Tags: Site Howler
History of Howler
Howler was first hosted at howler.us.to, which first came on-line in March 2017, then later migrated to howler.space where it is currently archived.
It's only purpose ever was to run a campus imageboard for N.C. State University, and indeed that's all it ever did. The real-time imageboard (which is a slightly-better fork of the poorly-written Doushio imageboard software) was advertised across the campus using a series of posters advertising the site. A curfew ensured that users could not access the site unless they checked sometime from 9PM until midnight. This is another cryptic and stubborn choice that I clung to for some time.
Originally Howler was modeled after a similar site (茶会) which imposes curfews; this means that the site only opens at a specific time each day, for two hours only, then closes and erases all posting history. This is a novel way to run a website and it proved to facilitate very entertaining and fast-paced discussion during those active hours.
When Bakesta and I first started this project in the Spring of 2017 we really didn't know what to expect; we had some vague idea of being a "popular Internet hangout" but some of the first posts were so weird, confusing, and really not what we anticipated at all. But we stuck with it and we attracted the userbase we have today by hanging up tons of posters all around campus; by the end of it we probably designed and posted over thirty unique designs and advertisements for the site, which were laboriously posted around campus on buildings, walls, tables, chairs, pretty much anything you could stick tape to by your neighborhood moderation team, 10s of 100s at a time.
The curfew we thought was so vital to the site proved to be unsustainable; people were generally confused as to how to use the site; because people expected the site to be open all the time I received several angry e-mails about this.
Initially the only two boards are /ncsu/ (university discussion) and /swt/ (off-topic). However, a third board /yu/ (Hot spring) is warranted to post lewd pictures (see the first public thread on the site).
Howler shut down for the summer (owing to an embarrasing lack of traffic) and vowed to re-open in August when the regular semester resumed. Before the site is shut down, an IRC network is created and a single channel #bigtown is opened. It's widely regarded as the best and most decisive decision ever made regarding howler.
Eventually howler did re-open, and many more people were made aware of the site by another successful poster campaign across N.C. State. howler.us.to is soon moved to howler.space because no-one can remember the .us.to extension. Luckily, more than 1 out of 10 people remember howler.space so the name is kept.
The content from bigmike.sne.jp is migrated to bm.howler.space and the two sites are linked by a common page. Three more boards are also added to howler: /sports/, /filo/, and /nu/; furthermore, the curfew is lifted and posting is allowed at any time of day.
/honk/ is introduced for musical discussion and /sports/ is culled for a lack of interest sometime in October 2017. All these boards are eventually migrated back into /ncsu/ after we switch imageboard software in December 2017.
Several meet-ups are organized during the Fall 2017 semester. On October 25th I organize a meet-up to eat hot wings which went well except that I, despite the big talk, could hardly eat my share of hot wings. On November 14, the first board game meet-up is held in D.H. Hill 2400 and it goes well with lots of card games and pizza and cookies and fun and admin-hassling.
In December 2017 a node.js update breaks the imageboard software; as a result the site is re-evaluated and eventually only three boards make it out: /ncsu/, /yu/, and /swt/; howler solely exists to provide a forum for anonymous discussion for N.C. State and any dreams to expand beyond the university are forfeit at this point if they were not already.
Around this time I begin writing a textboard / BBS software called RAL, so named for the City of Oaks, Raleigh. Gradually I focus almost all of my effort on this new site and neglect the development and growth of Howler in favor of this new project; in 2018 I spent several months living in Tokyo as well, which did not allow me to organize events for Howler in-person; the site coasted slowly and steadily for this period.
RalEE stands for everything I've ever loved about Internet culture and discussion; its rejection of modern web practices was a sincere joy to program; it looks more like a site from the late 90's, except that it is HTML5 standards-compliant and actively moderated.
Sometime, for whatever reason, someone invited a lot of people on Howler to a Halloween party at their house. This was the only party from here onward that was not held at my apartment; I can't remember exactly what happened but it was a lot of fun.
There were so many people crammed into this tiny living room, it was pure madness.
Howler becomes the Party City
Things really pick up in 2019 for the site; we begin hosting routine house parties at my apartment. At first I got a kick out of calling them house parties, as we have never had a Howler party in a house ever; we tried but never succeeded in finding a free house.
These parties extended naturally from a little New Year's Eve bash we threw that year in the same apartment. That New Year's Eve party arose from a somewhat annual Spring Break beach trip the year before. The feeling in that little house in Atlantic Beach living with 10 or 12 friends for a whole week was really, really fundamental and formatory me; I was organizing Howler at the time and I think a lot of that feeling and emotion left a mark on the site. Anyhow the things we got into at the beach house are a different post entirely.
Eventually we were having these Howler parties on an almost regular basis; nothing really planned, just a bunch of friends getting together and hanging out, watching movies etc.; I now recognize this period as an exemplary showcase of the optimal niche for communities like this. 10 or 15 people who would have never known each other otherwise, crammed into this tiny space and watching movies together as if we'd known each other for years now.
