Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 In Review

This is my 52nd blog post on the Internet. I have regaled you, my captivated audience, for 52 weeks this Monday.

Oh boy, a meta-post!

Having blogged now for a full year, I'm ready to take a break on this project in order to focus on other things. So this is the last post that I'll be making on this blog (or at least, the last one on the usual once-a-week schedule).

I'd like to take this post as an opportunity to reflect on the past years' writings, where we started, and where we are now.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Widening Epicenters

Online culture is a fascinating thing. I've talked about it a lot, pointing out individual community behavior, the sizes and lifespans of online communities, community regulation, and community leadership. But now I want to ask a broader question: How has online culture changed over time?

Different question from the center of the Internet or the end of the Internet. (Image source here)

Once upon a time, I once drew a line between "old" and "new" internet culture, with Anonymous as the border between the two. 4chan used to be considered the epicenter of online culture on the Internet. Nowadays, that title might go to Reddit.

But that's just me talking about anecdotes. Can we demonstrate that there is such a thing as online epicenters? Where is it? Where has that title drifted to over the course of the Internet?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Left to Obscurity

The other day, I read an article about libertarians, the Internet, and how they're affecting leftist politics. For a moment, I was thrilled - someone else on the Internet was as upset about Internet libertarians as I am! And then my friends started pointing out that the article wasn't very well-written, and my elation faded away.

Aw. Dead end.

Still, there's a talking point inspired from this article that is definitely worth addressing. Where are the Leftists in the age of the Internet? And how has the seemingly dominant ideology of the Internet affected Leftism?

Here's a long, scatterbrained, and probably off-point diagnosis on the state of leftist thought on the Internet, and what might possibly improve it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Eastern Connection

When people first start hearing about the "depths of the Internet", they inevitably start hearing about 4chan. 4chan has recently passed its tenth birthday, and is one of the biggest social hubs that exists on the Internet.

And then some!

However, the website's concept was never original. 4chan's founder borrowed the website's format and style from 2channel, an imageboard in Japan. 2channel is just as big in Japan as 4chan is in America, if not even bigger.

As it turns out, we can trace a lot of online phenomena to the Far East - particularly Japan and South Korea, who have been functional on the Internet for as long as the West has. Today, we'll explore how Japan and South Korea have impacted our online culture, and how the tide for cultural dominance may be shifting in the coming decade.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reddit, Online Hubs, and Street Gangs

Yes, yes, sensational title. Today's thesis is completely crazy and unlikely to actually be correct. But hey, I thought it might be interesting. Of course, this post's written mainly from an American perspective.

Reddit has a multifaceted reputation. As one of the most popular websites on the Internet, the online hub has earned a name for itself as a place where you can find funny pictures, personal insights from celebrities, and atheists. Lots of atheists. As we've also seen, however, it has its seedy underbelly, harboring MRAs, racists, and literal pedophiles.

The things that lurk behind that friendly gaze...

We can praise or condemn the site as much as we want. Reddit's existence, for better or for worse, has overtaken the role of the traditional internet forum. Sure, social media has played a role in the decline of online forums in general, but Reddit is easily the most forum-like of the big sites today. Reddit's features make a lot of smaller forums redundant, and over time, forums have been dying out.

What can we learn from this? Let's go way out into left field and talk about street gangs.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Race and the Internet

Let's talk about race.

Well, this'll be good.

The Internet is an arena where we are disconnected from defining physical characteristics. Things like race, gender, and other personal traits are only a part of your online identity if you want them to be. But of course, race still matters online despite being invisible.

How has the Internet impacted racial identity? How does race emerge on the Internet? As someone who couldn't possibly do the subject adequate justice, I will try to explore these questions.

Monday, November 11, 2013

War of the Gatekeepers

Although the Internet encompasses many things, we often colloquially use the term 'Internet' to refer to what is known as the Web. The Web is the specific part of the Internet where you have web pages and web sites (aha, it all comes together!). The interface that most people use to interact with the Web is a web browser.

You know what's nostalgic? Market failure.

Your web browser is one of those things that you tend to take for granted. They're sleek, they're nondescript, they're just a natural part of our online routine. Being your browser of choice, however, is like getting to be your personal gatekeeper to the Internet - all web traffic must go through you first.

Naturally, many have vied for being the gatekeeper of choice. The so-called "browser wars" unwittingly became one of the most visible business struggles on the Internet - as well as a business struggle that would likely color all online business struggles to come.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Death and the Internet

A family member turned 50 a little while ago. I don't really keep track of family members' birthdays outside of those in my immediate family, so I happened to find out about my cousin's birthday on Facebook. It was a little unsettling to see, because this cousin also happens to be suffering from a very terminal stage of cancer. There is a chance that it would be the last opportunity for our family to wish him a happy birthday.

Not to start the blog post off on a low note or anything...

Facebook wouldn't know that he died right away, though. My family isn't particularly tech-savvy, so it's possible that his Facebook page would persist in its current form for a while. Around the same time next year, Facebook might tell me that my cousin, though possibly passed on, is celebrating his 51st birthday.

