April 14, 2016

#61 Baby King

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All


ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet this is Reply All. I'm Alex Goldman. A couple months ago, I heard from this guy named John Urqhart. He’s a friend of PJ’s. And he wanted to talk to me because he'd become obsessed with this website called Animation Plaza, which was home to this trove of unbelievably weird gifs. And he couldn't for the life of him figure out where the hell these came from or what kind of person would make them?

JOHN URQHART: Some of them as you'll see in a little bit will sort of veer into this kind of libertarian patriotic zone. Here's one of the libertarian gifs.

ALEX: Ok, all right, to describe this. It is a man shaking his head in terror, holding a sign that says "Taxes," while behind him, Uncle Sam literally tightens a screw in his butt.

JOHN: Yeah. It's not very subtle.

ALEX: The gifs are these crude, 3D cartoons, that look sort of like the Ally McBeal Baby or like early Pixar animation tests. And the characters in these gifs, they have this really weird uniformity--huge eyes, huge hands, kind of wooden movements. So, for example, there’s this caveman. He's got Flintstone pants on. He's got a shark tooth necklace. he's got a unibrow. And he is bringing a dollar bill to his mouth, chomping on it a couple times, and then taking it out of his mouth again. And this repeats over and over and over again.

JOHN: I've sort of fallen in love with the gifs and my co-workers at work, we, we are communicating through these gifs. They're sort of part of our, our, our family, and we kind of build stories around them and create original pieces of artwork with them. And, it's easy to, to sort of think that somewhere in the depths of the internet all of these characters are living together as a family.

ALEX: Now, I’m sure that when you think of gifs, you’re thinking of a moment snipped out of a movie or a TV show, put on repeat, with no sound. Like a scene from Adventure Time, or the part in Amelie where she melts from embarrassment, or Mariah Carey blowing a kiss or whatever. It happens and then it happens again and then it just keeps going. And these gifs tend to express some very clear emotion. We like them because they shorthand some feeling. Like, surprise or excitement or disgust. But the gifs on Animation Plaza, they operate by different rules that I don’t understand. They don’t seem to express any standard, obvious emotions.

And whoever decided to make the crazy gifs that John found on Animation Plaza, whoever decided that the world needed both a female gymnast waving an Austrian flag and Jesus taunting a devil at the edge of a cliff, they totally overboard.

They didn’t make 100 of them. This lunatic made tens of thousands of gifs.

JOHN: It's as if somebody sat down and tried to make an animation of everything that happens in life. And they started it in a very random way where they were just sort of picking and choosing from, like, "I'll make a farmer struggling to push a tractor into the back of a truck, and I'll make like a hillbilly being stung by a bee, and I'll make a baby dropping a cookie jar." It's, it feels very random and haphazard how somebody went about sort of making everything.

ALEX: So of course John wanted to know where these came from, who made them, And after spending a couple of hours pouring over these gifs, I was dying to know, too.

What is the story that ties a gif of the devil to a give of an ice skating couple to a gif of kid who has crashed his remote control airplane into a fire hydrant? The only clue that I could find as a link buried deep in Animation Plaza which read, “Learn more at animationfactory.com!”

Turns out, animationfactory.com is almost exactly the same website as Animation Plaza. Except here you have to pay a yearly subscription for the gifs, whereas on Animation Plaza they are free.

And then, ok, there’s actually one other difference. Animation Factory has an email address.. So I write to them, I say, “Hey I love your gifs.” the next day, I get this terse, formal response. Quote:

"Animation Plaza was infringing our copyright by giving away our images for free so hopefully it will not be coming back online. If you downloaded any of our images from that site we ask that you please delete them from your computer. Use of our images without a valid subscription is illegal."

So it looks like my hunt got Animation Plaza, the website that John loved, shut down. One legal threat and within a couple days, Animation Plaza just folded up and blew away.

Which seemed weird. These gifs, they're apparently worth money to someone. Like, enough money to send legal threats.I tried to get Animation Factory to tell me the story behind these gifs, but they wanted no part of it. I got another terse email from them that said, “This website changed hands multiple times before we got hold of it.”

