Join Corey, Jordan, and Richard as they talk about the benefits of pseudo-anonymity, the genesis of @SimpsonsOps, what Jordan and Richard’s approach to memeing looks like, the difference between interacting with people and interacting with a meme account, how the deep Simpsons catalog makes memeing easier, why you should avoid engaging with comments from toxic people, why you should apologize for mistakes, how there’s a site called Frinkiac that makes it easy to create Simpsons memes, and more.
- Follow @SimpsonsOps on Twitter
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Jordan and Richard who have no last names. Instead, they are the brains behind the wildly funny @SimpsonsOps Twitter account. Jordan, Richard, welcome to the show.
Richard: It's great to be here.
Jordan: Thanks for having us.
Corey: So, I am astounded every once in a while when I talk to people who don't spend their entire life on Twitter. I don't understand those people, I'm not entirely convinced they're people at all, but that's going to be choices that some people choose to make. Let's start at the very beginning. Well, not the very beginning with, “What is Twitter?” We're going to sort of tiptoe past that. What is the SimpsonsOps Twitter account for those who have not had the wonderful pleasure of experiencing it themselves?
Jordan: I guess the SimpsonsOps account has become, I think more of a way for us, or hopefully other people in the industry to kind of vent about the current state of DevOps and Cloud, and just to really put a bit of snark behind it, kind of the same way you tend to do with your own Twitter account, sometimes. And I think it's really just a way that we can talk about topics that don't usually get talked about, whether it's in the workplace or just generally on Twitter, and having, I think, that pseudo-anonymity sometimes can help give us maybe a bit more of a platform than we otherwise would. Thankfully, Richard and myself are quite good at memeing things, particularly with problems that we have either in the workplace, or in the industry, or just historical things that we've seen.
Richard: Yeah, well, I mean, I think the Twitter account just started as two dudes that just got bored, and we shitpost a lot. We've worked together quite a lot, and, A) we've always been quick to make jokes about things, and B) a little bit self-deprecating, all that kind of stuff. So, it started off as something really, just like… out of the spur, and yeah, now there's so many followers that I feel like we can have a little bit more of a commentary and a platform to vent and make fun of the industry, which is nice. But yeah, it started off as just something very simple and random.
Corey: For those who've never done it, being snarky about industry events is deceptively complex. People tend to view it as, “Oh, it's easy. I just get out there and I make jokes.” It doesn't work that way. It's incredibly easy, especially as you grow to an audience that's more than a couple people around a diner table somewhere, having jokes that don't land right, things that offend people, and wind up punching down inadvertently. And that’s not funny anymore, that's mean.
You folks have not crossed that boundary ever, that I've seen. Everything you do is very good-natured, it's very aligned with what, I guess—the quiet part of what people don't say because they're busy trying to sell you things, and instead, the folks who experience what's going on in the industry see things through a somewhat more cynical—and I would argue realistic—perspective. And you just perfectly capture the sort of zeitgeist of what's happening in the industry at any given point in time. It's incredibly well done.
Jordan: Thank you. [laugh]. I think we've been very conscious to make sure that we keep the account good-natured, and really just have fun with it. It's never really been there, like you said, to punch down on anyone, even though we have had comments in the past that we are probably AWS shills of some kind, or this is some kind of elaborate Amazon marketing campaign.
Corey: Oh, geez. Get in line. I'm always accused of being an AWS shill or having an axe to grind against AWS, usually in response to the exact same thing. You smile, you nod, you move on.
Jordan: Yeah. But we'll send each other what we're thinking of posting on the day, and we'll be like, “Does this work?” And either I or Richard will kind of tell me and say, “Oh, maybe don't say it this way, maybe say it this way.” And I think just having someone to kind of throw ideas at helps a fair bit. And I think that we've kind of explicitly said publicly, I guess, on the Twitter page, that we do post once a day, also means that we do kind of have enough shit to throw at the wall to actually figure out what sticks. And so if jokes do fall flat, which they do, it's fine. We'll just post something else the next day. But it's really just about keeping things consistent.
Corey: One parody account that I've been accused of—multiple times—of being behind is the—I don't know if it's fake Andy Jassy or something else that I want to not get an explicit tag for this episode for, but it's fk_andyjassy and, “Is that me?” No, it absolutely is not; never has been. It's too, I guess, insulting to individuals and groups. It's never been my brand. I like punching up, not down, and a lot of what that particular account does is punching down.
