel Gonzalez | Daily Trojan

(401) This is a mass text. Does anyone know where I am?

(440) The ticket read “Found nude in a tree.”

If you’ve encountered similar phrases from a Facebook news feed or status and suffered complete confusion, this article attempts to clear your clouded state of mind.

If you erupted in a fit of laughter at these messages and their recognizable format, you are not alone.

For those who sent these text messages without any awareness of doing so, perhaps they aren’t so funny, but for the friend who received them and for the thousands of visitors of textsfromlastnight.com, they are hilarious.

Texts From Last Night allows people from across the nation to submit texts they received detailing wild, illogical nights. The result? A list of anonymous texts that give funny and sometimes shocking snippets of nighttime experiences.

The website lists only the area code of the sender (the numbers in parentheses before each message) and allows readers to rate the text as good or bad and reply to the message.

The idea started when Michigan State University alumni and friends Ben Bator and Lauren Leto frequently forwarded one another humorous texts from friends who experienced outrageous nights. Bator and Leto decided to start a website to catalogue these comedic messages.

And on Tuesday night, USC Program Board invited the entrepreneurial duo to host a discussion of its Internet sensation.

“It was really simple at first,” Bator said. “As simple as [creating] another blog on Blogspot.”

After making posts on a blog for several months, the duo decided it wanted a full-fledged website. A friend was enlisted to write some coding, and Texts From Last Night was born.

“It just took off,” Bator said.

Before the popularity it boasts today, Bator and Leto attempted to garner attention for their website through social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. They sent links to all their Facebook friends and, within a week, the website received a million page views.

With such instant popularity, the website expanded to other mediums.

“I was sitting outside one day at my friend’s house and we got seven e-mails in rapid succession from book agents,” Bator said.

“I met 12 different publishers to talk about our idea,” Leto added.

Within a year of the website’s early 2009 launch, the book Texts From Last Night: All the Texts No One Remembers Sending hit shelves. It includes some of the texts found on the website, as well as others that remain unposted.

Leto and Bator saved a section of the book to include their favorites, but Leto had to stop herself from including what Texts From Last Night followers call the “Simba” text.

The message received an impressive 504 replies and 64,940 votes for a “good” night. However, the content of the message remains too scandalous to discuss.

“I could not put it as one of my favorites because my parents would see it,” Leto said.

The pair stressed that it logs all the submissions it receives and plans to make use of them by either sharing them on the website or keeping them archived in case of another book release.

When it came to generating ad revenue for their site, Bator and Leto decided not to resort to the  teeth-whitening and weight loss hooks found on many websites.

Instead, they joined forces with indieclick.com, which describes itself as a company that “represents unique audiences on important online destinations.”

When visiting Texts From Last Night, you encounter the catchy advertisements of American Apparel, a special offer from Del Taco and an entreaty to watch Lady Gaga’s new music video.

Indeed, the creators seem to have a knack for keeping up with pop culture. Along with a Blackberry application, the website now has iPad and iPhone applications and will soon have one for Droid owners.

Not only have Bator and Leto managed to create a highly visited, often-quoted website, a paperback book and various cell phone applications, they have also landed a deal with Happy Madison Productions, founded by comedian Adam Sandler.

The company is in the process of creating a sitcom television show that will follow a group of partying friends and use material from the website.

Despite their clear vision and large following, Bator and Leto stress that anyone slightly squeamish or conservative should not visit the website.

Some readers may find themselves in disbelief at the strange situations people find themselves in.

With such a high volume of submissions — more than 15,000 per day — visitors to the website expressed doubt about the honesty of the messages.

He also said that it’s obvious when someone sends in a message that they “worked on.” Furthermore, the texts serve only as small glimpses of a night’s incidents.

“You can’t really say whether it’s fake or real out of context,” Bator said.

The website’s immense popularity showcases certain characteristics of society today.

Because most of the site’s content is scandalous, it conveys our need to share these debauched moments with others. Instead of cataloguing these memories of sexuality, drugs and craziness only in the minds of those involved, the website is a modern repository for all manner of forbidden tales.

And although there is a certain negativity in laughing at the illogical, potentially dangerous actions of others, Texts From Last Night has its benefits.

Site visitors can learn from others’ mistakes, and senders of the text messages can realize how they act when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Either way, Leto and Bator have cleverly taken advantage of the human tendency to analyze others’ actions.

Their website follows in the footsteps of such pre-blog television programs as America’s Funniest Home Videos, which seeks to entertain audiences with the spontaneous — and sometimes painful — adventures of complete strangers.

“We’re not out here to ruin people’s lives,” Leto said. “We don’t even include [senders’] last initial.”

Fans of Texts From Last Night can now purchase the book online and even order T-shirts silkscreened with the words of text messages posted on the site.

With the popularity of their website on the rise and sponsored parties taking place all over the country, it seems the creators will continue to keep people laughing.

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