So, I looked into it and its history is wild. First of all, Animation Factory was an honest-to-God company. not just an art project. And that massive library of gifs for some reason has been bought and sold and resold a bunch of times, by a bunch of companies.

All these people knew something that I wanted to know. They knew why this company existed, and they even believed that it had some value. But none of them would talk to me. None of them would tell me anything.

Finally, I found a guy who while he hadn’t worked at Animation Factory, like not in the factory, he did some back-end work with them on their website and he had a peek into their world.

JEFF BATES: Animation Factory is like, it's, it's like a visual assault to the senses because the business model for it was: everything. We want every picture, every conceivable thing that, that you could look at.

ALEX: This is Jeff Bates. He's the co-founder of the tech website Slashdot,

JEFF: I'm sure you've looked at emoji on phones and been like, "When the hell would I ever use that symbol." Like, "Who is going to use the curved arrow symbol." Animation Factory, it's operating principle was not only do we want the curve arrow, we want 9 different versions of the curved arrow, because who could possibly not want to have 9 different versions of that. It had no target market other than it was people who. . .I mean really it was desktop publishing.

ALEX: So many of the, the animations on Animation Factory. . .

JEFF: Mmmhhmm.

ALEX: . . .are like, "I can't fathom a time in which they would be useful." The one that really sticks with me is, it's a man who's bound and gagged and there's a stop sign behind him. And floating above him is a UFO.

JEFF: Mmhhmm.

ALEX: What circumstance, in, under what circumstance would you ever ever need that piece of animation?

JEFF: Well, you know, I guess here’s the thing is what if you're selling desktop publishing tools to abduction survival groups. See? There's a target market you haven't though of? That valuable abduction survivor group.

ALEX: I know it sounds like Jeff's kidding, but he's not really. He says that those inexplicably weird gifs that Animation Factory produced, a lot of them were made for customers who requested them.

JEFF: How many of those things would come about is random people on the internet for all intents and purposes who would come to the site, would say, "Oh, I really need an animation that expresses this." And they would go forth and make it.

ALEX: And so Jeff says that’s how all these insane gifs flooded onto the web of the late 90’s.

And they made a lot more sense back then. Because if you don’t remember the web of the late 90’s, it was like a bunch of kids finger painting. Websites were total chaos. You’d see pictures everywhere. Text was a million different colors. This was before blogging platforms, before Tumblr and LiveJournal helped create some order. And this crazy playground, it was tailor-made for the sheer insanity of Animation Factory. Because any time one of these new DIY website makers had any germ of a ridiculous image to put on their webpage, like a rotating Virgin Mary or a vampire bathing in a bathtub full of blood, it was easy. They could get in touch with Animation Factory and put in a request.

But after that, Jeff didn't know much about what happened.  He said that he knew there were a handful of animators, and I just wanted to know what would it be like if that were your job?

JEFF: I can only assume must have been high the entire time they were making the animations because I cannot imagine any other way that you would go about doing that. It's. . . yeah.  Like let's see, one of, one of my favorites is a pirate ship. I think it's a pirate ship and it's going the wrong way down a one way street. Like, yeah.

ALEX: Oh, man.

ALEX to Tim Johnson: Alright, I'm gonna ask this in the least diplomatic way I possibly can.


ALEX: Were you guys just like stoned all the time?

TIM: No. We certainly weren't. We really made a point to have a lot of fun at work. It was, I mean, I don't think we, we took life too seriously when we were there. I think it was more about just, just having a good time.

ALEX: This is Tim Johnson and i was so excited to get to talk to him. Because he’d really been there. He was an animator at Animation Factory from 2000 to 2005 and he describes working there as one of the happiest times in his life. Just nonstop fun from day to day, which was totally encouraged by his bosses.

TIM: You know, when you, I initially started corresponding with you via email, you know, I sat and looked through, like, my old hard drive of all this stuff. I came across, like, pictures, and videos and there was a. . .there was one stretch where, we got these big monitors and they showed up packed in this, these blue egg-crate foam things and we made like foam sculptures and were wrestling in it and, and whatnot.