My cousin's situation is not the first of its kind. There is a diverse range of traditions around the world for dealing with mortality, and the Internet has begun developing traditions of its own. With so many of our life experiences cataloged online in various ways, it seems almost expected that these windows to our lives would also provide constructs for our deaths.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Identity Dunces

We've talked about online social justice before, and its profound ability to bring information and perspective to otherwise sheltered individuals. We focused on the most powerful and most socially pressing of the movements, but in reality, there are a variety of social movements that have begun emerging in various corners of the Internet.

Some are certainly legitimate, but go deep enough and you'll find bizarre and contrived claims to identities, each with their own strange internal politics.

And guess where we'll be going to find them!

Today we'll look at the very long list of Tumblr social justice movements, starting with the more legitimate causes, and then diving deeper until we find the criminally insane. Because this Twitter account was definitely inspired by something.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Film and the Internet

We've touched on various videos and video platforms over the course of these blog posts, so it seems almost criminal to ignore how motion picture has been changed by the Internet.

Please turn off your cell phone for the duration of this blog post.

Just like other media with previously established presence, film and television have had to find a way to adapt to the Internet. Its transition into the digital age has given us a healthy variety of  film services and community discourse, and may have spelled out the beginning of a long and slow change from below.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Digital Conspiracies

The Internet can offer candid perspectives on reality. The Internet can also lie to you. Sometimes, the line gets blurred between the two.

Tin foil hats exist on the Internet, too.

The Internet is home to both intelligent people and not-so-intelligent people, to honest people and chronically dishonest people. Somewhere, these axes blur together, and you can find the loony fringe. Conspiracy theorists have been around for ages, but like with other things, the Internet has given community into an otherwise isolated and crazy hobby.

Today, we talk about the Internet's corners of conspiracies and the paranormal (and yes, they're fairly similar things).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Webcomics

Remember when you'd wake up on Sunday morning, pick up the newspaper from your driveway or porch, and then read thoroughly mediocre cartoons in the Sunday comics section?

The days before the Internet were desperate.

Thew newspaper is dead, but the spirit of the newspaper comic is alive and well. Webcomics and their ilk have found great popularity online, for a new generation to get their fix of mediocrity.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Energy Footprint of the Internet

The Internet, as remarkably resourceful as it is, must take in some resources to sustain itself. The cost may not be as visible as landfills or garbage islands in the middle of the ocean, but the cost still exists, and should be acknowledged.

Wastefulness, or just how I feel when I go on Reddit?

What is the energy cost of using the Internet? As it turns out, the prospects are pretty green.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Digital Research

I've previously talked about the role of the Internet as a data generator as well as a medium for collaboration. I thought that I'd drive the point home some more by talking about a very specific example of these roles in action.

The Internet: Another piece of lab equipment!

Today, I'm going to talk about a weekend project of mine. It was an open-ended group assignment meant to prime us for the research process of grad school. The fact that we could even get anywhere with the project is a testament to the sheer power of the Internet as a resource.

Monday, September 16, 2013

To Catch a Redditor

A while back, I posted about a conflict between two website audiences - YTMND and Ebaumsworld. There was some controversy over content ownership, which resulted in an organized movement against Ebaumsworld by YTMND's community. Participants (probably having an average age of 14) jokingly referred to the event as "World Wide Web War 1".

Of course, that was back in 2006. The Internet's changed a lot since then - communities have grown larger and more heterogeneous. You wouldn't ever expect to see a spat break out between two website communities in this day and age, right?

Click to enlarge, and learn just how wrong you are.

In 2012, members of SomethingAwful's community launched an organized effort to shut down Reddit's vilest sub-forums - and won. Here is a story of equal parts social justice, online vigilantism, and inter-community drama.

Most of this story (and article title, too) is shamelessly taken from a SomethingAwful thread that you could probably read yourself, but it would require forums registration that is not free. It's a shame, because I think watching the narrative unfold is very entertaining. Hopefully, after reading this post, you're left with a sense of amusement and moral satisfaction.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Internet in the Middle Kingdom

If you were to look at the top-ranked Alexa websites right now, you'd probably recognize most of what you'd see. However, you probably wouldn't recognize two of the top ten most visited websites on the Internet - Baidu and QQ.

Google only 4% of the market share? Did someone turn my world upside down?

Baidu is a search engine, comparable to Google. QQ is a website that features news and other useful tidbits, comparable to Yahoo or MSN. Of course, they are both situated in China, and designed around servicing the Chinese online population.

As English-speaking Westerners, we tend to only see parts of the Internet that are also in English. That means we'll tend to run into people from the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Every now and then, you might run into someone from Northern Europe, Mexico, or South America. There are still several billion people in the world unaccounted for in our daily online experiences. How bizarre is it that we have this giant network technology, and yet our vantage points are still very limited by language?

Let's take a look at the Chinese Internet. I should note that I am writing this as a complete outsider to the culture, and can't speak Chinese at all. I cannot possibly do the subject adequate justice, but let's give this a try.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Online Cults

A "cult" is hard to define. The term is used very subjectively, and usually pejoratively. Typically the most fervent anti-cult movements are run by religious people, and that's a slippery place from which to argue against differing beliefs. The concept is inevitably tied to fringe - and harmful - religious beliefs, practice, and institution, but the details are very fuzzy.

