Electricallongboard and the not a bot community
Exploring a Twitch subculture that supports small streamers
|Dec 29, 2020||10||4|
No salon again this week as we remain in low gear. However our next salon, to be held Tuesday January 5th 2021 at 1pm (Eastern) is not be missed. It will feature the brilliant Robin Shaban, and look at the political economy of competition law. Normally a dry subject, but Robin brings it to life and makes it accessible, which is especially important and relevant given all the antitrust action going on. Mark it in your calendar and join us!
This time last year I was obsessed with TikTok, learning as much as I could about the platform and through the platform. The use of algorithms and automated production made the app easy to use. The barrier to entering the media industry and show business was lower than ever.
TikTok went on to have a banner year, in spite of threats from the POTUS and bans in major markets like India. While TikTok has changed tremendously in the last year, their growth is not slowing, nor will their influence on the cultural industries diminish.
This year I’m obsessed with Twitch (and turning chores into television). Perhaps for similar reasons. The use of algorithms and automated production makes the platform relatively easy to use. In this case the barrier to producing compelling and accessible video entertainment is lower than ever.
Although where my obsession with TikTok was as a consumer and researcher, my obsession with Twitch is almost entirely as a producer and creator.
While Twitch also had a great 2020, their next year is going to be even larger, as will their influence on both the cultural industries, and pop culture in general.
I’ll be writing about this in greater depth in the weeks and months to come, however in this issue I wanted to share a story, as a kind of glimpse or anthropological journey into a part of the Twitch world I recently encountered.
All chat bots lead to Electricallongboard
This is the story of Electricallongboard. A Twitch user, channel, and “everstream”.
Electricallongboard is an open community that seeks to serve the needs of small and aspiring Twitch streamers. While it is effectively owned and controlled by a single individual, the community is participatory, and relatively transparent.
Like any (social media) platform, Twitch is largely subjective, and how it is used is influenced by how people choose to use it. While most people still use Twitch to stream video game related content, there is a growing subset who use the platform for other purposes.
For example, we’re part of a growing trend of animal or farm related content. I also plan to stream content related to what we explore here on Metaviews.
Fostering Algorithmic Literacy?
As a relatively new user to the platform, and as a creator, I’m pressing all the buttons and exploring all the features. Similarly as a streamer who aspires to having a larger audience, I’m conscious of the metrics that are expected of me, and the logic that drives the algorithm.
This is one way that Twitch is slightly different from other social media. The algorithm and popularity on the platform is gamified. They provide “achievements” or “badges” that guide users through necessary steps that bend your content and behaviour towards the desired algorithmic outcome.
While this could be framed as manipulation, I see the opposite: a cultivation of algorithmic literacy, as Twitch wants to be transparent about how some users or channels succeed (and get paid) while others do not.
One of the consequences of this relatively transparent path to success is that it fosters a greater desire to achieve it. It’s not easy. Quite the opposite. However it still feels somewhat accessible.
This provides a similar parallel with TikTok, and why that app has been so successful. There’s always been a sense that any user has a chance of becoming famous. Of building an audience and going pro. That dream has never really been accessible on other platforms, but TikTok at least successfully cultivated that illusion. Twitch is doing something similar, not so much in the belief that it is possible, but making the path towards doing so clear enough that people can at least fantasize.
Which is where Electricallongbord (or ELB) comes in. For just about any streamer starting off on the path, ELB is there with them, lurking in the shadows.
I found them the way many novice streamers do. In their channel’s chat room.
Ghosts in the chat
After one of our shows (streams) I looked at the stats and saw that there were way more people showing up in the chat stats than there were showing up in the viewing stats. I.e. there were people who were in the chat room but not watching the feed.
At first I ignored this, but once I installed a points system that rewarded viewers for watching our show and participating, I noticed that the users on the leaderboard were not people following or watching our show, but bots that were just sitting in the channel.
One day, out of curiousity, I started looking up these bots. As each of them have to be tied to an actual Twitch profile and channel.
