I sometimes suspect that we’re seeing something in the Internet as significant as the birth of cities. It’s something that profound and with that sort of infinite possibilities. It’s really something new; it’s a new kind of civilization.
— William Gibson, 1995
who the fuck is scraeming “LOG OFF” at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never log off
— @dril, 2012
I. Early Days
1999 was a bad time to be in the website business. The dot-com bust was hurtling toward the internet with the speed and certitude of the Chicxulub asteroid. Five trillion dollars were about to evaporate, caught in a constellation of collapsing venture capital-backed stars like Pets.com—Amazon if Amazon only sold cat food—and Broadcast.com, which was just radio on the internet. It was, therefore, a good time to be a cynic. “The internet makes you stupid” has been the motto of SomethingAwful.com since Richard Kyanka, 40, registered the domain in 1999.
At first, Something Awful was what we would think of as a blog, though that term wouldn’t enter common parlance for a while, yet. It was a goulash of parodies of Silicon Valley groupthink and internet dumpster diving. What set Kyanka’s site apart was its cynicism—about everything, but particularly about the role the internet would play in a changing society. He was, from the start, a prophet of doom.
Kyanka’s dark, esoteric humor proved popular among a certain set—typically young, typically male, often though not always left-leaning. Experienced travelers in the internet’s darker corners. It was the best of its day: independent, original, and fiercely creative. It was also the worst: insular, exclusionary and, at times, vicious.
This is the story of Something Awful, as told by the people who made it what it was.
Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka, founder of Something Awful (@lowtax): I dropped out of school my junior year because I hated engineering and took a job being a systems administrator for the Vanderbilt Vision and Research Center. In my free time I would play a lot of Quake 2 and write about Quake 2. Around ’98, GameSpy said, “Do you want to run PlanetQuake?” So I said, “Yeah, OK,” and moved to Orange County. I got paid $24,000 a year to write about Quake 2.
Kevin “Fragmaster” Bowen, longtime SA administrator and moderator: Rich and I met back in 1998 or so, at least in real life. Back then, the gaming community was pretty different. It was a very small collection of hardcore nerds. It’s not like now, where everybody has an Xbox and plays online.
You had to be pretty nerdy. It was pretty difficult to play games online and it was all PC-only. Something Awful kind of spawned out of the Quake community. For whatever reason, PlanetQuake, even though it was about Quake, which was just a standard first-person shooter where you kill demons or whatever, had a huge element of goofing off. We both wrote a feature called Mailbag, which was like an old-school newspaper advice column. People would write emails and me or Richard would respond with something funny.
“This, of course, was back when fucking anime pillows was fresh and new.”
Kyanka: Then I got fired because I made fun of my boss’s niece, who he put in charge as a manager for some reason. I told her I had to spend more time editing her articles than writing my own.
Bowen: After he got fired from GameSpy, his desire to keep writing articles didn’t go away, but now he was free of having to be Quake-specific or having to specifically focus on gaming. He could pretty much write about everything.
Kyanka: “Something Awful” was a catchphrase that I used to use. As in, “Wow, that Del Taco burrito sure is something awful.” One day I said, “I should really register that as a website.” My friend said, “What are you going to put there?” I said, “I don’t know, I just really want to register it. So I did, and I moved my original site I had on Tripod.com since back in 1996 called RK Central and put the stuff on [SA], which included my old ICQ pranks and things like that.
Bowen: What I remember about early SA, I remember most of it being Rich just sitting there in his apartment writing every day. I don’t think the site was really big back then. It wasn’t in the start, but for a good, long period of time, it was just Rich writing every day. He had very little help, especially in the beginning.
Kyanka: I would wake up and instead of going back to sleep like a normal person I would start writing. Most of the time it would be dumb, but it would be stuff that entertained me. That’s all I really cared about. Parody, satire, stuff about…I don’t want to say current events, but crappy internet things. I would find a page on horrible, scary dolls and I would review the dolls. Parodies of wonks who were saying the internet was the future without saying, ‘Well there could be a possible downside to the internet.’ I’m obviously not a visionary, but I predicted that the internet would be shitty back in 1999. Everybody was talking about how the internet was going to revolutionize everything and everything was going to be great, but nobody ever talked about how shitty the internet could also be.
