I want to open today’s email with an apology!! I wrote about the map-based Wordle game Worldle on Monday and I, for some reason, completely didn’t realize that it would work the same as Wordle and only offer one game a day. So, in my writeup of this fabulous game, I included a screenshot of Monday’s answer, thus spoiling the game for anyone who had not figured it out, yet. I am sorry for this. I am an idiot.
What Does A Platform Look Like When It’s Dying?
I’ve spent the last few weeks putting together a small syllabus about the history of memes (obligatory plug: the remote course starts next week), which has meant I’ve spent a lot of time going back and looking at what the internet was like between the years of 2002-2012. Because, it turns out, when you start to really trace back the cultural forces that shape the social web still to this day, most of them started during this period.
MySpace and 4chan launched in 2003 (within three months of each other, interestingly enough), then Digg launched in 2004, Reddit and YouTube in 2005, and Facebook in 2006. The first half of the 00s was, looking back at it, actually a nonstop flurry of online activity. But, things got a lot more interesting towards the end of the decade when MySpace was starting to die. And while putting a date on the actual death of a social network is difficult, for MySpace we do have a decent time range to approximate its demise. And I think comparing the site’s final years to where we are with Meta (Facebook) now is actually really fascinating.
At the end of 2007, according to Alexa rankings, MySpace was the biggest social network in the world. It had been sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for $580 million two years prior and was essentially the center of American pop culture. It was Fall Out Boy’s world and we were just living in it. But on June 13, 2008, Facebook beat MySpace in unique visitors for the first time. There are lots of theories as to exactly why, but the LA Times wrote in 2009 that it may have been due to the site’s reliance on what it called “portal strategy”:
The perceived missteps are numerous. Some observers say it clung too long to a “portal strategy,” in which it sought to amass an audience around entertainment content. By contrast, Facebook maintained its focus on features that enhance the social-networking experience, such as the “News Feed” that matches the immediacy of Twitter’s staccato updates.
Which I think is right! Though I’m not sure the quote above fully conveys what late-era MySpace was like. By 2007, the site was synonymous with hacks, scams, harassment, and even murder. I distinctly remember pockets of MySpace that seemed to be entirely populated by Hot Topic employees, small town drug dealers, juggalos, and neo-Nazis (sometimes they were all the same account). And, until Facebook came around, there was a real sense that there was just simply nowhere else to go online. You’d clear out your MySpace notifications, click around aimlessly, and go back to AOL Instant Messenger, which is where you were talking to all the friends you had on MySpace anyways. I remember sitting in front of a MySpace dashboard, thinking to myself, “well, now what?” I, also, as a teenager, remembered feeling very weird when adults started showing up on the platform. So when I finally got access to Facebook, which required a school email to join, I was extremely excited to get away from whatever this was…
It’s now difficult to really remember how weird the last days of MySpace were because it all happened in such a short period of time, but the company flailed around desperately for about a year and a half after Facebook overtook it in the Alexa rankings. It, at one point, briefly attempted to merge with Yahoo!, its corporate leadership changed continuously, and, most interestingly for us here in 2022, it launched a redesign that no one cared about and/or actively hated.
The 2010 MySpace redesign had a bunch of interesting features, however. It stressed “security” and “safety,” allowing users to toggle who could view their content, including a “friends only” option. It also gave users a Facebook-esque News Feed that recommended music and TV content. They changed their logo and dropped the “a place for friends” tagline. This was the era of the “My_____” name, remember? In fact, many of these features could almost be considered “ahead of their time.” Here’s a really fascinating quote from a 2010 Guardian interview with Rebekah Horne, MySpace’s managing director for international:
Rather than trying to compete with Facebook, this new look is about shifting away. "This heralds a new direction… this connects the socialization of content, through the tools of the site, with people using the site across music, TV, gaming, celebrity gossip — it adds that social layer."
But as forward-thinking as some of this was, it all ended up being for nothing because social networks live and die by the quality of the, uh, social networking that’s happening on them. So, by early 2011, MySpace had lost 10 million users in a single month.
