Closing Communities: FFFFOUND! vs MLKSHK

Next month, two seminal image-sharing communities, FFFFOUND! and MLKSHK, will close their doors within a week of each other.

Launched in June 2007 as a side-project by a Japanese design agency, FFFFOUND borrowed the visual bookmarklets of Wists, a social shopping service launched a year earlier, to rapidly form a community around the curation of art and other imagery. Invite-only for its entire ten-year run, each user only received a single invite, forming a small but dedicated community.

Despite the constrained user base, FFFFOUND users added over 500,000 images by the end of its second year. Though the site’s features or design barely changed after 2008, it inspired dozens of similar services, including Pinterest, which launched in 2009.

Yesterday, Tha founder Yugo Nakamura announced FFFFOUND would close on May 8.

Husband and wife team Amber Costley and Andre Torrez launched MLKSHK (pronounced “milkshake”) in 2011, a community for sharing images and videos, inspired by the secretive private file-sharing community that Andre started in 2001.

While FFFFOUND skewed towards the visually provocative, MLKSHK tended towards the funny and playful, with users sharing images in groups called “shakes.” (This list of the top posts from 2014 is a good time capsule.)

MLKSHK nearly closed in September 2014, a result of rising bandwidth and maintenance costs, but a combination of paid subscriptions, volunteer effort, and outside funding (i.e. Andre got a job at Slack) kept it around for three more years. In February, Amber and Andre announced that MLKSHK would finally shutter, switching to read-only mode in April and closing entirely on May 1.

 

These two communities shared a lot in common. Both were very creative, focused on curating imagery, but how they’re shutting down are very, very different — how it was communicated, the tools for saving your contributions, and the future of the community.

FFFFOUND provides no export or backup tools. A handful of user-created scraping scripts exist for those tech-savvy enough to use them, but in general, most users will be unable to preserve their contributions.

More upsetting is the fact that FFFFOUND only allows Google, Bing, and Yahoo to crawl their archives in their robots.txt file, which outlines which crawlers can access their site and how frequently.

As a result, the Internet Archive is forbidden from archiving FFFFOUND. It seems likely that, barring a large-scale preservation effort, this will be all that’s left of FFFFOUND after May 8.

 

That’s a common end to online communities: we’re shutting down next month, your work will be deleted, thanks for participating. MLKSHK took a different path.

MLKSHK gave its users about ten weeks’ notice, compared to FFFFOUND’s four weeks, but offered backup tools since 2014, allowing its users to request a ZIP file of all their images. They also offered an API, allowing developers to build libraries and other tools.

MLKSHK’s permissive robots.txt allowed all crawlers, which in turn led to comprehensive historical snapshots, almost daily, in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine from launch until today.

The MLKSHK creators also reached out to Archive Team, the group of volunteer archivists who preserve sites like Geocities, and asked them to archive the site. Collectively, they grabbed nearly 2TB of images and other assets, which will eventually make its way into the Internet Archive’s collections.

Preservation is important, but Andre and Amber went much further: they donated it to the community that helped make it great.

MLTSHP (pronounced “malt shop”) is a volunteer-run effort to transition the community to a new home under a new name. Amber and Andre gave the code, assets, and anonymized database to a small workgroup of volunteers, who open-sourced the code with permission and raised over $3,000 in a fund drive to cover startup costs to get it off the ground.

Once launched, MLTSHP will allow former MLKSHK users to opt-in to transitioning their account. Everyone else’s accounts will stay hidden from public view.

They’re moving quickly with a functional private beta already running, and it seems likely that MLTSHP will relaunch soon, keeping the spirit of the community alive. Want to help? You can learn more on their Github project.

 

Online communities close all the time, and for all kinds of reasons — usually a lack of time, funding, or interest.

But how they decide to dissolve the collective contributions of a community impacts how they’ll be remembered.

To be clear, a transition effort like MLKSHK’s isn’t free. Especially for bandwidth-heavy communities, the costs of preservation can be significant, and handing off code, assets, and data responsibly takes effort.

Not everyone can pull it off, but it’s an act that should be commended. As a community founder, closing a community with care honors all the people who made it meaningful.

