The Situation Room



Help! It’s The Beatles with Pepper Man!

Help! It’s The Beatles with Pepper Man!


UC Davis Officer with Technoviking

UC Davis Officer with Technoviking


Horsemaning A Forced Meme? A day in the life of Meme Research

Kids these days.

Horsemanning is making the rounds, and it’s a creepy one. When authentically posed, one person hides their head and another person shows their head somewhere else. Over the last week, many people have been inspired by the idea, performing their own versions. It’s undoubtably caused joy and fun for many who have contributed. But.

When I first read about it on Buzzfeed, I was instantly drawn to the notion that the included photo, reportedly from the 1920’s, represented evidence of an antique meme. Here’s what Buzzfeed posted on August 8th:

“Horsmaning,” or fake beheading, was a popular way of taking pictures in the 1920s. It’s currently experiencing a revival and is basically the new planking. Here are some modern day adaptations of this popular new/old photo trend.”

The author was Matt Stopera, a senior editor at Buzzfeed and he doesn’t cite any sources. That should mean this is his scoop, right? Though usually considered wrong, it’s extremely common to propagate other people’s content w/o giving credit, so it’s necessary to remain vigilant and not jump to conclusions. Yet an easy search reveals there are absolutely no relevant mentions of Horsemaning or any recent photo “trends” of the like, prior to Buzzfeed’s post. I contacted Stopera to ask him where he got the photo, and how he knew it was a trend then and now but never got a response.


Look at the “original” photo more closely. What objects in the photo date it? Its a tricky one. I blew it up and tried to notice patterns. I’m not sure about the photo, I wouldn’t be surprised if it really was from the 1920’s but it looks more like the late 60’s or early 70’s to me. But how do we know? And where is other evidence this was a “craze” in the 1920s and that it was a craze again at the time Buzzfeed posted it?

I decided to email one of the amazing folks over at Buzzfeed, previously a KYM and Rocketboom writer and researcher, Mr. Chris Menning, but nary a peep? Hm! 

What could I do? I went right to the top: I emailed Jonah Peretti, one of THE masterminds behind Buzzfeed (and the person who first introduced me to the concept of memes back in 2002) and I asked him straight up, what’s up? Was this meme a lie?  But all that was returned was mysterious double entendres!?

Setting aside the authenticity of the photo, what about the claim that this was now a popular craze that everyone is doing? Where did Buzzfeed get all of these photos of people doing it?

I had a closer look at the other photos in the post. Something about the background scenery looked familiar – the late 1990’s spaceship landline phone, the primary red couch, the brick walls, the Soho lookin’ city streets – I was starting to wonder…perhaps these photos all came from within and around the Buzzfeed office. A quick search confirmed what I thought I had indeed remembered: Buzzfeed has the same exact model, primary red couch in their office!

I wadded through more citings – the meme was gaining. It seemed like EVRYONE was fixated on the ‘old meme’ story, reporting it as true without question. I must say, I usually don’t get scared when researching meme mechanics, but this was frightening! The web was starting to look like a horror movie, Zombies!

I finally arrived, to my surprise, at a post on this matter from Adren Chen of Gawker. Now, there is no need to read this post. In typical Gawker form, the writer picks up on the right angle but heads down the wrong direction. But with regards to Horsemaning, he did say this: "Three days ago Buzzfeed, the tireless meme-aggregator, decided to take a stab at creating a meme of its own.“ And also in typical Gawker form, this writer was pissed. Really pissed. I had to wonder, how does Gawker know for sure that Buzzfeed manufactured the story any way? Gawker seems angry they didn’t think of it first. But Chen did not give any proof as to how he knows Buzzfeed manufactured the meme, he just states it as a matter of fact. Maybe he’s willing to go out on a limb like me and conclude this is a forced meme, but he writes definitively, like journalists do when they state facts.

Buzzfeed’s response to Gawkers accusation? They didn’t deny it. But as you can see, it wasn’t pretty: In this return fire, it appears the staff was kicking and throwing poor Mr. Chen’s head around the Buzzfeed office. With smiles no less!


