Cowbird was an online storytelling community active from 2011–2017 — containing nearly 100,000 stories from 15,000 authors in 185 countries.

It was designed to be a beautiful, ad-free environment for heartfelt, personal storytelling — and a slower, more contemplative alternative to existing social media spaces with their corporate agendas. Ultimately, Cowbird sought to provide a public library of human experience, so that the wisdom we accumulate as individuals could better live on as a part of the commons.

Its early resonance and popularity were later eclipsed by newer platforms such as Instagram and Medium, and by 2015, usage of Cowbird had considerably waned, just as attention economies and screen addiction were entering the public awareness. In 2017, responding to these dynamics, we made the decision to close Cowbird to new contributions, but to keep it online as an historical archive. That summer, we invited some of its most prolific authors to gather in person, to share stories around a bonfire, and to process the closure of the space they’d grown to love.

Over the next few years, keeping the digital archive accessible became more and more of a technical challenge, as our servers were repeatedly hacked and taken offline, our version of PHP grew ever-more obsolete, and finally in 2022 our longtime hosting company announced its acquisition by GoDaddy — meaning the pro bono hosting that Cowbird had been receiving for more than a decade would be going away as well.

Given these realities, and with a slightly heavy heart, we’ve decided to let go of Cowbird once and for all, allowing the project to live on as a beautiful story, with deep gratitude for everyone who participated along the way.

Thank you for trusting Cowbird to care for your personal stories — we’re sorry we weren’t able to fulfill our wish to keep them online forever. At the same time, we’re heartened by these words of Toni Morrison:

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.

Jonathan J. Harris & David Lauer
Founder & Technology Director, Cowbird