Something Awful gave birth to 4chan, a fact that their people won’t mention. It’s one of those fucked up relationships like Jack Nicholson had where it turned out his sister was actually his mother who had him has a teenager out of wedlock. Much like a world that can cause shit like that to happen, the culture over at SA is very much repressed. If you wanted to, I guess you could say 4chan was developed as response to that place, but that’s not exactly how it went down.

The site began at some point in the late 1990s with the forums opening in late ?2000. In its heyday it was a good place to be. There was a large and fairly diverse user base (every kind of white person from German to Englishman!) and it wasn’t neck-deep in ads. It was also a hub of piracy in ’03, as they’d also rather choose to forget. If anything speaks highly to the ability of a site to survive serious brushes with the law, I think SA more or less proves that 4chan will live on indefinitely.

SA, entirely unlike 4chan, requires registration. Not only does it require registration, it requires paid registration, and pay-to-play perks for any number of other add-ons including but not limited to a user pic. It’s both sad and funny. Mostly sad… (for a time you could even pay to have a registration date of 9/11/01; nevar forget, etc.)

The moderation was also heavy-handed and randomly enforced. Lonely and underemployed losers served as mods and took out their many frustrations out on users entirely to the profit of the company as each ban required an additional re-registration fee. Saying anything at all contrary to the opinions of these mods or admins was “sass”, a bannable offense. If you were a member of a subculture that was not of the admins’ liking, you would not fare well for very long there. Furries in particular were subject to serious harassment.

I had been a fan of the SA front page and like all the best decisions mine to join was made while drunk early in ‘03. I was largely afraid to say much of anything on SA as every attempt at discussion was potentially a costly one. On the bright side, the place by this point was mostly a front for a collection of bittorrent trackers which turned out to be very much worth the registration fee. It was also home to wide collection of other losers, the third or fourth saddest of which was the ADTRW crew. This was the anime subforum and the name is short for Anime Death Tentacle Rape Whorehouse. It is from this place that moot apparently got the idea for his greatest mistake.


I don’t recall moot being a user of any particular note on ADTRW but then again, it was mostly talk about boring series that only the hardest of hardcore nerds would go out of their way to watch. ADTRW was mostly boring except for the 2chan and Azumanga Daioh threads. In addition jerks from ADTRW, jerks from FYAD also contributed heavily to the early era of 4chan (whether they want to admit it or not). ADTRW ran an operation called Raspberry Heaven (which references Azumanga Daioh) which was involved in manga translation (and fansubbing? I forget). They had their own forums apart from the greater SA and if I recall correctly, there were some people involved in RH that had nothing to do with SA (for one of the many reasons stated above).

ADTRW is notable for being one of the less-lame anime forums out there. The users aren't nearly as pathetic as they tend to be elsewhere and the Japan love not nearly as strong. A lot of the fandom is tongue-in-cheek and it tends to filter out good series quite well where others tend to think anything from Japan is of equal merit. I will thank it for exposing me to Azumanga Daioh which I hate to admit I like. Or at least it was. I don't really know the current situation.

Inherited Content

A lot of content migrated over from SA in the early days. In particular, the phrase ”(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)” is not something you see on futaba, but was used (extensively) on SA and added into 4chan's code. The term “banhammer” definitely comes from SA. The phrase kill it with fire! is also from there and was usually in regards to spiders over there, which goons all had a fear of some reason. That and the ocean (yeah, it's dumb). Truncating a sentence like: Oh shi also seems to have it's roots in SA.

The whole concept of an image macro, if not born there, was at least refined at SA. A lot of macros that are reposted on 4chan to this day are are older than the site itself and completely ripped off from the SA forums. The modern memegenerator content is a whole new “refinement”…

During the early days, there was a thread on SA which they made demotivational posters. The concept was obviously taken to extremes at 4chan. This may in fact have been 2004-2005, so never mind.

