Oceangram

By Shamus
on Aug 12, 2006
Filed under:
Nerd Culture

Now here is an interesting social… program… experiment… thingy. What do you even call this sort of thing? Oceangram is a software implementation of the old message-in-a-bottle idea.

You can write messages and chuck them into the ocean where they will find their way to other people, or just sit there until a message washes up on shore. When you get a message, you can choose to throw it away or add your own comments to it and throw it back in. You can’t change what others have written, only append your message to the end of what is already there. At first when I saw you had to wait for a message to arrive I was a little annoyed, but now that I’ve done it a few times I can see it’s actually an important part of the system. I’d probably sit there and “leech” if I could just click and get a message. Since you have to wait for them, I’m more reluctant to throw them away and more tempted to add to it and throw it back in. They seem to come at the rate of one every five minutes or so, although I gather some people get around this by opening the page in several windows at once. I suppose you could keep four or five windows open, which is probably plenty to keep them coming at a steady rate if you’re adding responses.

Here is an example of one I found:

Go nesties!!

i have a fake life on the nest..muahahahah

just passin this on because I dont know what you are talking about.
~Jamie Virginia BBC

What the hell is a NESTIE?!?!?!?!

The — marks seperate things that were written by different people, so we can see that this (stupid and pointless) message has been picked up and thrown back in at least three times. (Possibly more, maybe there were people who chose to pass it along without adding to it.) I passed it along again. I don’t throw messages away unless they are are gibberish or blank.

More interesting is the next one:

true friends are like diamonds, precious and rare.

false freinds are like autumn leaves, you find them everywhere.

Never have a wishbone where your backbone ought to be.

So the second person turned it into a little poem, and the third person added some other stuff. Let’s turn it back into a poem. Hmmmmm…

Never eat a fishbone you find floating in the sea.

Erm. Okay, not Shakespeare, but at least it rhymes again. But I love the idea that four annonymous strangers from all over the world were able to collaborate and write a stupid poem.

How popular is this? There are people who seem to write and read messages all day, and there are blogs dedicated to Oceangramming, as well as various message boards where people try to “find” each other in the annonymous sea of messages.

I can’t even explain why this facinates me. You send a message and you have no idea who will get it. You get a message and you have no idea who sent it. (Unless they put their name on it, which happens once in a while.) It seems like the whole thing would be pointless noise, but after observing a few messages you begin to see patterns and get a feel for the shape of the thing. There seems to be a lot of moms – mostly of the stay-at-home variety – and many of whom belong to little circles or bulletin boards outside of this thing. They have little catchphrases and such to identify themselves. (I suspect that Nesties are one such group. I could Google it, but it’s fun game of cryptanalysis to try and figure it out from what you find in the sea.) I’ve extrapolated this and most of the other knowledge here from simply reading messages.

I understand that getting one of your own messages (which other people may have added to) is a rare and much-sought coincidence. Hasn’t happened to me yet.

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1313 comments. That's a baker's dozen.

From the Archives:

  1. Heather says:

    It’s just weird. I love you and think you are wonderful but, um, it’s weird. :)

    And I did google Nestie. Seems there is a Nest blog which many share, also weird. :)

  2. Wonderduck says:

    It IS fascinating… I’ve even set up a blogpost at The Pond (my blog) to see if anybody actually gets a bottle I threw in.

    Thanks for linking this!

  3. MOM says:

    Wonderful link! But never knowing where it went….
    I got one message so far and it was in a foriegn language.
    I,m going back for more right now. I,ve sent three. Let me know if you get one of mine:-)

  4. Wonderduck says:

    MOM understands why I set up a blogpost for anybody who reads my message… I just want to know.

  5. DVS says:

    It’s like the Usenet Oracle but without an expectation of wittiness. :-) My goodness, I have not read any of those in years!
    http://cgi.cs.indiana.edu/~oracle/index.cgi

    My favorite ever:

    The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply. Your question was:

    > the way to Venice

    And in response, thus spake the Oracle:

    } Ah, an aficionado of old 1950’s dance crazes… the Mashed Potato,
    } the Tossed Salad, the Funky Chicken, the Rabid Monkey and of course,
    } who could forget the Venice.
    }
    } (obviously you could – or you wouldn’t have asked this question)
    }
    } Well, the way to Venice is first to raise your left leg above your
    } head. Next, Grab hold of your left ankle with your right hand
    } and your left knee with your left hand. Then bend *both* knees in
    } time with the music employing a smooth flowing action similar to
    } a Venician gondolier. Forward motion is accomplished by turning
    } the right foot sideways and doing a sort of heel-and-toe shuffle.
    } Experienced Venice-ers (or “Venicians” as they called themselves)
    } are able to move smoothly and gracefully around the dance floor while
    } hardly ever falling over.
    }
    } Naturally it helps if you are double-jointed — which explains,
    } perhaps, why this particular dance craze never caught on in such a
    } big way as some of the others.
    }
    } You owe the Oracle an appointment with your chiropractor.

  6. Anyone want to set up a betting pool on how long it’ll be before Oceangram is rendered totally useless, because the majority of bottles will contain advertising for gambling sites or impotence drugs?

  7. Shamus says:

    Heh. I’ve been posting little snippets of narritive. In a week I’ll google bits of the text and see if anyone posted it anywhere.

  8. Shamus says:

    DVA:

    Wow. There are like four or five different kinds of crazy in there.

  9. Bottlewriter says:

    If you want to meet Oceangram fans from all over world have a look at our forum, the BOTTLEPARTY! It´s a private and free forum I started when I first dicovered Oceangram on 1. August 2006. 142 Members at the moment. :-) http://bottleparty.siteboard.de

  10. Sera says:

    Did you ever try googling and finding your messages, and did it work?

    Now you can track your messages, by the way, if you’re interested. It’s nice to know how people respond to the original post.

    : )

  11. Shamus says:

    I did google for them – looks like they are gone for good. :)

  12. jeanne says:

    i send and receive several bottles a day. I’ve received quite a few interesting and inspirational ones. And I like that I can see responses on the bottles I’ve sent. But as a professional woman, I’m about as far from the nesties description that there can be! But it’s fun to see what comes in on the next wave. Sometimes a delightful surprise. Like a treasure hunt.

  13. B Clarke says:

    I spend hours with ‘Oceangram’…. just like wating to see what turns up. I even had one of my own messages back. Just the thing for a sleepless night, it passes the dark hours of the night… Keep it up, its all good fun.
    Uncle Vanya

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