Monday, October 1, 2012

Wi-Fi Zombie Apocalypse


Can A Distributed Network Of Lone-Wolf Amateur Entrepreneurs Crowd-Fund Starbucks And Turn A Profit Before Exhausting Social Welfare Safety Nets?

I have recently found myself without an office. This blows. Why? Because with it I have lost my innocence. I'm no longer sheltered from the frightening reality of Wi-Fi Zombies. Turns out, Starbucks has undergone a massive transformation through this great recession. Once an overpriced coffee shop, they've emerged an overpopulated Hooverville, wreaking of bacon and toilet smells to boot.

This is not hyperbole. I'm sitting between two homeless guys who have very obviously moved in. One has some sort of art thing going on. The other has either invented a new form of math or is schizophrenic. No matter. They both have laptops and Starbucks cups, which makes them fully documented citizens in this place. Turns out, it's those same two things, and ONLY those two things, that make me a fully documented citizen here also. Despite this being my first... time.

So, imagine you're you. You stroll on in to Starbucks, go through the motions. You know 'em: Dart your eyes, assess the line, search for power-outlet-adjacent seating, check if the bathroom is free. You glance past me without missing a beat.

I'm babbling to myself, coffee stains on my shirt, slamming my keyboard.

Steer clear, he's one of them.

If I ask you a question, you'll pretend you're in a stare, in deep concentration, listening to your headphones, something. Anything, so you don't have to acknowledge the lunatic. Cuz that might open a veritable Pandora's box of inappropriate conversation, sexual advances and assumed association with said lunatic by your fellow Wi-Fi zombies.

But wait, I'm one of you!

Now turn the tables. I look up from my coffee-stained macBook. I say, "Excuse me, I'm supposed to meet a friend at the Starbucks near Robertson. I'm new at this, but by my approximation, there are six of them. Would you say this is accepted as the correct one?"

You quickly press the button on your EarPod and pretend to be in deep conversation as you stare off into the mass-produced pop-art hanging on the wall.

Yikes, you're one of them.

"Who is this lunatic?" I ask myself. As if I didn't just ask a reasonable question pertaining to Wi-Fi zombie culture? This one must be damaged, I think. Or escaped from the laughing academy? Perhaps a trust-fund schizophrenic with that coffee-stained shirt and fancy iPhone 5?

I've read about this.

One has been living in the alley for years. He screams, "fuck" all night until he can't any more, but he only smokes Nat Shermans. He'll fight you if you offer him anything but.

He's one of us, too. Deal with it.

And that's where it gets really confusing. Look at you, you smug upstanding member of society with your good Wi-Fi zombie manners, macBook and debit card. The screamer enters on rollerskates and mutters, "cunt" under his breath with impressive restraint.

You shake your head in disgust as he moves toward the cashier with his Platinum American Express card. There goes the neighborhood, you say. His patronage isn't welcome here. Where's his macBook? He doesn't even have a cup!

He buys sixteen danishes and a blueberry scone on his AMEX. He stuffs the scone in his bicycle shorts, call the trashcan a "Hajji" and leaves.

"Can you believe this guy?" you say, as you get up to ask the barista to refill your ice water.

I quickly look away, careful not to make eye contact.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why Reddit is Irrelevant: Aggregators vs. Good ol' Fashion BBSs

Marlowe here. You're probably wondering why I'm updating a blog I haven't touched since the presidential election. Easy answer is, we proved our thesis and I didn't have another one. Then this video emerged and it gave me something to talk about.

Tuesday night I could not sleep. I found my way to 4chan, onto a channel which may not be discussed by name when not on said channel. It's against the rules. What can I say, kids are silly. Anyway, the thread that was blowing up (or, a shitstorm, as they say) was about a video discovered on Facebook of some absolutely evil children making their bus monitor cry by insulting her.

By the time I got to the thread, contributors had already determined not only that the victim is the lovely Karen Klein, but they had figured out the names, addresses, phone numbers and even credit card numbers of all the culpable kids and their proud parents. They also had the contact information for all relevant law enforcement, school and district employees. A letter writing campaign to the principal was in full force. Templates were being tweaked and shared. Emails being sent to the media, local and national. Endless pizza deliveries, magazine subscriptions and box bombs were being sent to the homes of the perps. The full on campaign was being waged through multiple threads, IRC channels and pastebin dumps. 

Interest piqued, I began to do some digging on my own. And save for the video uploaded to you youtube, I found absolutely nothing. No one tweeting about it. Nothing on local news sites. Nothing on blogs. Nothing on Reddit. Nothing. 

Once again, 4chan succeeded at something very special that only can happen on 4chan. They scooped the planet on the type of news story, ELDERLY LADY BULLIED ON SCHOOL BUS BY STUDENTS, that news magazine anchors could only pray for before going to sleep at night. 

Cut to the next morning. The story finally broke by what seems to be 9:00AM EST. Picked up on Reddit, local news outfits, youtube trolls copying the video and reuploading it to attract hits, The Huffington Post, even a crowdfunding campaign to get Karen a dream vacation. (At nearly $400,000 on day two, it seems she might be retiring.) 

What was absent from all this eight-hours-too-late breaking news, you ask? Any reference to 4chan. 

It is the above events that has pulled me back to Viralroots after a three year abandonment. 

This is the story that will define my new thesis. 

It is the story of an absolutely tremendous, diverse and misunderstood community that not only constantly scoops global news, mass movements and mainstream memes, it creates them. And what's its big secret? The contributors don't even care. For several reasons, this community is, by definition, so realtime, it just can't help but succeed better and faster than anything else. I attribute this success to one key thing: Action versus feedback.

Bulletin Board Systems such as 4chan's imageboard require interaction and contribution to keep ideas alive. In other words, creating things worth writing about is not just a plus in this community, it is a requirement. Action is what keeps any given post alive, giving it a chance to go viral.

On Reddit, Facebook and Digg, all that's required is to "like" or "thumbs up" something for it to earn extended reach. The problem with this is, you can "like" something a billion times, but in the end, you haven't actually created anything. It's a passive, observer culture that can just as easily be exploited by self-promoters as it can be by legitimately organic movements. There is no collaboration or innovation. It is just a remarkably lazy way of consuming traditional media that has been pre-filtered by your peers.

4chan is different. In any given topic channel, there are 15 pages to hold threads. Each new thread bumps the very last thread into oblivion. The last thread "404s," it ceases to exist. Each time someone contributes to a thread, it bumps it up back to the top. Spam fails within minutes. Self promotion fails within minutes. Poorly veiled appeals for others to contribute content fail within minutes. Attempts to steal content from Reddit or 9gag is briefly shot down as being outdated, always with racial and homophobic name-calling, and then it fails. The only thing that lasts is action. What ultimately results from a successful thread is a nearly endless feedback loop of individuals around the globe latching onto ideas and not just liking them, but loving them enough to be invested, to take action and to report back on that action.

It is this collaborative doing, as opposed to passive liking, that resulted in the action that set off the shitstorm that is dictating the fate of Karen Klein and the fate of those pissant kids. When all is said and done, it looks like Ms. Klein is going on the vacation of a lifetime, and those kids are going on a vacation to juvy.

And credit will never go where credit is due. By the time the story breaks in the mainstream news cycle, that collaborative thread that got it all done in the middle of the night, has 404'd by the next morning. Gone like it never even existed. It's ancient history on 4chan, any rehashings inevitably met with racist & homophobic insults, because the anonymous community of 4chan is already on to the next one.