That's all, I realized, that I ever really wanted out of this project.
Over the next summer I worked in San Francisco and picked up a DJ controller in Berkeley for really cheap after work one day. I started playing around with it really late into the night on the weekends and decided that it'd be really fun to play a DJ set when I got back home in August, in addition to the usual party things we did. That first party was a great success and I learned a lot about DJ'ing, but unfortunately I do not have any record of that night except for a list of the songs I played and this really cool poster:
The format of this one was similar to the parties we'd held in the previous Spring, except with live music this time around.
The first person to play a set with me was Bakesta (DJ'ing under the moniker Bushmaster) while I DJ'd under the name DJR3 (derived from the tiger YAMATO track R3 from Beatmania IIDX). I believe the first time he went by Bushmaster was that Howlerween set (below) he played, consisting mostly of 90's jungle and UK garage.
The Howlerween event was a massive amount of fun; hellbaby brought a truckload of dry ice and we had some really, really weird visuals up on a TV in our living room while we were playing music.
Soon we decided to start streaming our DJ sets. Because Bakesta and I put a lot of work into making this all happen, we kind of wanted a record of it, I guess. We had each gotten pretty good at mixing by then. We streamed most of the remaining DJ sets via twitch.tv. This was a very involved process and required careful planning on behalf of everyone working behind the scenes. If there were degrees or certifications in OBS we would both have them by now.
The End of Howler: One More Final: Thank You
The decision was made sometime in September to shut down the site on May 9th 2020; the date was a little arbitrary except that it was a Saturday and corresponded with the weekend after my last final exams. Instead of letting the site slip silently out of existence, I wanted to celebrate the time we had spent together by throwing one last party the night that we shut down for good.
However (and unpredictably) we were not at liberty to host an in-person party, as many of us were quarantined and scattered across the country as the university gradually limited on-campus operations due to the pandemic and eventually transitioned to a completely online delivery for the remainder of the term. Keeping this in mind, we decided to host the final event entirely online.
A number of platforms were tossed around but we eventually settled on Garry's Mod for its extensibility and the multitude of tools, models and maps that have been created for it in its 15-something year history. I created a new server club.howler.space to be our virtual club for this event in Garry's Mod.
*Club Howler is a virtual streaming stage that lets people experience music together. It's a virtual cocktail bar, it's a digital music festival, it's a livestreamed experience.*
For the facilitation of the party I rented out a cluster of nodes in the Google cloud platform and furiously wrote Lua for 1.5 months (most of this work made it to my Steam workshop Under the hood, my OBS setup for the night was nightmarish; we livestreamed Bakesta's handcamera and music from his place in New Bern to my apartment in Raleigh which was a treat to add to the stream. I'm glad everything worked out the way it did.
I'm also super, super thankful for everyone who came out that night; I'm glad we were able to get together and chat (in voice and text) even when we couldn't party it up in person.
We also played Trouble in Terrorist Town after the main event, that was super fun too!
You can watch all the sets from that night (or the whole VOD) above; tracklists are available on DJR3.org I'm glad we got to have have this one last party together!
What does the future of campus community look like?
While I had been sort of jaded about the Internet in the past, I've come to discover recently that there is definitely the potential for active outlets (both IRL and on-line) for people in these communities; in addition to the usual online communities (e.g. the university's subreddit for example) there are also many cool, inspired and interactive communities that I think are able to reach such a larger audience than we ever were able to. I hope that these outlets continue to grow and promote themselves with the vigor I know they are capable of.
I have had my fair share of interacting with these communities in my last few years at university; the real magic of "Unviersity-centered Internet Imageboard" is that you can get together and party in person. This is true of any community centered around an area or a concrete place; I know it's a lot of effort to organize parties and events but please, never give up trying.
I don't regret any decison we've ever made with respect to Howler, however, I feel that after abandoning the liveboard and sanctioning ourselves to being a relatively "retro" site with no modern, real-time features really destroyed our vision to really be a popular, locally-hosted website with a ton of users and lots of reputation.
It was a very conscious rejection I made at the time we decided to switch, however, it felt like an unnatural step to me and to many people on the site, despite how many people complained about the "modern" software being too difficult to use.
We will never be able to go back in time and grow the Howler community to be something really impactful, remarkable by any metric, but that's okay: from what I've seen of the student body in years below me, I believe something new, something innovative will manifest. Maybe not in the absence of Howler (I don't think even one incoming freshman has heard of us) but I believe that the same sentiments and emotions and connections I've felt and those we are leaving behind with the campus and its community will continue to resonate with the campus for years to come.
I am especially glad that we opened up, so to say, in our last year by throwing so many house parties. These ranged from just "friends-only" movie events to "bring as many people as you can" parties. This is a gap that not many online communities ever bridge. Being an imageboard centered around one concrete place (the unviersity) I think we had an edge in creating real friendships and creating an unrivaled community deserving of its own footnote in the unviersity's history book.
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