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Web site's funny texts lead to app, TV show

By Stephanie Goldberg, Special to CNN
Texts From Last Night, which averages about 4.5 millions hits a day, has inspired ventures across multiple media.
Texts From Last Night, which averages about 4.5 millions hits a day, has inspired ventures across multiple media.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Web site has spawned T-shirts, a book, iPhone app and talk of Fox sitcom
  • Sitcom, produced by Happy Madison, would be based on text messages from site
  • Texts From Last Night has sold more than 300,000 iPhone apps
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(CNN) -- When some people find out that Lauren Leto quit law school at Wayne State University after her first year to focus on her Web site, they lecture her about responsibility and planning for her future.

And then they find out that little Web site of hers averages about 4.5 million hits a day.

Leto, along with her college friend Ben Bator, who also passed on law school to concentrate on the business, launched TextsFromLastNight.com in February 2009.

The site, which features funny and often shocking text messages submitted from area codes worldwide, has spun off into multiplatform ventures including personalized T-shirts, a book, an iPhone app and talk of a Fox sitcom to be produced by Adam Sandler's production company, Happy Madison.

Some of the more popular Texts From Last Night include, "I was just told by a cop that my party was the most epic party they ever crashed," "This is a mass text. Does anyone know where I am?" and "Rather than putting your name in guys phones, you just texted 90999 to donate $10 to Haiti and then gave it back to them."

But Leto says that even after a development deal and an app that's been downloaded by more than 300,000 people in 230 countries and territories, her parents can't help but worry about their daughter.

"They're nervous that one day I'm going to wake up and no one will want to look at my Web site anymore," she said with a laugh.

Another site that has succeeded by making strangers' stories available to the public is FML, which launched in French in 2008 and became accessible to English speakers in January 2009.

FML, otherwise known as FMyLife.com, is composed of the funny, self-deprecating tales. For example, on March 8, user what434 wrote, "Today, I learned that you don't put your diamond earrings on over your bathroom sink. FML."

"It gives people an outlet to post whatever screwed up their day," said Alan Holding, community manager at FML. "We're just trying to provide a fun Web site where people can share their funny secrets."

The site receives about 5,000 submissions and averages 3 million hits a day.

Like their counterparts at FML, Bator and Leto had no idea what they were in store for when they started Texts From Last Night as a blog to keep in touch with friends after graduating from Michigan State University in 2008.

But it wasn't until the book contract came along, almost one year after the site launched, that Leto realized the potential of Texts From Last Night.

"After the book deal, we knew it was OK to deplete our savings and put money into the site," Bator said. "It's really fun the way we've been able to cross mediums like this. ... [How] late-night exploits can be inspiration for a book and a TV series to be enjoyed by millions."

With about 15,000 text messages submitted to the site every day, Leto, Bator and his brother Philip -- a senior at Michigan State who helps weed through the submissions -- keep busy.

"Everyone texts," Bator said. "They'll send a text before they'll call. [Cell phones] are like little confessionals you bring out with you at night, and we get to read everyone's diary."

Leto said her friends still message her when they see a 313 (Detroit, Michigan, metro) area code pop up on the site.

"They'll say, 'Oh, my God, that was totally you,' " she said. It's not.

"It gets annoying getting texts from people hoping I'll put them up on the site. ... They think I can't tell. Like, why are you writing me about vomiting in your hair?" she laughed. "I hate text messaging now."

 
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