ALEX: And their bosses didn’t just encourage them to have fun, they seemed like genuinely cool guys

TIM: I, I remember when I first started, he was like, "You know, if ya got something going on or if you're not feeling good or whatever, you know, you can have a Work at Home day whenever you want, you just need to, you know, call in or email in to say that you're going to be working from home." And I remember, you know, I'd never even heard of that before, like, "Work at Home day?" Like, "I don't even have to get out of my pjs? Like, really?"

ALEX: I tracked down another animator named Ryan Hagen, and he said that once they were done with the day’s customized order, like, say, a dictator on a bicycle, then their bosses said just said, "Ok, run with it. Make whatever you want. Go nuts."

RYAN HAGEN: It was absolutely awesome the, the creative freedom that was given to us. Essentially we were just told make what you want.

ALEX: Just anything?

RYAN: Anything. Anything at all. I mean and, I mean there were certain things that we had to keep in mind, I mean, we had to keep this family friendly type of stuff. But with that in mind we could do anything we wanted to do.

ALEX: Basically, the way it worked is that Ryan was the guy who would design the characters in this program called Lightwave, and then he’d “rig” them, which means make it so their limbs to move. And then the other animators would grab the character and make as many gifs as they could from it. So if Ryan made George Washington, they could make him doing the can can with the other presidents on Mount Rushmore, or flashing a peace sign. And they could crank out maybe a gif an hour or every two hours. So that could be anywhere from 20 - 40 gifs a day.

To me, Animation Factory sounds like this magical company that got to exist outside of the normal rules of reality. A place where it could just be 6 people’s jobs to invent a bizarro little universe. So, naturally I wanted to talk to the people who dreamed it up, the original owners, a couple of guys named Art and Jim. I reached out to them and  Art wrote back to me that he was flattered, but it was  sore topic and he didn't want to talk. And, that was surprising to me because when I think of Animation Factory, the first thing that comes to mind is just pure, cockeyed joy. Like, an animated gif of a cactus in a sombrero playing maracas. I don’t think of sadness or pain or regret. But Ryan explained to me that in the early days of the website, even though Animation Factory had clients, it just didn’t have enough.

RYAN: Art and Jim, when they hired us, they weren't getting paychecks for I don't know how long. They were paying myself and the other employee and they were not getting paid.

ALEX: So, Ryan says that in order to stay afloat, Art and Jim were forced to make a tough decision. In 1999, three years after founding Animation Factory, they sold the company. They were still making the same wacko gifs, but now Art and Jim were just employees at this company they founded.

RYAN: And then they started getting paychecks, so I mean I can understand why they did it. They always regretted it because if they would've waited maybe like another six months, which obviously would be very hard for them, they would've been swimming in money.

ALEX: According to Ryan, right after the Jim and Art sold, Animation Factory suddenly found its client base.

RYAN: Sales started skyrocketing. Like, amazing amounts of animated gifs were going out the door and we did not have a distribution company. We were, it was, when a new packet of CDs were to come in and, and get shipped out, we had a packaging party, an entire day where all of us put discs into CD cases and shrink-wrapped them and put them in mailing slips and sent them off and it was ridiculous.

ALEX: Here’s what Ryan told me. Art and Jim sold their website just before the dotcom boom, which brought a huge influx of money and people to the web. And all these people, they wanted new, bright, obnoxious websites.

So Art and Jim were still showing up every day to the same offices and the company was doing well, they just weren’t benefitting from it. They were Pete Best watching Ringo Starr find fame and fortune with the Beatles. And then, in 2001, the dotcom bust happened and all that new internet money dried up. So, Ryan quit Animation Factory in 2004 and he told me that he heard the way the company shut down the following year was pretty brutal. He says that the company that owned Animation Factory sent someone to Sioux Falls, supposedly to go over some paperwork.

RYAN: They were expecting somebody to come to give them this like, "Oh, here's the changes to your health insurance and 401k thing," and they came and just shut the door on 'em and said they were shutting down today. Like, there  was no notice given to them I don't believe. They were just told that they were no longer working at Animation Factory, an. that very day they went home and it was gone.

