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The AIM FishBot Phenomenon

When you were a kid and discovered the joys of call waiting and connecting calls, did you ever prank call two different people by dialing them both, connecting them together, and then simply listening in as they accused each other of calling? Hilarity usually ensued, as either they eventually came to the conclusion that they had been tricked, or one or the other got angry and slammed down their phone…

Today I was the victim of the digital equivalent, something called “Project Upstream;” a (harmless) bot system using AOL Instant Messenger that contacts two random people to engage in a completely random conversation. According to their website they are “an organization dedicated to promoting social ideals through the use of exciting new technology.
Project Upstream’s most well-known service is our swarm of robotic fish, which spontaneously connects AIM users to each other.”

What is a fish bot?
The friendly AIM bots have a countless number of screennames and have been seen as any of: (something)Salmon, (something)Trout, and (something)Coho. The opening message or “icebreaker” from these screennames varies, and the user screennames contacted appear to be gathered from LiveJournal, deviantART, Twitter, Xanga, and Digg. Messages sent may be altered in some way, such as being changed to piratespeak, old English, or changed to rainbow-colored fonts. The feeling you get when you receive that random IM is quite like being RickRoll’d.

Becoming a Victim:
BisexualCoho, (finding out later his name was Vince) was the person I was randomly connected with. I had been receiving these utterly strange messages from him [his bot] for a week now. I finally got tired of it:

Apparently, my screen name was in fact WoolenCoho.

Project Upstream is similar to, and may have taken its idea from, an AIM bot called “TheGreatHatsby.” TheGreatHatsby instigated AIM conversations by retrieving lists of recent LiveJournal posts and getting the AIM screen names of their authors. The bot would send a message such as “I say, old bean, have you seen my hat?” to two AIM screen names using its own screen name and forwarded any messages sent in reply to the other user. Thus anyone who was not aware of the trick would assume that the other person originally sent them the message.

After following links and reading about this it seems that many people are actually upset, even angered, by these lil’ robot fish. I found it hilarious. I assume they got my screenname through Twitter (though my Digg name is the same as well), and figuring out that the other person didn’t contact me was funny. In this age of digital separation, where our computers are our conduit to, and protective screen from, the real world, a little random connectivity is a welcome change. Was it confusing? Of course! But these little opportunities should not be a problem for us, they should be an opportunity to expand our worlds, even if by meeting just one person we would never have met otherwise.

To the people crying about how bad this is; quit your bitching. You can now opt-out of this by sending $optout to any of the fish bots. To Project Upstream; bravo to you for injecting a little chaos into our insular lives. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

You can request your very own Fishbot here.
Or read a journal dedicated to Salmon, Coho and Trout bot victims: The Missing Hat


  1. kynsh says:

    WOW. This is really cool! I was IM’d by UpsettingCoho a few minutes ago and googled it because I was very confused. This is really very cute and neat. And I like the security of being able to randomly connect with and talk to someone, but they still don’t have my information (and I don’t have theirs) if I find out that they are creepy or I don’t like them or whatever. VERY cool!

  2. Mike says:

    I got fished for the first time today, it was a lot of fun.

    Can’t wait for next time.

  3. GP says:

    Got a message from CordlessCoho today… Did a Google search before replying and found your blog post. Thanks for blogging about it; I dugg your story.

  4. Adam Gent says:

    Reminds me of this book I read about conceptual fish call The Raw Shark Texts

  5. Johnny Walker says:

    haha! my friend got imed by these bots. And I decided to im and mess with them myself. I think there’s an actual person behind it or a really smart script.

  6. amazing says:

    This aught to be fun, only problem is, now i know whats going on 🙁 i can still have fun with this one though.

  7. Missie says:

    okay, I got two of these. The first one was about doing something unexpected than tonight was a scripture about woman having sex with donkeys [very odd]. anyway, i googled the screen name, found this and now I’m dying laughing. :). Who ever had this idea is funny. I’m waiting for my next!

  8. sublicon says:

    wow, this is like…the answer to a long mystery. i thought somebody was harrassing me. this is actually a lot more interesting than i originally though. now i want to get im’d again.

  9. Chloe says:

    I’m not really into playing games, but I got this message…

    SeditiousCoho: Once upon a time there was a guy who was the kind of guy who did things like specifically he once ate a round thing made of dough not a donut a different thing a muffin and it tasted good and he shouted something that expressed happiness.

    Interesting concept. Wonder if I can find a way to monetize something like this….

  10. Maggie says:

    Very interesting idea! It’s indeed a clever little script.

  11. Nicolette says:

    OMG! I was really wierded out for a second! It messaged me with “DozingCoho: Ezekiel 23:20”

    I’m going through some stuff right now and it completely threw me off!

    Glad it was a bot!

  12. aria :) says:

    hahaha i have no idea what’s going on. i’m going to kill this person. i get that this is a bot but like is someone really typing? haha.

  13. Lyndon says:

    This is sharing this very interesting concept! I got to know its working now!

  14. We needed this info. Going to look properly again after work. Thank you so much. *Bookmarked*

  15. Thanx again, very interesting.

  16. steph says:

    i think that this is super hilarious.. all my ims are sent to my phone as txt messages.. and me and this random kid sparked a convo. made me smile.. he sent me the link to this page.. we both thought that it was the russians who set it up till we read this.. it was great.. <3

  17. AltruistAnarchy says:

    BrattyCoho, unfortunatly who ever was on the other end never responded.

    BrattyCoho (12:20:38 AM): I dare you to do something unexpected.

  18. jason says:

    this happened to me today… your site came up in a search, thx for the info!

    FirstClassCoho: Always ask someone you love before putting anything in your mouth.
    J Bear: $optout

  19. McStene says:

    The first time it happened to me, I ended up talking to some medieval girl, and it was pretty fun. I had no clue what the heck it was, so I blogged about it ( I was directed here by the second person I fished with, and I think it’s hilarious. I’ve never seen their names as fish, though. Only numbers.

  20. […] here I will post that article, as it’s an interesting read. Basically, there is a bot going around and collecting screen […]

  21. fishing says:

    Thank you for this. It is useful and most admired.

  22. ขอบคุณสำหรับสิ่งดี ๆ ที่แบ่งปันครับ.

  23. Bobo says:

    А кого тут выебать можно?

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