LOT 2046 — ARG or startup? you decide
Smash Mouth Fractal — using harmonics to compose a melody that repeats itself at 1024x the original speed (via)

Bad Lip Reading’s Force Awakens remix taken down by questionable copyright claim

Earlier today, the anonymous genius behind Bad Lip Reading posted his remix of The Force Awakens, starring Mark Hamill as the voice of Han Solo.

Unfortunately, the video was taken down by a copyright claim from an unlikely source. Not from Lucasfilm or Disney, but the Dramatists Play Service, a NYC-based publishing and licensing house for theatrical stage plays.

You may be asking yourself, what does the Dramatists Play Service have to do with Star Wars?

As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing. They don’t appear to have any clear affiliation with the franchise at all.

But anyone can make a copyright claim against any video, with little consequence. YouTube “doesn’t mediate copyright disputes,” and while the DMCA allows for penalties for false claims, they rarely result in legal action.

I called the Dramatists Play Service at their headquarters in New York City to get a statement, but they’re closed for the day. I’ll reach out when they open tomorrow to see what I can find out.

Update: Dramatists Play Service made a public statement that the claim was a mistake, and they’re working to get it reinstated.

Update: I spoke by phone to David Moore, vice president at Dramatists Play Service. He said that they’re a small company with 30 employees, constantly monitoring the internet for potential copyright issues for their 4,000 licensed titles on behalf of their playwrights.

Moore said Dramatists Play Service only files DMCA takedowns with YouTube manually, rather than any automated process or with Content ID.

He repeatedly emphasized that this was human error, with no malicious intent. I asked him about the source of the error, for example, if it matched a similar play title that they represent, but he repeated that it was human error.

Reply All’s The Russian Passenger

Reply All is one of my favorite podcasts, largely for hosts P.J. Vogt and Alex Goldman’s willingness to dig deep into geeky things that nobody else would ever care to.

The latest two-part episode asks a single question: how did Gimlet CEO Alex Blumberg get his Uber account hacked?

To investigate it, they talk to a number of security experts who address multiple vectors of attack — malware, keyloggers, SIM hacking, social engineering, man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing, and password reuse are all covered. It’s a nice intro to online security, for those who don’t spend their time living in it.

In part one, The Russian Passenger, they all try to figure out what happened, with the help of Alex’s dad and a suspicious Microsoft Surface Pro.

In part two, producer Phia Bennin follows up with listener theories, Google engineers, and Uber’s own security team to finally get a definitive answer, and a very satisfying conclusion.

P.S. If you’re still reusing passwords in 2017, you’re begging to be hacked. I highly, highly recommend 1Password. Yes, it’s a hassle to get started, but you’ll never look back.

The Portlandification of Pot

When pot was legalized in Oregon in October 2015, I joked that it wouldn’t be long before we started seeing artisanal, small-batch collaborations with other Portland mainstays.

It took a little over a year before local artisan chocolatier Woodblock Chocolate teamed up with Serra Cannabis to make the most twee edible you’ve ever seen.

It’s no surprise that this product came from Serra. Walking into their store is like stepping into an Apple Store, but where every product gets you high. Even their website is immaculately designed, with branding and identity work from OMFGCO, the same design agency we used for XOXO 2013.

The legalization of marijuana was a godsend for the local newsweeklies in Portland. In addition to new editorial sections, a huge chunk of their advertising is now cannabis-related: dispensaries, edibles, accessories, merchant services, and events. We’ve had a multi-course marijuana pop-up brunch (called “Wake and Bake,” of course), wine and weed pairings, and a cannabis-infused six-course meal by Noble Rot’s head chef.

Today’s issue of the Portland Mercury announced Toke Talks, “an evening of TED Talk-style presentations by some of the best minds in Oregon cannabis.”

I don’t even smoke pot, only rarely eating a tiny edible to help me sleep, but I’m fascinated by the rapid gentrification of weed and how it became instantly mainstream here.

Partly, it’s because I grew up in a time when pot was still vilified—”I learned it from watching you, dad!”—so seeing it marketed as a high-end item with gorgeous branding in fancy stores is a novelty.

And partly, it’s because of Portland’s innate ability to turn anything into a hand-made, artisanal, farm-to-table experience.