Meanwhile, I noticed there are several other layers of seriously sinister activity going on here which tends to be par for the course.

Note that Horsemanning.com, was created on the same day as Buzzfeed’s post and (1) appears to be unaffiliated with anyone or any company (i.e. anonymous), (2) was registered via a proxy business (i.e. anonymous) and (3) includes *a lot* of display advertising (i.e. money, money). But a quick look at the source code reveals the sloppiness that comes from ur typical rush-to-market job: A publisher ID for the site’s advertising account at Google was listed in the code and was thus easily cross referenced as the same publisher who generates ad sales from the website, Randomlyheard.com. Sure enough, whoever is behind this site is what I call a miniutemememan (or miniutememewoman depending on a number of factors) because within in minutes, they will mobilize, motivated by the hope of becoming THE hub of an up-and-coming meme. In this case, it appears Randomlyheard raced for horsemaning.com to stake a claim with some early SEO and cash-in but as you might of noticed, horsemaning.com was already taken so that may explain why the Randomlyheard is promoting the alternate horsemanning spelling (with two N’s) and also linking to the Horsemanning (with two N’s) Facebook page. Randomlyheard writes: ”There is much confusion with the name “Horsemaning” and “Horsemanning”, however the recent push is for “Horsemanning”. I am on the side of Horsemanning, with two N’s and NOT with Horsemaning.“ Where are all the confused people, I wondered? 

It appears yet another party, Popatato.com, won the facebook get with the horsemaning spelling. Also right on top of it, Popatato was so quick, the site’s own post on the topic has an earlier time stamp than Buzzfeeds (and without citing a source.) I contacted Popatato and they claimed that their post came after Buzzfeeds: Timezone discrepancy. Popatato’s quick turnaround regurgitatation is worth noting because Popatato appears to illustrate the same kind of motivation we see in Randomlyheard’s actions, in that they are both minutememepeople and, along with the Buzzfeed in this case, I believe, untrue. And it appears they all tried so hard to hide from their activity.

As you can imagine, these things happen every day. It’s formula industry. ‘Not sure why they feel they must hide and make things up. There are clever ways to spark the same fun and rewards while being sincere & transparent. Personally, I’m not inspired by forced memes. It’s too easy to come up with a good headline if you can lie about it. Its also a risk to you and especially the community of people you interact with as it breaks down trust. The next time I read a story from any of these sites, I’ll have no choice but wonder if they are making things up or engaged in nefarious activity, motivated ultimately by CPMs and CPCs.

With this meme, watch how it continues to spread even now. The Zombies will likely never understand they have been duped as they proudly confirm the antique quality and authenticity of the craze, further saturating the trails of truth, making meme research hard.

A few select Zombies, careful what you read:

From The Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2024940/Horsemaning-1920s-photography-craze-replace-planking.html

From HuffingtonPost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/09/horsemaning-latest-photo-posing-trend_n_922605.html?ncid=dynaldushpmg00000040#s325866&title=HuffPost_Comedys_Christine

From The Today Show: http://allday.today.com/_news/2011/08/12/7354976-klg-and-hoda-join-horsemanning-internet-craze

The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/horse-manning-this-meme-will-never-end/2011/08/10/gIQAA7R36I_blog.html?utm_campaign=socialflow&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=buzzfeed

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501465_162-20093095-501465.html

* All photos taken from Buzzfeed.com


Running a business can be a lot like this.



Charlie Sheen Expectations

The interesting thing about Charlie Sheen is not so much that he is crazy, but that he chooses to reveal his craziness so freely. Other movie stars who might be plenty crazy have a different approach to knowing when to show themselves, and when not to. When apart of a major production, for example, the typical movie star can be brilliant for acting a certain way, just as that person is being captured with the right lighting, in a great scene, and when written and directed by a cast of many who can bring that star to light for those critical, designed moments that we see. Think Platoon, one of Charlie Sheen’s finest.

