ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Freedom, Justice and a Disturbingly Gaping Ass —

I’ll be nice and warn you that this essay links to disturbing images. That is, THIS ENTRY LINKS TO VERY DISTURBING IMAGES SO IF YOU LIKE EVERYTHING TO BE A VARIATION OF KITTENS LICKING EACH OTHERS EARS YOU ARE GOING TO THE WRONG PLACE. PLEASE GLIDE ALONG QUIETLY TO THE NEXT OR PREVIOUS WEBLOG ENTRIES WHERE YOU WILL BE A MUCH HAPPIER PERSON.

Everyone gone? OK, good.

I mentioned in a previous entry about the happy-go-lucky adventure of the massive downloading of a single image on textfiles.com, one of a cheery Grim Reaper holding a glowing hourglass. It was quite popular, and I talked about the situation where I had seen downloading of this image go from nothing before April 2006 and it had quickly unseated all other comers by a factor of 100 to become the most downloaded file out of the millions in the textfiles.com family of websites. This was, I mused, some sort of payback for when I was a youth and a leech, and so I let it go. Incredulity was the order of the day in the comments, with a few people speculating that since my website doesn’t know where the source of my files always are, I might in fact be considered compelled to do this sort of charity work to atone. Others thought that I was brave to allow hotlinking at all.

Both, it turned out, were wrong. Idly sitting around during the holiday season, I went to go check how that popular ol’ Grim Reaper image was doing. The answer: very very well for Mr. Reaper. Not so well for Jason’s bandwidth.

I said that in September of 2006 he was downloaded 212,000 times. For the month of December, he was downloaded 401,000 times. This was going to get a lot worse, I could see that immediately.

The problem wasn’t just academic anymore, either. You see, I’ve been lucky enough to host with a number of good providers over the years, who have treated me well, and eventually I have outgrown them. When that happens, there’s a mad scramble to find new hosting and I have to often host it locally, to the detriment of everyone. Additionally, I am scrambling for the privilege of spending lots of my own money. While this is all fine with me, the “service” I am doing by allowing the hot-linking of images by Myspace is really no service at all.

Myspace is roughly the 4th most visited English language website, according to reports. It is owned by News Corporation. News Corporation is fucking huge. My dad used to work for News Corporation, so I am very appreciative of that but not to the point of happily whistling a tune while they bleed my generous hosting company’s connection dry. Everything, you see, has limits. I hope it’s not like hearing there’s scant evidence of Tooth Fairies to know that I have some of my own.

So, sleepy with egg nog and considering what to do next, I decided I would replace the image.

Initially, I thought an ad for Notacon or Blockparty or the documentary would be good. But the fact is, the vectors just don’t line up. People who are on Myspace are hardly going to be swayed by an ad for something one way or another, and it felt icky.

So I goatse’d them.

If you don’t know what I mean by “Goatse”, then let me go on the record, right now, as saying this is just what Wikipedia is good for. You can go and read up on the history of what “Goatse” is. If you don’t have the time or patience and yet still don’t know what I mean, let me say that it is a disturbing image of a gentleman (it is clear he is a fellow) using almost yoga-like skills to display the eye-watering sight of the inside of his own rectum. If that sounds horrible, it is. It is truly, truly horrible.

This is interesting on its own levels; I don’t know why we didn’t think this through in the early stages of Internet, but the fact is so obvious that to hear it makes you think you always knew it: the pipes can back up sewage. The same open door that gives you a world of knowledge and communication is also a piping hot shit-gun of horror. Like looking to see if a rifle is loaded by peering down the barrel, your screen can turn from a breathtaking visage of insight into a Gatling Gun of mind-scarring infinity-pain within the literal blink of an eye.

Or, as they say: ONCE YOU CLICK, YOU CANNOT UNCLICK.

If you are truly fine with this, then go ahead: See what I replaced the Grim Reaper with.

Anyway, on with the show.

Assuming you find the idea of some errant myspace numbnut faced with a gaping ass entertaining, then you will become first giggly, and then fall aside laughing to know that within an hour I had “goatse’d” 400 people.

Within two days it was 25,000. Twenty five thousand.

We are now up to nearly a hundred thousand viewings of this file in its new ass-o-rama version. I am sure that through libraries, schools, colleges, cubicles, offices, warehouses, the sound of someone’s throat reflexively making a sound not unlike “Uuuuaaaaaghhhghh” has filled the air. The amount of time lost in horrified stares and frantic jabs at the keyboard and mouse to get away, far away must be into the realm of hours by now. Maybe days! Days of slack-jawed horrified faces staring into a big square eyeball. I don’t know, that gets a chortle out of me. I’m easily entertained.