A particular feature of Twitch profiles is that instead of showcasing your own content, you can promote someone else.
In this case each bot was pointing to the same channel. Electricallongboard. Slightly irritated I decided to go and check out the channel.
I was expecting some sort of automated spamhaus, but was surprised and impressed with what was there.
The not-a-bot network
The video feed was a Discord video call. Like a Zoom meeting, but a little more chaotic. Some of the participants were animated or obscured. I couldn’t tell if it was a spamhaus or not.
I posted in the chat: “a network of bots led me here.”
And in response the people on screen and in the chat lit up. They were quick to demonstrate their humanity in a range of measures, and we all quickly got into a fascinating and entertaining discussion on what it means to be human.
As I stuck around the channel and the chat, I quickly noticed that I was part of a long line of people coming into the “everstream”. Each of us upset and of the belief that they had found a nest of chat bots, only to be surprised if not shocked to find that these were all humans. Yet not just any humans, but other aspiring small streamers on Twitch looking to meet people and build an audience.
A hybrid of human and machine
Although the responsive humans who are quick to engage are not mutually exclusive with the presence and active role of bots. After all, those are bots popping into every small channel they can find, and following those bots does lead to the ELB everstream.
Yet the everstream itself is an everstream because there is a critical mass of humans willing to keep it going at all hours, each and every day. The primary role of these humans is to be present when other humans encounter the robots and follow the digital breadcrumbs to ELB. By greeting the new humans, the larger hope is to maintain their interest and have them stick around, if not follow, or even subscribe.
On the one hand this benefits ELB, as it builds that channel which is nearing 40,000 followers. However on the other hand, it builds this open community, which could also be called an open attention marketplace, designed to serve small streamers. Alternatively, this could all be an attention pyramid scheme, but we’ll get to that later.
The marketplace, if you want to call it that, can be found in the channel’s chat room. The channel content, is just a never ending video call/conference. The people in that call/conference are channel subscribers, and have paid for the privilege to be there.
However they don’t have to be there, and one of the reason’s they are there is to serve the channel and community. The show is them interacting with each other and the chat.
An open attention marketplace
The chat on the other hand is where the action is. Viewers of the channel earn points by watching the channel and engaging in activities. They can then spend these points in a range of ways, but the two biggest are the shout out or the raid.
A shout out is as it sounds, a quick and easy way to promote your Twitch channel. However a raid is more powerful, as it transfers the audience of one channel, to become the audience of another (with the ability to opt-out). Think of it as changing the TV channel for everyone currently watching that channel.
This is obviously one of the big features of the ELB open attention marketplace. People support the channel, so they can earn points, to then raid the channel and have the audience come and visit their channel. Incidentally, users of ELB gain points for participating in raids.
From an audience perspective, it’s kind of like a sampler. You hang out in the channel, and every little while you get transferred and introduced to some random and aspiring small streamer. Most people stay on this raided channel for a moment or a few minutes and then transfer back to ELB.
In my own case I’ve often stayed longer, as you end up being in an opportunity to really make someone feel special as you’re literally the only person or among a handful of people watching their channel. Usually it’s them playing a video game, and just like watching my nephew, it’s easy to be encouraging. It genuinely feels great to be in a position to boost someone like that and give them 15 minutes towards their Warhol moment.
One of the more comical, sincere, and engaging aspect of ELB is the constant flow of people pissed off about finding a bot in their channel’s chat. Part of what makes it sincere is the effort community members put in to engaging the people who enter looking for the bot-master or wanting to rage against the machine.
I had a sidechat with one member, a Twitch user named RealRegen, who felt that the entire ELB enterprise was a little dubious. Here’s the transcript, which I’m sharing with their permission. It provides a good symbolic summary of the kind of reactions and discussions that ensue:
RealRegen: this electricallongboard is a scam, idk what is going on but it's some scam shit
RealRegen: He shows p in 10000s of peoples streams. He doesn't actually count as a live viewer
RealRegen: He is trying to manipulate small streamers into thinking he is watching in hopes of you coming and following and donating or subbing
metaviews: what's the scam?
