Anonymous Project Update

This post was written as part of a course called Introduction to Civic Media.

I feel odd writing too many separate posts in one day. My solution is a merger: the post on Anonymous and Hacktivism is going to buy out my project update. The terms of the buyout haven’t been made public but money has already exchanged hands between the 1% so there is no going back.

Part 1: Anonymous

My stalking of Anonymous and 4chan has always been an equal blend of scientific, hilarious, and disturbing. I pay just enough attention to know what’s going on, but not enough to actually be part of the community. Life is a lot better when you don’t visit 4chan. Of course, I can’t help the fact that the entire culture is absolutely fascinating.

Not to be hipster or anything, but I wrote about Anonymous before it was cool in the age of protesting Scientology. If you are curious about how anon functions as a hive mind then I highly suggest clicking that link, not to read the article but to read the comments.

This one, in particular, summarizes a significant portion of the Anonymous mentality: “one thing you may not understand about us, is our drive. We all crave one thing, the lulz. That which produces the highest amount of said lulz will be where our efforts go into. Any real anon will fight for the death for the lulz and the creation of more lulz. We are a hive minded organization that can be described as chaotic neutral. In lulz we trust.”

Looking back at this (and spending 20 minutes on 4chan along with the rest of the class last week) reminded me that all of the mainstream coverage of Anonymous often misses this aspect of the core personality. If Anonymous were a Shakespearian character it would be Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Think that everyone at 4chan would be mad at pepper spray cop? Absolutely not, his actions upset lots of people – a very potent form of lulz indeed.

I need to be more careful, of course, when trying to describe something as complicated as Anonymous. It isn’t an organization, it is a collective, which means trying to pin down a single motivation is a fruitless effort. To be sure there are more things that drive the group than laughs. Freedom of information, for instance (which is part of what set off the initial rebellion against Scientology — taking down that tom cruise video was both an attack on lulz AND an attack on information freedom).

Anon aside, last week’s readings opened up my eyes to the much longer history of digital disruption. Who knew that people used digital tools to cause collective trouble before 4chan? Not me, that’s for sure.

Part 2: Page One Remix

As for my project (a system designed to make it easy to re-mix and share the front page of the new york times), I have a few updates. I’ve forked, cloned, diced, and spliced Hackasaurus – a tool that is designed to help non-techies better understand how web pages work by making it easy to modify the code under the hood on the fly. They even have a built in sharing mechanism!

So far I have focused on changing the interface and interaction side of things. I made modifications to put less emphasis on “learning HTML” and more emphasis on remixing. This meant stripping talk of HTML tags, simplifying interactions where possible, and making it a bit easier to trigger the editing window (on the original tool you had to hover over an element and type “r.” On my tool clicking the element will do the trick).

The next step is to match some of the styling of the New York Times. Once that is done I’ll set up my own version of the sharing and boom! Tool complete and anyone can create their own news!

Once the technical side is complete (which will happen over the next few days) I’ll get crackalackin’ on the associated write-up. Here is the world premiere of the planned sections:

  • Tool Introduction (Explaining the concept)
  • Previous Remix Cultures (YTMND, 4Chan)
  • Previous News Remixes (Yes Men, Others?)
  • Page One Remix Overview (Description of the tool and how it works)
  • Plans and Future Work (What I hope the tool will enable and how to add to it)

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