But after the initial thought of this Towering Tidal Wave of Tweener Terror, I started to consider how it had gotten to be so bad in the first place.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Any entity interested in what is called “market share” must eventually expand out into regions of people far outside those would normally patronize that entity. Not to ensure survival, but to ensure growth – which eventually supplants survival as a metric of health. An excellent example of this is air travel: whereas the original passengers on a plane in the first decade of air travel had a reasonably good chance of knowing how to operate that plane (the pilot and his passenger, two air enthusasts trying out a new machine), we are now at the point that we can have 300 individuals inside a jet and less than a handful could possibly operate the thing. That is, less than 1% of the people inside a machine, whose lives depend on that machine and who are paying to use that machine, have any idea how to make it work. This is, ultimately, fine: air travel is very safe and we have lots of safeguards in place so that generally the whole shebang doesn’t explode. Still, you cross a line and the trends will be for even more people packed into an airplane, not less.

This isn’t evil, per se… it’s just how this whole growth thing works. And eventually, this came to the Internet. As college students were dumped onto Internet connections, they faced, essentially, a sea of pilots; people trained to operate the craft who followed some levels of lore and rulesets to keep things running smoothly, if jarringly Libertarian. As these college students flooded the gates around the month of September, they would eventually get assimilated into the Way of Things by a month or two, or sulk away and watch things from afar. Either way, it kind of worked.

And then America On-Line dumped everybody onto the Internet at once. This phenomenon was so marked in Internet history that it even has a name: The September that Never Ended.

There’s a story from that time, which I love to tell, which will have meaning in this entry shortly. Someone put up a webpage about America Online, criticizing the company and the service it provided. It advocated untoward behavior on AOL and generally represented a typical “slam site”, which I myself have been known to take part in from time to time. After the time that AOL was fully loosed on the Internet and sending people willy-nilly around, this site got a letter that I think really underlines the problem with this sort of culture class. An AOL moderator, that is, a guy whose job is to look for troublemakers on the AOL service, contacted this webmastrer, and told him he was violating the AOL terms of service and to cease his website immediately. As far as this mop-head was concerned, AOL now “owned” the Internet and anyone on it, even someone running a site not in any way connected with the AOL service (except in discussing them) was under its jurisdiction. The webmaster did the logical thing: he posted the letter for all to see, garnering ridicule and some thoughtful chuckles.

Myspace, and sites like it, also have to take a tactic similar to the airlines. The somewhat large barrier-to-entry of hosting a website has already been reduced a great deal, but social websites remove it entirely; you only need an e-mail address to be able to host and provide content. And now the whole part where you have to learn enough HTML to be able to make it render in a browser is wiped clean. It is possible, very possible, to go from Tweener at Hot Topic to Webmistress of the Dark and Foreboding Webpage of Sin without ever using a single bracket.

Is this bad? On the one hand, people who would never have had a voice before are given one. On the other, that voice is occasionally droning, illiterate, and borderline schizophrenic. And multiplied by tens of thousands. However, Myspace (and News Corporation) has market share, and that’s the primary goal of the whole activity.

Part of hosting a website is providing the content. While it’s possible to use the internal templates to at least indicate what hobbies you have and whether you like to smoke. folks are naturally inclined to upload pictures, change the color of the background, and add design schemes that make Holly Hobbie look like Prada. To help them, a little cottage industry of templates are now around so that instead of making that huge step into markup languages, patrons can simply copy and paste designs into their own pages.

Here, then is the source of this sudden interest in my website’s artscene section; someone created a “design” that directly hotlinked to the artscene.textfiles.com website and used the image as the background. The design, by the way, is absolutely horrible, and I don’t know how anyone ever found it readable in the first place; the default font color was red, with a line through the text! This said, I’m sure I have a number of pieces of clothing that call into question my qualifications for a fashion police badge.

Soon after I converted the image from Grim Reaper to Grim Ripper, one of the thousands of people getting eye-lashed by the image saw the “textfiles.com” mention at the bottom, figured out how to mail me, and did so:

Date: Fri, 29 Dec 2006 21:45:40 EST
From: Motorjames1@wmconnect.com
To: jason@textfiles.com
Subject: myspace hacking

Hello. Someone is hacking into myspace profiles and claiming to be
"textfiles".com.If you are unaware of this, they are using your
web-name to be quite offensive. I thought you might like to know.
It's a pretty childish, sophmoric stunt {easily cleaned up,} but
annoying.If it happens to actually be you doing it, You should really
hope we never meet- you will end up looking worse than the photo you
have been posting-

This is a fascinating character study on several levels. First of all, there’s the immediate assumption that someone “hacked” myspace. The fact that I used the deadly spell “mv” to shift a few things around on a machine I own is not a possibility as far as Motorjames1 is concerned. Next, just to make sure all bases are covered, he threatens me. Ostensibly he is indicating he will punish me by doing something traumatic to my ass. Perhaps, however, he merely means he will do something to my face so that it will be as horrifyingly offensive as the Goatse ass. Either way, I question his diplomatic skills.

