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Is the creator of @Horse_ebooks playing us for fools?
Has the beloved bot become self-aware?
Has @Horse_ebooks become self-aware? And has it started self-promoting?
Some background: It is thought that @Horse_ebooks, the funny Twitter robot that chops and screws snippets of text from ebooks and marketing pitches, then regurgitates them into surreal found poetry on Twitter, is entirely automated, and that its aleatory tweets are the happy by-product of a misguided and nonsensical attempt to market ebooks.
However, a debate raged at one point in 2011, when the feed, whose popularity had just then exploded, started churning out “funny” Tweets at a higher rate than it had previously, when novelties like “Famous Crab” and “‘This is not acceptable!’ I screamed as Kathy drowned” had appeared much more infrequently like diamonds in the rough. Some argued that the feed’s creator had turned off the bot and was now writing its zany quips by hand.
According to Adrian Chen, Gawker’s go-to hack on the @horse_ebooks beat, the feed is run by a reclusive Russian web developer named Alexey Kouznetsov. While it’s hard to imagine that a Russian spammer with a loose understanding of English—or even a dream team of comedians, Oulipo writers, and surrealist poets, for that matter—could replicate @horse_ebooks’ algorithmic randomness, there is evidence that Kouznetsov, far from being an absentee father, at least acknowledges his creation’s stateside success.
Chen reported that Kouznetsov also runs LITE WebDesign, whose logo is a stylized @horse_ebooks avatar:
And @horse_ebooks itself is featured on the homepage:
Description: This popular website and Twitter account promote ebooks about horses. For horse lovers.
In addition to promote ebooks about horses For horse lovers, Kouznetsov is now promote something reflective of his beloved invention—For horse lovers.
Horse-ebooks.com, the URL listed on the Twitter account, redirects to a page of horse-themed ebooks for sale on Kouznetsov’s online store. Yet, despite being presented as “ebooks,” the top two items for sale are in actuality two popular Tumblrs created by fans of @horse_ebooks: horse_ebooks fanfics, which publishes frequently-erotic fiction using @horse_ebooks tweets as dialogue, andHorse_ecomics, which publishes cartoons based on individual tweets.
Each item description contains an excerpt from the Tumblr along with a link to it titled “Download this ebook here.” More bizarre, despite neither being a book for purchase in any format whatsoever, each item is represented by an mock-up of a book:
The covers are both lifted from Horse_ecomics: one is the background picture, and the other is the last panel of this cartoon. But the creator of Horse_ecomics,@BurtDurand, didn’t make the mock-ups. Instead, they were probably made with some Soviet-era ebook generator that can splash Comic Sans onto whatever picture you want turned into a dust jacket.
But it’s unclear who took the time to make them and why. After all, if Kouznetsov is still trying to sell ebooks to @horse_ebooks’ 130,000+ followers despite the feed’s pomo popularity, why would he place two fan creations above the actual books he profits off? And if he were trying to develop the @horse_ebooks “brand,” maybe get a movie deal or expand into the surreal horse comedy industry, why would his only other attempt to profit off the account’s popularity be to sell web design services?
I asked @cheesegod69, co-runner of horse_ebooks fanfics, and he and I agreed on a far more pleasing explanation: that, far from having made any personal input to the operation of @horse_ebooks, Kouznetsov has let his thresher gobble up so much random internet text that now it is feeding on news articles and creative works about itself. In time, new creations will be derived from these snippets of the old creations, and left unchecked, @horse_ebooks will process these new creations, and so on, until all that is left from this recursion is a single beacon transmitting the simulacra of long-forgotten ebooks, signifying nothing: the pasture of the real.
By Virgil Texas // Illustration via Slacktory