ALEX: But even after Animation Factory the company was shut down, Animation Factory the website remained. The universe of characters that Jim and Art and Ryan and Tim had created, that universe kept changing hands until it eventually it landed with a couple in a small town in Canada. The folks who shut down the pirate site earlier in the story. They own the Animation Factory universe now. It looks to me like they’re trying to squeeze the last few dollars out of the first days of the web.

The internet is built on rumors and myths. That’s part of what makes it so enchanting, that things just appear with no explanation. And it’s my job to find out what these things mean. But on the internet, more than anywhere else, if you observe something you're going to change it. If you start asking questions, it might just disappear.

John came to me with this beautiful, weird, mysterious thing, this Loch Ness monster. And I put a leash on it, dragged it out of the lake, paraded it around in daylight, and that killed it. I don’t know if that’s good. I didn’t feel excited to tell John that I had answers for him, but also because of my questions, this massive trove of free gifs, this thing he loved and used every day was gone.

ALEX: So, I killed your website.

JOHN: It's, yeah. I noticed that it’s been down. It’s been sad. I got into the habit of, of going to Animation Plaza gifs to make silly points at work and to troll people on Slack or email chains. And, like, having that disappear, it's, it's been sad and frustrating and I, I need to live with that. And I think as, as a group we need to, yeah, decide, go through our computers and, and get rid of all of these, these gifs that we now illegally possess.

ALEX: I mean, you've always legally possessed them you just now know that they're illegally possessed.

JOHN: Exactly. Yup.

ALEX: Are you just saying that because we're recording? You're actually going to get rid of these.

JOHN: I'm gonna have to, I'm going to have to think about it. I don't, I'm not going to incriminate myself on air.

ALEX: John, I just want to say, I’m sorry. And you’re welcome.

Coming up after the break, a "Yes, Yes, No" that might just get us evicted.




ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome once again to "Yes, Yes, No," the segment on our show where our boss, Alex Blumberg, finds something obscure or hard to parse on the internet and we parse it for him. Most of the time it's him anyway. Occasionally it is a very funny comedian, very funny and charming comedian named Jason Mantzoukas.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, oh, you guys, you guys found him funny? No, I mean seriously, you found him, that guy funny, huh?

PJ VOGT: When he was here he made some disparaging remarks about Alex Blumberg.

BLUMBERG: He, he came at me in a very aggressive way.

PJ: He really did.

BLUMBERG: I can tell you this one thing James Marzipan: I am coming for you.

ALEX: Wow.

BLUMBERG: I was talking to Tim earlier and I was like, "It would be really funny if, like, I just came out and like we had like, like 17 roast, like, sort of Bob Skaggett roast style jokes that I could do about, about Jason Mantzoukas right away. But I, but I can't think of any.

ALEX: I know that. . .

BLUMBERG: My brain doesn't work that way.

ALEX: I know that you were genuinely trying to mispronounce Jason Mantzoukas's name, but you also mispronounced Bob Saget's name.

BLUMBERG: Oh, what did I say, "Skagget?"

PJ: "Bob Skagget."

BLUMBERG: Yeah, Bob Soggit.

PJ: Well, I know that Jason Mantzoukas has a terrible life-threatening egg allergy. That's the only thing I know about his weaknesses as like a nemesis.

ALEX: But as kryptonite goes, like you literally just have to put, like, the tiniest bit of egg in his mouth and he dies, so. . .


ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: Yeah.

BLUMBERG: Wow, that's, that's, that's, that's rough.

PJ: Yeah.

BLUMBERG: That's, that's not making me feel angrier at him. It's making me want to nurture him and, and feed him egg substitutes.

PJ: You'd be a terrible. . .

BLUMBERG: . . .and keep him protected from eggs.

PJ: . . .like, WWF wrestler.

BLUMBERG: I would. "Live Mantzoukas! Live!"

ALEX: Alright are you ready to do this?

BLUMBERG: I am ready to do this. Okay, so this is from somebody named Sara Morrison.

ALEX: Okay.

BLUMBERG: @saramorrison:

"Sara: Then a congresswoman from Massachusetts inserted herself into everything.

