On Meow


"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, alt.games.final-fantasy.

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.