I went to a talk by Susan Bonds who worked on projects like I Love Bees, a Christopher Nolan project and a Trent Reznor augmented reality project. I was fortunate enough to be the only one who knew who Trent Reznor was at the talk so when we went to lunch I got to sit across from her at the lunch table and everyone just listened to us talk. It was a strange experience. This was a long time ago but I want to talk about a very particular thing which has stayed with me.

Susan was hired to inject some life into the Nine Inch Nails (NIN) forum. NIN hadn’t really been making as much music as before and my take was that people were scared that their favorite band (one of my favs too) weren’t making music anymore and the glory days had passed. Hang onto this idea.

year zero spectrogram

So she developed a series of augmented reality games and events that reinvigorated the fanbase. It was an extremely interesting series of hidden mp3 sticks and hidden puzzles, ending in a staged concert that was broken up by fake police and tear gas. The fans loved it. They created wikis and collected information. There were fake shutdowns and images “sent from the future”. It was an ARG.

You can see in the picture above a spectrogram of the found-in-a-bathroom mp3 file with a hidden image that was itself a pretend “leaked from the future” image of an alien. The fervor and excitement must have been crazy. But think about what I said about “Hang onto this idea”. This entire ARG campaign was started to inject new energy into a forum who were eating themselves alive. It didn’t go unnoticed.

I think about Slashdot, Perl forums, Usenet and yes even boards I associate myself with like Ruby. When Ruby came out it was in direct competition with Perl. Perl gained fear of Ruby. When Node came out, Ruby gained fear of Node. When Go came out, Node perhaps gained fear of Go. And so on to Rust and to Zig and to whatever else is next. Each generation causes fear from the old. But here I’m specifically talking about the lack of input and what the forums are like. Without input, things stew and ferment.

Elixir breathed new life into the Erlang community and Joe Armstrong was happy for it. To me, this is the most mature way to look at it. I can’t imagine average forums of fear having this kind of positive attitude with strangers over anonymous text.