A long time ago, if somebody said they really wanted to fuck a pillow with anime on it, if they went out in public and said that, they would be laughed at. There would be some element of shame. They would keep that inside and say, ‘Well, I want to fuck a pillow with anime on it but I can’t tell anybody.’ But then the internet came along and they could get on a webring or whatever it was back in the day. Go to rec/all/fuckanimepillow or whatever. Then other people would say ‘I want to fuck anime pillows, too.’ You had this community of people who were very intent on fucking anime pillows. The typical person does not want to fuck a pillow with anime on it. This, of course, was back when fucking anime pillows was fresh and new.
I found it to be very interesting that these subcommunities would sprout up and their numbers would grow and pretty soon it’s Pillowfuckers United, Inc. And I found that whole process back then—it was even happening in the usegroup days—I found that whole process incredibly interesting, how the groupthink would manifest itself and increase exponentially over time. It was something that all the media outlets were ignoring at the time.
“It was before social networking. It was before Twitter, before Facebook, before Reddit. It was kind of unique.”
“Dr.” David Thorpe, former SA admin and music critic (@arr): Early on it was pretty much Rich writing the site. It was his personal vehicle for writing humor stuff. Humor focused on internet culture, video game stuff. He had the Jeff K character, who was a parody of a really shitty teenager who was just getting on the internet for the first time, being really adamant about all of his shitty opinions. I think there were a lot things that people who were pretty heavy internet users at the time responded pretty heavily to.
Kyanka: People would submit work to me and my whole criteria was if it made me laugh I would let them be a writer. I have never run Something Awful like…what is that stupid-ass site? BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed is essentially McDonald’s. They’re giving people a cheap and easy way to just go there and see the 12—Wait, I’m sorry, it has to be an odd number, usually—the 13 wackiest kittens or the 15 top epic lul fails that you’ve gotta see to believe or whatever like that. People want to see that. They’re just giving people what they want, and I’ve never been interested in that. I’ve been interested in giving people what I want, basically, because I feel like I don’t understand a large portion, like 99 percent of people, and so the only thing that I can do is be true to myself and give what I feel is funny
Josh “Livestock” Boruff, former SA admin and writer (@livestock): Initially it didn’t click with me. I found it weird and didn’t really understand the humor, but I kept going back for some reason and eventually I found some articles Rich had written that I liked and really connected with me. I spent a year obsessively posting whatever came to my mind and trying to be funny before they eventually offered me a job and I stuck with it for 15 years.
Jon “Docevil” Hendren, former SA admin, moderator and writer (@fart): I kind of fell ass-backwards into the writing gig. I dropped out my sophomore year, got my GED. I got really good scores on my GED, so I’m not a dumb guy, I just hate structure. I lived in a little town called Los Banos, which is actually “the bathroom” in English if you translate it. It’s one of those towns on I-5. If you’re on your way to LA you pass it. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere so there wasn’t really anything for me to do work wise unless I wanted to do fast food or Walmart. Probably the greatest asset as far as writing gigs go was the only real rule was write about whatever you want, do whatever you want, you’re not fired as long as it’s funny. So I ended up writing about 70 of these “Roamin’ Dad” articles because they were easy and I thought they were pretty funny. There were actually a lot of bad ones but I didn’t get fired.
Bowen: A lot of stuff spawned out of SA. Rich and I would make videos. I guess Doom House is the most visible one. I had my own site where I did my own flash animations under Fireman Comics. And I would do a lot of voices and write some of the flash stuff. And we briefly had a DVD business where we would sell DVDs of our movies and other people’s movies. But there were viably only like three or four movies that sold with any volume.
Thorpe: There’s a lot of funny people who orbited around Something Awful. Some of them were writers on the front page, some of them emerged from the forum community and were hilarious there and continued to be hilarious elsewhere. A lot of people follow @dril on Twitter, and he was just a guy who was posting funny stuff on there, he wasn’t a front page writer. And then Jon Hendren is a really good friend of mine and a really good dude and he was an excellent front page writer but he was just as much a personality in the community.
Boruff: It was before social networking. It was before Twitter, before Facebook, before Reddit. It was kind of unique. All the other forums that existed at the time…there was nothing all that like it. There were things that were kind of similar, but it was kind of unique in its reach and its style.