Communiques were quiet on my side for days, and I assumed that people were figuring out how to remove the image and replace it with something else, which is the “cleaning up” that motorjames1 had indicated. Nobody, it seems, was inspired to seek me out. So, I went on a little fact-finding mission of my own. Checking the referrer logs of my webserver, I found places where people were writing helpful notes to their friends to perhaps figure out how they too had been “hacked”. Granted, a lot were in the form of “WHAT T FUK WITH U BACKGROUND??????”, but the essence was clear.

Hotlinking in itself is not so bad, in my book. I certainly get people hotlinking to my textfiles and directories, skipping over my introductions and context to provide others with information that I’m hosting. I even have people link directly to images on the DIGITIZE sub-site to prove a point about catalogs or old computers or so on. But in all these cases, the hotlinking is in the course of providing knowledge. Someone is trying to inform others about a subject and my library is being utilized to share. I feel like this is right and good, and I encourage it.

But what is being done by myspace is that this data is not being used for knowledge. It’s being used as decoration. Beyond that, it’s being used for inefficient, meaningless, taste-lacking decoration, just to give someone’s poorly-written “website” a “dark feeling” by putting a visage of death on it. Maybe that’s an odd, arbitrary line to draw, but after being at the ass-end of that line, if you will, I think I have to consider drawing it.

I was idly wondering today where to go with this, whether to simply refuse to allow myspace pages to hotlink to any images whatsoever, when I received this in my inbox:

Date: Wed, 3 Jan 2007 20:46:11 -0800
From: HotFreeLayouts COM 
To: mailbox@textfiles.com
Subject: hardcore porn pic - take down asap please

hi, you really should take down ASAP

www.textfiles.com/artscene/mirrors/GRAPE-DEMO-ARCHIVE/graphism/rs/razorback/
razorback-the_grim_reaper.png
somebody is flodding our server with that / posting it on myspace
etc.
--
HotFreeLayouts.com Abuse Team

And here we are, back full circle. “Hotfreelayouts” is one of the sites that offers up these design templates for downloads (along with ads, of course), and these fellows, the pilots of the current generation if you will, were utterly unable to do anything about my “flod”. Or my flodding.

Consider, then, what was going on here. Myspace, a site which is being used by people who don’t know how to host or design, ends up with a gaping ass provided by a design firm which can’t understand the nature of hotlinking (or of spelling), who have written to someone who can host, design and spell but are doing so with a demand that this person take action.

And this, my friends, is ass.


2008 Update: Since this weblog entry was first written, it has easily become the most popular entry in the weblog’s history, with hundreds visiting it years later. If this is the first time you’ve read it, be sure to read the related postings:

The Ass-Termath
Goatse II: The Widening
The February Goat Update
Goatse Metrics


Categorised as: textfiles.com

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234 Comments

  1. Lance says:

    Wow. This is one of the best posts I have read in a long time. I salute you on your swift use of the “mv” spelling. Post more letters if you get them!

  2. Typical Web Surfer says:

    Great article! I fully support this kind of endeavor..the state of people ‘not helping themselves’ is rather sad, but ultimately fine with me if they can’t empower themselves.

    When I read a great article or post, especially when it comes from a site like reddit or digg, I try to look for interesting web ads, so as to give back to the author. This is easier and cheaper than Paypal, and while less substantial is still something I wish more people would advocate in these ad-blind days.

    In closing, I will bookmark your site and read up from time to time! Cheers.

  3. Ellezeebub says:

    heh. funny.

    but, i didn’t click on the link. seems likely to burn into you soul, and that isn’t one of the things i want popping up in my dreams.

  4. Brian Macker says:

    I have to side with the other wet blankets that posted here. This was sort of setting up a vending machine that hands out free ice cream and depending on ad revenue or just expecting credit for the good will. Then some smucks come along and build a robot that uses your machine and delivers the free ice cream to a bunch of kids. So your response to this is not to make your machine screen out the robots, but instead you lace your ice cream with rat poison. For some reason you think the fact that other people have vending machines labeled “rat poison” that despense the same somehow makes what you did ethical.

