The Artist, The City, The Framer, And Their Lovers

The Artist, The City, The Framer, And Their Lovers

My favorite contemporary artist across all of the visual arts is Banksy. When he came to New York City on a painting spree, he hit a garage door across the street from my studio in Chelsea which I documented. I’ve never been involved myself in using any kind of ink or paint in public but I get a lot from it as an effected viewer. In Boulder, my favorite artist is Smile.

Banksy and Smile each have their own beautiful style and message.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why I like their work so much. It’s outstanding with technique and beauty, it’s full with rebellion and anonymity, but ultimately, it’s their selfless rejection of recognition that makes their famous work so exciting to me.

Smile begins in the studio creating elaborate stencils that can take hours to cut, and then paints the pieces by layering colors on the streets. You only need your eyes to excavate the strata and ponder how it could have gone. There is often splatter which helps blend the work with the surface, almost always utility equipment, postal boxes, or other common urban eyesores.

The whole thing is completely illegal. That’s part of the thrill, and the beauty of unauthorized street art in general.

Appreciating one of Smile’s works tends to involve that obvious quality of life on the edge, pure with rebellion and risk. That’s not enough, in and of itself. Smile’s work is exceptionally beautiful, and the technique is exceptionally beautiful. Smile’s subject matter is also exceptionally beautiful, and fitting, generally domesticated animals on the threshold of the wild, or the wild looking in, here in Boulder where we do live on such an interface with the edge of the forest. Smile is outstanding.

The publicly commissioned works around town don’t have this wild and free quality. They are great to many and they play a great role with their purpose, though they are confined, tame, civically approved, and perfectly compliant.

Smile, though a bandit, essentially passes the tame test anyway, aesthetically speaking, inoffensive and generally non controversial in subject matter and placement. Smile is generally respectful to private property, and often appears on what would be hard to argue would look better without it. Over a 100 paintings likely exist around town, it could be way more. Many have become somewhat iconic for some neighborhoods and areas of town, enduring for years, through flood and fire. Clearly rarely wiped.

To my surprise and appreciation, this summer on the 14th of June, 2022, a new Smile appeared front-and-center upon my own stomping grounds.

The Canyon bridge tunnel that connects Eben G Fine park with The People’s Crossing is a prime location for graffiti, covered over with a fresh canvas on a regular beat by the city. It’s only ever been blank for a day or two before someone comes along to add anew, and the cycle repeats — the city makes its rounds again, cat and mouse in perpetuity.  You could say the tunnel is an ongoing, active conversation between those who add graffiti, those of us who experience it, and the transportation department workers sent to remove it.

I see all kinds of graffiti here, with all kinds of intent, sometimes artistic, sometimes not. When I saw this Smile, I immediately felt a familiar connection, a sense of excitement, and I felt at home. I was probably one of the first few people to notice and appreciate it which also felt special to me, personally. It was fresh and bright, unfaded and uncorrupted. It made me wonder where the artist was, as if maybe the artist was still nearby.

But I immediately wondered what would happen! It was added right onto a spot that gets wiped every time, how would it survive this regularly wiped location!?

If you were with me at that moment I would have bet you that it wouldn’t get wiped. I would of placed that bet based on all the others around town that didn’t get wiped. Maybe if Smile had placed it in the middle of the tunnel…but it was neatly tucked up into the corner, respectably placed as could be if it could be, more like a designed cornerstone. I was confident that it would be left and that something would be proven by that that I would witness fully – the value of Smile’s work to the city, actually.

If it would be left alone, as the city came to paint over the other graffiti on the tunnel, it would act as proof by example of the tolerance the city actually has for Smile’s work. Like Banksy, I believe Smile’s work is adding value to the city, not distracting value from it, and such a result lends to validating this idea.

When Banksy creates an illegal work on the street, it becomes so valuable property owners and cities spend great amounts to preserve and protect the work.

Each day I walked that way, to the tunnel, so enraptured each time that it would be the day, after the city came to do their wiping…and I would get to see. I was just waiting. There was other graffiti in the tunnel that was relatively harsh and violent and would 100% get wiped and it was just a matter of time, I knew it.

Almost two months later, before the city made it’s routine rounds, on August 5th, someone else had come out on an escapade in the tunnel, doing up graffiti all over the inside, of exactly the kind that would typically get wiped, and they stopped to acknowledge and hit up the Smile piece with a response! It was a great response.

I mean, it totally ruined it, but it was also great at the same time. Had you been with me again at that moment when I first saw it, and smiled, I’d declare all bets off! 

How would the city look the other way around at all of this? I was concerned the city would probably remove it all, including the Smile work, which was no longer in any way discreet. What would they do!? Just look above at the size of that fuchsia fluorescent butt. No way will that fly, It was all too much, too close and integrated now, and it was just a matter of time before  I would find out what would happen.

I had Smile on my mind too much. I went through this tunnel more often than I would, three times a day on average. Finally it happened! August 10th. Look at what the city did!

What a case for Smile! The city wiped everything else but left the Smile! This is an incredibly strong affirmation from the city of Boulder all together that Smile brings the city value, not strife. The city not only left Smile’s work while wiping all the rest, they meticulously did so, impossibly able to look the other way, for they could of only looked square at it, as they literally framed it with their own cover-up paint, where the city itself became an abettor to the crime: The Picture Framer. The city literally added to it, artistically, in a full-on collaboration!

Though I saw proof of what I thought and then didn’t think I would see, what I didn’t expect is that this discovery would ultimately harm my admiration for Smile’s work. Slightly.

As the hours and days went on, it sank in. Each time I saw a Smile around town, I started to feel differently about it. Maybe they are not so wild after all. It’s as if they are just as compliant as the city commissioned work. Could it even be possible that Smile has an unspoken deal with the city, I wondered? It’s fair to wonder for a moment, but you’d have to assume not. How else could the city justify removing some art while leaving other art? If there is no deal, the city must have a spoken or unspoken aesthetic rationale, I imagined, and so I became curious about the city code and the definition of graffiti as they see it. I also felt a bit of injustice for others. Slightly.

You know how it goes when it comes time to define things like art, any code dependent on something being art or not is hard to resolve. The Boulder code though doesn’t include much in the way of wiggle room, for what Smile does, or anyone else does, with paint on public and private property without permission.

The city policy:

Graffiti is a nuisance because its continued existence constitutes a visual blight upon the area in which it is located and acts as a catalyst for other antisocial behavior. Prompt removal is the greatest disincentive to graffiti and minimizes the blight and related effects.

Graffiti means the intentional painting, scratching, or coloring (with any contrast medium whatsoever) of any public or private property except by permission of the owner of private property, the city manager, in the case of city property, or the supervisory officer of any other public property.

I sent an email to the city to inquire.

From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: New Issue about Graffiti.
Thu, Aug 11, 11:49 AM

Dear Drew,

Thank you for using Inquire Boulder. We appreciate the
opportunity to assist you.

The Problem you submitted was:

  Request type: Graffiti
  Location: 80354 Boulder Canyon Dr, Boulder, CO 80302, USA
  Description:  Question about Graffiti created by the pseudo-anonymous artist named “Smile”. Per the attached photos, one can infer that the policy of the city is to allow work by Smile but not others. In the photos, you can see that another person came to respond to the Smile work, but apparently the city did not consider the response worthwhile while nonetheless considering the initial work to be worthwhile. Does the city have a formal or informal method for determining which works to remove based on aesthetics or other factors not listed in the city code?  I am seeking information for a public post on my twitter account, https://twitter.com/boulder_drew where I will note my findings with the city’s tolerance for some street art. Thanks!

You will receive a response within 7 days for this request.

I was immediately impressed that the time frame was definitive. It was going to happen.

I checked my email too much over the following days, and after day four came and went, I started to wonder what would happen if they didn’t respond in seven days. Anything? I wondered if they were working on an answer, maybe thinking about it too much too. It’s a good question and the answer is hard to explain, amirite?

Finally! WIth just 14 minutes to spare, before the seven days were up, the email arrived as promised.

From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: Message About Request
Thu, Aug 18, 11:35 AM

Hello Drew,

The painting/graffiti that you are referring to has been removed as per city policy/code. Staff has been reminded that all graffiti needs to be removed or covered. The city does have a program in place for those who might be interested in painting a picture/ Mural on a city structures. If someone is interested, they would need to apply, through the city’s arts and culture program.

Thank you

Doug Rink
City of Boulder
Transportation Maintenance

Three minutes later, a second response:
From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: Resolved Issue about Graffiti.
Thu, Aug 18, 11:38 AM

Dear Drew,

Your request # 103196 has been closed for the following reason:

Hello Drew,

Thank you for contacting the City of Boulder’s Transportation Maintenance with your graffiti clean-up request. Our maintenance crew has inspected and performed work in the area indicated in your request to cover up the graffiti.
We hope this service was satisfactory. We appreciate the community’s input on these areas so that we can address problems as they arise.
On occasion, requests submitted by members of the community can be misinterpreted by those of us scheduling the work. If you find that the maintenance needs you identified weren’t those that the crew addressed, please respond to this email and let us know. Please be as specific about the location as possible.