I don't play those games. I don't make fun of people because there's always going to be someone who is offended on their behalf, with the exception of Larry Ellison because, A) he's not really people, and B) no one loves or cares about Larry Ellison in any positive way, so there's no one to take offense on his behalf. But he's the exception. I find that going out and dragging Andy Jassy, for example, is unfair and is not going to end super well. That's never been my brand of comedy. So, a lot of the parody accounts make this mistake and just wind up being mean, instead of funny, I really can't express my admiration enough that you folks have not fallen into that trap.
Richard: Yeah, like Jordan was saying, we're pretty careful about trying not to just be straight up mean. And we kind of try to bounce those ideas off each other. So, we've been pretty good so far, but there's always some people that will get offended or will find your stuff not funny and make comments at you. But we just try to learn from all the stuff we post out. We post quite a lot, so there's a lot of data to work with to figure out, where the line is if we're getting close to it. So, yeah, I mean, there's no real point bringing toxicity to Twitter. I think there's already enough of that as there is.
Jordan: I think the funny part is that being a meme account, you don't necessarily get seen by people as a person—or people—running something, and so while, like Richard said, we may not be very toxic as an account, we tend to experience a lot of that as the account gets bigger. And people tend to say some really unhinged things, particularly because it's not a person, they're not speaking to a person, they're speaking to a meme account, and you end up getting just some very different behavior than you otherwise would from people. And I can only say this as a white male in tech that has experienced things one way my entire life. So, it’s very different.
Corey: one of the things that I admire about you folks, as well, is that I've set up a few meme accounts over the last couple of years because I have great ideas and plans for what to do with them, and I'm right. They're hilarious for about 20 tweets, and then I'm out of content and I don't revisit them anymore; it just doesn't work out. I was waiting for you folks to peter out, but instead, you’ve gotten better with time. What's the trick? What am I missing?
Jordan: Just, consistency. I might have mentioned earlier, but we do very explicitly state on the account, we post once a day, and we set that as above for ourselves to kind of say, “Yes, we are posting something new today.” And that will actually sometimes involve—if I haven't been watching The Simpsons recently, it will sometimes involve looking things up by their own on Disney+ or YouTube and kind of going through things, and being like, “Ah, yes, this might work for me.” And then doing something. So, I think there is a bit of effort involved. But setting that precedent for ourselves, making that promise, almost, to our followers means that we have to kind of look into this and posting. It feels like a job sometimes, I'm not going to lie. I don't know if you feel like that, Richard.
Richard: Yeah, sometimes it does. But I think the other thing is, The Simpsons as a repertoire for making memes is just so rich, there's so much content out there. So, you can almost just look up a random clip of The Simpsons and be like, “Oh, yeah, I can make that DevOps or I can make that Cloud.” So, that's one of the big factors.
Jordan and I have also tried to make another parody account before—which I won't name—but if the concept that you come up with for the parody account doesn't have a lot of content for you to work off of, it's difficult to stay motivated, or it becomes really hard to keep posting stuff consistently. But I think The Simpsons is just a huge repertoire, and it's universal. People from all over the world know about The Simpsons, and like The Simpsons, so we’ve just hit this really nice niche where we have a lot of content that we can work off of and people relate to both the memes as well as the format of The Simpsons.
Corey: There have been something 32 seasons, now, for The Simpsons, what is it—something like that. That's an awful lot of content. How do you categorize all of it? How do you wind up—because you've had stuff that's from recent seasons, you've had stuff that’s from the early days, and most things in between. What does your curation process look like? How do you find this stuff?
Jordan: Man, I don't think we haven't process [laugh]. I think you'll find that most good Simpsons content does come from the golden years and things that I'm probably most likely to recall things that I probably watched during my childhood, which would be the golden years. Being Australians, we did have Simpsons on free-to-air, so we didn't need cable or anything to watch it, and so the nice thing is that everyone kind of got that experience of being able to watch The Simpsons every day at 6 p.m. but I can't say we have a curation process. Unless you do something, Richard.
Richard: [laugh], yeah, I mean, we follow a lot of Simpsons quote accounts and that kind of stuff, and whenever we see anything that we think could be good material, we just kind of bank that and either favorite it, or bookmark it, or something. But yeah, there's no hard process on how we categorize the different content and that kind of stuff. Jordan is a lot more organized than me. He kind of has a lot of content lined up for the future, whereas I tend to do mine a little bit more last minute. So, I just start watching clips, and I find something that I think will work on the day, and then I just post it. Whereas Jordan prepares stuff a little bit more in advance.