II. The Forums
Before Reddit, 4chan, Facebook, and Twitter came along and bled off most of their users, web forums were the primary place people went to talk about things online. Rich says he never kept track of analytics, but he claims that, at its peak, SA was the web’s largest paid forum, if not its largest, period. Today, the site boasts 197,068 registered users. They call themselves Goons.
For about five years, from around 2000 to the middle of the aughts, Goons operated the engine that made internet culture go. If you saw something funny online during that time, the odds are good that it bubbled up through the cauldron of the Something Awful forums before erupting onto the wider web. Anything-goes hellzone 4chan, Slenderman, Let’s Plays and an uncountable number of memes and other web ephemera can all trace their ancestry to the SA forums. Some even argue that Something Awful has left an indelible mark on internet culture.
Thorpe: One of the interesting things about Something Awful is that it was this comedy website that had sort of internet focused humor for the first couple of years that I think drew a lot of people in and then had a forum community—not as an afterthought, but it wasn’t the main focus of the site initially. Eventually it got to the point where the forum community was outrageously popular by the standards of the day and it was the draw, rather than the humor website that it sprung from.
Kyanka: We’ve got the largest active paid community on the internet and that all started as an offshoot of the front page. It was a few hundred people at first. I never thought that that many people would be interested in actually talking about my site, because I just thought it was me writing stupid-ass, random, insignificant shit, but a lot of people did sign up.
Bowen: I think probably the porn forums, when they existed, did help. Those were eliminated pretty early on, but that was probably the source of a good chunk of users. But more significantly probably were the Photoshop threads. Threads where people would start Photoshopping and trying to outdo each other, what are now called Photoshop Battles. Back in the early 2000s this was a more novel thing and Something Awful had some really talented people at it.
Boruff: Rich was more more hands-on at the time and I think he was doing a pretty good job of fostering a sort of weirdo spirit there. It’s hard to define, but he was good at cultivating a sense of chaos, and getting the right people there and antagonizing the wrong people and getting them to explode and then running them off. It was just sort of a weird, chaotic, and interesting place. It was kind of just a weird mishmash of goofy outcasts from the internet that all came together and created something unique and different that was, as far as I’d seen, something unlike anything else on the internet at that time.
Hendren: One thing that’s different in a lot of ways from a lot of communities is Something Awful is very much a dictatorship. You had your main guy and then you had a couple lower main guys and you had five or 10 administrators under that and everybody followed everybody else up to the top.
Boruff: If someone was just a terrible, incoherent writer they would get run out. If someone was a racist or an idiot they’d get run out. There was never any desire to coddle people or hope they’d improve. You had to perform at a certain level or you were banned. Or, as a more amusing punishment, you’d be quarantined to a really bad forum with all the other idiots. There was a lot of that sort of thing and I think it helped improve the quality, but I think at a certain point when you had so many rules it also became kind of restrictive. You started to lose a lot of the spontaneity and randomness that made it interesting in the first place.
“He said he was going to kill himself if he wasn’t made a moderator. But I know for a fact because he didn’t kill himself because he tried to register another account after that.”
Kyanka: I find Twitter’s situation to be of their own making. They never concretely set out a set of rules. When I first started the forums, I wrote four pages of rules and a catch-all at the end: If there’s something else we don’t like, we’re going to ban you. We have every right to ban you and that’s it. With Twitter, they never defined anything. They never said what’s allowed, what isn’t allowed, what will happen. They just kind of floated around. If something got really out of hand they would get rid of it, but since they had no concrete rules, they had no active moderation, people didn’t know what was or what wasn’t allowed. They dug their own grave and now they’re way too far into it to dig out.
Hendren: Whereas on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr if you have a problem with something you shoot it off into the void via a form and you don’t know who’s going to answer it. Probably some entry-level kid. And there’s no guarantee that anything’s gonna happen even if you complain a lot. Something Awful was a little more personal, but I think it adds a lot more stress on the people at the top because if it’s 100 people on a forum it’s not a big deal, but if it’s 100,000 people then it’s like, “Oh, jeez, I’m managing a small city here and they’re all whiny babies.”
