Sponsored links are the new spam

educate Washington

Steven Frank drew the webcomic Spamusement from 2004 to 2007. The schtick was “Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!”

It was a genius idea. Frank encouraged other people to draw their own, based on spam they’d received. Back in the day, I drew about a dozen. Drawing them was a pleasant kind of mental palate cleanser, doodling that was tethered loosely to the verbal part of my brain.1

In early summer 2010, I had the idea of doing something similar with two-word captcha phrases that websites used to thwart spam. I drew two of these, but I don’t think I ever posted them anywhere.2

The scribble at the top of this post is “educate Washington“.

The other one is “skiers think“:3

skiers think

Although contributions to the Spamusement community forum continued for years after Frank stopped posting, the forum has now gone barren and succumbed to the usual kind of spam. In the time since the heyday of Spamusement, spam e-mail has become less common. And captchas have moved on from two-word phrases to being visual training sets for self-driving cars.4

It occurred to me recently that the clickbait sponsored content which now appears at the bottom of even reputable blogs and websites often has the same open-ended form that made spam subject lines ripe for cartooning.

Expect some new doodles soon.

  1. “A doodle. I do doodle. You too. You do doodle too” (Rosenberg 1999).
  2. This is actually something I had forgotten until I just stumbled across these on my computer. I only know the date because of file metadata.
  3. I even saved the graphics file of the captcha for this one, but I am not a robot and can clearly see that it says “skiers think.”
  4. Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by photographs, half of which are stop signs, is a terrible idea.

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