But like most talented people who may perform expertly in their trade (no doubt Charlie Sheen is an excellent actor), it does not follow that because they are a great actor, for example, that they are not miserable at other tasks in other fields.

As a result of such a special effort in design, people who get to know these movie stars, get to know them in this ideal fashion where the music can bring out the beauty and awe in idealities and thus, in a way, such movie stars have that benefit of being perceived as great. And in terms of their talent, they may be. Charlie Sheen was considered by many critics to be “great” by many standards in Platoon.

To this end, traditionally, in order to maintain this aurora of greatness, there becomes this tendency to hide their flaws, craziness and normalities. After all, it’s more valuable to remain perfect, OBVIOUSLY!!!1! People seem to expect it anyway.



[note this news was broken a bit earlier than I was prepared for and now it’s spreading and people are wondering whats up with Rocketboom, so I’m still editing this article but wanted to get it out there!]

Today at Rocketboom I’m happy to announce the sale of Know Your Meme to The Cheezburger Network. Cheezburger recently raised $30M and offered a super seven figure deal (I’d like to tell you how much exactly but they wanted to keep that confidential.) Before diving into the sale, I entertained another serious buy-out offer, entertained an offer for investment from a premier investor, and even considered turning it into a “double bottom line” company, but all in all, everyone advised and I agreed that this was by far the best deal to be done (esp. because I was 100% owner of the company with no other investors or partners involved.) When I took the idea to the Know Your Meme staff and got everyone’s complete conviction, I decided to hand it off.

I feel a bit of sellers remorse because I love Know Your Meme so much and I feel proud of having created a business that people love so much. But now, I’ve done what I wanted to do and personally, I get my greatest fulfillment from the innovation process. The framework of the site is now established, successful and able to run on it’s own. In fact, consider that this very valuable property only requires two-full time and two part-time paid staff members to keep the site operational and growing. The rest happens through an incredible community of passionate moderators, editors, researchers and contributors, all there because, like me, they just love the work.

The website traffic has seen tremendous growth recently, now about 3 million unique visitors per month with about 20 Million page views per month. And the community of people on the site is the kind of community most people dream of having, with super-high participation levels with an established voice of integrity and academic rigor.


When Rocketboom first launched http://knowyourmeme.com in 2007, I put it out there as a wiki for memes, meant to accompany the regular segments inside of our daily Rocketboom programming which I was writing and producing at time. There was actually a need for a place to collaboratively document memes because the two primary platforms of fame each had severe handicaps for this particular field.

The first platform of note, Wikipedia, one of my all time favorite sites, is just too rigid and exclusive for documenting memes. Quite often, the important sources and critical facts are rejected by the elite editors, and the ability for anyone under the sun to come in and hack it up can be way too overboard and frustrating.

The other platform of note, Encyclopedia Dramatica is not a site that is comfortable to be on for most people, unless you are okay with racism and pornography in all of your content, but surprisingly, a lot of people are.

The wiki factor is a super interesting one that most people miss with regards to why Know Your Meme works. Aside form the branded voice which came right out of Rocketboom’s look-and-feel, the platform is kind of a tweak on Wikipedia, technically speaking. KYM is a full fledged, custom CMS built from ground up on Rails and instead of being a free for all, articles are “owned” by just a few researchers (I hate the word “user” BTW) on a first come, first serve basis. As a result, researchers at Know Your Meme feel a sense of ownership and control over the articles.


One of the biggest challenges I faced at KYM had to do with advertising. I regularly received inquires from advertisers who wanted to “get in on the memes”, and effect the editorial for their marketing purposes. In order to preserve the integrity of information, I had a formal business policy against this and I never once entertained a deal of this kind, but I noticed they often tried their best as inconspicuous “community members” to accomplish their marketing objectives on their own. Obviously these companies employ people just like you and me who are clever and clued in enough to understand what to do. There are also several cases of memes which I suspect became popular as a result of being created on KYM by advertisers and marketers themselves. There is place for everyone at KYM, its a tricky balance with the editorial nevertheless. Despite what you might expect from any buyer no matter who they are, I am pleased to report that future plans for Know Your Meme will actually focus on maintaining and strengthening the journalistic integrity.