Thank you again and have a nice day

Doug Rink
City of Boulder
Transportation Maintenance

I took to the tunnel. Gone.

Dang. I don’t even know what to say, still. I did not ask for it to be removed. I only sent that one message above. I should have been content with the conclusion I came to on my own. I already miss it. But also, I must say, while I may have messed it up for all of you, I got this one…I captured it, and it captured me. It left such an impression I’m here memorializing it. There is something special about it being gone now, too. 

On the bright side, I wonder if this demonstrates what is really going on, that we are deciding collectively as a city that it is great art. I think we are. Considering how pervasive Smile works have become, maybe some good can come from my unwitting interference. Would Smile’s works be more special if they were more ethereal to you? Perhaps we have it too easy. Perhaps Smile has it too easy. Smile has a free pass. The artist is compliant. Pre-approved.

I’m going to keep watching and enjoying, and I’m going to be sure and never contact the Boulder Transportation Maintenance department about any of this ever again! Now look at what we have here. At least for now.


DALL·E is the first darling of Web 3.0, The Semantic Web

Web 1.0 established the online shopping cart. Web 2.0 democratized media. Now alive and just over the tipping point, with Stable Diffusion, Dall·E from OpenAI is the first semantic darling of Web 3.0.

Winding down rapidly in effect, web3 (not Web 3.0) was something and there is something to talk about with a decentralized infrastructure which is useful, and in the long run, could lead to its greatest potential realized in the form of a global currency. A global currency levels the playing field for people stuck in economies based on their own locked-in government’s health performance and it’s not the same as Web 3.0, something altogether different. Web 3.0, “The Semantic Web”, was first articulated by the inventor of the web, over two decades ago. Now we are here.

That’s not to say that DALL·E is the first, the best or even the most unique. Nor is it a statement meant to undermine Stable Diffusion or any of the massively more advanced achievements in AI and machine learning to date. DALL·E is the first to capture these qualities for the mainstream, in an elegant, beautiful application that clarifies in no uncertain terms to everyone on first sight that the world of AI is pervasive.

The Semantic Web is profound for our culture in how it’s changing the way we make everyday life decisions, with more meaningful information. No matter what question you may have, and regardless of your familiarity with a topic, we’re entering a period where computers can help us determine many of the answers better than any human would ever be able to. That’s an extremely controversial idea, especially when you consider concepts like art and love.

A scene in Her (2013), imagines life in the near future, the future we are entering into now based merely on the limits and accessibility of processing power.

The movie demonstrates how effective a computer can be with such power, and especially, how computers can play a more effective role, more of the time, and how we can harness that power as a tool to grow.

Specifically, Web 3.0 is a web that is more important for computers to understand and do work with. By semantic in this case, we mean machine readable. Practically, when we put our thoughts out, in whatever form, there is an important bridge that must take that information and translate it into a language that computers can use to work with, and build upon. Web 2.0 brought human ideas in the form of media to the web, Web 3.0 parses it, not just for what is being said, but what is meant, to then present the results back to us.

What products will best fit your particular wants and needs? What clothing style becomes you and what style doesn’t? What do you mean when you say X? What book would you like to read, and what do you want to get from it? Should you take the job or not? 

When we make decisions about anything, we use what data we have and if we go out to seek more data to help us better understand, there is ultimately a limit to the amount of time and the information we can stand to gather to help us. We know that if we seek a “professional” to help us on important matters we tend to improve our success rate by incorporating their experience. The sheer amount of processing power and applicable logic available to assign a statistical probability now to practically every component that can be discovered of every component that can be discovered sets ever higher limits on the information we can use.

Today each new iPhone (a mere pocket device) contains over 15 billion transistors with a neural engine that can perform over 15 trillion calculations per second. Talk about a human achievement. So if you want to know something, in a way that you can personally understand, within a time frame that you wish to allocate, an operating system that knows you better than your friends and family can help piece it all together in a quicker, more meaningful way. It’s amazing how it relies on the web, which must be open and connected to become and thrive.

Each Web era, I’ve noticed, appears to undergo a cycle that begins with decentralization and ends with centralization. Should that happen with Web 3.0, now is the time of freedom and open culture, but eventually the clouds will set in.

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A "Semantic Web", which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The "intelligent agents" people have touted for ages will finally materialize.


The Philosophy of Memes

It’s an obvious class, starts with 101, ends with 420. In this case, it happened in a bar, so to speak, where it’s known philosophers open up and say what they REALLY mean. So I was pleased to partake in a Shirley Temple (sorry, beer and liquor just tastes bad and makes me throw up) while prodding three philosophers on memetics, for their philosophy in a bar podcast, Hotel Bar Sessions, Episode 64: Memes

With our special guest, Andrew Baron (creator of Rocketboom and KnowYourMeme), we also investigate what, if anything, distinguishes an “internet meme” from other kinds of memes, and how internet memes may provide a unique insight into social operations and cultural formations.

In this episode, the following ideas, thinkers, texts, events… and, yes, memes!… are referenced (explicitly or implicitly):


Internet Meme History

The Root of Disinformation at the Center of Meme Culture

There was an article that came out a few years ago at The Verge that I didn’t get an opportunity to formally respond to about the history of Know Your Meme. I was contacted by the writer, Kaitlyn Tiffany, a few hours before the article was published and after it had already been written. The story was a long exposé that took weeks to put together and, in part, was meant to shine a light on certain strikingly large and obvious events that occurred surrounding the departure of Kenyatta Cheese, then the Chief Operating Officer of Rocketboom.

The article celebrating the ten-year anniversary was not correct and had many technical errors, and it misattributed quotes and credits to people. It’s important to get it straight. To be accurate in documenting history. To be fair and in good faith to the facts so that people can learn and benefit from the truth. The writer was one year out of college and was working at a second job in audience development though, for the reasons described below, the problems with the article were ultimately not hers alone.

The data below is not written in a way that is spectacular, it’s just the facts. Nonetheless, I believe this report can be useful for anyone interested in how intentional misinformation makes its way through internet culture, for example, how history can be manipulated, stolen, or changed in a sophisticated and valuable way. The facts below serve as a case example, if you like, to highlight the role of authority as the weak link. The example is a good one because it exposes the weak link in authority, which begets more authority until history becomes changed.

THE FACTS: These are the facts that contradict the public narrative about Know Your Meme’s history, myself and Kenyatta Cheese, and the actions he took while he was working at Rocketboom. The majority of the facts I provide below have never been provided to anyone because I shouldn’t have to, but it seems as though things have gotten out of hand. I admit it’s tedious…a lot of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ at first. And you may question these facts, and you should question any facts you need in order to form an opinion if you want one. I’m here to say that my facts are true and also, they can be verified and validated. I will verify and validate these facts if anyone wants me to but so far, no one has asked. Now, as a result, there are hundreds upon hundreds of articles that are false about Know Your Meme history and misattribute my work and the work of others. Some have given me the opportunity to say some of these things to them as they wrote their pieces over the last decade, but not one person ever – not even a single person once – has ever asked me to verify my claims before going on with the contrary to propagate misinformation. As such, their stories about Know Your Meme ended up being false and untrue, just as the story from The Verge is now. It doesn’t require a brilliant, experienced journalist, it merely requires someone have the time to ask me for any evidence they want to verify and validate these facts, and then take the time to look. That’s simple.

Rocketboom had more influence over meme culture than most people realize. Through Know Your Meme, Rocketboom is largely responsible for bringing the word meme to the mainstream. No other site, platform or authority did it. There was a need I identified and it was the underlying objective I had in conceiving and building the meme database: Know Your Meme worked because it was a place to explicate memes in an empathetic, academic manner, in a world where the word meme at that time had a full-on connotation with x-rated content, due to 4Chan in general and in particular due to Encylopedia Dramatica, which I bumped up directly against.

While I could not usually bring myself to visit 4chan without preparing to have the rest of my day ruined, I appreciate that 4chan exists as an example of something to see, to understand the reality of humanity a bit better.

Encyclopedia Dramatica was also a cesspool of hate and had the specific agenda of documenting memes with an x-rated, racist lingo. Rocketboom brought the word meme out of that polluted, inaccessible environment on purpose and into the mainstream by design, and within the first two years, a time period the Verge story mostly skipped over and otherwise misconstrued, Know Your Meme became THE authority on internet meme culture where it remains a pillar today.

As for the original Know Your Meme segment with Joanne Colan at Rocketboom: it was mentioned as an idea one day in a two-minute conversation, in a Rocketboom video production meeting with myself and Kenyatta Cheese in 2007. At that time specifically, I had hired Kenyatta to learn about how my Rocketboom video editing workflow happened, working specifically with the objective of learning it, organizing it, and stabilizing it to establish a formal, functional department of video editors which he did quite well.