Nonetheless, this is how I imagine cultists on the Internet.

We've talked before about how the Internet has given atheism a loud platform, but what about new religious movements? While the numbers did indicate that non-religious numbers were on the rise, we can't necessarily assume that the "no religion in particular" category excludes people that participate in cults, since they might not even think of it as a religion. We also know that the Internet can be very insular, allowing for strange community quirks to develop.

Since we're talking about online religious movements, we won't include the movements that started before the Internet.  Even though Heaven's Gate had a (hilarious) website in the mid-90s, we wouldn't count it because they got their start in the 1970s.

Let's explore what the Internet has come to offer by way of new religious movements.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Trolling, Subtlety, and Lying on the Internet

People lie on the Internet? Why, that's simply insane!


Lying is an ancient concept, but every new interface of human communication brings new ways to deceive. From outright hoaxes to games around message intent, the Internet has brought us entirely new ways to be subtle and disingenuous. And, in a bizarre way, it's probably making us smarter.

Monday, August 19, 2013

As Real as it Gets

In 1992, The Real World hit television screens nationwide, and sparked America's love affair with reality TV.

Though, it did not rekindle America's love for beatnik sweaters.

The appeal of the show - and other shows in the reality television genre - came from the unscripted, 'raw' element of the footage. People naturally find other people fascinating, so what kind of zany scenarios could we see if we throw a bunch of complete strangers in a house and film it?

The Internet has emerged as one of the fastest and easiest ways to transfer information, through text, images, and videos. It has become the ultimate reality show, giving us a new window into other people's lives and exposure to situations previously unimaginable.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Anonymous and the Chaotic Wellsprings

Lots of people - even those who aren't too steeped in Internet nonsense - have probably heard of the group called Anonymous.

Ah yes, who could I possibly trust more to talk about the Internet than FOX News reporters?

The much-sensationalized group originated on the website 4chan, where the default setting for its members' names is "Anonymous". Since the vast majority of people don't bother to change the default name and let their online handles remain "Anonymous", the joke is that Anonymous is one entity, formed by the contributions of many. On 4chan's "random" subforum - often shortened to /b/ - the posters would get into all sorts of strange activity, giving Anonymous its wild reputation.

But Anonymous is not unique. The /b/ subforum was one of a long line of similar forums on the Internet, where the rules are relaxed and the users form an unwieldy community. Today, we'll explore the corners of the Internet where this has happened before, ant talk about why Anonymous has been elevated above the rest.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Data Dump

One of the buzzwords floating around these days is "big data" - data that exists in such large quantities that traditional data processing begins to break down. There are a lot of very cool underlying patterns that can be found when you're looking at a large enough data set, and there is no shortage of large, complex sets of data.

"Big data" can also mean you're really into Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Luckily for scientists, we live in an age where we have a constantly growing pile of data, teeming with transactions and activity records. Analyzing the Internet itself has become a worthy scientific endeavor. From economic studies of video game worlds to assessing trends on dating sites, interesting information can be found in the most unsuspecting of places online.

So today, we'll be looking at some interesting studies that have used information extracted online.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Digital Jargon

I once wrote a blog post talking about insular communities on the Internet, complete with shared quirks of language that help members of the group identify one another. In that particular post, I used fairly mundane examples of quirky language - mostly single phrases that function like passwords to the group, like Reddit's "What time does the narwhal bacon?"

Still loving this picture.

Some online communities have more specialized vocabulary than others. Sometimes an online community gets to a point where they have so many inside jokes that outsiders have trouble understanding people's messages. But sometimes - in rarer instances, admittedly - it's a conscious construction of a new way of speech. Sometimes it's so extensive that you, as an outsider, can't interpret basic statements without having prerequisite knowledge about the community.

Today, we're talking about two websites that are particularly insular in this way: TV Tropes and Less Wrong.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Age of Collaboration

Sitting as the 8th most popular website in the United States (and 7th, globally) is Wikipedia.


On an unrelated note, have you ever tried reading the Scottish wikipedia out loud?

Wikipedia has become a fantastic resource over the years. It features millions of articles on nearly any subject you can think of. Although people will debate its credibility (and indeed, even Wikipedia says that Wikipedia shouldn't be trusted at face value), the website is still a good starting point for deeper research on a subject, and can guide you toward resources with higher reliability.

The truly interesting thing is that Wikipedia is crowd-sourced. Its contents are entirely determined by user contribution. There are Wikipedia editor communities, editing wars, and even problems with editor drama. Through this bustling and sometimes chaotic group dynamic, an invaluable resource emerges.

And this is something that can be observed in other places online as well.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The New Face of Music

I've been doing a lot of songwriting this past week. It's just been me, a couple instruments, a decent USB microphone, and Audacity. Here and there I'll even collaborate with friends of mine online to put together musical parts I can't get on my own. Then I upload the fruits of my work to Soundcloud. Yes, that link will take you to my music. I can't promise you that my music is good, but I like what I write, at least.

My life right now, but cheaper and jankier.

Nonetheless, it's a wonder that I'm able to do any of this in the first place. It used to be a very costly and sluggish process to produce music. Promoting your music was a matter all on its own - there's a booming industry of record labels and producers holding the keys to the gates of fame. Your options for music as a consumer were the radio, live showings, and media like records and tapes.

