I spoke on JokersUpdates.com. Our history, how we function, how Big Brother ties in and much more. Enjoy!
Four years ago, CBS aired a small summer show that was an instant sensation on the Internet. Big Brother did something no show has ever done: gave its viewers 24/7 access on the web. Internet viewers responded instantly and in force, and the phenomenon known as Live Feed Updating was born. Life Feed Updating is the exact transcription of happenings in the house, typed up and posted on the web.
The premise of the show is simple: place twelve strangers in an enclosed environment with no access to the outside world, and watch them implode. And implode they did, in front of mesmerized internet viewers who often stayed up all night to note every word and action.
As Eddie Rosenstein, Executive Producer of the Reality People documentary aired on AMC, once said in a live interview with us: “Reality TV started with the Romans in the Amphitheater”. Watching lions rip people to shreds was, moreover, not a solitary pursuit. People gathered in their thousands to watch the bloodshed, as they did a modern day spectacle. Rosenstein of course then made a comparison to Springer. Apt, we thought, especially in light of what happened during Big Brother 2.
During Big Brother 2, a young woman named Krista Stegall had gotten fairly loaded one night. All the cameras were on her and Justin Sebik, as the two had been flirting since Big Brother 2 season began.
Imagine the horror we felt as viewers when Justin bent her over a table and held an enormous butcher knife to her throat. Producers were also spell bound: they didn’t stop the Internet feeds. They did call Justin to the Diary Room, a place of privacy, and speedily dispatch him from the Big Brother house. Of course Big Brother ratings soared after that.
With 65,000 Internet users, each watching an average of an hour and a half of the feeds, fascinated with the sociological aspects of such a show, communities grew to support them. They provided a place for viewers to congregate, socialize, and watch the live feeds… together. A man called Joker saw an opportunity and created three small forums: one for Live Feeds one for discussion, and one for questions about the forums. Jokersupdates, in its first incarnation, was born. The small board was hosted by the free server.com community.
At the same time, I grew interested in Big Brother and found the Big Brother Fan Club. Just as obsessed as all the other live feeders, I’d spend half the night watching the feeds. When a friend of mine opened a new small site, ElitesTV, he offered me a partnership. What better way to feed the compulsion?
ElitesTV treated Big Brother life feeds as a place to one up each other in the humor department, at the cost of often cruelly mocking the Big Brother house guests. My partner saw this as no bad thing, and although I was uneasy, it wasn’t 100% my board. I did work hard on the small board, bringing celebrities to chat with the aid of Joan Giglione, who then taught me how to interview. The site remained small and quirky no matter what I did to encourage it to grow: small and quirky it remains.
After Big Brother 2 ended, I heard that Joker had decided to close his doors because he’d been cruelly stalked by a troll. A troll, or an individual who takes joy from disrupting message boards in many different ways, had hit his board. I won’t go into the details on the disgusting thing this individual did, on the original Jokers: at the end of his ugliness, though, he called and harassed Joker in person, going so far as to threaten his wife and children. The closing of JokersUpdates was an opportunity I, as a die-hard Big Brother fan, could hardly resist. I knew JU was an institution: it had been quoted in magazines for excellence. I made him an offer.
He knew who I was from ElitesTV. I told him I’d keep the integrity of his site intact, and we struck a deal. Things went sour with my partner just after I purchased the JokersUpdates.com domain.
I suddenly found myself on my own with thousands of users hitting my new site so fast and so often that neither the software nor the service I used could hold up under the strain. It was a nightmare, though I knew I was in an enviable position: nobody had, or has, traffic like JokersUpdates.com during those 3 months.
I simply had had no idea of the sheer numbers of people who came to post live feeds there, the even higher numbers who came to read them, and more important to most of them, discuss the show and their lives in one incredibly fast moving forum. I’d underestimated quite badly.
So what do you do? Costs were prohibitive if I rented a server AND a human being who knew what he was doing with such a thing, a human commonly called a Server Monkey. Those people are commonly paid 150/hour.
I was forced to find a do it yourself dedicated server. While still using the overburdened, often crashing other service, I put out a desperate call for help in our one fast moving discussion forum. A brilliant fellow, HeyGooberPeas, responded. Another die hard BB fan, he couldn’t stand to see the site he loved in so much trouble. Bless him, he’s been with us ever since.