I liked the suggestion he had. The point of the meeting I called was to brainstorm ideas for segments to use as a production crutch inside of the Rocketboom show because I needed to reduce the amount of writing time I was spending each day. I wrote all the Rocketboom scripts myself, Joanne enhanced and tweaked them when she was recording them with a director (I was the director/camera for the first couple of years of Rocketboom and then we started adding a few filmmakers to shoot with Joanne), and then Joanne usually developed all the outside shoot ideas and produced them with the filmmakers.

Typically, I would then send the scripts in to be shot, and then after the shooting, the tape got sent to the editors. I then worked directly with the editors, usually from home. Each time they finished or needed assets I sent them the creative direction and the more seasoned editors usually sent more completed drafts, and then I usually called for several rounds of video edits before signing off to publish. I was the only one that signed off on every episode. Around this time I was just starting to hire assistant writers to help me crank out more non-news, single topic scripts.

One day I decided I would write up an idea for the first version of the segment. When I was at home writing the script (almost universally I couldn’t write in the office), as it happens I wasn’t finding anything I wanted to cull, so I started to look around for a meme to explicate. This was something I had been adding into scripts already with Joanne, it’s just that now I would do it with a lab coat. The idea of the lab coat was ultimately the crutch and would make it easy to write each time once I had a template together. By setting the stage, it would be easy to create a reoccurring cool piece, as if Joanne went to the lab for 20 seconds to explicate something, and then came back to the news. It’s a trope. So I wrote it in exactly the Rocketboom style, just like I always did, knowing that Joanne would help make it silly yet sophisticated automatically, playing as if she was in a lab. As you can see, it’s basically a news Rocketboom episode story, as usual. The main difference is that I decided to create an intro leader in, which was ideal for a cutaway from the news desk (just a keypress away on the TI/994A), and then suddenly Joanne was in the lab wearing a coat. You know, the scriptwriting that Rocketboom had was unique which helped differentiate Rocketboom, and it was the creative writing style that added one of the important elements to the spirit. It was also of course, especially, the people. To have so many young and extremely talented and creative people in a comfortable, functional environment to all work together and pour ourselves into something great. I was just talking to Joanne about this the other day as we were reflecting back. She and I used to talk a lot about that, that the show had this spirit in a big way, and that made it fun and exciting to be doing. It was a creative time in a medium that felt uncharted.

After I wrote and released the first segment with Joanne, and we liked it, I continued it, and then I then decided to create a full-length set of episodes as a one-time mini-series for the holidays. None of this involved Kenyatta in the creation beyond the mention of the segment idea, though that is a significant idea to mention so he should get credit for that part and co-creator then is appropriate. His role at that time was related to video editing administration, and he jumped right in to edit sometimes to learn what it was like to edit Rocketboome episodes, so he could better manage the editors. At that time we had a few stations and editors would come and go throughout the day and night.

I then decided on my own that I would create actual episodes as a mini-series to get them in the can which would save me from having to write a bunch of news scripts, and to get a break over the holidays for everyone in production. I invited Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to act in the miniseries, their first on-camera for Rocketboom

For the miniseries, I asked Jamie, Ellie, and Kenyatta to pitch in their ideas for which memes to explicate (we all liked memes more than anyone else in the office) and asked them if they would be on the show for this one-time miniseries. I knew that whatever they did would ham it up nicely with the kinds of interactions we all had together. I didn’t go on camera because I never want to be on camera.

I went through the list of memes everyone sent in and picked the ones I wanted. Jamie had been collecting a list of memes on a spreadsheet and proposed a number of memes for those episodes, and while they were thoughtful ideas, I did not use any of his suggestions on the list for the miniseries. He suggested Mudkips for example which did not fit with Rocketboom’s audience. Jamie didn’t watch Rocketboom episodes day-to-day at that time so he probably wouldn’t of known, he was busy programming. I then worked with Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to confirm who would do which meme. I wrote the first complete script and then sent it to them to give them an idea of what to try and put together (they had never written scripts before for Rocketboom) and then I took what they handed in, and revamped it all into a complete set of scripts on my own at home, a full miniseries of episodes which included the scripted words, the camera direction for the actors, when to make all the cuts, the exact assets to use during voice-overs, etc. This is all fully documented in an extensive amount of daily operational emails, by the way, it’s not hearsay. As I mentioned, if anyone heard anything different about how this process went, they could ask. Kenyatta may not have that much in the way of communications and emails day-to-day except with me, but I have emails with everyone, and all the editors and directors, the dev department, admin, all the external, etc. Simple.

I decided I liked the miniseries and I would create a spin-off show, which I did do. That was also the message behind the press release I wrote when I launched it, near the end of 2018. In my press release, I referred to it as a spin-off show from Rocketboom, and spoke about the way in which sitcoms on TV had characters that branched out into their own shows. It was something I had given years of thought to, and this was the first big one. The formal Know Your Meme show was a great show from Rocketboom, and Kenyatta, Jamie and Ellie all became recognizably internet famous overnight, which was a perk for them too.

Though, more importantly for this article, there is another side to Know Your Meme which I would like to talk about that really makes Know Your Meme what it is, that which was also completely misunderstood by the Verge writer, due to the information that was mischievously fed to her: the meme database, the platform itself.

Kenyatta’s ideas for the creation of Know Your Meme ended with the idea of a video segment inside of Rocketboom that day. He was unaware of the idea of the platform (the meme database) and was not involved in it. Neither was Jamie or anyone else. This is also verifiable with a plethora of emails in case anyone ever wanted to see though no one has ever contacted me with a serious interest in it.

But there is interest, as there are many articles that touch on it, but they almost are all incorrect, it’s not just The Verge. The Verge article states that the meme database was created near the end of 2008 by Jamie, a full twelve months later than it actually was. It wasn’t created in 2008, and it wasn’t created by Jamie. The article originally said that Jamie created it in one day in 2008, though later The Verge issued a correction, and updated it to say that Jamie created it in 2008 (as if he didn’t take just one day apparently). These are pretty big oversights that could be easily verified but they are all still there in their grossly incorrect state.

I created and released the first Know Your Meme meme database at knowyourmeme.com in 2007 myself, a full year earlier, for the reason I described above. I built the first versions with moveable type and wiki software and started experimenting with it, settled on a wiki platform, and then published it alone through Rocketboom inviting the Rocketboom audience to join and add meme articles in the academic way I had guided. This was in 2007, the same day I released the first Know Your Meme segment with Joanne. Rocketboom had an interactive-ready audience and a few came along and began to participate. No one else collaborated with me on the meme database with regards to the idea, building it, experimenting with it, buying the domain name, or releasing it on Rocketboom.

When I released that first iteration of the meme database, from that day forward, I was also the only one aside from our audience who used it, experimented with it, and continued to build upon it to flesh it out for close to a year.

Have you ever seen the interesting experiment where a copy of the U.S. Constitution was put online in a way where anyone could come along and edit it? The experiment was to see where it would end up if literally, anyone could edit it. How would people work together when it’s completely open and there are no rules?

For my first iteration of the meme database, I was inspired by this notion for meme articles, and I purposefully removed all constraints. I allowed people to edit articles without even needing to signup or add an email address. Anyone could just land on a page, click to edit, and start editing.

Yes, that did not go well at all.

I knew what I was up against, as it was even worse back then when trolls weren’t just there to ruin things, they used language that painted the pictures of war and they posted the most deranged images that were hard to unsee…this was the fodder at the time for people who were known to use the word meme.

I tightened up controls but it was a weak fence. The wiki I pointed KnowYourMeme.com to had instantly become a lost cause, but I kept using the Rocketboom wiki under the Know Your meme section and working on the idea of the platform. It was a time of experimentation and learning for me, thinking about a platform as opposed to content.

There was a need for it. The narrative of what inspired the Know Your Meme database is not correct, however. It wasn’t built to give creators credit. Not at all.

There was an issue related to attribution that contributed to my understanding that there was a need for the database, though it was not about attributing the creator of a meme, it was, ironically for this story, about the authority of attribution. The problem with Wikipedia is that any facts on an article require authoritative attribution. If you tried to create an article for a meme on Wikipedia at that time, and you wanted to attribute a key moment in the chronological timeline, and for example, link to some random blog by an anonymous writer as the citing where they talk about it, Wikipedia would not accept it since the author was not authoritative, i.e. not reputable.

When you sit back and read a meme article and learn about how a meme came to be as a matter of highlighting the outstanding chronological events that contribute to its spread, you start to see patterns and begin learning a lot about how information is controlled, and how it propagates through environments. It’s a study of the intrinsic properties of an idea and the environment in which that idea is in. This is a very important discipline that goes way beyond the value of a good time or assuring that artists are credited for their work. The study of memes is the primary reason for Know Your Meme. This is the endeavor that inspired me to imagine, build, and invest in operating a meme database.

The style of the articles and the show wasn’t ultimately a brand of nonchalance, which Rocketboom had a lot of with its main show, but it was more like bringing formality to absurdity, which was comedic in and of itself. When you are describing absurd things formally, you can easily presume an even higher level of absurdity with the style guide.

I first began allocating formal Rocketboom resources to the Know Your Meme database by assigning my first Rocketboom writer (the first person I hired to help me write scripts for the Rocketboom shows), Chris Menning, to help me crank out a large set of important and obvious articles. Together we began building out the first set of tried-and-true pages for the sole purpose of setting the stage and showing the way for the voice of the site, and illuminating the style for articles with consistent, identifiable patterns…controlling those articles fully at first so people would not come and mess them up.

Over many months, after it became clear there was a definite spark and I decided that it would be worth it to invest in building a full-fledged platform with scalable features, I put aside a large, formal budget and timeline, and hired a formal team in house, inside of Rocketboom to focus specifically on building out what would become a unique user experience with article entry and editing features.

The new feature set offered a very special, unique quality that was not part of Know Your Meme’s purpose but ended up contributing significantly to the growth of user participation. You may wonder, what inspires and incentives people to add content to a platform like Know Your Meme? The unique feature set with Know Your Meme gave individuals who did contribute a sense of entitlement and authority they could not get from Wikipedia. As with my very first iteration which did not last, Wikipedia enables anyone to come along and edit an article mostly hidden and under-appreciated.

Know Your Meme placed a lot more focus on highlighting the authors of an article and provided a greater value proposition for becoming an author by starting completely open but then limiting an article to just a handful of people who could edit, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For example, as a contributor and participant, if you noticed a meme that was not in the database, you (or anyone!) could go to Know Your Meme and enter a new article about it, first. Then you would have control over the writing of that article. You would become the author. Then, anyone else could come along and join your article, edit it, or expand it, and suddenly you would find yourself collaborating with someone on it. You might not agree with their edits so you would need to work it out with them and together share the outcome. Then another person can come along, and another, but only five total with some exceptions. An article with only five people collaborating with it gives those five people the control over the information and thus they become the authority on that meme. This is important, and they get attribution and recognition and build authority that is a value for them in return. It’s more than many people needed to contribute but helps to incentivize and spreads value for many more.

If the five people could not get along and work things out amongst themselves, the site editors who quickly materialized from within the user base itself (where they tended to gain even more authority and value for themselves), stepped in to assure order and had control to escalate or determine a fair outcome to keep the group at peace, to allow the articles to maintain their integrity in an efficient and generally open way. Crazy and unique issues could then be escalated efficiently from there.

To build this new version of the site, which would be launched a year later after the first iteration was released to the public, I hired Jamie Wilkenson to lead the development, I hired James Wu as a second developer to support Jamie’s lead, and I hired Greg Leuch as the lead designer. They came into Rocketboom each day and cranked it out pretty quickly without other distractions, though Jamie and Greg were primarily working on Magma at that time, a software solution for i.p. over TV that was prob the best platform Ive ever made. I could spend hours talking about how great the interface and feature set was for Magma, I think it would be ideal today too.

The articles that Chris and I wrote were the first articles on the new site, some of the classics. They live under Jamie’s account name because he was developing the new site and imported them in under his account, which I believe was actually user #1 or #2 that was during dev. Jamie resigned shortly after the new database was released, and after my first iteration of Magma was released, after moving away from NYC to San Francisco. The Verge article doesn’t mention Greg’s name through the visual design of the site was mostly his contribution and it was a necessary ingredient to make Know Your Meme work. The article also doesn’t mention James. Though the three of them worked together as a tight team. The article only mentioned Jamie and misattributed his role. Jamie does not say on his own bio that he created the Know Your Meme database, despite that he, Greg, and James added genius to it before moving on.

As the press release stated when Know Your Meme was officially “spun-out” of Rocketboom at the end of 2008, the date that The Verge article refers to as the date Jamie created the database, it’s not as if suddenly *poof*, like magic, the whole thing was just created and then got started “one day” by Jamie, or even as if Jamie, Ellie, and Kneyatta are the sole creators and founders of the Know Your Meme as the article states.

The platform was fueled by the show and Rocketboom where episodes played, grew and grew, and soon became way more popular than Rocketboom due to the platform nature of the site, and well, memes. The Verge writer said Know Your Meme became “more beloved”.

The Verge article essentially begins the history here, after it was established and had apparently become statistically more beloved, so it was completely wrong about crediting the various components to the various people.

For example, the article states that Brad Kim created the first meme articles when he arrived after he graduated college in 2009, yet clearly, that would be impossible by two years.

The article suggests that Brad was somehow treated poorly as part of some kind of “$100 club”. I looked at my emails just now to discover an email one month where I asked Kenyatta about Brad (I was going through payroll) and how much he was being paid since Kenyatta brought him on to help support production as an intern. I never used interns at Rocketboom but Kenyatta had said he needed them. In the email Kenyatta was advising on how to protect the copyrights and i.p. As soon as Kenyatta left and I first began working with Brad directly, I moved him up to $52,000 that he made that year. Brad was hired as an intern to help construct materials and other aspects for the Know Your Meme video show production, though when I started working with him, that’s when his job became to manage the community and oversee the site. He started that role in 2011. This was after Kenyatta, Ellie, Patrick, and Mike all left Know Your Meme behind and gave their formal goodbyes.

I found another email where Brad thought Patrick created the Know Your Meme show, though that would be impossible by three years! Patrick came on much later after it became a staple, and he left soon thereafter. So it’s obviously impossible that Brad created the style guide for the articles, and Brad was not clear on the history because he came years later, too.

There were some comments from Ben Huh related to the sale, and some comments from Kenyatta that will require significant detail to clarify because the writer did not have any more time to understand those comments, and thus misconstrued various details as a result of the obvious inconsistencies that can happen when a writer is misled.

With everything inside of Rocketboom, I never worried about the business model at first. I only wanted to create a spark with what I built to assure that what I wanted was what others on the internet wanted too. I would never want to push something or sustain something that others didn’t want or need. No way would I formally allocate such a plan and significant resources to building, hiring, and operating the meme database without already figuring it out. It took over $50,000 just to build the database, especially as my designer and developers were getting paid really well for doing it. And once the new version was built and ready to scale, I began thinking a lot more about various methods for sustainability.

As I pondered that question, I was free to do so with relative ease, for Know Your Meme kept growing and became extremely beneficial to Rocketboom naturally for providing an extended reach to various sponsorship and partnership deals that included all the shows and sites at Rocketboom that I was selling.

Now here we are nearing the end of 2010, the year that Kenyatta left. I had three important business contracts in the works for Rocketboom at that time, a sponsorship deal with AT&T for $750,000, a sponsorship deal with a firm that had Dr. Who as one of their clients, and a show development contract in the works with PBS in Washington D.C. which I had been developing for almost a full year to create a show geared toward their new online video programming.

I also had a couple of other deals in the works for Know Your Meme specifically. One business idea I had for sustainability included selling Know Your Meme, but not to sell it off and wave goodbye…to sell it to another company that could afford to operate it and pay for Rocketboom to nurture the growth. Rocketboom was my first company ever and I was coming to terms with the fact that operating was the least interesting to me, and that it held me back from forging ahead with new ideas. Buzzfeed was interested and I met formally with Jonah Peretti about it. I got the feeling he would have bought it but my price was too high. The price I proposed to him was not thought out very well, granted. I had gained a lot of experience with business development but knew nothing about how to value a company like this or arrive at a price. I was offered $15,000,000 for Rocketboom by ABC/Disney but wasn’t interested at all, it was too soon to sell out online video for the medium had not been democratized and my goal was to open things up, not close them in (side note: after I refused to sell, Amanda Congdon left to go work with that same group.) For the meeting with Joannah to sell Know Your Meme, Kenyatta said he wanted to come along. I was fine with that. I had a style that worked for me already so I asked him not to chime in and he didn’t. When I dropped an $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 price tag, that pretty much, uh, ended the meeting right there. About another 120 seconds and we were walking back to the Rocketboom office. I used to mess with Joannah when I was collaborating with him through a program at Parsons and Eyebeam, and we were blogging on “ReBlog”, a project he led at Eyebeam around 2002 that was a precursor to tumblr. I set up a reblog on my server and put up cool links and photos and when I got a high number of reblogs on a photo with him on it, I would swap it out so everyone who had reblogged this nice photo of him suddenly had a zoo animal.

Back to the end of 2010, just before Kenyatta left. I was most excited at that time about a venture capital opportunity on the table which was my first choice. An investor from Spark Capital I really liked became interested and when I drew up everything on his board, going through all of Rocketboom’s assets as I had them bunched into a) Rocketboom Studio Productions b) Know Your Meme, and c) Magma, he looked at me and said how are you possibly running what is essentially three companies in one?

I was so prepared for that question. I explained that I was interested in meeting because I had determined already that the answer was that I couldn’t, it had become too much for me alone. It was the perfect time to break out Know Your Meme and obtain capital to turn it into its own company. I only wanted to consider investment from them into Know Your Meme and I had someone to take on the role of CEO for Know Your Meme, my lead producer for the show by that point, Kenyatta Cheese, who also had climbed to the formal title of Chief Operating Officer for all of Rocketboom, which included Know Your Meme.

At the time I trusted Kenyatta and felt a bond with him that was as special as anyone in my life. He had been at Rocketboom working full time for several years, earning an annual amount of around $100,000 with bonuses, sick pay, a great health package, workers comp, and an offer to become an equity partner in Rocketboom which included all the assets. All of my dedicated employees who worked on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, and Magma had a great health package, workers comp, bonuses, and sick pay because that’s what I wanted for them because this is a short life and they were spending it full-time on Rocketboom. It should be the best for people that it can be.

So while Kenyatta’s main role was to be in the office operating everyone who had their roles including overseeing the administrative department and production departments (I was not in the office managing and was not good at that role), I was out doing all of the business development for Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma, at home writing the creative (especially all of the scripts and creative details), building, working with the production teams or developers and others at Rocketboom, or flying around to speak at conferences and universities where I did not promote Rocketboom directly but inspired people with stories about internet culture and the democratization of the moving image, one of the luckiest experiences of my life to get invited to travel for free to meet so many amazing people at the tops of their professions all over the globe.

Kenyatta said he was excited to become CEO of Know Your Meme, and this would allow him to parlay out of Rocketboom operations and run Know Your Meme full-time in its own new company, which he would control on a day-to-day basis. The first principle I promoted over and over to every employee is that there are a lot of opportunities and potential opportunities, with platforms and shows being built at Rocketboom, and that whatever role they may be in at that moment, they should never be shy in seeking a transition into another skill set if they felt they could shine. I would support them in seeking a role that they were more inspired by than the one they had, whatever direction they wanted to grow into.

So I flew back to meet with the investor a second time and took Kenyatta with me. The meeting was successful and we flew back to NYC with a plan of action that would lead to Kenyatta becoming CEO with significant equity in a new break-out company, and a ballpark upper six figures in cash as the initial seed capital to get us to sustainability.

Right around this time I secured Know Your Meme with a long-term advertising deal with Blogads through a contract I signed with Henry Copeland. Copeland created a three-year plan that would lead to sustainability in 6-9 months as he ramped up what would be an innovative video ad platform, exclusively selling the site to various advertisers, and then, based on the projections, becoming significantly profitable (i.e. money to develop growth) by year two. The investment would work perfectly with such an ad deal to ride out the storm and then go after a larger round to scale the growth by building more wonderful new features.

As Kenyatta was still the operating officer for Rocketboom, before the Christmas holidays that 2010, I tasked him with reviewing each of the employees across Rocketboom which included everyone at Know Your Meme, submitting their reviews to me, and then finally, I would review him. A COO can be many things and do many things and it all depends on the company. In our case, his main job was to be in charge of all the people and keep the productions going day-to-day. When people had problems with each other, or there were things they needed to get done, he would make the decisions that the head of operations would make. When a show was not stable, for example, if it became stressed from lack of editors, money or resources, he would propose a budget change to stabilize it and maintain the stability. As CEO it was my job to check in with him in a formal way and make sure he was aligned in supporting my vision.

He said he was sick, and would not be coming in for the review because he was sick. This went on for some time and then he said he quit and never returned.

I later found out that before he quit, in the months prior, even before we flew to speak with the investor, he went to several employees, one by one, and told them he had something important to tell them, but that he could only tell them if they agreed not to tell anyone. He then told each in private that Rocketboom was likely not going to make it past December, and that they should begin looking for another job to protect themselves.

Over the entire period, Kenyatta was at Rocketboom, he was never involved in any business deals or third-party partnership negotiations, I handled all business and partner development myself.

So I thought it would be prudent to begin showing him how I put business deals together and what I saw as important (e.g. I only looked for deals that would significantly benefit the other party, and I always traveled to meet people in person to begin each new big deal). As we imagined him moving up with Know Your Meme, this was the first deal I allowed him to manage the full relationship for. It was important for Rocketboom. As I mentioned above, it was a company that had Dr. Who as a client, apparently usurping the deal to start his own marketing company. I was dumbfounded.

He left running Know Your Meme on his own to become a marketer and established a marketing business that I believe relied on this deal, and I believe he is still doing marketing business based on that relationship today.

I had no idea any of this was happening at the time, I fully trusted Kenyatta to act above board. I learned about it later when two producers (one woman who produced one of our local Rocketboom shows and another woman who produced the Rocketboom show itself), told me that Kenyatta had approached them but both of these producers were stuck, unable to tell me, for they had promised him they would not tell before they got the info. I asked each of these producers if they heard about it from the other and they had not, they both came forward independently. Yet a third woman who produced a show at Rocketboom later came forward and told me she was upset about this too.

When Kenyatta resigned, the first thing I did was tap one of the actors in the show, Mike Rugnetta, who I liked and thought was probably clever to see if he might be interested and capable of replacing Kenyatta. I did not know him at all and had not worked directly with him as he had come into the show more recently, much later after it was built, popular and stable, as the article notes. He only came into the studio for short bursts of time now and then to film and I usually wasn’t there. When I told him that I would like to meet with him to see if he would be a fit for CEO of Know Your Meme, he expressed excitement and agreed to come to talk about it, but then replied back hours later and simply resigned without notice and without any explanation. Same with Patrick, though I wasn’t interested in considering him for the position. The article stated that they “stayed on after Kenyatta and Ellie left” which is false. The last work Mike and Patrick did was prior to Kenyatta leaving and they both left together within a day or two of Kenyatta resigning, already privy or freshly persuaded.

So I went back to the investor and let him know that Kenyatta was not sincere with us, and that obviously I was not ready after all for any investment, an embarrassing moment because clearly, I was about to hand over his money to the wrong person. I told him I would need some time over the next few months to stabilize Know Your Meme and search for a CEO.

That’s when I turned to Brad Kim and Don Caldwell to help keep Know Your Meme stable in the midst of all the operations for everything that had been piled back onto my shoulders. They had no idea what had just happened and were only too happy to dive in, understood exactly what they were getting into with regards to the instability of Rocketboom at that moment, and rose to the challenge. It was hard times, due to money, as everything was hit so hard, and Kenyatta took one of the most important deals we needed. The AT&T deal materialized and the ad sales deal with Blogads materialized though things would be stressful for several months before we saw revenue from it. The Know Your Meme show was paused due to the actors having left because of Kenyatta leading them to do so, Rocketboom was still running with Molly, and then I was solicited by Ben Huh from I Can Haz Cheeseburger. He made an offer to buy Know Your Meme.

We worked out the terms and discussed the sale over emails, at my apartment in NYC, and at SXSW in Austin. Ben seemed to me, at that time, to be one of the most hated people in internet culture because he was known for running what seems to have been a comedy sweatshop factory. There was article after article about people who worked for him complaining about how little he paid, and how unfair he was to them. It sounded horrible, but the articles were written by one-sided assignation style writers – maybe true, maybe not – so I was willing to give him a chance and entertain the idea, pressing him for his philosophy and what he would do with Know Your Meme.

When we first discussed it, he threatened to take the newfound thirty-million dollars that he received from venture capitalists to build up I Can Haz Cheeseburger, and put it towards his Know Your Meme competitor called Memebase, which he already tried to create a spark with, but couldn’t. Membase didn’t have the spirit, I noticed.

He said he would be good to it, and keep it as its own brand, allowing it to continue on without touching it much. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I was in a position of weakness which is a bad place to be when confronted with this type of decision. I went back to the investor at Spark and sought his advice. He gave excellent advice that allowed me to look at it from a non-emotional perspective. What I’ve found is that I’m great at creating, building, releasing, and generating the spark, though I’m not very good at operating. I’m not that interested in most of the challenges of day-to-day operations.

Any money I made I’d just want to put back into building features (features that I’d still like to see for KYM now over a decade later which still never materialized), and I was already thinking mostly about Magma at that time. Ben seemed to me at first to be a typical businessman and I wondered if he would be just what the site needed: a businessman to help keep the spirit alive so that it can be afforded. I would stick with it and gain experience from him that I could apply to Rocketboom and possibly use it as a template to create and sell platforms and shows, I imagined. At the end of the day, with the blessings of the investor, and with the blessings of Blogads who graciously agreed to terminate our multi-year contract so that I could sell, I agreed to sell it, and I got Ben to agree to essentially not mess it up by not turning it into Memebase, I got him to hire my employees for a solid wage, and beyond the purchase price, the terms had a big extra amount with additional benchmark rewards for me to stay with it and continue to produce the show.