Things are much different now. Today, we'll be talking about how the Internet has changed the music industry.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Leaders of the Tribes

We live in a time where the concept of being an "online celebrity" has really taken flight. Of such Internet celebrities, Mark Zuckerberg might be one of the most widely known and celebrated.

He's only got a couple years on me. And a couple billion dollars.

This man has earned the status of being a household name and all-around cultural juggernaut. He is one of the wealthiest people in the world. He's had an academy award-winning film made about him. His Facebook page has over 18 million followers. All this, for being the man behind Facebook.

And there are others like him, too.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Man This, Man That

A video came out online a couple months ago that I found enjoyable to watch. It was poignant, relevant, and an enjoyable way to spend 40 seconds of my time. Take a moment to watch it now, without knowing any context behind it.


If you're well-versed in the goings-on of the Internet, then you probably understood a fair amount - if not all - of the things going on in the video. If not, this whole piece might be very hard to comprehend. So let's dive in and discuss the source material for this video.

Today, we'll talk about online men's movements, and their many many problems.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Network of Networks

What would a map of the Internet look like? Others have already asked this question, and some have already given us an answer.

Apparently, kinda gross looking? Maybe I should find a different map.

The above map was generated using IP address information (well actually, it's a bit more complicated than that), but other maps exist. There's one that monitors online activity much like a heat map. Here's another that uses traffic rankings and statistics to lay out a map of websites.

You'll notice that there are hills and valleys that naturally arise within the maps that are based off online content. You've got your brightly lit areas, which represent places of high traffic. You can also find smaller, less-ventured corners of the Internet among these larger hubs.

But even these maps don't cover everything there is to see about the Internet. There are parts of the Internet that are impossible to map by conventional means. There are even parts of the Internet that arguably might not really be part of the proper "Internet" at all. Today, we're going to take a look at these hidden areas of the network.

Monday, June 17, 2013

RandNet

If you've been following the news lately, then you've likely heard about the NSA's substantial phone records collection. The leaker of this information, Edward Snowden, had been involved with government functions since 2007, and even allegedly had considered going public with the information back then.

Reading through Snowden's profile, one gets the image of a more introverted sort of person. A man in his late 20s, he's part of the generation of people who grew up around the Internet's rise to prominence. He's gone on record to say that he's spent a lot of time online during his adolescent years, being exposed to people with experiences completely foreign to his own.

Neeeeeeeeeeeeerd.

One reporter wrote a piece bringing up the similarity between Snowden and Bradley Manning, the man behind the 2010 leaks of classified information to Wikileaks. Manning was also very much a part of the growing Internet, having been seen as a computer whiz and maintaining a website devoted to game and music downloads. Snowden and Manning have very different backgrounds, but they were both people with an apparent appreciation for the early frontier-like days of the online. The reporter of the article makes an interesting comment about this common link:
"Maybe the type of person recruited was more committed to a technology that has gone hand in hand with a vaguely libertarian ethos than a commitment to national security, whatever the implications for privacy and freedom." - BBC
There's an interesting notion here that is worth exploring. Does the Internet promote libertarian ideology? Has a historically minor group been able to rise in influence by finding a mouthpiece on an open platform?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gamer Culture

Let's say you're a kid from the '90s (even though they weren't that great). It might be the case that you grew up on video game consoles and - if you were lucky - you knew other kids in your area that you could play video games with. If that doesn't fit a description of you, then maybe you knew somebody like this.

Well, uh, maybe not like this.

But with video game products being expensive and the game industry still being fairly young, video games in the '90s were still fairly underground, primarily seen as children's playthings. Since sitting inside all day pushing pixels around was antithetical to running around outside, video games got a very strong "nerdy" association with them, too.

Fast forward to today, and 67% of American households play video games, with the average age being above the age of 30 and with the gender split being about 60-40 male to female. Gaming is certainly a prevalent hobby in our culture today, and the Internet was a driving force behind that happening. Not only did the Internet allow for gaming to become increasingly sophisticated, it also allowed fans of gaming to discover one another and shape the concept of a 'gamer'.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fighting the Terrible Internet Comment

The Internet is a platform with minimal content regulation. This is a mixed blessing - the medium presents near-limitless creative opportunities, as well as the opportunity to squander all of them. It seems like for every bit of novel content made on the Internet, there are ten bits of content that are useless or even toxic.

what no go away all I wanted was a cooking recipe

Finding quality material among the noisy posts of the Internet is a problem that some people might take for granted. It is difficult to imagine a version of popular websites without some degree of "noise" in content. One might argue that the useless contributions are a necessary evil of the open platform.

I would argue that this is not the case. In fact, I assert that stronger top-down regulation could benefit the platform. Today, I want to explore three online website groups - YouTube comments, Reddit, and SomethingAwful - and how their management styles have dictated the quality of their content creation.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Class in Session

My roommate back in college passed on some advice that helped get through our studies: Use your resources. That meant using your available TA sessions, your provided solutions manuals, your network of peers, your professors' phone directories, and so on.

