Phish Phucked Us

Or, How Zero Slant Deals With The Issue Of Noise

Zero Slant is a company dedicated to organizing social media around the news and events people are talking about— automatically. This means no actual human groups the content or deletes anything that doesn’t fit the narrative. We find locations where large spikes in social media occur and determine that there must be something going on. The easiest part of this is finding the spike. A more recent problem was the day Phish phucked us.

New York City

Harder To Organize Than Small Towns

Automatically grouping social media based on the events and news it describes is really easy in smaller cities. If ZeroBot (our in-house name for the algorithm) sees that there is usually only 1 post per minute in an area and there are suddenly 100/minute, something must be happening. New York City is much more difficult. There are stories on top of stories, and differentiating which spikes represent which unique event is much harder to discern.

Phish Plays Madison Square Garden

Phish has obsessive fans. Whether you like their music or not, their phans gush over them. This love leads to tons and tons of social media posts. The increase in posts means that when they perform, ZeroBot picks it up and creates a very visually dynamic and fun story. So how is Phish phucking us, if their fans led to an awesome story? This sounds like a success story for ZeroBot! Let’s continue.

Sample images from the Phish concert at The Garden.

The Aftermath

The average concert lasts about 1.5 days on social media. You have the first images of it being set up. People wait for it to start. Then there’s a huge spike during the performance. People go home — and when they wake up, there’s about half a day of latergrams and reminiscing. In this instance, Phish spent four days at Madison Square Garden to celebrate 2015 and ring in 2016, so it would have made sense if the story lasted a week or so. However, Phish at Madison Square Garden lived for over almost two weeks.

Phish at Madison Square Garden lived for almost two weeks.
The phans love this guy.

Phish Phucks Us

Phish fans posted so much content for so long, that every single event at The Garden for the next week was tainted with tangy Phish Sauce. One of the causes of this is that people opt into tagging the location their content is at. Simply grabbing all the content from The Garden doesn’t ensure that it’s all from the event going on at the moment. It’s simply showing all the content people are sharing with that tag. It’s usually quite real-time but in the case of Phish — the phans are rabid and even as new events occurred at the Garden, Phish swam its way into the story.

This is ZeroBot, the creator of stories.

Removing That Phishy Stink

This issue led us down a great path toward enhancing ZeroBot. We realized that the location tags aren’t always reflective of the actual story happening there and instead dove deeper into the content being shared — analyzing it to better understand what it is and whether it belongs in the narrative. Today, all systems for organizing social media (even location) are user generated. Because of this, in order to truly be a real-time news source, our system has to be smarter and better able to determine the difference between a phish phan actually posting from a concert and the rabid posting of content for weeks on end.

We’re getting there. Closer every single day.

As always, you can reach me at

Like what you read? Give Ryan Sheffer a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.