Regarding advertising “around” the content, I can’t help but send a shout out to Henry Copeland of Blogads who was one of the best partners I have ever worked with. Blogads provided us a plug-and-play sustainable and soon-to-be profitable ad solution for the website. If you are ever lucky enough to get Blogads to add you to their exclusive list of clients, you will have found the best display ad revenue and solution I have ever found.

As most people who rely on display advertising know, revenue is not an easy business to crack, even in today’d day and age. Cheezburger is also expert as this business and will no doubt have great success in adapting their model to the Know Your Meme site.

Though surprising to most people who are unfamiliar with the high CPM rates garnered for online video, I think the video program stands to generate 8 to 10x the revenue the site can earn over the same period. Together, it’s a serious win.


Ah, the show. Explicating memes as academic scientists in lab coats was hit right from start. Though KYM started from within Rocketboom as a segment, it wound up much bigger as a platform. ‘Not sure what will happen to the show, perhaps the original scientists will come back. As for Rocketboom, this is exactly the kind of work we do best and you can be sure there will be plenty more internet culture content to come. Aside from our own programming, Rocketboom has recently established deep partnerships building shows for other partners and networks (you will be hearing a lot about this soon.)


As custom, I want to thank the Rocketboom and Know Your Meme staves for everything they have done. Especially, I want to thank Barry Pousman and Molly and the rest of the Rocketboom staff Ash Sechler, Ben Cheek, Brantley Jones, Bob Geile, Brad O’Farrell, Demetrius Wren, Ella Morton, Matt Finlin, Matthias Sundberg, Pete Dybdahl, Rob Coker who have ALL been *awesome* in sticking this out and remaining gung-ho throughout.  Also, as always, a special thanks to Greg Leuch and Chris Menning for their ongoing support. As a result of the sale, I rewarded Rocketboom staff with thousands to tens of thousands of dollars as bonuses. Same for the KYM staff, even though they are all moving on to work for Cheezburger. I’m so happy for Brad Kim, James Wu, Don Caldwell and Olivia Gulin who are the full on go-to meme experts who have moved on happily with the site.

Major thanks also of course to the Cheezburger folks and to my lawyers and everyone who offered advise along the way, especially those true family and friends who offered invaluable inspiration Courtney and Blair, Xeni, Jonah Peretti, Josh Kinburg and an extra major thank you for always providing an invaluable perspective, Dave Winer.

Usually you think of platforms spawning content, though Rocketboom is in a unique position of establishing content which spawns into platforms. Stay tuned for some seriously big news on Humanwire, Magma and  more news like the news today which I wish I could discuss already!!

See also….secrets please……



The Future of TV is HTML

The title of this post is both a very old idea and a very new one. With the prevalence of fiber connectivity and pervasive broadband speeds, this year has been a hot one for bringing together the home computer and the living room TV. While companies like Apple and Google battle over share of TV viewers, they have left open and promoted the web for content distributors to control their own experience through HTML (and, especially, HTML5).

To that end, it looks like Apple has one-upped Google by opting to privately pre-arrange distribution deals with traditional studio networks beginning with ABC and FOX, while Google has no deals in place at all, hoping the networks will just “allow” consumers to watch Web videos on their TVs. But Google TV is getting a slap in the face from several networks who pulled the plug, right on the big release day. Just as reviews were rolling out in favor of Google’s new living room effort, ABC, CBS and NBC are exiting stage left.

The interesting thing here is that the networks are not sending Google cease and desist letters, they are just simply blocking this particular device from accessing their otherwise free websites, using a free and open protocol. If you normally like to visit http://abc.com on your computer to watch video content, no problem, but if you want to access the website on your Google TV browser by going to abc.com, currently, you will be blocked.