But increasingly, my interest in the Portlandification of pot is with the deep racial and economic disparity that it represents. It’s criminally unfair that an entire industry appeared overnight to cater to mostly white, middle-class Portlanders—while 137,000 people, predominantly black and Latino men, sit in prison for drug-possession charges. In 2015, more people were arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.

But here in Portland, after 18 months of legalization, the lack of any negative impact on the economy or crime is a stark reminder of how absurd, and systemically racist, our federal drug policy is.

This Must Be The /r/Place

On April Fool’s Day, when the rest of the internet devolves into a cesspool of unfunny press releases and fake product launches, Reddit becomes the most interesting place online by unleashing a social experiment on its enormous community.

In past years, Reddit’s mods started a color war, an exponential chatroom, and a countdown button that ran for over two months, inspiring its own cult-like religions.

This year, it was Reddit Place, a collaborative canvas of one million pixels. You can color any pixel, but only one pixel every 5-10 minutes. It ended 72 hours later.

This is what happened.

The end result is about as aesthetically pleasing as Million Dollar Homepage, but even a full-screen 4K timelapse can’t fully convey what happened over those 72 hours.

Every tiny patch of the Place is a story. Every piece of real estate represents a hard-fought battle, drawn from the collective activity of hundreds of smaller communities teaming together, and often against each other.

Communities were formed solely to rally people to various causes: painting the bottom-right corner blue, making a patch of green lattice, a rainbow road, a series of interlocking hearts, a Windows 95 start menu. The Starry Knights and the Mona Lisa Clan formed to paint pixel art renditions of famous paintings. Another just wanted to tell the the tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise.

Each community created strategies, locations, and grid-based templates — tools to help make sure their work found its place. And all of them had a common enemy: The Black Void, a group of nihilists repeatedly defacing artwork with a growing, spreading maw of black pixels, only to be repeatedly fought back and incorporated into new pieces.

The Place couldn’t have gone on much longer: automated tools were developed to maintain pixel colors, making it more of a technological arms race. So, 72 hours later, the experiment was over.

There’s a heatmap timelapse of activity for all 72 hours, and a static heatmap of all activity. (Full data dumps are available, if you like.) The Place Atlas, with close to 1,000 entries, lets you find the story behind nearly every pixel.

One person made a live-updating Minecraft server to visualize all Place activity, stacking blocks as pixels change. The final result is browsable as a static render.

Reddit can be hard to love. There’s so many wonderfully creative corners of that community, but it’s often drowned out by a noisy minority of hateful scumbags and trolls, emboldened by haphazard management.

But on April 1, when the internet is at its most annoying, it’s nice to have an annual reminder of what makes it great — even for a short time.

Or, as Reddit’s Josh Wardle wrote in the Place announcement, “Individually you can create something. Together you can create something more.”

The Long Cold Winter

In mid-December, I took an unannounced hiatus from Waxy for the first time, and largely stepped back from social media. It was a long, cold winter in Portland, but an absurdly productive period for me. That said, I hope to never do it again. I miss writing here!

The break was partly inspired by six weeks of internet malaise, a pervasive feeling of unease from obsessively spending time online in a post-Trump wave of political despair.

But it was also the competing forces from two factors: the death of one project and the rebirth of another.

The End of the Outpost

Last year, we opened the XOXO Outpost, our shared, pay-what-you-can workspace for independent artists that we’d opened at the beginning of the year. We’d grown to 85 members, a pretty absurdly great group of writers, videogame designers, illustrators, cartoonists, filmmakers, and creative coders.

The Outpost, shortly before it closed in December 2016

We ran dozens of events throughout the year, and bought a 1967 Airstream, retrofitted into a community podcast studio by a team of volunteers. Every Friday afternoon, we ran Show & Tell, where everyone shared what they were working on and the terrible stuff that came with it. It was a pretty great place to work, surrounded by talented indies that turned into quick friends.

Sadly, we weren’t immune to Portland’s rising costs, and our initial sublease was set to nearly double in 2017. We couldn’t afford to sign a long-term lease, so we made the hard decision to close doors on December 31.