Boruff: It was an insane amount of work. You’re trying to do your best to make the place better and you’re getting shit on constantly. There’s just no way to win, so you just do your best to enforce the rules that everyone agreed on and hope that some lunatic who got banned doesn’t try to post your address, which has happened to most of them.
Bowen: Around 2005, 2006 is when I moved to Missouri to work on Something Awful full time. I primarily ran the business, the advertising, but then I ended up running the forums as well. We primarily worked out of [Kyanka’s] office, which was just a room in his basement. It was one of the strangest jobs I ever had. It was kind of stressful because I took it seriously, which maybe I shouldn’t have. I tried to be fair and consistent, but that’s hard to do and you can’t treat Something Awful like it’s customer service at an insurance company or something. You have to be mindful of the dynamics of the community. Everyone’s just there goofing off and trolling. You can’t be too serious about it, but I probably leaned toward being too serious about it.
Boruff: There were times when things got a little bit dark. There was this time this guy came on the forums, he was weird and not very well-spoken. He was posting these things about where can you buy ammo in this area that he lived in, saying that he needed to protect his Halloween pumpkins from hoodlums or something. He got run off the forums for just being kind of a weird idiot. Then about two weeks later there was a news article about how he went out and killed a mentally handicapped woman and her father and he was just completely insane and he was wearing a cape and a paintball mask at the time. So there’s stuff like that where you just go, “Oh.” And it takes it from weird and funny to just fucked up.
Hendren: As time went on and as the same core group of administrators were dealing with the same kinds of drama, just with different people over and over, it got tiring. If you start dealing with it in different ways, then the community notices. “Oh, you dealt with this guy one way and you dealt with this guy a different way, this is fucked up, I hate the admins.” It’s high school, it’s terrible. I think that contributed to the fatigue that a lot of people, both administrators and users, started to get.
Bowen: After I ran the forums for a year, I think I put myself on probation so I couldn’t read them for at least a week or maybe a month. And then I made a conscious effort not to get involved with it. There are plenty of people that just read the forums casually but there’s also a bunch of people for whom it’s a significant part of their lives and they’re deeply involved in everything going on. Once you go too far down that rabbit hole I think at some point you need to step back because it’s not real life and even if you do know the people in real life it doesn’t really change the fact that you’re getting emotionally invested in internet forum posts, 40 percent of which are just trolls.
Kyanka: It was more of a close-knit community, a modest community, still in its youthful phase. There were regulars, everyone knew each other. Then around 2005 it started getting really popular. Unfortunately, popularity is a double-edged sword. You lose a sense of community, but you get an influx of members. Back in 2002, I believe, we banned a user named Tasty Armageddon, and he would come back under a new name, so we would ban his email address, then he’d get a throwaway email address and register a new account, we would ban that, then we’d ban him by IP and then he’d go through proxies and it would just keep on going, over and over. He registered 49 accounts in one day. And I said, “This is unhealthy, you need to get off these forums.” He said he was going to kill himself if he wasn’t made a moderator. But I know for a fact because he didn’t kill himself because he tried to register another account after that.
Bowen: When you get a collection of young, nerdy, socially awkward people together and they’re emotionally invested into a website you’re going to have those types of problems.
Kyanka: So I said to myself, “OK, what’s a way we can get rid of idiots like this? Because I don’t want to sit here babysitting the forums nonstop.” So I said, “If you want an account, PayPal me ten bucks and I’ll register you an account.” And he immediately went away and those issues immediately went away.
Bowen: When [Rich] started charging for forums accounts registrations, he wasn’t doing that to make money. He was doing that because he was sick of banning people from the forums and then having them just come back immediately with a new account.
Hendren: When Rich put the paywall in effect, it kept idiots out to an enormous degree. It was probably the smartest decision he ever made in regards to the website. You have to put in a little investment if you want to participate and if you’re a real shithead you’re going to end up paying Rich like $150 because you keep buying accounts, which is good for the site and it’s also kind of funny to watch really, really bad people shell out a lot of money.
Bowen: Goon meets—that was a part of it, too. I went to a lot of those when I lived in southern California. A bunch of nerds standing around in a circle talking. But there was also Goon Camp where people would go out into the woods and camp and do God knows what. Probably mostly drugs.
