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Creepypastas, Memes, Lolspeak & Boards: The Scope of a Digital Culture Web Archive

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Memegenerator is a platform for creating and providing access to image macros, or internet memes.

The following is a guest post from Trevor Owens, Digital Archivist in the Office of Strategic Initiatives. Trevor has been consulting with the American Folklife Center on born-digital collection development initiatives.

I have recently had the pleasure of helping to develop and curate the American Folklife Center’s digital culture web archive. Nicki Saylor announced this initiative in June, and I thought readers might be interested in an update on the status of the project. As is often the case, working through the details of selecting materials for the collection has provided an opportunity to refine the definition and scope of it. Many thanks to those who participated in CURATEcamp digital culture this summer and made contributions to this. A session at the camp focused on generating nominations for sites to collect, and some of those sites have made it into the scope for the collection.

So my objective here is to present a revised and more detailed description of the scope of the collection and some information about the sites AFC has begun to archive. I would be interested in input from those involved and invested in digital culture, including folklorists and other researchers who are exploring and documenting the vernacular web.

Web Cultures: Collection Scope Statement

The American Folklife Center archive’s mission is to document traditional culture. With the proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and wireless Internet connections, network communication is increasingly where people develop and share folklore. This collection, co-curated with scholars who study digital culture, captures a set of sites that best document elements of the various digital vernaculars which have emerged through networked and computer-mediated communication. These sites include everyday communication we enact together to create our shared sense of the world.

This set includes but is not limited to:

  • Sites that document and serve as platforms for creating and sharing vernacular cultural forms such as reaction GIFs, image macros and memes.
  • Online communities and other sites that have played a significant role in establishing, shaping and disseminating tropes and themes in communication on the web.
  • Sites that document, establish and/or define vernacular language like Leet and Lolspeak, and icon-based communications like emoji.
  • Sites connected to DIY (do it yourself) movements such as crafting and making
  • Sites focused on documentation, development, proliferation, distribution and discussion of digital “urban legends” and lore, such as creepy pasta.
  • Sites which are focused on the development and dissemination of vernacular creative forms such as fan fiction.

Sites We Have Permission to Crawl

  1. The Urban Dictionary contains more than seven million definitions as of 26 May 2014. Submissions are regulated by volunteer editors and rated by site visitors. The site contains multiple definitions for terms in vernacular language and slang that are otherwise not well documented.
  2. Know Your Meme is dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more. This was one of the most frequently cited sites by folklorists consulted in the development of the collection, so it’s great that they granted permission to archive and provide access to the site.
  3. BoingBoing started as an online magazine or zine “devoted to the weird, wonderful and wicked things to be found in technology and culture.” The site continues to document and explore issues in digital culture.
  4. ytmnd, an initialism for “You’re the Man Now, Dog,” is an online community centered on the creation of hosted meme-based web pages (known within the community as YTMNDs or sites).
  5. Something Awful, often abbreviated to SA, includes blog entries, forums, feature articles, digitally edited pictures, and humorous media reviews. It was created by Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka in 1999. A range of internet lore originated in the site’s discussion boards.
  6. Equestria Daily is a major site for bronies, a large and unexpected fan community of adults interested in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
  7. Instructables is a website specializing in user-created and uploaded do-it-yourself projects, which other users can comment on and rate for quality.
  8. Fark is a community website created by Drew Curtis, which allows members to comment on a daily batch of news articles and other items from various websites. Links are submitted by Fark members (referred to as “Farkers”).
  9. Meme Generator is a platform for creating and providing access to image macros, a genre of captioned images which are also known as internet memes. These have become a form of vernacular expression on the web and folklorists are studying them as such. This particular site is both substantive and well organized; as such it is an excellent resource for studying the genre, variation, and function of internet memes.
  10. Cuanto Cabron presents a significant collection of image macros, or internet memes, in Spanish. This particular site is valuable in that it provides access to these memes in another language. Thus it provides a means explore and compare genre, variation, and function of internet memes with collections in other languages.
  11. contains a large collection of reaction GIFS, which are animated images in the GIF format, typically of  bodies in motion, used online as responses or reactions to previous posts in a communication thread. They are an important part of vernacular online communication and thus valuable for documenting digital culture.
  12. Wikia Creepypasta Wiki is a wiki containing a collection and documentation of “creepy pasta,” short scary stories which are spread across the web. Creepy pasta takes its name from the earlier genre of “copy pasta,” which meant items “copied and pasted” into bulletin boards, emails, and other venues…that is, online folklore.  Creepy pasta (copy pasta that is also creepy) is a subgenre of copy pasta, and usually also a subgenre of what are popularly known as “urban legends”: stories told as true, but of unknown origin and veracity.
  13. includes a collection of creepy pasta.

