History of Dogspotting, and why the admins and mods are geniuses (Dogspotting Capstone Project Recap, 2/2)

If you haven’t read part 1, go and read that first.

Some notes on formatting before we start: 
If something is underlined, it is a link.
If something is highlighted with the words “Shirley Lee responded” at the side, it is a random side note.

Dogspotting is like a cult, but not a cult.

(Some) History of Dogspotting

(Disclaimer: all information is gained from Dogspotting mods, this Buzzfeed article, and various blogs. Administrators and mods should know better, and if there’s anything wrong, please call me to edit this.)

In 2006, Boston resident John Savoia invented a point system that turns spotting dogs into a “sport”. At first the game was played among friends. Then it was played with other Internet users on Something Awful forums. And then Something Awful started to charge their users and Facebook group function was created. Dogspotting was then moved on Facebook.

Originally the Facebook group only has 20 members. Then in 2014, for some unknown reasons, thousands of members joined. Then Buzzfeed reported about it. It is not exaggerating to say that the number of members of Dogspotting skyrockets every day. When I was writing my essay, the member number was less than 400,000. 2 months later and more than 30,000 new members has already been added.

As the number of members grows, it is time for the administrators and mods to figure out what they want for the group, and corresponding to their wishes, what they need to do next. They must decide these aims quickly and execute them clearly, or else the group might get deleted by Facebook like many of the content contributing group out there. Here’s presumably what they had figured out:

What Dogspotting does: let people see and contribute original dog photos
The best thing that Dogspotting can do, now with a heck ton of members: build and sustain the Dogspotting brand, sell products, and start raising money for animal related charities

Now, they must figure out ways to get Dogspotting 1) good at doing what it does, and 2) help Dogspotting do the best thing it can do.

According to Kollock and Smith, who studied online communities in 1996, part 1 is the group’s common good. To achieve part 1, admins and mods need to find a low-cost method control the content and stop free riders.

The obvious things to do include a) setting up rules that explains constructive behaviour and destructive behaviour in the group, and making the rules easily accessible to all members, b) asking the members respect admins, so that they can gain control early on. These things are what a functioning Facebook group normally does.

Why Dogspotting Mods and Admins are Geniuses

But then, some free riders may not have bad intentions when they post their own dogs or other known dogs. Regulating these content would require smart brains, because people may get mad and leave when they are told that their own lovely dogs are not allowed. Well, it just happens that the admins and mods have smart brains. So they come up with a solution: to limit this kind of free riding behaviour within the comments of a thread. That’s why there are meet-and-greet thread and Dogspotting Society. That’s why Jeff tells ya to post yer own dogs from time to time. Now Dogspotting members around the world won’t have their newsfeed flooded with random dog photos, and Dogspotting can remain unique.

Another type of people also bothers online communities — Internet trolls. Facebook trolls can be difficult because once they get banned from the group, they can always get a new account, come back in, and bring on in the heckling all over again. Interwebs scholars concluded that a “low-cost conflict mediation mechanism” must be functioning in an online community in order to the whole group to work. But then Dogspotting admins are even smarter — they come up with Dogspotting People’s Court to curb trolls in the long term. Although it costs the time of the admins and mods, everyone had fun witnessing the court case. Freeriders who got banned would have less negative feelings after coming back through a humorous court case; Dogspotting members will find things funny and decide to stay even longer. Thus, their sense of identity as a Dogspotting members grows. Two birds, one stone.

The DoggoLingo Heckening

In order to stay popular and excellent, one needs to learn the art of striking the balance between being accepted and being original. This was a thing that Dogspotting admins and mods thought about a lot when DoggoLingo appeared in the group. How can Dogspotting be a popular dog content provider while remaining different enough to be remarkable? The struggle between the two brought forth the a series of events that I named DoggoLingo Heckening,

After 2014, after the number of members in the group blew up, people started to use words like “doge”, “doggo”. and “pupper” while describing their spots. Admins and mods started to get scared — this may harm the originality of the Facebook group. Then, all the moderators worked together and deleted all the spots that contains words related to Internet memes.

I cannot even imagine how Dogspotting would be like without DoggoLingo. Without it, I couldn’t have written my essay and fulfill my graduation requirements. But studying admins and mods’ attitudes towards the language and the reasoning behind the ban would be very interesting, because it can give us a view of how the users of a more common social networking site (Facebook) view the language product of Internet subculture.

Let’s take a look at the comments against DoggoLingo from admins and mods:

“As the admin most perturbed by the “lingo” that ever threatens to memify our fair sport, I wholeheartedly endorse this research in the hops that it will lead to a cure.
“The whole idea of the group is to post valid spots of actual dogs seen; so yes, the group was NEVER for posting memes. In fact, we used to ban people for even using meme language! But that became too hard to enforce, so we let it slide now. We want original content, not copycat things. The original content is what makes our group more interesting to look at than other groups.”
“When I first started moderating, most of the other admins at the time hated meme language and I kind of went along with it, agreeing that Dogspotting is too good and pure for memes but I’ve come to realise that’s a bit silly and elitist — I think they’re funny, mostly (some are pretty problematic) […], I thought it was a good decision to get rid of that rule. It was silly to be banning people over such a silly rule when they started to argue with us.”
“The argument for banning it was that the ban would make the jokes more original and creative and funny, without everyone just using the same jokes.”
“The meme speak like doge, doggo and pupper kind of annoyed me at first and we had a very unpopular rule about it and soon realized it’s folly to try to limit slang so decided to ignore it. Now they have grown on me and I use them here and there.”