RealRegen: He shows up in tons of channels and makes them think he is actually watching, they then come to his channel and follow, sub, and donate hoping to gain even more follows themselves
metaviews: Yes, but if it's transparent, is it a scam? Objectionable to some perhaps, but not a scam.
RealRegen: You realize most small streamers don't actually realize he doesn't count as a live view.
RealRegen: This is manipulation at it's finest
RealRegen: He just raided someone a few mins ago then instantly unraided
metaviews: I understand. And I think you're making a fair argument. But I don't think it is manipulative.
RealRegen: It's all manipulation
metaviews: Instead it seems like an opportunity for education
RealRegen: How is it educational?
metaviews: The raids are like sampling. If you like it you can stay.
metaviews: It's educational as it encourages people to understand how it works. I.e. the distinction between chat and viewer.
metaviews: Anyhow, I appreciate your perspective.
RealRegen: I asked him about it all and instead of answering he just shouted me out
metaviews: I'm new to this and just learning.
RealRegen: He has been in my channel for two years now and never counted as a live viewer
metaviews: but why should he count as a live viewer?
metaviews: and you can filter him out
RealRegen: He shouldn't, that's not what I'm saying. I know exactly what is going on. He is hoping you do think he counts as a live viewer
metaviews: I'm not so sure. I think he's hoping you'll come to his stream out of curiousity.
RealRegen: Most new streamers are not going to understand he isn't counting as a live viewer.
metaviews: And he turned his stream into an open community
metaviews: They get an opportunity to figure that out
metaviews: If they can't figure it out, maybe that's a sign of something?
RealRegen: You shouldn;t be allowed to use bots to make yourself show up in 1000s of peoples channels.
RealRegen: I wish you luck lol
metaviews: that's fair
metaviews: there should be rules for bots to make them transparent and equal access
I did a brief interview/chat with the dude behind ELB who only goes by the name ELB. He genuinely seems to want to help aspiring streamers, and sees an overlap with his own streaming ambitions.
I asked whether small streamers stay with the community after they grow and gain success and he mentioned that most move on. He also mentioned that raids are limited to streams that have less than 75 viewers, which may disincentive larger streamers from continuing to participate.
The backbone of ELB is a Discord server (and a network called not a bot), which is read-only for non-subscribers. Those who pay up not only get access to the server, but can then participate in the actual show itself. This is where ELB runs the risk of being accused of acting as a kind of attention pyramid scheme, where streamers pay to get access to a network that then makes it easy for them to promote their channel.
However the transparency of this model leads me to believe that ELB is no more of a pyramid scheme than many other media outlets and professional networks. You certainly don’t have to pay (with money) to participate in the network and promote your channel, however you do have to pay with your time and attention.
I also asked ELB where they found the inspiration for this project, and they cited Electricalskateboard, which is a different Twitch account that seems to be more closely associated with infiltrating people’s chatrooms and promoting new streamers. Although I’m not sure that it is still active.
ELB himself never actually talks about the bots or their methods, but does indicate that they’re a developer. Instead ELB refers to “astral projection” and claims that they learned such skills from Dr Strange.
When I asked ELB about timeline they said they started streaming this time last year after attending Twitchcon and started the “everstream” Oct 15th 2020.
The astral projection is targeted, and ELB claims it is quite effective. They target streamers working on reaching affiliate (50 followers and an average viewership of 3), as well as streamers who have been on the platform for a long time.
I asked ELB about their goals, and they said it was to hit 10,000 hours on the everstream as of December of 2021, as well as help a streamer reach partner status (on Twitch) before they do.
I’ve enjoyed spending the brief time that I have exploring this community, and it has been a reminder of how numerous and diverse these subcultures can be.
It’s also a reminder that Twitch is different, and has tremendous potential, both as a medium for entertainment (and production), but also as a space for community development and friendship.
Hopefully we’ll be able to share more stories and digital anthropological adventures like this in the future. #metaviews
February 2021 Update: We did a video updating our ongoing investigation into the ELB network: