Howler is shut down; you may not post on Howler any more. It is now a time-capsule for the future and a memorial to our past community; one final echo.
WHAT WAS HOWLER?
Howler was an imageboard community exclusively for students at N.C. State University; its only purpose was to provide a medium for anonymous communication for students at NCSU, and indeed that's all it ever did. The website was created in March 2017 using the domain name howler.us.to, and moved to howler.space where it stayed until its final archival.
The site was also novel for its longevity and focus: few other sites which target college-aged students enjoy such acceptance and, at times, notoriety. While this idea has been tested many years ago (e.g. The Wolf Web), Howler was a modern interpretation of the college forums and chatrooms of the early 2000's, which are nearly 20 years by-gone by now.
Additionally, Howler was an experiment in leveraging online anonymity to bring together / synthesize a community of friends in the real world using only the Internet.
HISTORY OF THE GOODBYE TO EVERYTHING
Originally conceived by myself and my roomate at the time (Bakesta) in one particularly cozy room in Metcalf hall (which is less of a hall, more of a tower), we designed Howler to be similar in community to Yik-Yak which had recently been de-anonymized and stripped of all the things that made it unique.
We spent a month spitballing ideas until Bakesta managed to get an instance of a liveboard software called Doushio running on a server of his. I thought this was pretty neat so I stole most of his installation and set up an instance on an old Thinkcentre I bought from NCSU's surplus sale one weekend in August 2016. I had a CS:S server and Hentai@Home node running on the thing already as a proof-of-concept that we could abuse the university's research-grade, symmetric-gigabit Internet connection by distributing pornography up and down the US Eastern seaboard. Needless to say, running an imageboard was a natural next step.
After inviting several people in the building to start posting we decided to canvas the whole campus with posters advertising the site; we hoped to attract an elite userbase by raising the barrier-to-entry to post (i.e. liveboards are not something which people use on a daily basis) and so the easiest way to reach our audience of fellow under/graduates was to tape these little posters all over the main campus.
We soon attracted a small group of elite users who stayed with us for nearly the full life of the site until its ultimate and permanent archival in May 2020.
Originally Howler was modeled after a similar site (茶会) which imposes curfews; this means that the site only opens at a specific time each day, for two hours only, then closes and erases all posting history. This is a novel way to run a website and it proved to facilitate very entertaining and fast-paced discussion during those active hours.
The curfew proved to be unsustainable, however, as people were generally confused as to how to use the site; because people expected the site to be open all the time I received several angry e-mails about this.
Bakesta and I eventually concede to remove the curfew and we add several new boards to the site: /sports/ (sports), /filo/ (philosophy), /honk/ (music) and /nu/ (basically anime). Several meetups are organized in the Fall 2017 semester, the first of which is hot-wing eating competition; it goes remarkably well (especially considering that 3 out of 6 of us did not know the other 3 out of 4.). Despite talking some serious game I, by this time effectively the sole admin and developer, was hardly able to eat all of my hot wings. Other events that semester include a board-game night; many of the events have pizza and (home-baked!) cookies provided.
Anyway, while I am routinely updating the server one day a node.js updates fucks everything up; I've had enough of this bullshit and settle on pulling an all-nighter (the first of several that year) to migrate all posts from Doushio to Wakaba, the standard imageboard software backended in (your choice of) MySQL or SQLite3. This erradicates all real-time functionality of the site and makes it generally easier to use for everyone involved.
Around this time I begin writing a textboard / BBS software called RAL, so named for the City of Oaks, Raleigh. Gradually I focus almost all of my effort on this new site and neglect the development and growth of Howler in favor of this new project; in 2018 I spent several months living in Tokyo as well, which did not allow me to organize events for Howler in-person; the site coasted slowly and steadily for this period.
Things really pick up in 2019 for the site; we begin hosting rather regular parties at my apartment; the parties are really just excuses to drink an excessive amount together and watch films as a group of 15+ in one tiny apartment down the street from NCSU.
These parties extended naturally from a little New Year's Eve bash we threw that year in the same apartment; eventually we were having these things on a weekend-by-weekend basis (how did I ever pass my classes that year!) but I (now) recognize this period as an exemplary showcase of the optimal niche for communities like this. 10 or 15 people who would have never known each other otherwise, crammed into this tiny space and watching movies together as if we'd known each other for years now.
That's all, I realized, that I ever really wanted out of this project.
Over the summer I worked in San Francisco and picked up a DJ controller for really cheap after work one day. I started playing around with it and decided to host a music-oriented party when I got back home in August; we decided to throw a few parties after the first one (which was a great success!) where some friends and I would play DJ sets. The format was similar to the parties we'd held in the previous Spring, except with live music this time around.
Actually, the first person to play a set with me was Bakesta (DJ'ing under the moniker Bushmaster) while I DJ'd under the name DJR3 (derived from the tiger YAMATO track R3 from Beatmania IIDX). I believe the first time he went by Bushmaster was that Howlerween set (below) he played, consisting mostly of 90's jungle and UK garage (jungle, bushes, etc. it's a stretch but I respect it).
Soon and to compound the fun for everyone involved and to allow people who could not make it to join in we decided to begin streaming these parties on twitch.tv. This was a very involved process and required careful planning on behalf of everyone working behind the scenes.
THE END OF HOWLER: ONE MORE FINAL: THANK YOU
The decision was made sometime in September to shut down the site on May 9th 2020; the date was a little arbitrary except that it was a Saturday and corresponded with the weekend after final exams. Instead of letting the site slip silently out of existence, I wanted to celebrate the time we had spent together by throwing one last party the night that we shut down for good.
However (and unpredictably) we were not at liberty to host an in-person party, as many of us were quarantined and scattered across the country as the university gradually limited on-campus operations and eventually transitioned to a completely online delivery for the remainder of the term. Keeping this in mind, we decided to host the final event entirely online.
A number of platforms were tossed around but we eventually settled on Garry's Mod for its extensibility and the multitude of tools, models and maps that have been created for it in its 15-something year history. I created a new server club.howler.space to be our virtual club for this event in Garry's Mod.
Club Howler is a virtual streaming stage that lets people experience music together. It's a virtual cocktail bar, it's a digital music festival, it's a livestreamed experience.
For the facilitation of the party I rented out a cluster of nodes in the Google cloud platform and furiously wrote Lua for 1.5 months (most of this work made it to my Steam workshop). Under the hood, my OBS setup for the night was nightmarish; it let Bakesta stream his handcam and music to the server and I'm glad everything worked out the way it did.
I'm also super, super thankful for everyone who came out that night; I'm glad we were able to get together and chat (in voice and text) even when we couldn't party it up in person.
We also played Trouble in Terrorist Town after the main event, that was super fun too!
You can watch all the sets from that night (or the whole VOD) above; tracklists are available on DJR3.org. I'm glad we got to have have this one last party together!
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF CAMPUS COMMUNITY LOOK LIKE?
While I had been sort of jaded about the Internet in the past, I've come to discover recently that there is definitely the potential for active outlets (both IRL and on-line) for people in these communities; in addition to the usual online communities (e.g. the university's subreddit for example) there are also many cool, inspired and interactive communities that I think are able to reach such a larger audience than we ever were able to. I hope that these outlets continue to grow and promote themselves with the vigor I know they are capable of.
I have had my fair share of interacting with these communities in my last few years at university; the real magic of "Unviersity-centered Internet Imageboard" is that you can get together and party in person. This is true of any community centered around an area or a concrete place; I know it's a lot of effort to organize parties and events but please, never give up trying
We will never be able to go back in time and grow the Howler community to be something really impactful, remarkable by any metric, but that's okay: from what I've seen of the student body in years below me, I believe something new, something innovative will manifest. Maybe not in the absence of Howler (I don't think even one incoming freshman has heard of us) but I believe that the same sentiments and emotions and connections I've felt and those we are leaving behind with the campus and its community will continue to resonate with the campus for years to come.
I am especially glad that we opened up, so to say, in our last year by throwing so many house parties. These ranged from just "friends-only" movie events to "bring as many people as you can" parties. This is a gap that not many online communities ever bridge. Being an imageboard centered around one concrete place (the unviersity) I think we had an edge in creating real friendships and creating an unrivaled community deserving of its own footnote in the unviersity's history book.
Fly me to the moon,
and let me play among the stars...