You know, people really show themselves the most when it is contract time though, and to me – my personal opinion only – Ben Huh was a ruthless businessman at that time for the precious world of media we were in, and I decided during the process that he was so different than all the great business people I’d previously met who seemed fair and good, and because he was looking at the partnership in a way that was so different than the dozens upon dozens of partnerships and contracts I had already established with Rocketboom, I realized that I would never be able to work with him. I got the feeling that he was willing to go as far as he possibly could to get an upper hand over every tiny little detail of every little thing, not at all seeking to engage in a win-win type of deal if he could get away with it.

He threatened to sue for assets that didn’t belong to Know Your Meme that he ended up taking, including a url I had (meme.ly) which he never used and a book deal I had for Rocketboom about memes with one of NYC’s top book publishers, which he killed after he took. He kept trying to create one-sided general responsibilities and indemnifications which constantly required my lawyer to argue for my fair rights which was always the end result after escalating into expensive battles, and he tried to buy the company first, before negotiating with my staff, because he wanted to re-negotiate their wages for a lower cost from a position of leverage. This created a stressful situation for all of us, especially them, as if they would somehow be expendable after everything they had been through to endure the instabilities of all the sudden departures Kenyatta inspired everyone to take instantly. I thus made their future employment and their future salaries with Ben a term of the sale and assured they were satisfied and secured as a precondition. I also offered enormous bonuses to them for their patience and endurance through the rough times.

Anyway, I was all for getting the purchase agreement as tight as we possibly could, but after seeing Ben trying to win, win, win every detail, I realized I just couldn’t live that life. I told Ben that I would honor continuing on with the sale we were deep into, but I would not be able to stay working for him, and thus I told him I would not produce the show for him, and that we could remove the terms about my continued employment and reduce the extra price.

He still wanted to buy it and we pressed on with the purchase agreement and then on literally the last day of toiling, after a ridiculous amount of arm-twisting and mean spirited lawyering by Ben, long after he had taken control of the site’s statistics and confirmed everything with his own analytic trackers, literally the very last day before it was ready to sign, Ben received an email from an old Know Your Meme contractor named Patrick Davidson who didn’t work at Know Your Meme anymore (a man who was an actor on the show that Kenyatta brought on much later) and Patrick wrote that he heard that Ben was interested in buying Know Your Meme, and expressed that he was interested too because Know Your Meme belonged to him, he said. He also copied Kenyatta, and other key employees from Rocketboom. I seriously wondered if it was a joke or if he was drunk or something.

Ben’s lawyers forwarded the email and demanded that I get signatures from everyone on the email to remove their claims – regardless of any prior contracts (i.e. just the mere mention of the claim was interference with the sale) and the sale became derailed literally the day before it would be ready to sign for just about one million dollars after about that much more was removed when I refused to continue working for Ben.

Kenyatta who was ‘ccd on the email from Patrick told each of the people on the email not to speak with me, and that he would handle it for everyone and cut them in on any money he could get from me.

Kenyatta then refused to speak with me and had his lawyer contact me to say that they all each demanded $20,000 and that they were unwilling to address it – that is, Kenyatta, Patrick, and everyone there would not speak and thus would not explain why they wanted $20,000 each from what they said they learned was around a million dollars, just simply stated, through a lawyer, that they must take this amount or else they would not sign Ben Huh’s document that he drafted to settle the claim they made to him, period. Even though I was able to show Ben that they did not have any ownership, Ben insisted as a condition of the sale that they must each sign it, since they made the claim.

I did have the option to back out of the sale at that time, though, while that would have been my first choice, I had my arms tied because I had significant obligations to my staff that would not be met and wouldn’t be able to wait, and the investment into the legal fees for doing the sale was extremely significant and had depleted me. I would then be left to deal with a group of people who were controlled by whatever Kenyatta was saying. I don’t blame them, they trusted him too.

I did not know that Kenyatta told each of them on that email not to speak with me at the time, I just know that when I reached out to each of them individually, they did not respond. I found out much later when one of them wrote me an email saying he was sorry for doing it, and he confirmed to me in the email what happened.

At the time it was happening, I had to stop and consider what I should do. My lawyers helped me to strategize, as we were just days away now from a significant sale for a million dollars. Ben said in a comment that I overpriced the sale but that is simply ridiculous. The sales price was so underpriced it was a miracle for him. He had his analytics and bugs and all his stuff all over the site and came to his own determination. Someone could certainly ask him what he means, that would be easy.

If I had the funds, I would have taken the opportunity to back out of the deal with Ben which would have been way better than going through with it, and then marched onwards. To sue Kenyatta could easily cost $50,000 to $100,000 though, and for what? It became clear that paying the $100,000 was the “cost of doing business”, as my lawyers put it, and that it was ultimately the price that I would need to pay since I didn’t have the money to sue or linger.

As my lawyers worked out the terms of the agreement with Kenyatta’s lawyer, Kenyatta also wanted to be paid the one full month of salary for the month he didn’t come in for the review and was out apparently taking an important client for his own business having called in sick. Kenyatta then got approximately $100,000 and split it up with the other four people on that email I believe, ~ $20,000 each I heard, and in one case saw because one person boasted about it online.

Just after Ben and I finally shook hands and got the contract signed, he emailed nonchalantly one day to tell me his plans for announcing the sale. He said he had a big press release lined up and it wasn’t going to mention Rocketboom! His release was just that Cheeseburger acquired Know Your Meme and that there would be no mention of where he got it!?

I had begun working on a press release of my own and was expecting we would collaborate on the announcement, like normal humans. When I told him that was in bad spirit, and that it was not his contractual right to tell me I couldn’t announce the sale, he came back and threatened another lawsuit for fresh non-disclosure language.

In the end, IMO, he didn’t mess it up except for obscuring the data and the design with banner ads that were overwhelming by any standards, and he wrote a medium post about how he floundered the $30,000,000 he got because he had no idea what he was doing he said (his words not mine), and then he sold it all to Literally Media.

This is just one example of the kind of liabilities one can face when building something of value in this space. The Verge messed this all up and should quite frankly retract the article but I doubt they will, Ellie was working there at the time to and the writer was her colleague. They are all friends and it’s just how things go, I’ve learned to accept it. I don’t need it. We are in an era of self-publishing and I have the truth right here for the people who I know and care about me.

The Verge was also grossly incorrect when writing “the content was initially generated by a crop of interns (including Kim)”. That’s just not true and is an affront to me and also Chris Menning and the work I did in 2007, the work Chris and I did throughout 2008, and all of the work that came after the new site was built with my developers and designers at the end of 2008, considering Kim contacted me himself for the first time on April 22, 2009, introducing himself as a fan of Rocketboom.

The history of Know Your Meme is so wrong according to The Verge, I added these comments, not as an argument, I’m just correcting the record. I’ll say it again, I can see that it’s not as if the writer was in bad faith here IMO, this is a little bit like looting around an easy target. The writer just didn’t do the research and simply regurgitated what was told via the seemingly purposeful misinformation created by Kenyatta. It’s a master-class study in years and years of watching him do this. I’m in awe over the similarities between his behavior and that of another person who came into my life, also in a similar unsolicited manner, Anna Segur. The connections between these two people are uncanny.

But consider that this Verge article is now being used on Wikipedia to act as the authoritative source on these details! (Update: I deleted it).

There is a dark underbelly to authority in internet culture that I have seen which is upsetting, and this might be the book I’m destined to write that I didn’t ever want to write. I’ve been in a unique position with unique experiences to see and feel a lot of it. When you have something great, and you are down and out, it’s amazing what comes out of the woodworks to take it.

Power and ego takes and takes, and you can see that power corrupts and causes people to be mean, lie, usurp, and credit themselves for things that they didn’t do. I think Ellie nailed it when she said in the article that ‘competing egos’ was the problem that caused her to leave, and I wish my ego was stronger to have noticed that problem. I thought Ellie did a great job over the years, she was the first person I ever hired to support Rocketboom. Unless she was also out doing things like Kenyatta behind my back that I didn’t know about, and I highly doubt that she was, she was herself a line of stability for me, even as stability was what she sought. I learned a lot from Ellie about managing people and trusted her as much as Kenyatta. Due to a sponsorship I put together with Intel which lasted several years, she built a quality show that she created and produced herself, Rocketboom Tech.

I’m always looking for their way out for them. When we all worked together, until the day they all left, I was happy with them all and regret the way in which Kenyatta was able to bring down Rocketboom in the way he did. He called it a “spectacular” crash in the article, a word he’s used before. I don’t see how someone like Kenyatta who seemed so nice to everyone could have been so conniving.