Therapist: Oh god *head hits desk*"

ALEX: Is that it?

BLUMBERG: That's it. Do you know what this tweet means?


PJ: Hmmf. . .

BLUMBERG: PJ Vogt, do you know what this tweet means?

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: Alex Blumberg, do you know what this tweet means?


ALEX: Huh.

BLUMBERG: The elusive, "Yes, No, No."

ALEX: Enlighten us, PJ.

PJ: So we work in Gowanus.


PJ: And we share a building with tech company called Genius. They're our landlords.

ALEX: Correct.

PJ: Genius used to be a company called Rap Genius that annotated rap lyrics. So you could look up rap lyric song and it was sorta like a embedded, "Yes, Yes, No." You'd be like, "What does that mean?" You'd hover over it and you'd get like a big right hand side explanation.

BLUMBERG: And I have used it many times.

PJ: Really?

BLUMBERG: Oh yeah. I went like full into like a bunch of Young Thug songs and like. . .

PJ: Really? How come?

BLUMBERG: I was reading an article that referenced this like guy who dances on the internet named Young. . .now I can't remember his name. Michi? Which, he's got this dance crew and he, they go to different places and they film themselves dancing. And it's like. . .

PJ: What's yo. . .and they just put 'em on YouTube or something?

BLUMBERG: And they just put them on YouTube. They're just like sort of like people who dance on YouTube. Hold on one second. Yeah, this.

PJ: Okay.

BLUMBERG: So for example. . .

ALEX: Can you turn it so I can see it, as well?

BLUMBERG: Yeah, hold on.

PJ: It's good cuz it's like goofy dancing mixed. . .

BLUMBERG: It's so goofy.

PJ: . . .with extremely good dancing.

BLUMBERG: Yeah, exactly. Anyway.

PJ: That's awesome.

BLUMBERG: So anyway they do a bunch of them and, and, there's a bunch of Young Thug ones. I was like, "Who is this?" And then I started like, went deep into a thing. Anyway, that's how I ended up on Rap Genius.

PJ: So. . .

BLUMBERG: But like, you know, like, it's really helpful.

PJ: So they, so they have that, but there are people who are like, "Well, you could take this thing of annotating stuff and you could do it for like, anything. You could do it for like State of the Union. You could do it for like. . .


PJ: . . .Hamilton stuff. LIke, whatever.  And so Genius has hired somebody to just do this full-time. To annotate whatever they find on the internet because they want to show people that this is  thing you can do. And so they hired this writer. Her name is Leah Finnegan. She used to be at Gawker, now she's at Genius. BLUMBERG: Oh. Right upstairs.

PJ: Right upstairs. And. . .

BLUMBERG: Oh, good.

PJ: . . .she is going into articles and blog posts and using it as a tool for criticism. Like in the media criticism sense of the word.

BLUMBERG: So she's annotating articles that people have written.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: Online.

PJ: Which some people very much dislike.

ALEX: It's more than that, though. It's not just that like you go to Genius and suddenly you are looking at a page that has the article annotated in the way that it has Genius lyrics annotated. It's that if you type "genius.it" and put it in front of any URL, so if you put it in front of a slate.com URL or whatever, suddenly what it does is it overlays comments on to of that URL from Genius. So it's like, it's added comments section to this website without any. . .asking anybody.


PJ: So weirdly like this little point of confusion is the big fight that this tweet is referring to because there is a bunch of annotations for this woman's blog post where she was talking about the sort of stigma of having herpes. And, and it wasn't like, I don't. . .it was, it was a bit of a strange choice cuz I don't think it was like a super big blog or anything.

BLUMBERG: Wait, this tweet is referring to a specific blog post that Genius annotated.

PJ: Yes.


PJ: So Leah and bunch of, Leah I think probably first and then a bunch of other people had sort of jumped in on this blog post and said like, "This is a fallacy." Or like, "This writing's sloppy" or whatever. The kind of criticism people would make about an article on, like, Twitter. The writer really didn't like it because it feels like aggressive or worse to be putting comments about site like quote unquote on their site. And then what Genius says is like, "Well, it's not on their site. It's on like a kind of like copy of their site that we've made." But it's like this huge fight about whether this is like criticism or like abuse or whatever. And then a congressperson got involved.

