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Just another middle-aged message board tyrant
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Elon Musk made headlines this week after he floated the idea of putting all of Twitter behind a paywall while he was on a livestream with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has since sorta-kinda refuted this via Twitter’s Community Notes.
He is, apparently, only considering a lower subscriber price. There have been murmurs about Musk paywalling all of Twitter since last year, however. And he has already paywalled Tweetdeck, which, for (former) power users like me, was effectively the same thing.
At the current level of Twitter decomposition, though, all information, whether it’s true or false and regardless of its source, creates discourse. Probably because there are so few people left on the site and there’s just less to talk about. News of Musk possibly charging for Twitter also led to the biggest single-day spike for Bluesky signups ever. There are now about a million users on the site according to the Bluesky stats app.
The rumor of a paywalled Twitter also kicked up a new wave of tweets about Musk’s ongoing “Lowtax speedrun”.
Richard Kyanka, also known as Lowtax, was the founder of Something Awful, which is probably the most influential website in American history. Maybe tied with 4chan, which was, itself, a spin-off of Something Awful. It also had a somewhat unique system for letting users post. It cost a one-time fee of $10 to sign up. Hence the resurgence of the meme.
Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has been a morbid fascination for Something Awful users because Kyanka was basically the epitome of How Not To Run A Website. His legacy has evolved over the years into a cautionary tale for the internet age: Don’t make yourself the main character of your own site. During his two decades at the helm, Kyanka revealed himself to be an abusive egomaniac who basically made every wrong decision you could make, which was all the more frustrating for long-time users due to how often he would also occasionally come up with an idea that would fundamentally change the way people used the internet forever. And now Musk is doing a lot of the same stuff, but without the lightning in a bottle.
The joke about Musk replaying Kyanka’s greatest hits comes around a lot, but the similarities are worth nothing. Both men’s personal lives were completely intertwined with their obsessive need to post at the expense of all else. Musk’s relationships with the mothers of his children are well publicized, but, most recently, Grimes, the mother of three of his children, tweeted and deleted a concerning post begging to see her son. And after Kyanka had poured all of his life savings and personal clout into running Something Awful into the ground, he eventually sold it, got banned from it, and then, in 2021, died by suicide amid a legal battle battle over unpaid child support in which his ex-wife accused him of domestic violence. Kyanka’s most viral moment was when he challenged German filmmaker Uwe Boll to a boxing match and promptly got his shit rocked. Meanwhile, Musk spent the summer trying to fight the much more yoked Mark Zuckerberg in an Italian coliseum and users were hoping for a similar outcome.
Of course, the biggest difference between the two is that Musk was born into extreme wealth and is still both a billionaire and largely cushioned by the embrace of the Silicon Valley elite and the mainstream media. And so, because of his station in life, Musk is treated much differently than Something Awful users treated Kyanka. For instance, Musk also claimed this week that Tucker Carlon’s Twitter show “exceeded the population of the United States.” It’s certainly not true. But it’s being analyzed and debated regardless, which is more than a little depressing, just in general. But the legitimacy given to all of Musk’s deranged ideas, many of which mirror Kyanka’s, is simply impossible to process for anyone who knows Something Awful’s history. You can’t view the emperor with clothes on when you know he’s nothing more than another middle-aged message board tyrant alone in his home office posting at the lonely nerds that pay to hang out with him.
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Right, Down + Circle is a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s written by skateboarding and culture writer Cole Nowicki, who wrote for the documentary series Post Radical and puts out Simple Magic, a weekly newsletter about skateboarding, the internet, and other means of escape.
It’ll be in stores on September 26, and you can pre-order it now from your favorite local bookshop, ECW Press, or all of the usual devils (Amazon, Barnes & Noble).
New Garbage Day Live Featured Guest Dropped
Comedian Ena Da is going to be doing a set at Garbage Day Live! I am super excited about this. She is one of my favorite performers right now. I did a show with her earlier this year and she blew my mind. One more special guest to announce next week.
If you haven’t picked up a ticket yet, head over here and grab one. It’s on October 18th, at Elsewhere in Brooklyn. Guys, this show is going to be a lot of fun.
Digging Deeper Into Reddit’s Wonky Metrics
—by Adam Bumas
Last week, I tried to look into how much has changed about Reddit since the API protests, which officially ended in early August. Basically, no numbers from Reddit itself were reliable, so I combined my own data with data from Subreddit Stats, which showed a massive drop in engagement once the API was officially paywalled in mid-July.