As for any problem with “competing egos”, there should have never been anyone in this entire story competing with me except maybe Ben because he’s a competitive businessman. Anyone at my company who was competing with me was wrong to do so and was working with me in bad faith, as that was not the role I hired them to perform, obviously. This is not a crime against me for having any ego that I did have, even if it was perceived as being strong, it was my company and I was the CEO. One should not compete with me under this structure.

I was trying to lift Kenyatta up, I was open to him, and I trusted him.

It seemed to me at the time he cared more about KYM itself than I see he actually did (he quit and abandoned it but came back when he saw money) but to the article from The Verge, you can’t call Kenyatta or any of the others “co-founders”, which the article does do. Even if you do want to stretch that loaded word far and wide, it’s not in any way possible here. They did nothing to found a company, they didn’t do business deals, they didn’t invest, they all got paid handsomely, they became known as being trustworthy in internet culture, just as the writer of this article is, there got offers of sweat equity but never took them, they all had health insurance and sick pay, and they had zero liabilities. They all worked for Rocketboom and times were good, this all could have been prevented if I found out what he was doing before he left and fired him.

The article created by The Verge is more interesting, not for any topic related to Know Your Meme history, but for the way in which the writer seems to have been duped, a combination of my lack of business strength as an artist combined with the writer likely being targeted, and closed. It was easy for the writer to be comfortable with her gut and her experience because she could clearly see so many others had written the same thing. Authority verified by authority sustains and grows.

It’s also interesting to consider this as an example of how articles never change, get updated or redacted. I happen to care about this article but more than likely no one else does. This writer probably doesn’t care the most now since she didn’t care enough to get the truth correct in the first place.

One of my jobs as the founder and owner of Rocketboom with all my staff, whether they were working on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, or Magma, was to lift them up. I did do that. I enabled them. I assured they were taken care of in ways that went far beyond what most other people would be expected to do in times of prosperity, and in times of trial. I was not perfect by any means, I was weak in many ways. I see that I have a role in all this. Everything stops with me. I’m the only one who should take the blame for everything in this story. Who besides maybe me had anything taken away from them though? No one.

But over the years, Kenyatta seems to have been prolific in attempting to create a narrative that was exactly like what the Verge story wrote.

It’s a significant claim I’m making, and I’m confident that anyone who researches this matter will see it clearly just by knowing what to look for. It’s been evolving and peaked in 2018 when I lost my voice complete. Why would it be so important for him to do this? I don’t know, ego? But I can see that he probably has built up a pretty penny convincing companies to hire him as immensely valuable to their marketing spends based on reputation alone, as he can even show them that he was the sole creator and sole founder of all of Know Your Meme, and that Know Your Meme is currently his site, where he oversees 14 million uniques a month.

That’s one of the very best resume items you could get if you are a marketer, and an instant door-opener as people will assume he did all the creating himself, setup the whole business, took it all to market to make it a success, and still remains in charge of it all. If I was a marketer I’d blow that up and hang in my marketing reception room. That’s way more valuable than a mere co-creator title or an Operating Officer for Rocketboom title. My eyebrow certainly made its way slowly upwards as I read this piece by The Atlantic, a once reputable, quality journal that I can no longer trust.

You can see that the article has completely and utterly solidified my erasure, even when the article admits he had only two other co-founders. Just the three of them: “When Kenyatta Cheese started Know Your Meme in 2008, most people had no idea what a meme was. He spent the early days sitting in a dark, ten-by-sixteen-foot room in New York’s Flatiron Building, his two co-founders illuminated by the glow of their laptop screens.” It doesn’t say with two of his co-founders, for example, it says with his two co-founders. Note also that this doesn’t say that the two co-founders started it. He was the only one who started it, and led the founding, and they are his co-founder. I’m not looking for sympathy or asking you to care about me, I’m just showing how this works.

What’s more, I’m putting all this out there because I’m literally frightened of Kenyatta, since right before his Atlantic and Verge articles came out, he thought I was going to be prosecuted for theft in my hometown with 12 years in jail (false accusations, the case was dismissed) and before he knew my case would be dismissed, he came and signed up with the court to speak at my sentencing hearing! He wants what I’ve done so bad it seems, and his ego is so strong, I’m telling you it’s really hard for me to see this type of aggression he apparently has towards me that I missed. He was ready to come lend a hand to push me into jail for 12 years!! To separate me from my own son for the rest of his childhood after all this pillaging he seems to have wanted the title because there really is nothing else I had left by this point.

Several months before he left Rocketboom, from Gigaom:

Kenyatta Cheese is the producer of Rocketboom spin-off Know Your Meme, a web series and meme database which has been documenting the oddities of Internet culture since December 2007.

After he resigned he changed his narrative to being a “co-founder” with Jamie and Ellie only, and began shifting the start date to 2008. Vice notes:

“It wasn’t until 2008 that three employees of the online video studio Rocketboom––Kenyatta Cheese, Jamie Wilkinson, and Elspeth Rountree––started producing videos on the history of things like LOLcats and the catchphrase “I like turtles.” Know Your Meme was born.”

But in fact, “I Like Turtles” was written by me and Ellie in 2007, I was the lead editor, and I produced and published it in 2007. The other point that’s hard to avoid here is that I led the scriptwriting, editing, and wrote the majority of scripts through 2008:


An email showing Kenyatta lied about being the lead writer of Know Your Meme in 2008. He told journalists that I wasn’t involved in 2008 and should be excluded from the history.

But in the same dramatically untrue article by The Vice, they ask:

VICE: How did you get the idea to start cataloging memes?
Kenyatta Cheese: We started seeing [places] like Adult Swim starting to use advice animals in their promos on TV, or on the internet, and not give credit where credit was due—like, not give credit to the community where it originated. And so we thought, let’s just start tracking this. Let’s just start a database. And so we did.

Let me just say that is a very incorrect answer. This same article quotes Kenyatta again:

Kenyatta Cheese: But for lots of reasons, Rocketboom fell apart, and Know Your Meme was caught in the middle of that. And so in late 2010 OR early 2011, Cheezburger had to buy Know Your Meme.”

That ”OR” is all caps. I wonder what Kenyatta means by this. Was Kenyatta secretly planning something else in 2010 that I don’t know about? Surely not, right? It’s probably nothing. If you simply research these terms though you can see what appears to be the evolution of the morphing from 2010 till now. It’s not as if the Verge writer decided not to call, or decided that there wasn’t enough space in the article to include my name, the writer was presented with a narrative that was so strong, and so specific, that the writer would need to choose a side because the narrative was meant to change history by erasing my role from it, so that my role could be assumed by someone else in a way that couldn’t be shared, compatible, honest, or true. The fact that Kenyatta Cheese has been using a misleading resume to charge companies for attention is not lost on me either.

This is exactly why I knew I had to put out my story about Anna Segur as well since she is still out there affecting me and would probably come back and sign up too should I ever trip and accidentally fall had I not put my story out there. My only alternative for protecting myself was to file a criminal complaint. I did not take the time to write it all out here but if you see THIS STORY, you can see exactly how far and wide Anna Segur went it in doing what appears to me to be almost exactly the same thing.

Absolutely I am looking at myself wondering about my role in this then. How did I let this happen to me twice?

I do have a role in enabling it, just as a person who leaves their bike unlocked on a busy city street has a role in enabling the thief. If someone leaves their bike out over and over, it’s easy to shift the blame onto the bike owner. For sure, the bike owner appears to not be learning an important lesson about humanity: many people steal. What must one do to protect themselves from the world is the angle for me and my role. I am constantly working on this, and I have more work to do.

There is that other angle worth considering though, and we usually do consider it when we can catch it: the role of the person who takes. Psychology is one place to start with this if you want.

There is a third angle, the angle I noticed here that seems particularly relevant, having seen and mitigated this from others more easily, the role of the reporter.

Though one reporter was an experienced, career professional investigative journalist, and the other was one year out of college working in audience development, they both shared all the following conditions that are not typical to the audience’s expectations for trustworthy methods, in their two separate, unrelated stories, about Anna and Kenyatta as it relates to me and my business:

1. Both of the antagonists in these two stories appear to have been attempting to usurp assets.

2. Both of the antagonists used the tactic of spreading misinformation to others.

3. Both of the antagonists sought formal demands for money behind closed doors.

4. Both of the antagonists would not provide a justification for their money demands, they only made demands but without providing their rationale.

5. Both of the antagonists led the stories for the group of others who had become convinced by what they said.

6. Both of the writers wrote one-sided stories, without using anyone from my side of the story, pitting me individually against a group who shared the same message created by the antagonist.

7. Both of the writers wrote their stories fully before they contacted me.

8. Both of the writers heard from me that the data they had was not correct, but when I offered to validate my side, neither considered it.