Like, it was sort of like fight that to me felt like my corner of like media internet that I like to watch but most people don't care about. And then somehow this congresswoman got involved, Katherine Clark, Democrat from Massachusetts. And she basically was like I want to know what you at Genius are doing to stop people from using your thing for abuse. And like, yeah.

Basically she had read some article on Slate that was like, "People could use Genius for abuse." Which then every time people write critically about Genius, people from Genius go on the article and they like, comment on it. And they point out every factual inaccuracy, which would bother me but which I find pretty enjoyable.

BLUMBERG: It is just like, it does make it, it's, of course they do that but it's also just sort of like, you're just like, "Argh. . ."

PJ: Yeah, seriously.

BLUMBERG: . . .what?"

ALEX: There is of course going to be a transcript of this "Yes, Yes, No" which means. . .

BLUMBERG: Yeah, exactly. It could get annotated.

PJ: No it will. . .

ALEX: I wonder. . .

PJ: . . .get annotated.

ALEX: It will get annotated.

PJ: And it's hard cuz. . .

BLUMBERG: Does everything get annotated that we put up?

ALEX and PJ: No.

PJ: They will annotate anything about them.

ALEX: Yeah, specifically about them.

BLUMBERG: Okay, gotcha.

PJ: It's just weird it's like, I don't know. It's one of those situations where I feel frustrated because I feel like I see every side of it, but I'm also aggravated by every side of it. And, and. . .

BLUMBERG: You're aggravated by the, by the act of annotating?

PJ: Well, it does feel. . .my problem is like I feel like Genius is being a little overly literal. They're like, "Look it's not on your site. What's the big deal?" And like, it feels different. It feels like notes from an editor who's pretty hard on you. But an editor that kind of nobody asked for.

So there's something about somebody being like, "You have some turn of phrase that's sloppy." And they're like, "Do you literally mean that?" that feels like a kind of behavior that just, like, you're like, "No this isn't my favorite thing in the world." But I also think, like, you published it. People should be allowed to criticize it.

So Sarah Morrison, who wrote this tweet, she's a writer. She doesn't work for Genius, but she just argued that Genius should be allowed to do what they want to do and so people piled on her. And so what I think she was referring to was being in a big internet fight and trying to explain it to a therapist and they might feel like, "Oh, this is little and fake." And then, you're like, "And then a congressperson got involved."

BLUMBERG: So she's presenting a scene from her actual therapy where she's like going through this whole thing with her therapist and then the, and the she gets to the part where the congressperson got involved. . .

PJ: Yes.

BLUMBERG: . . .where the congresswoman got involved.

PJ: Yes.


PJ: So. . . .

BLUMBERG: Alex Goldman, how do you. . .do you feel the same way PJ does about the whole annotating things?

ALEX: I don't.

PJ: How do you feel?

ALEX: I feel like anything you put up on the internet people are going to criticize. Right?


ALEX: And even though this feels the same, it's like you have to know where this unique URL is and you have to go to it. And you have to kind of look for it.


ALEX: If people are looking for a Slate article they're not accidentally going to stumble upon the Genius annotation of that Slate article.


PJ; That's totally true.

ALEX: So in my opinion it's sort of like, yes, they're people out there criticizing you in a way that feels like a comments section on your website, but it, it, it's functionally the same as someone on a forum somewhere criticizing you. And you don't have any control over that.You never had any control over that.

PJ: I think the thing I don't like about it is total elitism. Like, I want to have a way to be like, "No. No. You can't come in here and say things unless I say it's okay."

ALEX: I get it. I understand why it makes people mad. I just don't agree with it.


PJ: Cuz I'm like trying to be a baby king?

ALEX: "PJ Vogt: baby king." I, I feel like I have to now have to issue the disclaimer that I've never met anybody from Genius in spite of the fact that them being our landlords.

PJ: Can I actually tell you, like, some real dirt on Genius?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: So somebody who's a friend of a lot of people here, Emily Condon, she came to visit the building. She wanted to visit Gimlet and so she gets in and she's in like, the hallways in the shared space. And she asks somebody from Genius, "Do you know where Gimlet is?"