It was short-lived, but it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I don’t regret it for a second. Last Friday, I went to the first Show & Tell from the Enthusiasm Collective, a group of ex-Outpost members who started their own space in SE Portland. And the Airstream lives on, thanks to the collective effort of the Stream PDX crew.

And I made a lot of new real friends, which is worth more than I can possibly tell you.

The Rebirth of Upcoming

As the Outpost closed, I quietly started a three-month sprint to get Upcoming.org back online.

Four years ago, in May 2013, Yahoo shuttered the event-sharing community I started in 2003 with 11 days’ notice. A massive archiving effort by Archive Team preserved the majority of the events, venues, and user profiles. But the community was dead.

A year later, a friend at Yahoo reached out, offering to sell the domain back to me. No code and no data—just the domain. I jumped at it, and launched a Kickstarter project to see if it was worth bringing back Upcoming. 1,787 people thought so, pledging over $100k to make it happen.

When I first launched the project in May 2014, my original hope was to have a public beta in April 2015. It’s now April 2017, two years later than I thought.

There were milestones: I launched the historical archive last June, bringing 7.6 million events back from the dead at their original URLs, and opened up a very rough beta to backers shortly after, but actually, you know, launching the new site has taken far longer than I originally expected.

So, what happened? Three main issues.

  • Competing projects. While developing Upcoming, I organized three XOXO festivals, while launching and managing the Outpost for all of 2016. Both projects grew to consume all my available time and creative energy.
  • Infrastructure changes. In the middle of development, I switched from one language, framework, database, and set of libraries to a completely new stack. (The new Upcoming was originally in Python, Tornado and RethinkDB, and is now Node, Express, and MySQL.)
  • Learning curve. I’m working in an environment and framework that’s completely new to me, and that’s taken some time to get used to. It’s my first real experience with modern asynchronous JavaScript, and I’m still learning.

I couldn’t do everything at once, and Upcoming suffered the most. So, starting in January, I quietly cleared my slate to focus exclusively on Upcoming. We’d already announced we were taking a break from the festival this year, the Outpost was over, and on top of it, I took a blogging break.

Last Thursday, Upcoming relaunched. It’s still rough, and there’s a long to-do list—many of them on the homepage sidebar. I’m already starting to hear stories of people using it, finding new things, and sharing them with friends.

Upcoming.org, circa April 2017

It just passed 3,500 members and 700 events. It’s rough, but it’s a start, and I’m excited and hopeful to see where it goes over the next few years.

The Spring

So the winter’s over and spring is here, and we’re all coping in our own ways.

I’m going to go back to doing what I’ve always done: writing incessantly about the things I care most about, and that make me happy, and evangelizing everything I love about the internet and the people and projects that make it interesting.

Thanks for sticking around.

The Year in Memes — Select All goes deep with the internet’s own calendar
10×16 — artists reimagine the covers of their top 10 albums of the year
Gomix — like the power of Heroku with IFTTT’s remixing
The Outline — Joshua Topolsky’s new site makes some pretty bold design choices
B.S. Detector — browser add-on to denote unreliable news sources on Facebook
Bird Sounds — using machine learning to cluster and visualize audio (via)

Jenn Schiffer and Lucy Bellwood at XOXO 2016

The talks at this year’s XOXO were really, really good. It’s hard for me to stop myself from writing about every one as they’re released.

But there were two in particular that I wanted to mention, from two of my favorite people in the world.

The first is from Jenn Schiffer—the coder/artist behind Make 8-Bit Art, Vart Institute, and other internet weirdness. At XOXO, I asked her to talk about her hilarious tech satire on Medium and the reaction to it.

It’s very funny, but also an insightful case study of the humorlessness and self-seriousness of the tech industry, and how many men react when trolled by a woman online.

The second is from cartoonist Lucy Bellwood, in a brave and vulnerable discussion of money and the costs of perceived success online. This talk left many in the audience in tears, earning her a standing ovation.

If you enjoy these talks, pass them on! We don’t make money from any of these videos, and because the festival is perpetually sold out, they have little marketing value for us. They take a lot of time and money for us to produce, edit, and caption, but we think they’re all worth preserving.

If you like, you can subscribe on YouTube and click the little bell icon to get notified when they’re released, or follow @xoxo on Twitter.

Datalegreya — OpenType font that mingles charts with text