    Creepypasta features “creepy pasta,” short scary stories which are spread across the web.
  14. Giphy contains a large collection of reaction GIFS.  The site is particularly interesting in that it organizes the GIFs into common emergent categories.
  15. NewGrounds originated as a zine in 1991 and existed as a BBS (Bulletin Board System) in the mid 90s. It became a common place to share and discuss flash animations in 1999. A range of digital culture phenomena can be traced back to the site, including the flash animated music video for “The Terrible Secret of Space.
  16. Slashdot is a longstanding online community, which was influential in shaping many of the ideas about community-based filtering and moderation. It focuses on user-submitted stories and links, primarily related to science, technology and computer programming.
  17. Textfiles is an online collection of text files shared through informal networks of bulletin board sites documenting the “culture of ‘underground’ BBSs.” The site holds a unique set of materials related to the culture of the web.
  18. Metafilter is a general-interest community weblog founded in 1999 where a wide range of users submit and share links and commentary about those links. It is also a general discussion platform; as the title suggests, it is intended to be a place to filter out “the best of the web.” The site presents running commentary on a range of different issues relevant to everyday life.
  19. American Cosplay Paradise is a major site for sharing costumes and discussing cosplay (short for costume play). In this respect, the site is a trove of examples of costumes that cosplayers are creating, discussing, and documenting.
  20. NetLingo explains thousands of terms that “define our life online.” The words and acronyms on the site are useful for understanding discussion and language use in web communities. The terms and definitions are also interesting in their own right as documentation of vernacular language on the web.
  21. The Lolcat Bible is a translation of the text of the Bible into LolSpeak, a form of vernacular English which has emerged online. Lolspeak’s structure and function has been studied by linguists, and is likely to be of interest in the future as well. The Lolcat Bible is one of the largest bodies of text documenting the use of this vernacular language. The site is also a web culture phenomenon in its own right.
  22. Emojipedia presents the meanings of emoji, small pictures used to enhance meaning within text-based communications.  Emoji include but are not limited to emoticons, pictures used to express emotions, such as a smiley-face after a sentence indicating that it should be understood as humorous. Emojipedia provides insight on the vernacular meaning of these characters.
  23. Facebook Symbols collects, describes and provides various text-based and image-based characters for use in communication on Facebook. It is valuable as a tool for documenting the evolving use of vernacular language on the web.
  24. Geek Crafts is a blog documenting “where geek and crafts collide.” The crafts showcased on the site illustrate the intersection between handicrafts, which are traditional forms of folklife, and tropes and themes from digital culture, which are emergent forms of folklife.
  25. Symbols & Emoticons serves as an online collection of emoticons and characters for use in text-based communication on Facebook. The site also includes a collection of emoji art, images created out of patterns of emoji which users can copy and paste to share on their Facebook walls.

So that’s the rundown of the collection as it currently stands. I am curious to hear what you think of the scope of the collection. Are there other things this collection should include? Are there other sites that fit the focus we have set here that you think are important enough for us to consider archiving?  Let us know in the comments!

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