2005 Meltdown, 2006/2007 Revolts, and Subsequent Decline

Sometime in March and April of 2005, it was clear that 4chan's traffic and (more importantly to SA) influence had greatly exceeded anything they ever had in the first place. It was also clear (looking back anyway) that Lowtax had gone a little crazy. References to 4chan started to appear in regular conversation much to the distaste of the admins and quickly became a bannable offense. There was also a lot of murmuring dissent over shitty mods, random enforcement of the rules, and other petty nonsense happening there. Jealous personal attacks were taken out on 4chan founders, early users, anime fans, and anyone else holding a slightly dissenting opinion from that of the admins (that being that 4chan is never to be mentioned because it upsets Richard). It went briefly full-on Soviet-style police state for awhile and got really annoying. People started spouting off patriotic (and anti-4chan) lines just to keep themselves in favor and their 10bux safe.

Prior to 2006, there were only hints of dissent. If you lived entirely insulated within the paywalls of SA though, you'd have no clue. Perhaps the most notable Internet celebrity to speak out against Lowtax and SA was Maddox1). There was something called the Daily Drama, Euronymous' one-off spoof, and a few others. It was possible to be banned for speaking out against SA off-site, a situation which surprisingly many goons had no problem with at all.

Looking back, SA was something of a bizarro Internet. It was like living in East Germany or North Korea. Right over there, just inches away and right over the barbed wire, the rest of the Internet was doing its thing oblivious to the happenings inside. SA was doing fairly amazing things and there were benefits to the paywall, it seemed. On the other hand, it turned out SA's amazing things amounted to mass games or military parades. They don't really impress anyone and what good are they really? Despite all the patriotism, heroic efforts, and personal sacrifice of its user base, the site was beginning to crumble. Paid features often did not work. The performance of the site, compared to other free forums of similar size, was utterly lacking. As time passed, the leadership became increasingly corrupt and despotic. The users were punished for speaking their mind and especially for criticizing the site itself.

I don't recall the timeline 100% on this, so I'm just going to tell it as I remember it even if it's incorrect…

At some point in 2006, they were performing a test on a new server/software combination at SA. In order to make sure everything was working, the goons were set loose and basically allowed to fuck with things to see if it broke. This was in the course of several hours one night. Anything at all could be said or done on this test site; the rules were temporarily void. Everything that was said here would be deleted once the new upgrade was complete. Bad blood immediately surfaced not only between users but also regarding the quality of moderation and the administration itself. A whole lot of very interesting things came to light with the drama rule no longer in play. Basically it soon became clear to a number of like-minded users that a lot of people were unhappy with the present situation at SA. As I recall (and I may be wrong), this would eventually provide the spark that gave life to SASS. SASS was the Something Awful Sycophant's Squad, an off-site forum that started its life as a place for disaffected goons to air their grievances without threat of a $10 reprisal…

(Alternately, SASS may have already existed at this point in history but the no-rules shadow forum allowed it to be heavily promoted without fear of reprisal. As far I remember it, I found SASS off of a thread discussing SA on 4chan but I could just be imagining that. I'd like clarification if anyone at all remembers the event(s) I just discussed more clearly…)

Radium, SA's coder and an admin, was a perfect example of everything wrong with leadership of SA. Rather than focus any effort on improving the back end of the forums, he found it far easier to ban anyone who criticized him for being lazy and talentless. His posting history and the shitty performance of the software drove home the point: he spent more time browsing the forums than he did fixing them. In addition, the long-ago promised homebrew replacement to SA's sad VBulletin+baling wire kludge of software (codenamed “Titan”) hadn't seen the light of day for years. Despite this being merely one grain of sand on a mountain of failures and broken promises, mentioning it could get you banned. Hell, mentioning the features of the existing software that the had been neglected could earn you a ban too. Shit like archives rarely worked and search, if working, didn't work well. It's likely that no one would have cared about this if SA didn't charge money for these features ($9.95 each at the time). When I say things weren't working, I mean they were often not working for months at a time…