    As you’ve already admitted the kids who are receiving the ice cream from these arguably corrupt robots are not savy enough to realize what danger they are in if someone were to poison the food supply.

    All the kids did is look for “ice cream” in the local paper and there was an ad saying free ice cream was to be had at the location where the robot was distributing it.

    When it all comes down to it. You saw the state of affairs and then knowingly, and intent matters, changed the source files around so the kids would be delivered porn. Actually, something that is arguably much worse than porn.

  5. Jason Scott says:

    Brian! Interesting thoughts.

    Please enjoy this free ice cream cone.

  6. Brian Macker says:

    Glad you are morally sharp enough to ken my argument. So what are you going to do about it?

    The ethical thing to do at this point would be to stop goatseing (spelling) people, and not repeating the behavior.

    Beyond that, issuing an apology would be in order, perhaps done with a new picture. Unfortunately an apology might be interpreted as some sort of admission that you screwed up.

    There was a time when I might have screwed up like this, we all make mistakes, and I see how the legal pressure is in the direction of you not issuing apology. So I don’t expect you to do it. You certainly don’t owe me one.

    Ethical considerations must take into account our harm to ourselves in addtion to others and I’m not sure if any retributive punishment you open youself up by making an apology would be proportionate to the harm you did. You’ll have to judge that for yourself.

    It’s most likely no one is going to come after you if you issue an apology. So I think the door is open, but I’m no lawyer.

    One way to make amends to the kids is to pull the copyright off that picture they like so much (if you did copyright it) so that they can copy it to their own hardware and save you the bandwidth.

    Oh, and BTW, thanks for the free ice cream, although when I licked to the very center it tasted like ass. At least you warned me up front.

  7. Tevia says:

    Brian, who assdildo’d himself to death and made you king of all that is ethical?

    why should Jason give away the copyright to an image just because some useless myspace layouts site wanted to use it without rehosting OR asking permission?

    if it were my domain the only thing i would have done different would be to swap in some horrific gore or infection photos.

  8. James says:

    Can we all remember that “the children” have no business being on MySpace; anyone under 14 is not technically allowed to sign up, and any decent parent wouldn’t let them at 14 without knowing what their teenager is doing online. Having a child suddenly faced with such a disturbing image is your own fault if you’ve raised your child to get online and click on whatever flashes and sign up for whatever crap service looks pretty. As a father of 2 pre-teens that have been on the web since before they could talk and understand it is safe if you act safe and dangerous if you act so, I say anyone who was goatse’d had it coming.

    Thank you for the great story and wonderful pilot analogy.

  9. JerzeeDevil says:

    good on you, personally I wish I had never seen goatse, tubgirl, lemon party or any of that mess. yAAAy the internet!

  10. Wrinkledlion X says:

    You, sir, are a genius.

  11. JD says:

    See comment above.

  12. badger says:

    I don’t know what’s worse, that you did this, or that people are praising you for it. Your image has become so popular it’s hurting bandwidth, so you decide to punish everyone who stumbles across it? As if everyone who viewed a page on which someone else hotlinked your image deserved that? And it’s still eating up your bandwidth.

    A simple 2-colour PNG with a small “this image was murdering my bandwidth” message would have done just fine, and solved the bandwidth problem. There was no need to be a gaping asshole about it. Especially when you discovered most of the people linking to it were just using a premade template and had no idea what they were doing or how to fix it.

  13. Izzy W. says:

    I usually enjoy your article, Mr. Scott. Strangly enough, I find this amusing, but after looking at it, I realized it really wasn’t the best thing to do. Though hilarious, that doesn’t mean that it was the better thing to do. The internet wasn’t made for people to know everything about hotlinking, HTML, CSS, PHP, or whatever. Ethics aside, the people who were victims of the this weren’t the targets – it was people who just browse through the web. Everyone really. “why should Jason give away the copyright to an image just because some useless myspace layouts site wanted to use it without rehosting OR asking permission?” That’s a ridiculous notion to start with. The people who made the layouts weren’t really effected by this. It was the people using the myspace website. You have to remember that the internet is NOT made for everyone to know about websites or whatever. This reminds me an awful lot of what Wikipedians would do, in effect, taht is (see the ejaculation page and you’ll get a barrel of laughs).

  14. RW says:

    I laughed when I chased down the goatse image: I’ve seen plenty more of the same guy doing much the same thing. It’s not yoga. He’s just naturally “gifted” that way, afaict. His giant pop bottle act is . . . well, special. Actually, after a very short while it gets tiresome; he’s a one-trick show.