And the guy was like, "Yeah, they're right down that hallway. It's that door right there. You just turn to that door."

And she's pointed at the door. And she's like, "You mean that door right there?"

And he said, "Yeah."

So she walked down the hallway. She went into the door and it was a broom closet. And the guys was just playing a prank on her.

ALEX: How do you know he was playing a prank on her?

PJ: Because she was like, "He insisted on that door. He insisted." And then she walked in and she was so embarrassed she was like, "I can't walk out of here right now."

ALEX: So she just stood in the broom closet for a little while?

PJ: For a little while. And then she walked out and he was gone.

ALEX: Oh, man. I take it back. They shouldn't be allowed to post comments over people.


ALEX: Not after that broom closet thing.

PJ: It's pretty. . .it's like, it's actually a pretty mean joke.

ALEX: Yeah, that's not cool. It would be, it would be funny if I had done it to you.

PJ: Yes, exactly. . .

ALEX: Cuz we know each other.

PJ: But also, also if I did it to you, I mean there wasn't even anybody there. Like it was purely. . .

ALEX: He wasn't like, it was just for his own yucks. It wasn't for anybody else.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: That's sociopathic. That's a level of soci. . .sociopathy that I can only compare to laying a second layer over website and commenting on it.

So Alex, do you want to explain the controversy to me?

BLUMBERG: Yes. Okay. So the tweet is, @saramorrison:

"Sara: Then a congresswoman from Massachusetts inserted herself into everything.

Therapist: Oh god *head hits desk*"

So now I understand. Sarah Morrison has been a vocal defender of the, of the Genius side of the Genius v. Everybody Who Publishes on the Internet. . .

PJ: Except Alex.

BLUMBERG: --except Alex--controversy. What's that you ask? Genius is a company that annotates things. They started out annotating rap lyrics. They've now moved on, after many rounds of VC funding, to annotating lots and lots of things, including stuff that people write on the internet--on blogs and websites and other things. The people who write the things on the blogs and websites get a little honked off when Genius comes in with their smarty pants people and edits their grammar and talks about. . .

PJ: "Honked off?"

BLUMBERG: . . .other ideas.

PJ: That's a very delightful phrase.

BLUMBERG: And, and checks their facts and all that sort of stuff. And so those people are mad at Genius. Sara Morrison has been defending Genius on the it's-a-free-country grounds. Which was: if you're putting it out there people are allowed to talk about it. And she had been happily fighting that battle and then this congresswoman inserted herself into this thing that was probably gonna get sorted out one way or another by people talking about it on the internet. And this tweet imagines the scenario at her, in her therapist's office when she was talking to her therapist about it and she got to the part where the congresswoman from Massachusetts came in and then the therapist was like, "Oh my God," and put her head on the desk.

ALEX: Yeah, we're at yes, yes, yes. And that was a very succinct description. Good work.

BLUMBERG: Thank you.

PJ: Yeah. "Honked off." I just like it.

BLUMBERG: Shout to my friend, Lisa Neigel from college who gave me that phrase.

PJ: Good annotation.

ALEX: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. Our producers are Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni and Phia Bennin. Our editor is Peter Clowney. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Matt Lieber is an animated gif of a mailman furiously beating a mailbox with a baseball bat. Special thanks to Emily Kennedy, Thom Cote, Dan Renner, Emma Story, and Matt Stoffel. Extra special thanks to Paul Ford who writes amazing articles about all things internet at trackchanges.postlight.com and has a podcast that's called Track Changes which you should also check out.

Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings.

If you want to see the animated gifs mentioned in this story, you can find them on our website, replyall.limo.

Also, we know that the pronunciation of the word gif or ‘jif’ is controversial, so I created a version of the story where I say "jif." It's available on our website.

Reply All was nominated for best podcast in the Webby Awards and would love it if you would vote for us. So if you're interested, we'll link to the awards website on Facebook, and Twitter and at replyall.diamonds.

You can find more episodes itunes.com/replyall. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.