SASS would play a role in exposing not only Radium's incompetence but also the corrupt system that allowed someone like him to retain his job. Rather than accept valid criticism and try to address it, the leadership instead built SASS into a straw man and portrayed it as the problem, not their own issues. Things SASS did for the lulz were made the central point of the site in the minds of Lowtax and friends. SASSers weren't genuinely concerned about SA, but instead a bunch of “obsessive IRC neckbeards” more interested in insulting their proud administrators. Eventually, SA members would go so far as to DDOS SASS and when that backfired spectacularly2), they dug even deeper. A goon employee of Dreamhost would actually go so far as to shut the site down (briefly) from the inside (and got fired for it; LOL). Either as part of this mess or another insider scandal, Lowtax got hold of a list of SASS usernames with associated IP addresses made moves to ban people for simple association with the site. Seriously… The maturity of SA leadership shined stunningly dim in these days.

Despite SA's efforts (which were childish and lame as shit), SASS thrived and continued to grow. The response from SA was a bit of perestroika… and like the real thing, didn't go far enough. Eventually something called the Helldump was opened, a place where drama was allowed basically. It was less about questioning the administration and more about dividing and conquering their user base. This sub-forum was mostly about fights between users and it accomplished basically nothing. The leadership was still effectively off-limits.

SASS would have a few victories: Radium was partially removed from power (and eventually, permanently as I understand it). Icequeen, another admin with whom they also took offense, was forced to resign. By this point in history though, many SA users had jumped ship or just grown out of it. All the information and interesting stories/things online could be found on mainstream sites without having to deal with the various attention whores who had to show up spouting their opinion about everything in every thread. Arguing on the Internet could be accomplished more cost-effectively elsewhere. SASS itself would implode in a drama storm and came to an end in 2008. While the site may be missing, the community is still alive and well, if divided…

As for SA and its survival, there's little doubt that the site will live on until Lowtax dies, at the very least. The cost of hosting has come way down and the site retains a revenue stream from both advertising and user fees. Until his heirs close his checking accounts, things should continue more or less as-is into the foreseeable future. The content has suffered as many users have simply abandoned it. For whatever reason, the specter of political correctness seems to have invaded yet again. Those that were once mocked (transsexuals and furries in particular) now thrive in the open. They're not just tolerated, but tolerating their bullshit is enforced as they now pay the bills…

So what is the main lesson of SA in terms of the eventual decline of all online communities? Well, a pattern is emerging: they start out edgy, get profitable and fat, then quickly complacent, they then fail to retain their original (or most-profitable) user base by trying to expand their appeal to the masses or appease critics, and then super nova, leaving behind a cold and bitter core of only the blindly dedicated and those who are unwanted elsewhere (oh shit. see any parallels, 4chan??). This isn't avoidable, really. We have witnessed many titans rise and fall in just the past decade. However if we want to get academic about this, then SA's fatal flaws boil down to these points:

  • They let women get involved in their band. See also Yoko Ono.
  • The squeeky wheel is often the shittiest wheel. Post count and desire to be a moderator usually combine to make a shitty moderator.
  • Their leadership had no checks and balances. Their coder was also an admin tasked with carrying out bans. Think my coding is shitty? Well then, you're banned!

Is there a conclusion to this? Not particularly. It's just another interesting case study…


Speaking of oppressed masses, you may hear the term “goon” thrown around a bit and that is what they call themselves. The stereotypical goon is white, overweight, wears thrift-store clothing (unfortunate shirt, long shorts, sandals with socks, and stupid fedora), and takes deep offense to everything they either don't understand or find slightly distasteful. Oh, and they tend to die alone.


There isn't one. It's still there. Also this:

Posting this or one of 113 other
pictures not specifically mentioned
in the already complicated rules
will get you banned from SA!

2) one allegation is that Radium himself was involved and when the retaliation effort turned the attack back at him, it shut his ass down
something_awful.txt · Last modified: 2015/09/20 11:36 (external edit)
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