OK. Conclusions:
1. Admins, mods, and members are aware that “doge”, “doggo”, and “pupper” are from a vocabulary separate from common English language. They are associated with memes.
2. Dogspotting is “original” and “pure” while memes are not. This association is probably made because dogs are innocent barking kids sent from heaven while memes could be originated from Internet trolling.
3. Dogspotting’s originality could be harmed by memes.
4. Admins and mods gave up deleting the posts because there were simply too many.

We mentioned above that “low-cost conflict mediation” is essential to a stable online community; the meme language problem did not have a low-cost solution. In fact, it created more conflict. When the majority of the new members use the language variety, it is hard for 14 moderators to battle the tide. Some members started arguing in the group and started to think that the group was ridiculous. And that’s the entirety of the DoggoLingo Heckening.

Finally, the admins and mods sat together and had a chat. What did they want the group to be? Then they remember this:
The best thing that Dogspotting can do, now with a heck ton of members: build and sustain the Dogspotting brand, sell products, and start raising money for animal related charities.

To raise money for animals, they need people to like Dogspotting and commit to it. Time to look for other ways to stay original, and make more people proud of being a Dogspotter.

Identity as a Dogspotter

As mentioned in part 1, 77% of the DoggoLingo survey respondents think that DoggoLingo help them build their identity as a Dogspotter. DoggoLingo is now a piece of Dogspotting culture created by most of the members.

And, just in case other people can start other groups called PupSeeing, or DoggieBothering and use the idea for private purposes, Dogspotting has trademarked its name and logo in 2014, making Dogspotting truly unique.

But then, even more pieces of Dogspotting cultures are created by the Dogspotting admins. And they are very good at building the Dogspotting brand and strengthening the Dogspotter identity. Here’s how they do it:

The Slogans and The Banners
I don’t know if it is just me, but when I joined Dogspotting, I immediately got the sense that I was venturing to the “weird part of Facebook”. It feels like scrolling through Tumblr, or reading about 4chan. “Internet subculture” popped into my mind when I looked the pictures and slogans.

Turns out, most of the things send out the vibe of Internet subculture if they are remixes of popular cultures. That’s why memes look familiar and strange, and therefore weird; they are the remixes of popular culture and have gone through memetic transmission.

Sending out this vibe is beneficial to building the Dogspotting identity. Ryan Milner, who wrote a meme book, said that subcultural identification fosters “ingroup identification by outgroup othering”. In other words, other Facebook dog groups may not have Dogspotting’s designs and slogans, so they are less cool than Dogspotting. As a result, being in Dogspotting and a Dogspotter is cool.

Reid Paskiewicz designed most of the pictures and slogans. Let’s take a look what the themes are referencing, according to da man himself:

Dogspotting rules slide: Made to look like “orientation videos of a new job in the 80s”. In fact, an orientation video on Dogspotting rules is just out.

From Rules of Dogspotting Facebook page.

“The Dog Must Flow”: from sci-fi novel Dune and show of the same name. Changed from “the spice must flow”.

“Be excellent to Each Other”: Copied from movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Reason why this quote occurred in the movie is too obvious.

While Dogspotting has attempted to stop parts of the Internet subcultures (meme language) to enter the group, it is using Internet subcultures to build its unique brand. Life is strange.

The Fact that We are Not a Cult
A cult is not something many people would join, and only people in a cult would understand how it works. So people in a cult form their identity by “outgroup othering” and learning that they are special.

But Dogspotting is not a cult.

Humour, instead, makes the community and the Dogspotting identity strong.

Dogspotting may seem funny to outsiders because of a thing called “incongruent humour”. It means that something is funny when part of it is acceptable, but part of it is unexpected.

People spotting dogs and saying that they are cute is an acceptable thing to do in a society. But people are not expected to be serious about Dogspotting and form a cult with it. Dogspotting is funny because people are serious about it. Because they are not expected to be serious.

People tend to like a thing if it is funny. So the admins decided that “Dogspotting is like a cult” thing need to stay, because it is funny.
Now, the slogan “we are not a cult” is repeated by members in the group, and at least 65 of them are buying the “we are not a cult” shirt according to my survey. The Goal to raise money for animal shelters and charities is Achieved. Did I smell something off here? No worries, because we are not a cult.

After reading all of this, I hope you learn that being able to use DoggoLingo in the group is a privilege, and Dogspotting owes its success in building a friendly online community to hard-working moderators and genius admins. May the dogs flow forever and ever. Thank you so much for reading this! :D

If you like this article, please click on the heart thing at the bottom to recommend it to other Medium readers. You can also share this article to other Dogspotters and your friends! The absolute best thing you can do is to follow me on Medium. I will probably do an article on microwaving eggs because it was another essay I have written last semester (what a wild ride).