Mr. Roboto

Meet Mark V. Shaney, Usenet’s Very Own @Horse_ebooks

Mr. Pike, Mark V Shaney's designer. (Photo: Flickr)

If you’ve spent a significant amount of time on the Internet, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the phenomenon of @Horse_ebooks, a Twitter spam bot that has managed to escape being shuttered by the microblogging service due in part to its weird and wildly popular form of poetry. The bot mines websites for snippets of text and tweets them a few times a day. As Gawker wrote in their oddly compelling investigation of the Russian programmer behind @Horse_ebooks, “The feed’s strangely poetic stream has been embraced like a life-preserver by internet users drowning in a sea of painfully literal SEO headlines and hack Twitter comedians.”

Of course, @Horse_ebooks is not the first bot to scrape texts and present its findings packaged in an entertaining and eerily human way. Before Twitter and before @Horse_ebooks there was Mark V. Shaney, a program that was so good at feigning humanity that it managed to confuse and rile Usenet group users for years. Read More