Kyanka: We started being able to cover the bills in 2002, 2003, I would say, even though back then bandwidth was very expensive. Our bandwidth was around $4,000 a month. Things were going really well. I was loaded when it was peaking. It was great. I thought that the ride would go on forever. But obviously things changed and I was not able to predict the future and how things would change. And that’s why now I rent my house instead of owning.
III. Fuck You and Die
You cannot understand Something Awful, and the impact it had on internet culture, without understanding FYAD. And it’s hard to understand FYAD unless you were there.
Short for “Fuck You And Die,” FYAD began its life as Something Awful’s subforum dedicated to flame wars and posting gross pictures. For whatever reason, it attracted a group of posters with a unique sense of humor, a mix of high and low culture, simultaneously crass and sophisticated.
The Awl has called it an “internet terror cell,” while BuzzFeed said it’s “the internet’s last great troll lair.” There’s truth to both of these descriptions, but not the whole truth. FYAD defies easy classification. It was Something Awful’s most exclusive community and its most detested. It was, at times, impossible to tell if its users were really racists and sexists, or were simply inhabiting racist, sexist personae to make political points. Did everyone really love anime, or was that just another level of brain-melting irony? It was, and remains, tough to say.
But it’s fair to say that FYAD, whatever it was, was the animating spirit of Something Awful. The site, and the internet, just couldn’t have been the same without it.
Kyanka: [FYAD] originally started to keep people in GBS [General Bullshit, Something Awful’s general interest subforum, and its largest] from insulting each other. We said, “If you want to insult this guy, go to FYAD.”
Hendren: I just call it the pink forum and I try not to talk about it in person too much. There were two separate subforums at the time, one for flamewars and one for gross pictures. Then they merged the two because it turned out the people who were having flamewars kind of sucked at it and gross pictures came into the equation during a flamewar anyway. It became less about serious flamewars and more about fucking posting whatever you want. And that’s kind of how it came to be.
Thorpe: Nowadays, harassment, death threats, sincere racism, things like that are prevalent everywhere on the internet. FYAD, for all its dark horrible humor, was actually very liberal for the most part, which gets lost in translation. People assume it was like 4chan or something, but that was not the vibe at all.
Kyanka: New people would come in and get hazed, but then it developed its own sense of humor, where instead of just being about flamewars it became about inside jokes.
Boruff: It was so weird and caustic that most people were intimidated by it or baffled by it or confused by it. Every day there would be some person who’d wander in and think they understood it and get torn to pieces.
“It became so insular that nobody else could really enter it. When it became about the memes, and that’s essentially what they were, that’s when I left and gave up.”
Hendren: People saw it kind of as an exclusive place. One of the reasons for that was Rich implemented certain hacks, or I guess he changed the code himself to the forums that would allow us to banish people just from the pink forum. So if somebody was trying really, really hard to be funny and just falling flat on their face we would basically kick them out. If somebody was really not funny we would just get rid of them. Like Andy Milonakis. We just booted him. Before he was famous, he tried really, really hard to be funny in there and we just weren’t having it. There was kind of an air of exclusivity about it. It wasn’t impossible to get over that hurdle, but it did deter a lot and it kept the quality high, I think, for a number of years.
Boruff: The thing about FYAD was everybody would try to describe the style of humor and everyone would sound like an idiot when they did. Because it was, ultimately, just being subversive. There’s a lot of contrarianism, there’s a lot of trying to antagonize each other. It was a little bit of being crude, being shocking, things like that. But it was never any one thing. It was always kind of a combination of things. A combination of trying to be weird, unpredictable. Never too smart, but never too stupid. It was just a strange and weird place that’s really hard to pin down.
Kyanka: If you look at—I hate using this term—”Weird Twitter,” the kind of humor on there was what FYAD was back in the heyday. It’s the same sense of humor.
Thorpe: If you want the detailed history lesson, it’s very complicated and very internet. There was a phenomenon called “fakeposting.” People still use that term but to mean something entirely different. But it used to mean something very specific in FYAD, which was specifically pretending to be kind of an illiterate, really serious teenager, and just occupying that persona in your posts. It’s so hard to explain in a way that makes sense. That style of humor eventually grew into Weird Twitter as we know it.
Bowen: I think you can pretty clearly trace back the whole standard meme captioning thing, with white impact font, back to SA, which is a pretty big thing now, right? There’s entire companies dedicated to memes and I Can Haz Cheezeburger and all that crap. And it’s pretty clear that started with SA back in ’99.