What’s so fascinating about looking back at all of this stuff is that, while there are some key differences, obviously, between where MySpace was in 2008 and where Facebook is in 2022 — MySpace never got big enough to warrant antitrust regulation, nor did emo kids successfully storm the Capitol (though, I’m sure they would have tried if they had gas money) — there are actually a lot more similarities.
MySpace was at the top of the world, largely thanks to its increasingly-consolidated portal strategy. Which meant there was really no way to shake the weirdos, grifters, (and Christian screamo bands, apparently) that eventually showed up and started making the site unusable. And then a new app promising a more exciting, more alive-feeling central feed launched, specifically targeting teenagers. As MySpace’s older users began feeling more stuck and bored there, younger users left in droves, until there were no new ones signing up at all anymore. And then MySpace announced a bizarre redesign, a dumb logo change, and a shifting of their corporate strategy that they claimed was not related to competing with the new successful social network, but, instead, was about connecting users with the content they love — though, in ways that no one actually cared about.
Well, two days ago, Meta, which is what Facebook calls itself now for some reason, tried to hold a post-Super Bowl Foo Fighters concert in its new VR platform that no one wants, but users couldn’t figure out how to actually access it and the ones that did said it looked like shit and sucked. Also, yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s corporate values now include the bizarre tagline “Meta, metamates, me.” And over on Instagram, Reels, the video feed on Meta’s once-cool photo app, is filling up with silent auto-playing one-second video memes everyone hates. Meanwhile, TikTok’s owner ByteDance reported last month that their 2021 sales grew by 70%. So, you know, you connect the dots there.
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A Reddit Fight About The Movie The Bucket List Threatens The Equilibrium Of The Whole Site
Two days ago, a Reddit user named u/plumberoncrack posted a request to r/movies. “Bear with me here, I need a well-known movie screenshot of a white guy crying over a dead black guy...,” they wrote. “Before you pick up the pitchforks, my buddy just died. We were the stereotypical black / white buddies and we would play this up. On Facebook, I would post screenshots from movies or TV shows, of ‘the time we went to med school’ (Turk and JD from Scrubs), or a picture from Lethal Weapon with the caption ‘When me and J became cops in the 80s.’ You get the idea. Everyone loved it.”
Then u/plumberoncrack explained that he wanted to honor the death of his friend by doing the bit one last time.
Look, I’m not really going to touch that whole thing because it’s actually pretty incidental to what happened next. The top comment on u/plumberoncrack’s post was from a user named u/YoyoDevo, who wrote that the term “bucket list” didn’t actually exist before the movie The Bucket List came out in 2007.
The comments underneath u/YoyoDevo’s comment are full of users claiming they remember already knowing the phrase before the movie came out. For what it’s worth, I think I remember a moment in the trailer where they explain the premise of a “bucket list,” but I also sort of remember already being familiar with the concept, as well.
Well, the debate about whether or not the movie The Bucket List invented the term “bucket list” has spread across Reddit in the last few days, with other subreddits being sucked into the argument. Obviously the poor souls over at the r/MandelaEffect had to weigh in, though, ironically, a lot of them claim they had never heard of it before the movie. Go figure. And r/SubredditDrama and r/todayilearned got involved, as well.
Thankfully, the r/etymology subreddit did some digging and put together what seems like a pretty likely explanation. Before the film came out, articles began circulating promoting it and explaining what a “bucket list” was. Though, apparently, it was already a concept, but it was usually called a “life list”.
New Weird Kind Of Guy Dropped
This is a request from a reader named Jeremy. Two days ago, a skincare influencer named Ryan Dubs posted a vlog on TikTok about how he spends “$2,000 a month on water” and showed a video of his fridge, which is full of bottles of VOSS water. I was only vaguely familiar with VOSS water, but apparently it’s a Norwegian water brand that comes in still and sparkling.
“It’s honestly a fashion accessory at this point,” Dubs wrote in the caption.