Perhaps there are three things that needed to happen for this misinformation to galvanize in both stories so similarly: 1. those who take must be strong, persuasive, and appear to have empathy, 2. the writer of the facts must be a one-sided reporter, and credulous, 3. I must have a back that I can not see behind. At least, that seems to be the thread that is not your everyday set of conditions, unless you create works of value like Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, Magma and Humanwire where it happens. They all got hit, some multiple times. Just as you would if you walked down the street in NYC with a million dollars in your pocket.

I am fulfilled for having created these and also having found success in making them all spark. I feel they were worldwide in their ambition and value, but also, it all seems kinda silly and minor too. I wasn’t prepared to have people try so hard to take what I was already trying to give.

There are all types of liabilities from people one must attenuate when running a business in internet culture. Not just internally. Due to the kinds of people that were lurking in the meme world that wanted and hated, they came after me when targeting Know Your Meme, which happened on a regular basis. They didn’t go after anyone else, they only came after me because I was the one who took the liability, responsibility, and accountability for everything. That was my job because it was my company.

Once, I arrived at my office in Soho to find someone had faxed into my printer and printed a full ream of fully black printed pages all night. Funny. Around that time a pizza delivery showed up with a dozen large pizzas, expecting me to pay for the order. Also funny. But the messages were threatening and geared toward me personally.

Crazy people online even tried to escalate a cause once to Anonymous to take Know Your Meme down in a formal campaign, though Anonymous was never actually engaged, just some subset of people who hated Know Your Meme for “stealing memes”.

They came after me at my home, too. Once when I arrived home, I was told that my boxes were in the apartment building’s freight elevator. My boxes? When I opened up the freight elevator, the entire elevator was completely full of flat, empty boxes from USPS. It was so full you couldn’t even get into the elevator to move it. A gang had placed orders with USPS offices all over Manhattan and NJ and trucks showed up all day long dropping free moving boxes for me. The stations’ manager told me it was the first time that happened, and that they would need to update their system. The other residents in my building were like, wtf does that guy do for a living that causes people to send him empty boxes as a form of vengeance? People coordinated attacks on my apartment, my servers, tried to rally movements against me, and made actual physical threats against me — it’s all part of the unfortunate reality of human nature, a consequence that is worth what it takes to build and establish something great.

I do have opinions too and here they are, they are about Know Your Meme today. I used to get excited to tell people to go check out the site but it’s generally not a good first impression. The content that happens to be on the home page at any given moment is more than likely crummy, like looking at a grab bag of football cards. It’s hard to tell it’s not some dude’s low-end blog with ordinary blog posts and aggressive, highly irrelevant advertisements. The news section is mostly not handpicked special cool finds, it’s mostly day-to-day topics such as a story that questions if Elon Musk will buy Twitter, and one that considers the current stock price movement of Tesla, all of which makes it completely ordinary.

There’s not much really I can say about the design anymore. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find any human say “I love the design”, or “I like the design”, or even “It has design”. The look and feel has become insufferable. It’s just too difficult and not enjoyable to be on.

The best sites to be on require a comfortable place to be in.

Now, ask me about all the features that I think Know Your Meme could bring next since the website has essentially stagnated since Ben Huh got it, and no one there creates much more than content:

The features I suggest include documenting memes a) that are of other cultures not in English specifically for those cultures, b) across languages and cultures with translation to better understand each other, c) supported by a big data dashboard for meme stats which also run on individual meme pages, d) with way more attribution information design for people contributing, e) by going way beyond what is funny with weight for articles about other types of memes to study how ideas spread with the next level of connotation, f) with a $chainlink AP-type integration for meme facts, where meme information is authenticated and can be used by publications like NYT when citing facts (if you go to google news and search “according to Know Your Meme”, you will understand who would use this), g) by significantly redesigning the advertising layout which is corrupting the information and user experience too much (the media galleries and collections of images and video are so sad, so slow, and clunky, h) reward users with Dogecoin when they attain certain standards with their articles that are not hit based, but based on relevance and quality, i) establish a frontend form workflow to allow people to challenge article facts, j) bring back the spirit!

The spirit by the way is just an approach. It’s like a protocol. There are certain rules that should happen – certain ways of being – that are formulaic and replicable I have found, where the rules come to light automatically in an informed way as if they are the principles that become obvious and guide you, once you have the right policies in place. Know Your Meme doesn’t have the spirit anymore IMO, and I assume they are okay with what they have, but I think the community and thus the site overall is stifled and would be easy to spark back up and reinvigorate in a better way for its own brand as well as for the public good. Kenyatta was influential with the particular community, which he took the most hold of at the time he left, and they seem to act with this tint as if a prosecutorial vibe is correct. It’s not at all, IMO. It is a major harm to the integrity of information and for people who have no voice or reputation. A good reputation should not be required to be worthy of equal consideration when it comes time to validate. But they do have this instilled in my opinion and it’s a kind of style that is the antithesis of spirited. Once you remove the prosecutorial vibe from a community (it may not look prosecutorial on the surface so it can be hard to identify), you can find the effects of new ways automatically.

It could be useful for anyone there to take a step out of it for a second, look back in, and think about what would be a “good spirit” way of doing some things that are currently sorta tainted or drab. I don’t have nearly the experience that many of the people who are on the platform do, other than just watching, though, with a more spirited set of policies, I believe those same people would know just what to do to set the right principles, and I believe it’s possible to work your way up from the principles to the policies, too. The spirit could be the most important factor to tend to for all the components to flourish the most.

If this is interesting to you for any reason, see Opening Up Media. I’m going deep on all of it, documenting the whys and wherefores of Rocketboom, from beginning to end. It’s not like this article, it’s mostly all good things, which is how Rocketboom rolled for close to a decade. I get excited to speak with anyone interested in these topics, especially people who are building, reach out if you would like.


Update: Jan 5, 2023: An article was published today in the Washington Post which acts as a quintessential example of the points above. The article avoided mentioning Rocketboom in two places, and attempted to exclude any mention so clearly that you can see where they ended up causing a false statement:

Behind the Scenes at the Encyclopedia Britannica of Memes: Fifteen years in, KnowYourMeme has made a name for itself by applying academic rigor to the silliest stuff online 

By Luke Winkie / Photography by Nicholas Calcott for WSJ. Magazine

“The site, which started in 2007 as part of a video series before becoming a Wikipedia-style archive, began hiring staff after it was acquired in 2011 by Cheezburger—a company best known for the cat-centric humor site I Can Haz Cheezburger—for a seven-figure price. (Cheezburger itself was acquired in 2016 by Literally Media, whose holdings include Cracked.com and the early entertainment site eBaum’s World.) Now even the Library of Congress treats KnowYourMeme as a scholarly source.” – LINK

As with the college writer who was working in audience development from The Verge above, this writer, Luke Winkie, similarly attempted to avoid facts and thus similarly ended up creating false statements, since it’s not true that hiring for Know Your began after Cheezeburger purchased it. This is way off. He is also off with regards to his ordering of events with Know Your Meme’s induction into the Library of Congress which happened before it was acquired by Literary Media. I was not contacted for this story,  and its not the type of story that should need me, but because the author did not do any research, and just wrote what was told to him, it is another perfect example for my article here, in demonstrating the blant intent to erase Rocketboom from history. Twice it was avoided. When I reached out to the writer, just like the student above after she published the false information, he ignored me. Not only is that really mean, it shows he’s decided on his own that his false facts are a-ok with him, and that he doesn’t care about it anymore. I’m not sure why he would prefer to have an article with false facts but I suspect it’s because he does not care about his work. It’s a perfect example in clear form to see how they avoided mentioning it despite the headline and subheader text which points right at me. An actual journalist would have contacted me under such conditions, especially considering this post above. Now that I’m showing that his article is literally factually wrong, he is still unable to confront it and that’s the reality I have discovered in this media industry: they are not really journalists, they are another kind of writer with a fuck-you ethic and yet they use these brands without any significant oversight or accountability. It’s too easily corruptable for The Wall Street Journal that they can’t even publish correct facts and have people treating information like this. As readers, we are left to trust the other information this writer was told without a way to fact-check it, where facts become truth in the minds of many, even when they are false.


My TedX Talk on Memes

There is great value in understanding the intrinsic qualities of an idea and the environment in which an idea spreads.


Pa rum pum pum pum




Retracing Steps


An extremely moving memorial. Also consider the tecnique and use of medium:

Retracing my steps
By Jeff Jarvis on 911

I took out my camera today and quickly retraced and recorded my steps on 9/11 six years ago. (A longer version of the story is here, recorded in audio shortly after 9/11.)



A Very Common Procedure


a very common procedure

I’m so proud of my sister Courtney for a successful run of her off-Broadway play, A Very Common Procedure.

Most people don’t realize that Broadway shows are mostly musicals and off-Broadway plays are often the end of many playwrights’ aspirations.

It’s such a major accomplishment, I’m trying to think of some way to take credit for this. . .I’ve got nothin, I’m just an innocent but lucky gene holder.