Jordan: Depends on the mood, I’m in.
Jordan: [laugh]. But I am not a smart man; I’m not a funny man; we just have, like you said, Corey, a lot of content to work with. And that makes the creative process a lot easier as opposed to, let's say, like yourself on your own Twitter account where you're constantly posting things, and they usually hit, and they're very good. I don't think I'm capable of doing the same thing.
Corey: Again, not everything's a hit. And sometimes it annoys people. And sometimes I get it wrong, and I inadvertently upset people, and I didn't intend to do it. When I'm called out on that stuff, my general response is to apologize. It's not ideal, but once you hit a certain point of an audience size, you can't say anything without someone getting annoyed by it on some level, and you sort of have to grow a thicker skin, sometimes, if you want to continue to play those games on Twitter.
I'm a white guy and tech people don't come at me in the same way that they would if I weren't a member of an incredibly overrepresented demographic. And that tends to absolutely alter my experience of it compared to an awful lot of folks, but when I look at the responses I get—some of the same people start cropping up, some of the same folks making excellent points show up, and it almost becomes a self-selecting group of people who are at least aligned somewhat in perspective and what my jokes resonate with them, which is super reassuring. I mean, I don't know about you, folks, but my jokes are for me; I find things funny, so I tell the joke. If other people like them, that's just a bonus.
Richard: Yeah so, a lot of the stuff that we post like we mentioned before, is from either the personal experience or seeing it happen in the industry. So, when we send our ideas to each other, a lot of the time, we'll just be laughing at each other's memes and stuff. So, I mean, it really is just, like, two friends sending things laugh at it about each other. And then we ended up posting them on the Twitter account. And I was actually never really big into Twitter, so as we go along, I'm learning the subtle, unspoken rules about Twitter, like what you should do and what you shouldn't do and, like, etiquette, that kind of stuff. So, it's been a bit of a journey, learning what people will be offended over and how best to deal with that. And like you said, I think part of it is just you need to have a bit of a thick skin.
Corey: Yeah, I'm always cautious to give advice like that because, “Oh, people are treating you like crap on the internet? You should just grow a thicker skin.” That is a way of basically sweeping abuse under the table in many cases, and I don't like that. But that's not what I'm talking about at all, just for people listening and wondering what I'm going after here.
It's important to me that people are not going to find every joke funny, and they're not going to like it. People don't come at me questioning whether I'm a person or not. There's none of that. It's always the, “Yeah, I don't like that joke. AWS bills aren't funny.” “Oh, no. You either laugh or cry and things like that, but okay, you don't have to like it.” And I can't afford emotionally to sit awake worrying about stuff like that. It just doesn't go well.
Jordan: I agree that it's very hard to emotionally invest yourself in a lot of the things that other people are saying, and for the most part, we've started avoiding, just engaging in relatively toxic comments from people. What we have done in the past, though, is, if we do find something that really is a bad take, I will retweet it, and I will call it out publicly and say, do this or don't be this guy.
Corey: Sometimes when I have a bad take, I find that one of the best responses to be public and apologize about it. That's happened a couple of times, I did a video a while back of, Hitler reacts to the AWS bill or something like that, and it was fine. A few people were annoyed, like, “You shouldn't be glorifying Hitler,” it's, “Please, I'm the Jewish grandson of a survivor. I get it.” I disagree, fine, whatever.
But what I inadvertently did when I made that video was that there's only one bit of dialogue from women in this entire thing, one woman turns to another and what I had set up was the, it's okay, I get gigabytes and terabytes confused, too. It never occurred to me to frame it that way. It seemed to fit the moment, what I was inadvertently doing, that I didn't realize at the time was, oh, I have effectively set up a dynamic where women aren't good at computers. And when someone pointed that out to me the next day, I was freaking horrified at it, and I took it down and apologized about it, and explained why in a thread. Because when you get it wrong, apologize.
I don't pretend to know all these things in advance, and after a sincere apology, and then let it go. I didn't continue to engage, or defend it, or keep dragging on that entire saga for weeks. I feel like that's the right answer or something directionally close to the right answer. I mean, the best answer, of course, is don't get it wrong like that in the first place, but I'm human. And it comes down to being empathetic, being aware of who your audience is, what message people might be taking away from this, and when you get it wrong, apologize. I don't know why that's so hard for some folks. You don't lose points when you have to apologize.