"I'm not telling you what's on the test tomorrow. How did you get this number?"

Resources these days are a lot farther-reaching. The Internet is populated with lots of people aged 24 and younger, so the subject of school has popped up here and there. It has manifested itself in ways that have radically changed the learning process for students. These new resources are poised to change the way we think about education.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The '90s Really Weren't That Great

Microsoft released a commercial earlier this year, continuing its desperate campaign to convince us to return to Internet Explorer. Clearly, someone down at Microsoft thought '90s nostalgia was the way to go.


What would inspire this theme choice? As it turns out, the Internet is crazy about the '90s. To an embarrassing extent. There is no shortage of '90s callbacks, '90s nostalgia, and '90s references online.

And, when you think about it, it's pretty depressing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Great Ad Problem

A couple years back, McDonalds ran a banner ad, presumably to promote their dollar menu. It didn't quite have the intended effect.

Pictured: what 20-somethings say when they want a burger.

For a blip of time in the mid-2000s, an animated banner ad with those three frames proliferated around the Internet. It even came out that the advertisers had no clue that "I'd hit it" had any sexual innuendo associated with it at all - they sincerely thought that it was like any other throwaway slang from the younger generation. By the time McDonalds could redact the banner ads, it had already been mocked to hell and back.

This gaffe is best explained by assuming the advertisers were out of touch with their audience. In a lot of ways, this is a problem with online advertisement in general - they're out of touch with their audience, and everyone suffers for it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Digital Language

The Internet has given us a new symbol in our lexicon: The "like".

Not to be confused with "thumb war".

It is a staple of the Facebook experience. If you see content on Facebook that instills positive emotion in you, then the provided way to express that emotion is to hit the 'like' button. It streamlines the entire response process - you get to state your approval of something and everyone else gets to know it.

The symbol has since evolved to take on independent functions in online context. 'Liking' things on Facebook moves them up higher in the home feed, exposing it to more viewers. 'Like's on YouTube function as ratings, with high-liked content being recommended more often to other YouTube users.

Reddit's upvote/downvote system functions similarly to this, where users can vote content up and down if they personally approve of it. What's more, sometimes people on Reddit will physically post 'upvoted' or 'downvoted', so as to communicate their approval (or lack thereof). On bodybuilding.com, approval of individual users can be expressed by voting to increase their reputation, or 'repping' them. Just as in Reddit, people will often respond to things with 'repped' in order to make their approval known. On 4chan, posting 'sage' functions in a way so that the thread doesn't get brought up to the top of the page, and is used to express disapproval of a thread's content in the same way that saying you 'downvoted' something does.

This is the new language of the online. Abstract concepts and functions are becoming recognizable and commonplace terms.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Lost Worlds

The other day, I was going through my list of bookmarked websites and came across an old forum I used to frequent. It wasn't anything special as far as forums go - it was a small Proboards forum made for video game fans to talk about stuff. Back when I was 15, the forum had some good traffic, catering to about 20 different people on a regular basis.

As of yesterday, nobody's posted in the forum since 2010, and the last time anyone had an honest-to-goodness conversation on this forum was 2008.

Remember when 2007 was a year? I think that's when I got a Facebook.

It's a bit strange to go through an old forum like this for me. There was a point in time where people would go on this website on a regular basis and talk about what was going on with their lives. It was all between strangers on the internet, but there was some acquaintanceship in being able to unwind through written conversation. Plus, seeing the same people online - hanging out in the same place - does create a sense of community after a while.

And now, years later, it's completely abandoned. All that's left is an archive of a 2-year bloc of social activity from over half a decade ago. The message board is dead.

How many forums have ended up like this? Hundreds? Thousands?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Internet Vigilantism

Perhaps you heard about the bombings that happened at the Boston marathon last week. The FBI got involved. And so did the Internet.

Pictured: Some poor saps with backpacks. Unheard of in a college-dense city like Boston.

Reddit, 4chan, and some other Internet communities decided to comb through public footage of the Boston marathon. Their aim was to find the marathon bombers themselves, and to piece together the narrative behind the event. After all, they had all the same resources as the FBI, minus the criminal database, the forensic evidence, witness testimony, and all of those other "extra" things.

These internet detectives assembled an extensive gallery of "suspicious" people. Tabloids found these pictures, printed them, and circulated them. When the FBI released blurry photos of the two suspects, the Internet communities doubled down on their efforts. They reduced their list of suspicious people to a middle-eastern-looking guy named Sunil Tripathi, who had gone missing prior to the bombing. People ate up the possibility that the person responsible for the bombings had been identified.

And then it turned out that the Internet got it completely wrong. It wasn't Sunil Tripathi. It was two Chechen brothers (which must have been a relief for middle-eastern people dealing with unwarranted backlash about this already). Of course, that didn't stop people from going on a completely misinformed witch hunt for the first guy before the debunking. And it isn't stopping crackpots from trying to continue that witch hunt. Oops.

This is internet vigilantism - and in this case, it misfired. These events demonstrate the power of the online sphere in shaping public opinion. The Internet can also have a stake in the action themselves, with users often getting involved in pursuing criminals and other targets. This phenomenon has happened before, and it will probably happen again. What is the anatomy of online vigilante justice, and what can be learned from its failure here?