These tactics by the networks are part of a clear strategy that has been at play for some time, Google could have anticipated this would happen. Remember the Hulu vs. Boxee battle? Boxee pumped Hulu through to the TV, but Hulu blocked Boxee because Hulu is restricting their content to computer screens. So Boxee worked around it to get Hulu to the TV screen. Then Hulu blocked the workaround, so on and so forth. Boxee was confident that they were within the boundaries of the law because they were picking up on signals that Hulu was sending out with a free and open protocol, via the world wide web.

Now the same networks behind Hulu are sending the same message to Google in exactly the same way. They are saying you can watch their content with a browser on your computer, or phone, but when it comes to the Google TV set in particular, just like the Boxee, or any other living room TV set, it’s a no go. They are discriminating by device.

Here is what is going on. If you have a TV now, you are almost certainly paying for TV content with a monthly cable bill and if you start to get your TV content through the web, it will be just a matter of time before you will cut your cable bill. The cable companies know this and they appear to be doing everything they can to force the networks to comply with their demands to block their streaming Web video from appearing on TVs. The networks have their hands tied because almost all of their revenue comes from cable right now and if they break up with cable, and go hard-core internet on their own, they will likely implode overnight. For, as you know, Google TV is not offering them anything, and Apple isn’t offering a good enough deal to exist on. So there you have the problems of the traditional TV networks, once rivals now conspiring to sustain their long held control of a medium that is slipping away.

As for the rest of the world, you can’t stop us. Developers of Web video distribution platforms forge ahead. Apple is offering to lure them in with partnerships, Google is giving them the opportunity to figure it out for free. Neither Apple nor Google, nor anyone else is waiting any longer. The time is now. You can feel it. The rest of the video world marches on, bringing the internet and the TV closer together.

Moving Ahead

For most people, Google TV vs. Apple TV is about something different. They are fighting a war for capturing people at the hardware and operating system levels. Apple is succeeding in selling hardware by locking people in with an integrated operating system, while Google is capturing people on the operating system level, with Android, and then integrating Google services from there. Google is giving Android away for free so they can tag along for the ride.

From Google on the Google TV, October, 2010 :

We are working hard to open source the code for the GoogleTV project, and hope to release the source code next year.

From Apple on the Apple TV, October, 2010:

If you can’t add or play a movie in iTunes or QuickTime Player, then you won’t be able to convert it to play on Apple TV.

When Steve Jobs says, “Open doesn’t always win,” he’s talking directly to Google about this war. But for those in the TV business who wish to distribute their content to both Apple TV and Google TV audiences, it doesn’t really matter.

In the past, with this same closed strategy, Apple may have captured the content of the music industry business but I suspect Apple doesn’t really care about the TV content business too much. The studios are traditionally full of wacky businesses and the pool of valuable TV content is a relatively small one with a profit margin that is expected to shrink. How many hit series are there at any one time anyway? Not that many. And of all the series in the past how many are still in high demand?

No Need For Apps

The world is obsessed with apps right now. An app is just software for your computer, and developers are being forced to recreate the same experience dozens of different ways. It’s a constant re-inventing of the wheel. What a waste of time. Now Microsoft is getting into the game too. While it’s easy for a consumer to ignore by just sticking to their platform of choice, developers and content distributors need to figure out WTF they must do next to make their “app” look the same on Windows or some other new platform, like yep, Apple Lion.

Yes, the diversity in platforms is also needed and welcome. It’s in the best interest of the world overall to have many choices. There are many examples of wants-and-needs not being met by just one development platform. Special tasks require alternate solutions. But for TV content, distributed to the living room, none of this really matters because the place to be is not necessarily on the phone, and its not in an app store, its on the web, via HTML.


Apple’s Steve Jobs on HTML5, April 2010:

HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open.

Google on HTML5, October 2010:

Your GoogleTV site can look great with the right mix of video, audio, and visual effects. HTML5 provides this kind of rich content and more, and it’s supported in GoogleTV’s Chrome browser. For ideas, tutorials, and guidance, check out HTML5 Rocks.