This is, of course, objectively nuts. I mean, do I drink sometimes two big bottles of sparkling water a day? Yes, but usually it’s like Polar brand and it costs like $1 each. And I don’t even think this guy is drinking sparkling water! I think he’s spending $2,000 a month on normal water! It doesn’t even have bubbles!
And Another New Kind Of Weird Guy Dropped
On Monday, a Spanish-speaking Twitter user went viral — in the bad, but funny way — for asking why the character Aloy from the video game Horizon Zero Dawn “had a beard”. The Twitter user used a red circle to highlight Aloy’s “beard”.
As I said, the tweet with super viral. It’s been quote-tweeted almost 13,000 times, which is an incredible ratio. It’s also spawned a ton of memes making fun of the whole thing. Here’s a good Twitter search if you want to check out the dunking that’s happening, but here’s my favorite one:
Guy Fieri Is Sadboyposting On TikTok
Guy Fieri has a TikTok, which shouldn’t be that surprising, but what is surprising is that he’s posting moody videos on it set to Phoebe Bridgers songs. Now, to be clear, I’m absolutely positive that Guy Fieri did not post this himself on TikTok. His channel on the app is full of videos that are clearly made by some kind of social media manager. But, this Phoebe Bridgers one has been watched over 8 million times now, which means it’s absolutely gone viral enough for Fieri’s social team to have to explain it to him. And that, my friends, is what Flavortown is all about."
The Horse Plinko Guy Finally Speaks
I’ve written about hose plinko before, but if you’ve missed this, basically, a 2017 3D simulation of a horse inside of a plinko machine went viral on Tumblr over the last few months. lol I bet you thought it would be LESS confusing if you knew what I was talking about, didn’t you?
Well, after months of building hype around horse plinko, one of the researchers responsible for the original collision simulation that kicked off the meme, Rahul Narain, actually jumped into the YouTube comments to address horse plinko’s popularity.
“Remember kids, stay in school and go into academic research, and maybe someday you too can find that a goofy video you made to demonstrate your technical contributions got turned into a meme when you weren't looking,” Narain wrote. “(All credit to my students George Brown and Matt Overby, especially George who spent multiple tries getting the horse to fall in an interesting way down the plinko machine)”
A beautiful message for everyone in academia everywhere.
A Good Thread Of Putin Memes
Click through on this tweet to see a bunch of good ones. Wow, there’s something really retro about a big thread of Putin photoshops, right?
The 1994 Fantastic Four Animated Series Invented Lofi Hip Hop, Apparently
OK, so guys, I really can’t get this out of my head. I have watched different versions of this clip at least a dozen times today trying to make sure this is real and not some elaborate YouTube conspiracy. But I think it is real. I think this is a real thing that happened. During a 1994 episode of the animated Fantastic Four series, Johnny Storm performs… a rap song? That is, honestly, a total banger. He, and the rest of the Fantastic Four, are then kidnapped by mole people immediately after he finishes the song. The clip is an absolute fever dream. But also I want the stems to this beat because it is great.
Cool Anime Rugs On TikTok
I did not know that I wanted to watch hypnotic videos of a dude making rugs based on anime characters, but apparently it’s the kind of content that triggers the ASMR part of my brain that also likes watching that one guy on Instagram make elaborate sculptures out of chocolate. S Class Supply is a rug designer with over 700,000 followers on TikTok. His rugs are great! I would like to buy several. And his videos making them are even more fun.
Some Stray Links
“Fan artists have gotten sucked in by Kirby’s Mouthful Mode”
P.S. here’s the anti-NFT anthem.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Ok, so I had to go verify that Fantastic Four music clip as well and in my research discovered that Brian Austin Green(!) was the voice of Johnny Storm so that explains the rapping. His one rap record was produced by Slimkid3 which may be why the song is so Pharcyde-esque. More exciting was the discovery that Giorgio Moroder(!!!!) was the music producer for not only this show but the ENTIRE run of that particular FF cartoon.