Now that the server and the server monkey were in place, we needed software capable of handling hundreds of users at one time. Two hundred, I initially estimated. As you’ll see, I blew it again. At any rate, we found the same board software used by the Discovery channel, Infopop Bulletin Board.
A pretty board, Infopop allows users to upload a little photo, and assigns them hugely popular titles which change according to the number of posts the user has. Of course Jokers didn’t look like the OLD Jokers, which was a rather plain creation run for free on Server.com. To keep these hordes of users happy, I had to tweak the new software to force it to resemble the old. And me, I didn’t know the language used by Infopop, PhP.
Enter Megabyte, one of the brightest young developers out there. He’d been with Joker on the original board, and had done a little work with him. He offered to try and tweak the new Jokers. The expensive new board to look like the free old piece of crud.. He’s done so much successful tweaking, he now helps me run the place. He’s the closest thing to a partner I have, and Jokers success rests partially on his shoulders.
So there I am with myself and M3, We added 1 more moderator and then all hell broke loose. Joker’s stalker had figured out the board was open for business again.
Night and day he’d hit and post racial slurs, slurs against Joker, all manner of vile language and content. The moderators and I worked around the clock deleting and banning, but he was cunning. He knew how to spoof IP addresses, always coming back with a new one, in other words coming back with a new identity as fast as we could ban the old. Finally he’d get bored, but within a week: BAM there he’d be. I was desperate: we needed help.
I read through the posts for that week and noticed 3 people who were natural leaders. Quickly I asked them to help me moderate. No one said no, and in the 3 years I’ve had Jokers, no one has ever said no to what can be a thankless job of sleepless nights and insults. 10,000 members and 20 moderators later, that truly is amazing.
Jokers moderators differ from the other sites I’ve worked or owned on one vital point: they are taught to moderate as little as possible, relying on the innate intelligence of the average JU user. In fact, they gently train the users to self moderate. In such a way, JU allows for differing opinions in ways that other sites can not and never will.
It takes a special personality to moderate a board of 10,000 users. They have to have remarkable self control, be willing to stay up half the night, and most important, know how to laugh. Believe it or not, they do all this for free.
Why do they do it? Meet Sarah… [point to Rah]. She was the very first JU.com moderator. In her own words, …
<Sarah_> I do it for the fulfillment of a job well done. I enjoy the tediousnes of it, there is always something new, no day is like another and I have the love of a community with RT ebb and flow. It is a living breathing machine with good days and bad, celebrations and losses, in-fighting, drama and hysterics. I laugh every day doing this job. I feel good about working on something that is so important to others and knowing how happy it makes them. As a stay at home mom, I have little contact with other adults with similar interests, which is why I was drawn to the board from the start.
Meet LacyCatherine, who jumped in late in the game when we were up to 5000 users. Why would she agree to the often contentious and sometimes abusive nature of moderating? >> (Lacy spoke well.)
That first season we had peaks of 300 concurrent users. The incredible HeyGooberPeas sat on it night and day, ever ready to restart it or change settings.
When our second season began last summer, I ordered a second server to ease the load. We geared up, and word got out that Jokers was back and stable. The numbers shot through the roof. Where we had peaks of 400 tops the previous year, last year mega and I sat and watched one night as concurrent numbers hit 2000 and passed it. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and after all we’d been through, my eyes were wet.
As Jokers grew over the past four years, so did the Internet and the number of people with access to it. TV viewing habits changed as well, not in the least because of shows like Big Brother which caused, by their nature, a marriage between TV and the Web.
Television of old meant sitting down with your family and watching. Of late, because of shows like Big Brother and others that so closely involve the Internet, TV has become much more of a social interaction.
People are likely now to watch their favorite show with a hundred or so friends around the country, all posting to a specific forum or talking real time in chat. This interaction is the backbone of Jokers, and is part of what makes the community so unique and sought after by both producers and celebs of various shows.
For example, one of our regulars is a bright DJ called Bilbo. The hairy one had this to say: “any talk (even bad) is a good thing.....and when you have a large number of people willing to passionately back their favorite show, they have a good chance of talking someone into watching it who may not have given it a chance before.”
From the production side, producers have discovered in JU and other TV based sites a community willing to throw their not inconsiderable weight behind a new show. For the 10,000 user base of JU, one can extrapolate the families, friends, and work environments. When you add the usual ratio of 3-1 anonymous users versus registered users, the numbers aren’t so insignificant. I’d add the Joker’s is currently growing by 10-15 members a day: this number grows by a factor of 10 during Big Brother.