Monday, April 15, 2013

DeviantART and the Teenage Psyche

There's a fun little game you can play online. Go to DeviantART and search the site using any two words in the English language. You win this game if your two-word combination has more than ten search results, AND does not contain anthropomorphic animal-people, variants on cat-people or dog-people, sonic the hedgehog, sonic the hedgehog's friends, furry pornography, anime pornography, or anime in general. If your search contains any of these things, you lose.

Let's start with something fairly mundane and innocent, like "tea pot".

Dammit! This was on the second page of search results.

What about something completely out there, like "oceanography moon"?

Hey, seems like - wait, YuGiOh fanfiction?!

It's a harder game than it seems.

But why can we even play this game in the first place? What is DeviantART, what kind of people does it attract, and what does it say about our culture as a whole?

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Personal Take on Online Social Justice

I've previously written a lot on social justice movements online. It was a broader, big-picture look at the phenomenon, so I thought that it would be worth writing about what online social justice movements may mean on an individual level.


Let's accept an assumption for the sake of argument: that any given individual is going to suffer from some degree of insecurity at one point or another.

Not really a radical assumption, no.

People generally accept the adage that life has its ups and downs, and that it is important to stand up eight times when you fall down seven. That adage is often shared when a person is at a (relatively) low point in their lives, and it is shared in order to remind them that they can - and should - move on. Presumably, such adages would only be shared during instances where that person is having trouble with moving on. It could be over a job rejection or a breakup or even something as mundane as receiving a lot of dirty looks throughout the day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Online Atheism

Last week, I talked about the internet's role in social progress. I covered feminism, race relations, and LGBT rights, but I decided to save one movement for its own post: the secular movement.

What? It's only been a day since catholic Easter? I am the biggest jerk.

The secular community is unique in how dependent it's been on the internet. Unlike the civil rights movement, the waves of feminism, and LGBT's own beginnings with the Stonewall riots, there wasn't really a secular rallying call before the internet. Sure, secular organizations did exist as far back as the 19th century, but their effectiveness as community builders was far out-shined by the online.

Furthermore, the secular movement's role in society takes on a different form than other movements. On the one hand, the prevalence of religious superstition has universally affected our social dynamics; religion, after all, has been used to disenfranchise women, the LGBT community, and racial minorities. On the other hand, atheists have far fewer direct disadvantages than other minority groups. Women are fighting to reshape a culture that is geared towards dis-empowering them. People in the LGBT movement have a documented legal disadvantage. People in the secular movement (at least, in the Western world) are not legally disadvantaged - the 1st amendment of the United States Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights guarantee freedom of religion.

Consequently, the secular movement is primarily a cultural movement in the West. Atheists fight an attitude, not a legal system. That's not to say that legal battles don't exist - America is dominated by a Christian culture, and sometimes it takes legal action to remind the ignorant that, hey, church and state are separate. However, people active in the secular community can primarily be defined by their willingness to vocally question other people's beliefs.

As an atheist myself, I have a soft spot for other secular people. I've always been less of a participant and more of an observer of the secular community, but I can say that the fusion of secular intellectualism with the online platform has produced some interesting results.

Let's see where we've come from, and where we are going.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Social Justice Army

Let's talk about semi-current events for a change. Has anyone else been following the Steubenville rape case? For those who haven't been, it is making headlines for the trial's outcome: Two male high school football players have been found guilty for raping a drunken 16-year-old at a party. There were texts and videos taken during said party that have been circulating the internet. These texts and videos were eventually used as evidence in the case. Justice has been served.

Of course, that is not the story that you would have heard if you were simply watching television news. If you were hearing about the trial at CNN, you probably heard the story spun to focus on how tragic this verdict is for the football players, as though they were the victims.

Sadly, this outcome is traditionally expected. It is a product of our society's overly lenient attitude towards instances of sexual assault, and is referred to in more egalitarian circles as rape culture. Even in this highly publicized case, people are showing greater tendencies to sympathize with the boys than they are the victim. Some even disparage the victim. This is something that is commonplace with most cases of sexual assault - there is often undue blame put on the victim, and in most cases of rape the assaulter can come away with a 'not guilty' verdict.

Hilariously, this scarily relevant Onion video came out years ago.

Except, there's a slight difference this time around. The Internet has played its hand in this particular case.

When this case first began gaining attention, it attracted protests from online bloggers and activists. Any sympathy towards the rapists could be subverted by pointing at the substantial amounts of evidence circulating online about their case. And as for the victim-blaming that is currently going on, everything that more ignorant people are saying about the case is being recorded for posterity.  You can be certain that there are people fighting against the distorted perceptions of rape culture, and the Internet makes their voices louder than ever.

It demonstrates a reason to be optimistic: The digital age is the greatest time to be on the right side of equality and social progress.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What's the password?

When I was in college, I would regularly go to the gym to lift weights. I privately took some satisfaction in bucking the typical nerdy stereotypes - after all, what kind of internet shut-in can say that he benches more than 200 pounds, and not for the sake of sounding like a tough guy online?
It's the small victories in life, right?