    And I seriously doubt that little Cupcake is going to be scarred for life. In fact, little Cupcake may go through life with greater confidence because she/he knows now what the inside of an asshole looks like.

    This also brings up the difference between porn and simple nudity. Porn is intended to be sexually exciting. Anyone who thinks that all naked pictures are porn has a seriously disturbed sexual nature.

    Finally, thanks to your account, I learned something I didn’t know, but should have: don’t hotlink to images. If you must hotlink, hotlink to the entire page that holds the image you want people to see.

  15. angela says:

    Jason Scott? You’re THE Jason Scott? Like the Red Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger? (sorry, first thing that popped into my mind when I read your name). Carry on…

  16. magnus says:

    So it has been a couple of years. I’m wondering if you’re still getting many third party referrers to that image.

  17. Jay says:

    Hi,

    I don’t really know how i came to be here, i think i checked out delicious for some reason, to an article about “The Cloud” then here. I’m not normally one to “Surf” but whatever…

    Anyway, I’ve been reading your posts (and will continue to after this), and this one made me laugh, since people are hot linking images on your site you have the power to conduct social experiments en-mass, this experiment is hilarious, and the resulting requests/threats are even funnier.

    A parallel can be drawn by those that drive cars, but do not know what under the bonnet looks like.

  18. chat says:

    I wonder if your “Enter ‘ascii’ here” bot protection will thwart the thousands of mouth breathers that came here via Digg..

  19. Concerned job seeker says:

    Hello Jason,
    Can I kindly ask to have my name/site be switched to anonymous/none or my comment deleted?
    You see, every time my name is googled, the image search has “the image” on the first page. Not good if an employer attached it mentally to the name.
    It was a great story, and I learned not to comment with my real name if the entry contain something I don’t want people to see.
    I’m comment is #107 by the way.
    Thank you.

  20. netlog says:

    Hello Jason,
    Can I kindly ask to have my name/site be switched to anonymous/none or my comment deleted?
    You see, every time my name is googled, the image search has “the image” on the first page. Not good if an employer attached it mentally to the name.
    It was a great story, and I learned not to comment with my real name if the entry contain something I don’t want people to see.
    I’m comment is #107 by the way.

  21. Oyun says:

    Lovely post. Maybe intelligence has won a battle after all.

  22. Kat says:

    Wow…..Im only reading this now, linked from a friend’s twitter account. Im laughing all the way.

    I must be out of touch with even kids just 3 years younger than me (and even some my age) because even if just had the knowledge I had when I was 11 (back in 1993), it would of been easy to determine what happened. Hotfreelayouts ….you get what you pay for.

    The lesson: If you are going to offer layouts, even free than hotlink your own shit. LOL

  23. Oyunlar says:

    A bit of a post script here, surely an IMG tagged hotlink to an image is superior to a hypertext link, at least from the “viewers” perspective, in that a single text link in an “image” thread could easily be mistaken for spam advertising, even if the image is “on topic”, whereas the picture’s content (and thus relevence) can easily be seen if tagged.
    Although, of course, the flipside is the bandwidth issue, etc.

  24. CaptHowie says:

    Absolutely legendary.

  25. Snuggles says:

    Omg….this is hillarious…ive had videos leeched so I feel your pain. I absolutely love this idea and am on the search for a video to temporarily take place of the ones being used. That is if you do not mind me using your idea.

  26. kral oyun says:

    Myspace is not actually open to 10-year-olds, or really anyone under the age of something like 14. If someone younger is lying about their age to use the site, then maybe this will simply teach them a lesson about why there are age limits on things at all…

  27. Cory says:

    You sir, are an American hero. I salute you!

  28. mp3 says:

    Lovely post. Maybe intelligence has won a battle after all.

  29. rana says:

    Well played sir, well played indeed.

  30. I salute you on your swift use of the “mv” spelling. Post more letters if you get them!

  31. calandale says:

    Love the story – but the links for moar phun are dead. :(

  32. Mark says:

    Very disappointing story, and the comments praising you are sickening. Good job.

  33. Ashly says:

    I’m sorry, but this blog post is still one of my ABSOLUTE all time favorites on the internet. I read it years ago and I still get giddy every time I read it. It’s just too fucking great.

    The people saying otherwise need to chill the fuck out and appreciate the humor…lighten up! And they certainly shouldn’t be judging you or criticizing you for what you did, that’s retarded. Sorry for being politically incorrect or whatever, but the only way you could not find this hilarious is if you are short a chromosome.