Jordan: I've kind of messed up that way in the past. I think it was with Deserted Island DevOps thing that I did a while back. But I had that list of people who I am not, or who this meme account is not, and I had it called out to me after I actually gave the talk that I hadn't included any women, which to me was a bit of a wake-up call to kind of say, “Hey, Jordan, get your shit together. You're not really thinking about the things you should be.” So, and I did apologize. I think I apologized as myself for that one, not as the account.
Corey: Yeah, I vaguely remember this. I'm sure it was retweeted by the account, too.
Corey: Yeah, it absolutely is an easy mistake to make. I mean, I was very conscious when I started this podcast that I didn't want to have it be a whole bunch of white dudes. It takes work to be inclusive. I saw a great tweet the other day of, “Look around and see who's not in the room and get them into the room.” And it's been interesting, going further and further afield trying to find folks who don't have big platforms of their own. It's work; you have to put the work in. But it's worth doing, otherwise, it becomes this horrible echo chamber, everything looks like me. No one wants that. I'm not that good looking.
Richard: [laugh]. Everyone makes mistakes, and by apologizing for it and admitting that you're wrong, it's kind of hard for people to attack you more for it because they realize, “Oh, it's an actual person that’s saying these things.” So, apologizing for stuff publicly is—it kind of like makes you look a little bit vulnerable in a way, and it helps people empathize with you because everyone makes mistakes. So, when someone does something that I don't like, and they publicly apologize for it, I find it very hard to keep hating on them, or it just makes it so much easier to understand what happened and forgive them.
Jordan: Yeah. And we try our best, and taking that kind of feedback on from people is—I would like people to tell me where I'm [BLEEP] up, especially with this kind of stuff. And we have been called out as well, I think, on the account around accessibility is another issue. Just the fact that we're putting text on an image doesn't necessarily mean that everyone can understand or read what's going on in that image.
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Corey: Yeah, I struggle with accessibility concerns a lot. It is not straightforward or intuitive through alt text, and most of the major Twitter clients and the things that I'm using, that is an ongoing area of concern for me, and I haven't come up with a great answer. Plus, so many of these jokes, when you're doing image-based nonsense is contextual, and there's no good way to explain the joke in writing. I haven't solved that problem, but that doesn't mean that I think I don't need to focus on that and find a better answer. I just don't have one yet.
Jordan: Yeah. And I think that kind of affects us, as well. Like with alt text, we'll try our best to give people, I think, enough context to understand what's going on in the image. We do video format memes as well, and that makes it even harder because there is all this additional work that kind of—not that I mind the additional work, but there is a bit of additional work, particularly, I think there's like that Twitter Media Studio or something now, that you can kind of upload your subtitles, which a screen reader will actually read for you now, which is great. But reminding ourselves that, yes, we need to include these additional people into our jokes is important.
Corey: One other question I had for you, and this is more of a, I guess, shop perspective, but I've finally wound up doing a few ridiculous image memes and whatnot myself, and the way I did that was, for other purposes, I had to wind up finally biting the bullet and getting an Adobe Cloud Subscription. I have thoughts on that, if you work at Adobe reach out, please. We should talk about that. It's not all negative, but I have thoughts on that.
And I have these other things—“Oh, Premiere Rush. What does this do?” And I've started playing around with it, and I am terrible at it. We're talking complete dog-ass. But I have fun doing it. What's your workflow for captioning, turning movies into GIFs, capturing them accordingly, slapping captions on top of still images, what's your toolkit look like? What's your workflow?
Richard: there's a site called Frinkiac, which is basically a site that has a database of a huge amount of Simpsons episodes, and it lets you create image memes, and also video format memes. So, we can create each panel for an image meme or create separate video files that we can then stitch together to make a video meme. So, I think that's where we both start our workflow, and then we use whatever editors we'd like to use to do the stitch together, or add any extra images and stuff. I'm by no means a good image editor either. So, like, I just use Paint.NET on my Windows machine. So, it's very basic, just, like, stitching together images and putting transparent images on top of memes and stuff, to pick things.
Jordan: We quite obviously don't have Adobe After Effects. And it’s been called out on Twitter in the past, with people like, “This video edited is shit. Why do things keep blinking here?” Or, “Why isn't it properly kind of following this animation?” And I'm like I… I don’t know.
Corey: “I am sorry my free content annoyed you.”
Jordan: [laugh]. Yeah. It—
Corey: “It did not live up to your high standard.” Yeah, I hear you on that.
Jordan: And so, I'm like, well, if someone does want to buy me, Adobe After Effects—I'm not saying someone should, but if you're interested, the SimpsonsOps DMs are open. I'm joking, by the way.