After a while, I got to know some of the regulars at the gym - the other fitness junkies out on a personal journey to lift weights and get huge. Conversation usually revolved around proper dieting, lifting cycles, and the occasional story from one's personal life. A lot of these people were part of a school-wide bodybuilding club. They certainly weren't the sort that would spend a lot of time online, I thought. For a time I expected their online footprint to extend about as far as a Facebook page, and maybe an entry on the University's organization listings.

Then, one day, I saw a friend of mine - also an exercise enthusiast - talking to the president of the bodybuilding club. This was a pleasant surprise - after all, who doesn't like having mutual friends? Later, when I met up with my friend, I asked him how he knew the president.

He replied, "Oh, I noticed his shirt, walked up to him and asked, 'Are you aware?'"

I felt a little less special after that day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cracked and Online Information

They say there's more truth in comedy than tragedy.

Somehow, in our age of mass information in news, comedian Jon Stewart has emerged as the most trusted news anchor in our time, despite not being an actual news anchor.  His M.O. is to make light of politics in a humorous fashion. He approaches nonfictional discourse like other news sources, but Stewart uses his observations to point out humorous inconsistencies. Though there have been numerous charges of slant on Stewart's part, Stewart denies having any political ambitions. I guess if your underlying motives are purely for humor's sake, chances are people will trust you more.

Wait, this is all meta, isn't it? The joke is that people trust a comedian for news! Ha! Ha!

Something about that psychology towards comedy gives power towards comedic writing. Humor is non-threatening, but that does not mean that humor can't be challenging. It becomes an interesting platform where information can be disseminated, but people know better than to get defensive because they know that it's meant as humor.

How does this come through online? And what does it force us to consider? Let's look at the website Cracked for a guess at the answer.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Politics, Cyberbalkanization and The Generation Gap

We live in a strange era where people seem entitled to their own facts.

In the last blog post, I talked about the pros and cons of online discourse. To recap, I was primarily arguing that internet arguments are better than traditional arguments. This comes from how written arguments have a greater capacity for thoughtful expression, and how online resources permit anyone to establish authority with citations and references.

But I ended with a bit of a cliffhanger: What happens when someone accustomed to online argumentation encounters someone accustomed to offline argumentation? What changes? What gets lost in translation?

More importantly, is it a big deal?

Today, I'll argue that the answer to that last question is yes. So much of a big deal, in fact, that it determined the 2012 election.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Arguing on the Internet

Where's there's people, there's arguments.

An artist's interpretation of YouTube comments.

The subject of arguing on the internet is a joke among those who spend their time online. It is generally accepted as a futile practice: if it's already difficult to convince people of anything in traditional arguments, then you probably aren't going to convince anyone of anything online. Yet, despite this, there's still a high level of zeal behind the opinions of any fool who's found themselves thinking, "Yes, I disagree, and I have to say something."

Like all things, there's a little more to it than that. It's hard to use the criteria of effectiveness on an online argument, because what is 'effective' online is very different from what is 'effective' in real life. The rules of engagement are very different.

What, then, is the anatomy and worth of an online spar? And does it have any higher implications about the way we communicate?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Online Dating

The dating scene is intimidating. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of setting up appointments with near-strangers so they can desperately search for something in common. Not everyone likes dealing with the silent expectations of intimacy that can be present when going out under the label of 'date'. Not everyone is good at working the bar scene, the club scene, or any other scene that's supposed to soothe your anxieties with loud music and overpriced beer.

To be fair, one alternative hypothesis is that I'm just bad at this, and totally not bitter about it.

So, in our digital age, we have the invention of online dating. Proving once again that the internet has penetrated itself into our daily lives, online dating sites now comprise a billion-dollar industry, with most single people in the United States having tried online dating at least once.

On the one hand, it's a pretty convenient setup. You could say that online dating helps organize and structure the dating process for some people, making it easier to explore your dating options (more than half of people saying they have dated more than one person simultaneously) and making it easier to find people with the same romantic interest (be it some fling or a committed relationship). Plus, if you're really busy with your work and life in general, it's nice to put yourself out there, even if it's just through an online essay with your face on it.

Seems ideal. Except it's not.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The New Nerd

Nerds are cool now. This isn't really a statement of controversy. Once upon a time, movies like "Revenge of the Nerds" painted nerds as outcasts, and computers were so arcane that you needed to pursue a very specific - and alienating - skill set to be well-versed with them. Nerds had unpopular interests, were skilled in unpopular hobbies, and were represented in an unflattering way.

Pictured: The '80s.

This is not so anymore. Technology pervades every facet of our society, and computers are no longer the inaccessible tool that they once were. What was once considered a nerdy skill set is now essential knowledge if you want to be a functional worker and consumer. Overall, the things that nerds used to "do" have pushed society's capabilities so far forward that nerdy skills and hobbies have become self-evidently beneficial.

This is a good thing, but it poses a minor problem as to how the term "nerd" should be used. After all, if everybody's a nerd, then nobody's a nerd. The term has lost a lot of its original weight over the past twenty years, but it's still a word that frequently gets tossed around. So what does it even mean anymore?