Thorpe: It’s like pee in a swimming pool, you can’t grab any part of it, but a lot of the attitude filtered out into Twitter and elsewhere, and even into the mainstream blogging world because some of the people from there became writers, or frequently quoted in various media or people in media became fans of them. It’s really weird seeing attitudes and patterns of speech that originated there filtering out into the greater blog world.
Kyanka: It became so insular that nobody else could really enter it. When it became about the memes, and that’s essentially what they were, that’s when I left and gave up.
By the tail-end of the first decade of the new millennium, web forums had lost their spot as the internet’s water coolers. Sites like Reddit and 4chan and services like Facebook and Twitter had, for various reasons, largely bled away their users. Something Awful was not exempt. While not quite a ghost town, the forums are populated by a fraction of the Goons they once were.
Some see the decline of Something Awful is an inevitable consequence of the changing topography of the internet. Others point to specific decisions by Kyanka and others as causes of the site’s much-diminished user base.
Rich blames the culture wars. To hear him tell it, SA was something like the internet’s Switzerland. On SA, you could make fun of anybody without declaring allegiance to anybody else. But as the culture wars cut a swathe across the internet, not declaring for a side wasn’t an option anymore, he said.
Kyanka: Back in the early 2000s, in the game industry there wasn’t this hatred for things like there is now. We could make jokes about things. I would make jokes about Cliffy B, I would make jokes about John Carmack and various other game developers and things like that but you knew they were just jokes. Now people seem to confuse jokes with personal attacks and it just seems like the hostility is ramping up and there seems to be no stop to it. People are just getting meaner and meaner and meaner and there’s no jokes involved, it’s just hatred.
Thorpe: FYAD was certainly known as a mean place, but it was not mean on the level of the meanness you see nowadays. People would definitely make fun of each other and insult each other but it was not a thing where you were calling the SWAT team to people’s houses or posting people’s addresses online and getting them messed with or calling their jobs and getting them fired. None of that kind of stuff. If that kind of stuff happened there it was pretty stupid and horrible and nobody was down with it.
Kyanka: There was more civil discourse because you had to basically have a certain level of intelligence to be on [the web]. People respected people more, and it just seems like the easier it is for people to get on, the less rational and civil discourse there is. I think it’s great for everybody to communicate and I definitely think that people should be able to communicate and say what they want to say but the flip side of the coin is that a lot of people have really, really weird and stupid opinions, myself included.
Hendren: I think this has to actually do with smart phones in a big way, funnily enough. The old iPhones and piece of shit Android phones couldn’t really render the forums properly. It was very slow. So people with jobs tended to leave for things like Twitter that were more mobile-friendly, kind of leaving the weird people who actually believe in sexism and racism at their computers at home. Those who stuck around kind of maybe didn’t get the irony of it or something. I don’t know.
Kyanka: I stepped away from the forums in 2005. I was getting death threats. I’ve had people say they’re going to rape my seven-year-old daughter and throw her off of a bridge. I’m used to people saying that they’re going to kill me because I run a comedy website. I said, “Fine, I wash my hands of this, I’m just going to concentrate on family and things like that.” I just got so sick of it that I pretty much stopped writing and I got into a depression funk that I’m still in. I’m not exactly sure what you call a writer who doesn’t write for a decade.
Thorpe: Reddit and Twitter probably eroded the Something Awful core base, and even maybe things like 4chan, which was an offshoot of Something Awful originally. I shouldn’t say an offshoot, but a guy* who was an active Something Awful dude started it. That’s why it’s not as big as it was. Detailed rules, and we (somewhat ironically) discouraged memes. 4chan was anonymous, basically unmoderated, and thrived on memes.
[*Christopher Poole, AKA moot, created 4chan in 2003 after posting on Something Awful.]
Kyanka: I think memes are just the laziest of things. It’s like, “If somebody else says something funny, if I repeat the funny thing, then I’ll be funny.” But that’s not really how it works. If somebody just posted a meme or a catchphrase they would be banned, because we wanted people to actually contribute things instead of just parroting things other people said.