Jokersupdates as it exists today has nearly 10000 members who post in more than 90 forums daily. Quite different from the original Jokers with its 32 members: Here is the original site:
And here is Jokers as it is today:
Let me show you some stats which cover our posts over the last few years.
* Graphs M3
1) Usage during BB, and fact: # of unique visitors a day as well as hits
2) Survivor and Average Joe usage/hit charts as well as forums hit most during both of those shows
3) Princess Di or Steven King’s hit charts
The physical JokersUpdates.com site comprises a home page with related articles, interviews, and live chat transcripts as well as the hugely popular forums. Together, the space required is roughly 10 GB.
The forums are separated into roughly: Reality forums, Non-Reality (drama, comedy and other shows) and General Discussion which includes pets, travel, technology, and sports.
The following charts show where the heaviest posting occurs:
# of posts now, roughly # of posts each day for:
# of posts in Reality Forums
# of posts in non reality forums
# of posts in General discussion
# of posts in the P/X
To host both the ever growing articles and the large database which comprises the heart of Joker, we have a standard server which has 60GB storage. Such an excess allows us to provide bits of video for our users: a vital moment in Survivor can be scrutinized, and the like.
JU is sponsored by donations. In the past we used ads, but I found that with the incredible load on the server already high because of the traffic, using pop up windows for ads made the load worse for a very low return.
We decided to set up a Paypal account for donations. We break even:
One server is 130/month year round, doubled for the 4 months of Big Brother.
The software was 350, but they’d like another 350 yearly for updates, if we don’t mind. We mind.
I have plans to supplement our income this year: we’ll get to that a bit later.
Who is the average JU poster who donates anywhere from 10$ to $300?
Along with our moderator Sarah, we have one of Jokers most loved users: Empress. She’s going to demonstrate briefly how Jokers is used.
She checks first to see if she has a PM, or private message. This functions like instant email for the members, without ever leaving the site.
She will then check her favorite forums for new messages. Yellow TVs denote new messages, and as such are quickly visible to the glance.
She will catch up on any chat in, say, the ASS grab forum (All Star Survivor game we created.) She’ll respond, go post what’s happened during her day, or go make a request for help in the tech forums.
Later tonight she’ll watch shows such as the Bachelor, and perhaps in weeks to come she’ll visit our chat where we’ll have a Bachelorette for her to chat with live.
How do users find Jokers? Empress, click on Who’s On. Those links at the top show exactly how a user got to Jokers. Every article we have, and all the forums are searchable by any search engine. Google and Yahoo send most users to JU.
What service do we provide users and producers?
For users, they can associate with thousands of people and learn new things daily. They love the interaction, the safe environment, and a place to share their TV with.
Producers come to us to have the web help publicize a new show. John Platt came to us a few years back for his new show, the Family. We publicized it by doing articles and pumping up enthusiasm all over the web. To the same end, we were to interview live in chat each Family member as they lost their privileges. My luck, all was in place for the first chat: posts had gone out to more than 30 boards, tons of people were entering chat… and the show got cancelled. That same day.
Mr. Platt came back to us when ABC decided to air the Family the next year, and we had HIM in a live chat. I have to add what he said when asked if the Family was a worthwhile watch:
“Yep...they're handsome, funny...and pissed at each other. Who could ask for anything more! They drew first blood...not me”
John Platt was able to get great publicity for a new hot show, and Jokers users and others on the web got to question a live producer. A win win situation.
JU supports a charity which provides a camp for children with HIV/AIDs, Camp Kindle. We did an entire week of on-line chats with Survivors (the CBS show): 5 or 6 of them taking q and a from fans per night. The fans were delighted and opened their wallets accordingly: Several children got to attend a camp with nurses, doctors, all expense paid. I still say it’s the best thing we’ve done to date.
Television isn’t just a box in the living room any more. Thanks in large part to media such as the Internet, it can reach out and affect many lives.
JU of the future
It’s all about service, to users who are the backbone of JU and to producers and networks whom we hope will sponsor us with perhaps their fall line ups. As our growth geometrically expands, our forums expand to meet the rising group of new shows and eager users. JU becomes yet more of a vital resource to 500,000 people during the summer and to networks looking to take advantage of such a critical mass of discriminating, well informed users.