In some sense, I think that this subject is pretty well-discussed already. Would you like an assessment on what 'nerd' actually means - the criteria behind qualifying for the label? Look at this blog post. You want a rant on how modern nerds aren't really nerds - that the term has not only mutated, but bastardized and misused? Look at this blog post, instead. There are enough people eager to call themselves nerdy - and enough people eager to tell that first category of people that they're not so nerdy - that this subject's been discussed many times over.

I'll spare you that discussion. It's old and it's boring. Let's talk about nerds and consumer culture, and how they've become nearly synonymous with one another.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cyberbullying, and an Old Internet War

The term 'cyberbullying' is defined as using the Internet "to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner." As the internet has gained mainstream popularity, many organizations have risen to educate people on cyberbullying, and to discourage people from it.

This makes sense. By 2013, we've seen a number of instances where online social behavior has led to the harm of others. The 2006 suicide of Megan Meier is an often cited example. General character defamation can cause victims to lose money. This also makes sense, given that a lot of online revenue relies on page clicks, which relies on the desire of consumers to indulge in the website owner's content.

I started making a habit out of browsing the internet in my teenage years, and the term cyberbullying still sticks out to me as fairly new. In fact, I didn't really start reading about organized anti-cyberbullying movements until a couple years ago. In the years before that, I've read about some online movements as they've come and gone. I think that, by modern standards, some of these online movements would be classified as cyberbullying, but it makes me wonder if cyberbullying needs to be better defined.

This post aims to re-examine one of those old online movements. This one happened when I was around 15,  and I'll try to recapture how the (far, far nerdier) 15-year-old version of me was interpreting these events. Hopefully I can make a completely mundane story about kids on the internet seem far more entertaining than it actually is.

In January of 2006, a couple of online communities - YTMND, Newgrounds, etc - did something funny: They declared "war" on the website Ebaumsworld.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Gender and the Internet

Society is tougher on women than it is on men, and the Internet doesn't offer a much-improved environment. For a long time, the internet had the stereotype of being full of men. A large portion of notorious online communities still maintain a male-heavy user base, and internet-savvy women will receive constant reminders about this.  For a very long time, it was a prevalent joke among online circles that there were "no girls on the internet". If a girl was to make her gender known in many of these same online circles, then other users would accuse her of lying. That, or post pictures of herself. Overall, this was not the most encouraging environment.

The internet has changed drastically since the days that these attitudes first came to exist. However, with the scope of the current internet and its many communities, it's difficult to pinpoint a general attitude towards the question of gender. The modern internet user is constantly bombarded with information, and it's easy to run into conflicting (and sometimes contradictory) indicators of the modern demographics and attitudes.

Let's try to sort through this issue. First, where do men and women hang out on the internet?

Monday, January 21, 2013

The YouTube Frontier: The Future of YouTube

This is the third article on a series on Youtube! You can read part 1 and part 2 by clicking their respective links.

Though we mentioned it in the first installment of this article series, let's talk about Gangnam Style again.



The story of Gangnam Style is one that encapsulates all of Youtube's phases of development. It was a music video that could only exist on YouTube thanks to the website's business model. It "went viral" and gained massive notoriety worldwide. Taking the #1 most viewed spot on YouTube along with hitting the billion-views mark, Psy went on to star in - and heavily theme - Youtube's year in review 2012, alongside YouTube's other significant traffic-contributors.

YouTube has found a way to reconcile its free platform with the old media industries, and has earned its niche in online entertainment. Concerns about the website's sustainability seem to be decisively gone. The question, however, is what the website may become.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Youtube Frontier: The New Culture of YouTube


This is the 2nd article of a series on YouTube! Click here to see the first.

"Going viral" is no longer a foreign concept. It's a swiss army knife of brand promotion, mass entertainment, and individuals getting their 15 minutes of fame. The YouTube employees are aware of the viral videos on their website - they probably watch them just as we do. At the end of 2011, the website released a video highlighting all of the online trends from the previous year:



And, they did it again in 2012:



If you haven't watched these before, then take the time now to do so. You'll notice a very marked difference in presentation style between 2011's compilation video and 2012's. One that marks an important shift for YouTube.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Youtube Frontier: The Business of Youtube


The music video "Gangnam Style" by Korean artist Psy was the first YouTube video to hit a billion views. This video started accumulating views in July of 2012, and hit the billion-view mark in December of 2012. The video now maintains several hundred million views more than the next-most viewed video on the website.



However, it was as recently as 2008 that the title of "Most Viewed Youtube Video" could be acquired with fewer than 100 million views. Judson Laipply's "Evolution of Dance" held the title until that particular year, when Avril Lavigne's single "Girlfriend" finally topped the Youtube charts. The view count for each of them at the time hovered around 89 million views. Though her music video did eventually exceed 100 million views later that year, it took the #1 spot with a view count below this number.


2008 wasn't some prehistoric time for the internet, either. Facebook was already on the digital stage, hitting 100 million active users in that year and riding high rates of growth. It was an election year, and Barack Obama was using the internet in ways previously unseen in presidential campaigns. This was even after 2girls1cup - and the many reaction videos to it - had reached its height of infamy.

Clearly, there's been some inflation in Youtube's popularity since those days. With the next few blog posts, I'd like to walk us through an analysis of YouTube's role in entertainment culture.