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Archive for December, 2011

Góogle is not Google

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Back in July, I learned about IDN homograph attacks. I decided to check if two of the most visited websites in the world, Google and Facebook, were available in slightly different spellings (gó and fá To my surprise, both domains were available. So I purchased them, and set them to redirect to my Google+ and Facebook profile.

Almost six months later, I got an email from the Google Trademark Team asking to transfer gó to Google (they also offered to   refund the cost of the domain up to $100, which seemed totally reasonable). I told them I was happy to give it back to them, but I also explained that the goal of the website was educational. I even changed the redirect I had to a page stating the goal more explicitly along with the Wikipedia definition for homograph attack.

Their response was surprisingly nice. They let me keep the domain as long as I continue to use it for educational purposes. So kudos to the Google Trademark Team!

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Obscurity, Miscellaneous and the Internet’s Testosterone

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Recently, the influential, yet obscure,‘s forums were a bit on the spotlight after some of its members discovered a security hole in Facebook.

Influence through Obscurity.

I find it interesting that, despite their influential role, a number of online communities, such as 4chan and the bodybuilding forums, remain somewhat obscure. I believe 4chan did not gain a lot of mainstream media attention until the whole Anonymous-Wikileaks scandal, and even then, the number of even tech-savvy people who confuse 4chan with FORTRAN is not negligible. Perhaps, as someone during ROFLCON mentioned, these communities are insular and newbie-adverse on purpose as  a way to maintain their underground status.  They rely heavily on in-jokes and secret handshakes that take a lot of lurking to decode.

All  Forums Tend to Miscellaneous 

The bodybuilding forums, like 4chan and others, grew a large and active sub-community out of their “Miscellaneous” section. Even on the Scratch Online Community, a wholesome website primarily for kids to share their own video games and animations, the  “Miscellaneous” discussion’s forum has been the most active and rowdy social space of the website. But has also served as some sort  of public square for the community that I think is something that most online communities need to maintain authenticity at the expense of rowdiness.

Internet’s Testosterone

Some people have noted the similarities between 4chan and the bodybuilding forums. In particular, between /b/ and the bodybuilding’s Misc forum. The platforms are significantly different, uses pseudonyms and has archives while 4chan  is completely anonymous and ephemeral. Despite those differences, different events have shed light at the possibility that both communities have a  decent amount of overlap.

I think part of it is the population they attract. The population of a website focused on bodybuilding is somewhat easy to stereotype: young males with a lot of testosterone. /b/ is a bit harder, but based on the content, it seems like testosterone is a common denominator as well. It is interesting, and perhaps obvious, that when you bring a bunch of young males together, similar kind of content tends to emerge.


Despite the wide adoption of  the Internet by a large percentage population, it seems like gender-based clustering continues to exist. I wonder then, what would be the opposite of 4chan and the bodybuilding forums? Is Internet culture disproportionately influenced by male-centric online spaces?  What female online spaces have the most influence? Is the Internet always going to be about Justin Bieber vs “bros“?

Beyond Emoticons: The Emergence of a New Networked Language?

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Emoticons (by stuartpilbrow on Flickr)

Emotions are difficult to express regardless of the medium. Emoticons emerged as a way to augment text-based communication with symbols representing different types of emotions. More specifically, small illustrations, such as smiley faces, represent emotions. Emoticons’ popularity turned them into built-in features in many Instant Messaging and e-mail applications, from Skype, to Google Talk, to Pidgin, to Outlook. Emoticons are not unique to computer-mediated communication, though. According to  the SMS Language Quick Reference, “The National Telegraphic Review  and Operators Guide in April 1857 documented the use of the number 73  in More code to express ‘love and kisses’.”

Years later, a new iteration of these iconic illustrations has emerged from Internet culture: rage comics.

Rage comics are neither just about rage nor only about comics. They are an irreverent language composed of dozens of crudely-drawn rage faces that represent a wide span of  human emotions from very specific situations of everyday life. For example, one of the faces called rageguy represents the deep frustration and anger over an unfortunate situation out of one’s control; another called foreveralone, articulates a profound sense of chronic loneliness;  trollface, on the other hand, conveys the quiet enjoyment derived from annoying someone else;  the okayguy face expresses the discomfort of feeling pressured to agree in order to avoid a confrontation; megusta communicates the guilty pleasure over an otherwise distasteful thing.

This language is used by thousands of people every day to create comics and share them on online discussion forums such as reddit and other websites. Some of the subreddits  include the flagship fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu (also referred to as f7u12), classicrage for “old-school rage purists”,  EFLComics for people using rage comics as a way to learn English, oooooooyyyyyyyyyyyy for “Jewish rage”, exmormonfffuuuu for “Mormon rage,” trollxchromosomes for women, and a site devoted to “Indian Rage”.

People often use web-based rage comic generators like Dan Awesome’s rage maker, browser extensions, or the iOS app to create, share and browse through rage comics. In some cases, people even summon rage faces by just typing a related file name as part of a  comment. For example, someone could type something like “Today it’s my birthday and no one has congratulated me foreveralone.jpg.”

Like many other artifacts from Internet culture, rage comics started on the (in)famous 4chan. However, it took off on reddit where new faces were added quickly through increased use. The language continues to evolve at a quick pace,  and new faces are added all the time through an organic process that relies on people’s remixing practices. For example, people sometimes link to  a new rage face while having an online discussion or creating their own rage comics. Others like it and reuse in a different context by reusing it. Nowadays, there is even a subreddit for sharing new faces. Some of the faces come from expressive photos of famous people, including  President Obama‘s “not bad” face and basketball player Yao Ming‘s “f**k that” face.

As an aside, the gender and racial politics of rage comics are rich aspects of this phenomena that deserve further analysis. For now it might be important to note that the first female face seems to have come out three years after the first rage face, and that most female faces are represented by simply the addition of a hair bow and/or long hair to the default rage faces.

At first glance, it might seem that rage comics are just a new form of emoticons. But I think they are significantly different. Emoticons are symbolic replacements for words or facial expressions, while rage faces become pictoral conversations that convey complex situational emotions and feelings. They are richer in meaning. Rage faces are a language with a rich lexicon that is co-produced and enriched through continuous networked interactions.They cross traditional national and cultural boundaries because it represents a language of the global network culture. Rage comics are co-created through large-scale conversations and the sharing of personal stories taking place in public forums. I tihink they epitomize what Manuel Castells would call a “communication protocol” of the “global network society”.