Corey: if you work for Adobe and are listening to this show, I think you might want to look up that opportunity, as well. Speaking of big companies here, I was a little bit worried when I first started the Last Week in AWS newsletter, back before anyone had really heard of me because it's like, “So, what's your plan, Corey?” “Well, I'm going to go find a trillion-dollar company, and then I'm going to metaphorically kick them in the junk.” Because that sounds like a smart thing to do that an intelligent person might try.
I was a little concerned for the first year about ceases and desists, a letter from a lawyer telling me to knock that crap off, however you want to pronounce it, and it never happened because it turns out that AWS is way more nuanced than I would have guessed from the big company descriptor. And they have great people that work there. But that was always in the back of my mind of, is this going to cause problems where I’ll have to pivot to Last Week in the Cloud or something down the road? And it turned out that no, but that did hang over me just in the back of my mind for a while. Have you had any concerns or thoughts about that, from the fact that you're doing this on, basically, Simpsons IP? Is Fox going to potentially get annoyed by this and come after you someday?
Jordan: That thought has crossed my mind so many times. And it's also the main reason that I personally will never try and merchandise The SimpsonsOps account. I don't know if Richard wants to merchandise it or monetize it at all someday—but I'm not saying you do. Richard. I'm sorry—but that was really never the intention, I guess, with the account, as well.
I do see a few accounts—which I won't call out—that are trying to monetize shitposting which… I don't know, I feel like I disagree with ideologically speaking. But yeah, oh, Fox coming in one day and saying, “No. You are not allowed to make fun of our friends on this platform. Larry Ellison is a good man.”
Corey: Yeah. I do have the other side of it, where I do monetize what I do. A meme account seems like a weird thing to monetize and almost impossible to monetize well. At some point, people are not, “Well, that funny thing that makes fun of all the Clouds recommends some monitoring project, or Casper mattresses or something.” It feels like on some level, that winds up not working out well.
I've seen a few mainstream meme accounts that start merchandising or going down the path of doing promoted tweets to some content blog or whatnot, and it ruins the feed to the point where I just can't stand it anymore and I unfollow. It's such a jarring disconnect of, I love your original content, but then you retweet garbage clickbait articles in all the time, and that doesn't work. You have to be respectful of your audience, which is something I think that you folks have really stayed true to. Now, if you decide to make money on it someday, I'm also not going to sit here yelling at you for selling out. I get it. I absolutely do. It's just really interesting to be watching the genesis of this account, and watching it gain traction and speed. Big fan of it.
Richard: I 100 percent agree with that, and the purpose of this account is, kind of—I don't think we've ever really properly discussed what the purpose of the account is, but I think we both share the view that it should just be for fun. And by trying to promote things, or sell merchandise, it ruins the feel of the account, and it's probably not something that we’d ever be interested in. Because, yeah, I've seen that happen to heaps of accounts, not just in tech. On like other meme accounts, which are not related to tech, when they start promoting certain products and that kind of stuff, people get really, really upset, and I do the same. I just [00:28:15 unintelligible].
Jordan: I feel like the bar is set at, like, [BLEEP] Jerry, right? Which is probably the worst meme account ever, to date. If you are following [BLEEP] Jerry, please unfollow because they are making money off stolen content. I don't know if our content is necessarily stolen. In saying that, I feel like I'm kind of treading on eggshells here—borrowed.
Corey: No, I hear you. It's fun, though. It's sort of a cultural touchpoint, and credit where due, I haven't noticed—at least in the time I've been around—that the IP holders of The Simpsons property is overly litigious around stuff like that. I promise you would not be able to do a Disney parody account like this because yes, there is the argument—no, before I get letters, let me call this out: yes, parody is fair use.
Now, do you have the funds to wind up fighting Disney and their attorneys to prove that in court? No. You're going to stop doing it because only a lunatic would actually pick that fight. So, yes, you can do a thing; there's a chilling effect. But by and large, it seems like it's gotten big enough now that it's almost become a common understanding among ops folks, for better or worse. So, good work. Keep it up, please.
Jordan: Thank you. I never expected this. I never expected to be speaking to you, either. So… it's been a weird year.
Corey: We live in interesting times. Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Jordan: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Richard: It's been a pleasure.
Corey: So, if you're not on Twitter: you made good decisions. Keep it that way. If you are on Twitter, you can follow them at @SimpsonsOps. It's well worth the trip.
I'm Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you've hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an image meme on top of Mickey Mouse telling me why this is terrible.
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