Meanwhile, while it may be frustrating that Apple TV doesn’t support Flash, and Google TV doesn’t support Quicktime, they do both support H.264 video playback. Apple says “H.264 is the base format” of it’s Apple TV while Google says the “hardware in the GoogleTV supports…H.264 decoders”

You have to ask yourself, if you are looking for scale, what is the lowest common denominator here?

For TV on the web, it pretty much comes down to H.264 video in HTML5. The future of TV is not your mom’s app, it’s the browser. Unless of course the magnets keep us pinned to the vortex due to the effects of a fragmented market. Right now, all of us are unable to discover what we want, forcing Web video developers (and all others too) to tweak their apps for a hundred different versions of Android, on hundreds of different hardware platforms, plus all the iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions, plus Windows, plus this, and plus that, oh my. Jobs was right, what a mess.

Unless you develop for HTML5 with H.264.

Web First

For a publisher, the idea of charging for apps can certainly lead to a nice revenue stream. But giving away 30-50% of your revenue stream to someone for selling the app is not all that nice. In the long run, I’d rather have you come to my website, and I can just sell it to you there. If Apple has a store, and Android has a bunch of stores, and Nokia has one, and Sony and Windows, and everyone else under the sun has one, your business can have one too, no big deal.

The challenge then shifts from app building and revenue-share issues to discovery of your website. Yet the problem isn’t a new one, it’s a problem you face with apps anyway. As a distributor of TV content, if you want to get your content to the living room TVs, especially the ones on the market right now like the new Sony-Google TV or a nice new Apple TV, and you want to bypass the bureaucracy of others’ stores, and setup costs, and revenue shares, even as you want it to work great for the Apple TV experience and for the Google TV experience, and for any other living room TV integration—Boxee, Roku, you name it—format your website to detect the device and present the right display from your website. It’s that simple. Control the entire situation.

And even though you know you are going to develop apps for various TV platforms and other platforms anyway, especially because it’s a great way to get front and center, make them free and use them as a simple browser to get the apps built quickly and inexpensively. Consider developing for the web first so everyone can gain access and you can remain in control. There is a frenzy of “mobile first, web second” development philosophy in fashion right now, and rightfully so, but the living room TV isn’t mobile. It’s stationary. So when creating your apps, you can keep it simple and just point them to your own website where you can manage your own community, special features, distribution, promotion, advertising and sponsorship through a unique, centralized, cross platform environment called the web.

The beauty of HTML TV is that it’s a fancy protocol which everyone loves, it’s open, and it’s free.

The above is a guest post I wrote for Techcrunch last week and has become relevant again today as Google confirms that Google TV is simply a platform, and that TV networks should not expect Google to pay the networks for access. Rishi Chandra, Google TV’s Lead Product Manager, “likened the broadcasters’ payment requests to a network demanding fees from Microsoft Corp. so video would work on it’s Internet Explorer browser”. Thanks to Techcrunch for posting the article, I assume a reposting here after a full week is of no threat though be sure and check out comments etc. at the source.


Google TV Overview

An overview of Google TV


The Office (Space)

Fred Wilson put up a neat post about the value of the office, and how it matters. I feel very strongly about this. Contrary to the advise of some people, I think it’s important to be sure you have a good office space in particular, especially if you are going to be there all day, every day. 

It’s a hard bill to swallow because rent money is money you are not going to see again. And obviously you can reduce that bill by moving out of the center, or by taking space that is not as nice.

It’s one of those things that most people are not aware of, but it still effects you. I had a couple of friends who lived in a damp, dark basement with smelly dogs and carpet and hardly any sun light. They were depressed. When they moved into a nicer place, with light, taller ceilings, wood floors – they didn’t know why, but they felt much better.

Rocketboom has had a tumultuous history with space, but I can’t really complain too much, we have done better than hoped for. Eventually we made it to a great space and it helps a lot with the spirit of everything.

Space is a major part of how you feel and as you know the better you feel, the better work you do. See? Proof:

Photo via Yatta