On a mild, sun-dappled Sunday, Betabeat applied our sunscreen and ventured to the Long Meadow in Prospect Park for an event aptly named “The Internet Picnic.” A few weeks ago, a friend of ours named Nicole He had won the Listserve lottery and was tasked with sending an email out to 20,000 random Internet strangers. Ms. He works in community at the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter. “What should I write??” she frantically gChatted us, before eventually deciding to invite all 21,288 subscribers to a picnic yesterday in Brooklyn.
“I have a mole under my eye and I’ll be wearing red,” she wrote, and then posted the same invitation to her Tumblr, where it received almost 300 notes.
Back in April, Betabeat introduced you to The Listserve, a project out of NYU ITP that allows a different user each day to send an email to a list full of subscribers. The idea is to give one randomly chosen person daily the opportunity to expound upon whatever’s important to them to a platform of over 20,000 apt listeners. “This project makes every-day people think — and talk — about the internet,” one of the Listserve’s cofounders, Alvin Chang, told us at the time. “It makes people aware of the medium.”
Though Mr. Chang now lives in Boston and couldn’t attend the event, his comment turned out to be especially prescient. When we arrived, Ms. He had positioned a hand-painted sign that read “#internetpicnic” (hashtag included) to rest upon a memorial rock. About 50-75 people (we’re terrible at estimates) were spread out on blankets across a hill at the end of the meadow, eating fruit salad and drinking beer and laughing.
Just in case you weren’t entirely sure that the people at the picnic were “from the Internet,” a tan and white corgi named Tartine pranced about, provoking awws as she tried to nab some of the picnic food. (For the unaware, corgis are arguably the favorite mascot of certain corners of the Internet.) We wondered how many BuzzFeed posts Tartine might inspire.
All of the attendees at the picnic appeared to be under 35 and most of them worked on the Internet for a living. Many lived in New York, but a fair amount came down to the city just for the event. A couple of Yale computer science students who had traveled from New Haven took up residence on the extra space we had on our blanket. A guy throwing a frisbee around said he had come from Maryland. The youngest attendee was a 15-year-old boy, sporting the accessory so common among teens that age: a full set of braces. He was visiting from San Diego, and had heard about The Listserve through Twitter.
But the majority of attendees worked in tech in New York: we spotted employees from Kickstarter (including cofounder Yancey Strickler), Foursquare, Etsy, Tumblr, Timehop, AppNexus and ScrollKit. It was basically a New York Tech Meetup, but with more pie.
John Skylar, a scientist with an organization called Better Worlds, introduced himself to us. Mr. Skylar also moonlights as a sci fi writer and asked that we use his pen name. We asked him why he decided to spend his Sunday afternoon fraternizing with Internet strangers. “Besides a general spirit of adventure, I run a lot of events geared towards getting people to talk to each other, and I was like, ‘Hey, I could have discourse in real life!'” he said.
Next to us, we heard a snippet of conversation: “Troll has such a dirty connotation.” Another person behind us was saying, “I blocked Henry Blodget on Twitter.” The sun grazed the trees and began to spoil the fruit that was splayed out on blankets that had been abandoned for a group game of Cards Against Humanity, which–yes–was a successfully funded Kickstarter project. We also detected a hint of weed in the air, but it could’ve been coming from the cricket players across the lawn.
The Listserve’s creators, minus Mr. Chang, also made an appearance. “It’s pretty phenomenal,” Zena Koo told Betabeat. “I wasn’t sure how many people would come, but it’s nice to see how many people actually showed up. I think The Listserve attracts a lot of people yearning to have conversations online, so this is the perfect evolution of all that coming together full circle.”
“This whole thing keeps surprising me every day,” added Greg Dorsainville, another Listserve cofounder.
Mr. Dorsainville and his fourth cofounder, Josh Begley, told us that they’ve never had to censor an email, except for a spammy one that broke the terms of service. Though, many Listserve emails do have a similar theme: “Everyone turns into Deepak Chopra,” quipped Mr. Begley.
Behind him, someone started playing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid on an acoustic guitar. A startup cofounder with a Dali mustache joined our circle and asked us what low-cost superpower we would have, if we could choose. We picked the power to have the subway arrive at the exact moment we hit the platform, every single day. A guy from AppNexus said he wanted the ability to never burn his food.
The acoustic guitar wasn’t the only instrument to make an appearance. Ms. He had brought her ukulele, but demurred when we asked her to serenade us. As a girl began to play Gotye on an accordion, and people began to fold up their blankets, we decided it might be time to take our leave. We hugged Ms. He goodbye.
“See you on gChat!” she called, as we headed back, sun-tired and socially drained, towards the F train. A long night of socializing–on the Internet, naturally–lay ahead of us.