"MEOW" (Or, "what is all this crap on alt.college.college-bowl, anyway?")
Compiled by Tim Young, GWQT Advisor (Dartmouth '96, GWU Law '99), who was there. Updated by Tricia Southard, GWQT Advisor.
1994-95: A group of
Harvard students, a few of whom played on the quiz-bowl circuit, some
of whom were regulars or semi-regulars on alt.college.college-bowl,
occupied a then-vacant newsgroup called alt.fan.karl-malden.nose, for
reasons that remain nebulous to this day. Periodically, these students
conducted small "invasions" of other newsgroups, notably
alt.music.white-power, annoying a fair number of netizens, though
without major consequences.
Jan. 1996: A couple of
a.f.k-m.n regulars, who also happened to be quizbowl players for
Harvard, came up with the idea of crossposting to
alt.tv.beavis-n-butthead. Unfortunately, the proposal to conduct the
invasion, growing out of a conversation between Matt Bruce (later of BU)
and another Harvard player, was somehow itself posted to a.t.b-n-b. The
content of the proposal contained such language as "use perfect
grammar, and refuse to speak as those ruffians speak." Since this was
coming from harvard.edu, one can see how it played to all the
stereotypes about Harvard snobbery.
Jan. 1996: Some of the
same Harvard players crossposted articles (mostly of the "humor"
variety) between a.f.k-m.n and a.c.c-b, most of which had no quiz bowl
content, but were not particularly bothersome either. One of such
threads related about how Matt Bruce had answered some question about
what he wanted for a graduation gift with a remark about oral sex.
Others were reposts of popular net.legends, such as the famous story
about Neil Armstrong's neighbor.
Jan. 1996: Harvard player
Chuck Truesdell - whose initials are CAT - began to make posts to
a.f.k-m.n that contained the word "meow," in an apparent imitation of
the cartoon characrer Henrietta Pussycat (from the show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.)
Other "nosers," as they were called, including Bruce, joined in. The
most famous/infamous of these posts read in its entirety: "Meow meow
Matt Bruce meow meow Henrietta Pussycat meow meow Presidents of the
United States of America meow Kitty?"
Feb. 1996: Angry a.t.b-n-b
regulars begin to follow the Harvard bunch, and Bruce in particular,
around USENET, eventually reaching a.c.c-b. They find the "meow," posts
on a.f.k-m.n, and someone from a.t.b-n-b decides to begin making fun of
them. For some reason, they give Bruce the nickname "Commandante Meow
Meow." It stuck.
Mar. 1996: A whole other
wave of "meowers" picks up where the originals left off. Flamewars and
cascades are crossposted into a.c.c-b from alt.stupidity and several
other groups. The "meow" group hooks up with people conducting a
flamewar against alt.music.nin. The Harvard players attempt to complain
about the crossposts, which serves only to amplify their problems, and
arouse the ire of a small but fanatical group of legendary net.kooks,
led by the infamous John Grubor and his acolyte Steve Boursy.
Apr. 1996: a.c.c-b becomes
essentially unusable. For the first time, circuit players propose the
idea of a moderated newsgroup, which still doesn't exist. Boursy
threatens to get Bruce kicked out of Harvard before he graduates, but
does nothing. The "meow" cascades and flamewars have now merged into a
larger flood of massively crossposted threads centering around the
conflict between Grubor/Boursy and the "cabal" they claim rules USENET
with an iron fist.
May 1996: Attempts by
Dartmouth players (and possibly a few others) to join flamewars and
cascades for the purpose of diverting the flow of posts away from
a.c.c-b fail. Some players float the idea of occupying another vacant
newsgroup temporarily, but are soundly rejected. Players begin to use a
mailing list, previously used mostly for announcement-type posts, for
most discussion. The Harvard students abandon a.f.k-m.n. "The Nose"
becomes Meow Central.
June-July 1996: The "meow" posts die down on a.c.c-b, and some posters use it over the summer.
Sept. 1996: The "meowing"
returns, as bad as ever. Flamers flood Matt Bruce's mailbox at BU, and
he loses net-access. Some players attempt to complain to postmasters
about crossposts, led by NYU's Petrea Mitchell, who periodically posted
a "Cascade Watch" to a.c.c-b. The "meowers" or a copycat group of them
target a number of other newsgroups, including soc.culture.israel,
soc.culture.african-american, and, most famously,
Oct. 1996: The earliest
version of a proposed RFD, written by Jeremy Smith of Wisconsin,
appears. It is gradually tinkered with over the following months.
"Meow" becomes a rallying cry for Grubor/Boursy against the "net.scum"
and "censors" that want their crossposts stopped, though few meowers
pay much attention to either Grubor or Boursy. College Bowl players,
including Tim Young and Petrea Mitchell, begin showing up on lists of
"net.scum" propagated by Grubor allies.
Dec. 1996: Tim Young of GW
submits RFD to news.groups, which promptly sits on it. By this time,
"meowing" is becoming a generic net.term for posts with no substance.
Grubor is now referring to himself as the head of something called
"meowforce," but by this time the relevance of "meowers" to the
politics of USENET is fading. The newsgroup is used sporadically for a
time, only to be abandoned again when the crossposts resume.
Mar.-Apr. 1997: After a
hiatus, debate over the RFD starts again. Apr. 1997 : The timing of
CBCI and ACF Nationals that year coincides with a lull in "meowing " on
a.c.c-b, causing a brief Reniassance on the newsgroup.
May 1997: Increased "meow" activity, coupled with the end of the school year, ends the a.c.c-b revival.
May 1997-Aug. 1998: Nothing much of importance happens on a.c.c-b.
Aug. 1998: Some players
briefly experiment with using a.c.c-b for its intended purpose. The
crossposts, until then few in mumber, quickly reappear.
Sept. 1998: Another version of the RFD appears.
Aftermath: As of October 2005, no
significant change is visible. Meowing has pretty much died out... a.c.c-b is just a collection
of spam, and its function in the quiz bowl community has been entirely
supplanted a number of other outlets, such as the Yahoo! Quizbowl Club
founded by David Levinson, and the message boards at World of High School Quizbowl founded by Matt Weiner. Both are moderated.
Bruce moved to the west
coast in early 2000 to work for R. Robert Hentzel's consulting company. ~ Tricia S.
NB: Other explanations of the net phenomenon known as MEOW exist elsewhere, and links to them will be provided in the future.