so is BNet back or what?
an answer to the question, as an excuse to do a year-in-review
In the spring of 2021, I decided to kill BNet. Writing it made me unhappy and there were other things I needed to focus on anyway. I was fairly certain that it was never going to come back. At the very least, it was never going to come back in its previous twice-a-week form. This remains true.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that you are currently reading… BNet. Or at the very least, you are reading something published on the “bnet” subdomain of substack.com. The simple fact is that old habits die hard. The habit in this case is: I’ve got a BIIIIIIIIIG MOOOOUUUUTTTHH, as Ralph Kramden might say.
This past May, I drafted a story that I quickly realized could only be self-published. It used online investigation techniques that, while totally sound, I did not feel like having to simultaneously pitch and explain to editors at stodgy legacy publications. And online media mostly pays crap and I’d probably have to give up ownership, so that was out too. And quite frankly, it was a really good story and I wanted to put it out into the world entirely on my own and receive all the credit. So I had to put it on BNet.
I thought about taking the email list and moving it over to some other, new newsletter. But that would be superficial, since it’s all just me anyway. Plus, I hate when I give someone my email and then they give it to someone else. A great way to get me to ditch a newsletter over the past couple years has been to announce, “I have sold my subscriber list to [insert large company].” On principle, I’m out. I cannot get over the mental hump that if someone gave me their email for BNet, that is the only thing that they gave it to me for. Hence, stuff started appearing on BNet again. A loophole!
So maybe it’s back, I dunno. I’m using this space however I see fit, mostly to self-publish or to flog links. My general attitude towards writing now is “all killer, no filler.” Nobody needs more vague thinkpieces about algorithms, or content moderation, or platform power, or the way we live now. Everyone acted like they’d finally figured out how to cover Trump and now they’re pushing out an embarrassing amount of copy for every Elon Musk tweet. Luckily, I don’t need to do “one for them, one for me” anymore. (Plus, due to certain professional developments this year, I should absolutely shut the fuck up and refrain from commenting publicly on how large technology companies conduct their business.)
My basic guiding principle for BNet is to not put out anything that you’d see anywhere else. I try not to write something unless I’m introducing new facts (or more rarely, a distinct perspective) to the record. I think that, by and large, I stuck to that rule in 2022. All of the stuff I put out this year was stuff that I could take my time with, because I was never in a race with anyone else trying to say the same thing. That leeway has allowed me to produce some of my favorite, most distinctive work ever.
In case you forgot, here are those pieces.
A Brief And Fruitful Quest To Find Neil, Who Banged Out The Tunes, Defector
Every year on April 13, people on Tumblr celebrate a picture of a rat taken on that day in 2006. But its origin remained a mystery to me until I sat down one morning and decided to find it. I found it — it was a lady who trained rats to do stuff. Not particularly exciting on its own, but cathartic for a niche of Tumblr users and certainly a useful piece of info (that is still missing from Know Your Meme, just an observation). Thank you to Defector for letting me go long on a rat playing the piano.
deuxmoi’s digital trail, BNet
This rocked. What a good piece! I think what I liked most about this is that I held my research to an unnecessarily high standard: I only cited sources that were intended for public consumption. That’s different than, for example, looking up corporate registrations, or voting records, or dubious scraped LinkedIn info — stuff that’s only technically public. I wanted to solve a mystery by presenting data that was willfully offered up, and I did.
Thorough, studious, diligent reporting, fact-checking and editing all done by one person: me. I’m not kidding when I say that one evening I was bored and I told my girlfriend, “I’m gonna figure out who Deuxmoi is” and then an hour later I basically had it all. God, can you imagine working as a full-time journalist and not figuring this out? Pretty embarrassing…
The Secret History Of The Internet’s Funniest Buzzer-Beater, Defector
The Misremembered History Of The Internet’s Funniest Buzzer-Beater, Defector
The first one of these feels like a trademark “me” kind of piece: an overly thorough investigation of a piece of internet ephemera so old it can drink. You get the process walkthrough, and you get the catharsis of detail. Names, dates, places. The college newspaper article is particularly funny to me. What a good detail!
And then it all went sideways in a really incredible way. My editor and I spent a couple of months just talking about how nutso the turn here was, and trying to figure out if I’d truly boned this one or if the stars had aligned for an extremely weird case of collective false memory. (My attitude is: both.) The day that used DVD showed up in the mail was the most exciting day of my year.
A friend of mine remarked that the first of this pair of stories didn’t have “a point” (though in fairness, they meant this as a compliment). I understand where they’re coming from, in that you don’t read the piece and then apply the lessons of the piece to, like, scrolling Instagram more smartly — but I do think there is a point. The point of the piece is that an interesting, well-known thing happened but there were some factual blanks to fill in. Not every article about internet culture needs to end with a moral or action items for the reader. I trust you to find the value! More than 6,000 words about a stupid 9-second video, and I’d gladly write 6,000 more.
How Gamers Beat NFTs, Businessweek
Every so often, legacy media will publish something clumsy about video games, and then the gaming writers and readers moan and get all huffy on Twitter like, “Why, oh why, won’t they take us seriously? 😡 Video games make a lot of money!!!!”
And then when you go to the gaming/tech sites and try to read their non-gaming/tech coverage, it’s all about comic books, or films adaptation of comic books, or television adaptations of comic books, and also some sci-fi and maybe a TikTok meme or two. The legacy side can’t stop referencing Pac-Man and the enthusiast side refuses to engage with broader culture in a substantive way. Neither side here is really trying to meet in the middle (and honestly the gamers are way more annoying about it).
I, foolishly, enjoy the middle. It’s very fun to look at video games and see how the industry’s history and player behavior serve as an early-warning system for basically everything outside it. So it was fun to work on this feature-length history of the atomization and assetization of games and how the conditions have changed such that the consumers and developers now wield genuine power against the business interests.
I will note: this was technically my first print feature, though it will never make it to print (I have the proofs of the print layout, I swear. Sometimes things get bumped!) I enjoyed writing a print feature — especially on a topic that suffers from a surplus of writers catering to enthusiasts and a dearth of writers interested in making the topic legible to the layman. I also enjoyed getting paid a print-feature rate. I’d love to do both again.
One of those projects that’s really only possible through brute force, but man, when you look at these things in aggregate it makes spending so much time on social media seem even stupider than we already know it to be.
This was also useful as a technical exercise. I got familiar with a new React component library and I taught myself how to use Firebase. Plus, I got to buy a really good domain name. I said I was gonna do this at the beginning of the year and I held myself to it. I’d like to thank macOS’s OCR functionality for helping me log all of my screenshots. You can read some nice articles about it at NPR and Wired.
An update on Catherine
People who paid for BNet received pictures of my dog. But since I don’t charge for BNet anymore, everyone gets a pic. Here she is.
Alright, that’s it. Smell you later!