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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