A little bit later, multiple current and former Reddit moderators reached out to me. They agreed that things have been quieter recently, but they didn’t think the nosedive that Subreddit Stats showed was completely accurate. Largely thanks to Subreddit Stats’ reliance on Reddit’s API. Reddit’s new API paywall has stopped Subreddit Stats from tracking metrics correctly, the same way it stops every other third-party service.
techiesgoboom, a moderator of r/AITA, told me that their internal moderation tools show 10 times as many comments as Subreddit Stats is reporting. Other mods reported less drastic differences, but the specific numbers are, in fact, off. As for my own research over the last six months, those numbers are solid-ish and do corroborate a general malaise. But there’s also the problem that Reddit’s public-facing numbers have rarely reflected what’s really going on.
Their upvote system has been weighted ever since the site began and view counts are as random and arbitrary as every other platform. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get the real numbers. Also, making things even more frustrating, according to the moderators I spoke to, the rate limits are low enough that you can’t really extrapolate the actual engagement metrics.
But what we do know, and was confirmed in conversations with mods, is that there are definitely fewer people on Reddit since before the protests, we just don’t know for sure how many fewer, and we now don’t have any independent way to find out. Funny how that works, isn’t it? I don’t think this was a main reason why Reddit made these changes, but I doubt they mind.
The Google AI Is Not Very Good, But, Also, Not Terrible
After spending the summer working on a big piece about Google Search, I started to interrogate my own relationship with it. I wanted to figure out what I actually use search for and, best as I can tell, here’s what it is:
For any physical locations — restaurants, directions, attractions, etc. — I’m using Google Maps. Which is a Google Search, but I try and avoid going to the Google homepage for this because I think the location-based widgets suck.
For specific products or things I want to buy, I am largely using Google to find content about those products on Reddit or YouTube.
For links to other platforms, like TikTok or Twitter, where I then use their native search.
So, when I joined the beta for Google’s Bard AI a few weeks ago, I ended up quickly turning it off. It was slow and annoying and largely unhelpful because it was summarizing content, which I had completely given up on getting from Google.
Now that it’s out for everyone, I’ll admit it’s better. I recently bought a Steam Deck that I’m jerry-rigging into a PC because if I don’t keep buying new pieces of technology to tinker with the bad thoughts will come. And using Bard to quickly summarize how to execute stuff with Linux has been helpful. Not great, but helpful.
But the interesting thing about Bard is that it’s trying to retrain me to use Google in a way I abandoned at some point in the last seven years. I stopped looking at Google as a place for information and, instead, started using it as a pathway to other places to find information. It essentially moved one layer back in my digital life. I assume because of how enshitted it’s become. Also, I spent half of my 20s living in the UK and, folks, Google in the UK sucks real bad. Can Google enshit itself all the way into being un-enshitted again? I don’t know, but I do think the real test will be how extensions work for it.
Rome Meme’s Over, I Guess
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I’m sure you’ve all seen the Rome meme at this point, but for those who haven’t, a trend went around on TikTok where women would ask their boyfriends how often they thought about Rome. It turns out a lot of cisgendered men spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. I, personally, probably think about it once a week. I asked my dad and he said, “I would say once every three months. Basically what life was like back then and where would I fit in.”
As the always-excellent Embedded newsletter covered this week, the speed and intensity in which this trend was run into the ground by different publishers has been staggering to watch. The remaining digital media outlets have become ravenous for content now that Twitter has dwindled down to a trickle.
As for why, this video from a historian that was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord this week by HarryJ feels right to me. But both Embedded and a semi-viral tweet I came across connected the Rome boyfriends trend to “girl dinner,” with the latter asking, “why is every single goddamn thing so extremely about gender right now?” Which is a fair point. It could be that a lot of this is sort of ethereal gender essentialism trickling its way down from right-wing anti-trans political projects. But I’d like to offer a slightly more benign explanation.
Every 5-7 years, a whole bunch of people come of age online at the same time. Their dumb, usually playful freshman-dorm-icebreaker-level content and discourse is then pored over by media outlets and turned into these big news cycles that inevitably sour. But I think it’s just kids making sense of the world around them. It’s fun and sometimes reveals some interesting quirks about society, but it doesn’t always — and, I’d argue, rarely does — matter.
I Love Hoagie Gurus
I came across this Group thanks to an emo band I really like called Michael Cera Palin (yeah, their name rips). It’s an incredibly intense Facebook Group for sandwiches, specifically hoagies, and it’s called Hoagie Gurus.
The photos of sandwiches are really good, but the comments are on a completely different level:
Hell yeah, Bill! You tell ‘em.
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good Tumblr post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***