Thorpe: [4chan’s] original population was also at least partially defined by the sorts of people that got kicked off SA. 4chan and ytmnd.com both trace back to SA. I Can Haz Cheezburger or whatever it is called started by leeching onto SA memes and now has grown into something else.
“All I can do is just try to keep the forums running and the people there happy because that’s my biggest priority right now. It’s kind of a reclamation project for me.”
Kyanka: I don’t really necessarily believe it was Reddit. I think it’s a combination of things, and I haven’t really kept up with the current trends. I don’t have an official app, we’re still working on the mobile version, stuff like that. If you look at any given Reddit post it’s junk. I’ve got nothing against Reddit, I don’t think Reddit has cut into my business model at all, but Reddit is just shit floating to the top. We’re trying to keep the Redditors out. With Reddit, there’s no barrier to entry. Anybody can create a Reddit account, anybody could, up until a few years ago when we shut down their child porn forums, anybody could post child porn there, until we started a crusade to get those shut down.
Boruff: I think ultimately it was just that a lot of the early people were leaving. They had moved on with their lives. You get a new crowd in, and they have different tastes, different interests. And in some ways we thought the people that were there then weren’t as good as the ones we had before, but also it was probably the case that we were kind of burned out and were mad it wasn’t the same as it had been.
Thorpe: There were definitely more humor sites on the internet as time went on. Humor got a lot more meme focused as time went on, which Something Awful was always really, really against. You would get banned if you did any meme shit, and certainly on the front page nobody would dare do any of that shit, like LOLCats was popular for 10 minutes. It never capitalized on any of that stuff, which it probably could have and made a ton of money. But as soon as something became recognizable as a meme, it was forbidden. Anyone who’s from there is probably going to have an aversion to any kind of internet meme or catchphrase forever, probably, because it was such a huge part of the culture. Everybody considered that the death of all humor and original thought.
Hendren: As most of us moved to Twitter or whatever we kind of brought the community with us. It wasn’t that Something Awful was bad, it was just easier for us to congregate here instead of there. We’d already established who was funny and who wasn’t and we still know that to a pretty good degree. Most of us still follow each other and still talk to each other on Twitter. I’m in a group DM with most of the same guys I’ve been talking to for the past 12 years now. The community isn’t dead, it was just moved, mostly.
Boruff: On Twitter, it’s much easier to share an idiotic thought or whatever joke comes to your mind than an internet forum. The social aspects can be achieved through Facebook. And Reddit’s more popular. I think they certainly took users away, but I think Something Awful would have declined on its own, anyway.
Thorpe: It was pretty gradual and for a bunch of reasons. When you have a day job it becomes harder to mess around on a pink internet forum where people are posting horrible pictures occasionally without warning. I think that’s why a lot of people slowly went to places like Twitter that you could have open in a web browser at work. And you know just having more a life, more relationships and social obligations and stuff you don’t spend your nights on the internet anymore. I think people even gravitated toward other weird little places, I think people went to Digg and then Reddit, or they went to 4chan and then Twitter. There are just way, way, way more options in terms of socializing on the internet.
Thorpe: Another perspective is that it is still fairly popular as a community by the standards of the internet then but the use and cultural force of the internet now is so gigantic now that it’s sort of dwarfed by things like Twitter.
Boruff: Not that it’s dead or it can’t be saved or there’s no life still left in it, but it reached its peak.
Hendren: Cultures will change and subgenres of communities will come and go, that’s always going to happen. At some point people get a little tired of the old thing. Something Awful did grow a little long in the tooth.
Kyanka: You can’t reverse time and go back. You have to slowly indoctrinate the culture again and let people know that this is not just for shitposting, it’s a place for actual discussion. Everything on the internet is so liquid and you can barely keep up with stuff. All I can do is just try to keep the forums running and the people there happy because that’s my biggest priority right now. It’s kind of a reclamation project for me.
Of those I talked to for this article, only Kyanka still contributes to SA today. He’s recently vowed to return his attention to moderating the forums after a decade of absence. He’s hopeful his presence can return the site to its glory days. Thorpe lives in San Francisco and works for a mobile game developer. Hendren also lives in California, where he works for a cybersecurity firm. Bowen lives in New York and works in publishing. He and Kyanka still talk. Boruff, a copywriter by trade, recently wrote his last article for the site after 15 years.
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