The following interview was conducted by PapaGonzales.
It's been over three years now since Conrad resigned as head administrator of YouChew. We had been talking in late August and I found the opportunity to sit down with him and ask the really hard-hitting questions. Conrad Slater, a man shrouded in myth and mystery. To some, he is a tyrant, to others, he is a legend. Known for founding YouChew as well as Poop Tennis, but also the major catalyst to the biggest controversy YouTube Poop has ever seen.
This is my interview with Conrad Slater.
So, first off, you registered youtubepoop.com during the summer of 2007, before its community portal youchewpoop.com, and youtubepoop.com was sort of like just one, big YTP showcase. What initially led you to create the site? And do you remember exactly when you registered it?
Yeah, I remember it well. I had run an interview on my website of a guy who'd made a few poops and he told me what YouTube Poop was. I Googled it and found nothing, so I checked the domains and they were available. That evening I was incredibly excited about it all. I'd discovered a whole new genre of ART. I'd studied video remix culture at college yet hadn't seen anything like this so I knew this was the future. I had seen about a dozen poops by this point and could not believe there was nothing online about it.
I registered youtubepoops.com first. And then the next day I also registered youtubepoop.com because I read somewhere that "poop" was also the plural. It was better to be safe too in case someone cuckooed me. The site started as a directory, basically a WordPress blog with categories that represented the author of each video. There was a need for this because the videos were hard to find - people didn't label their video 'YouTube Poop' because viewers were meant to find them on YouTube accidentally. I wrote to as many people as I could who'd made the videos. I asked them permission to show their videos - invited them to suggest others whose videos I should see and so on. A few people wanted a forum - I wasn't keen on the idea but I looked into it.
I found some forum software called Vanilla which was meant to be safer than the usual bulletin board software because I knew hackers and spambots would be a problem. I've seen a few forums devastated that way so I was keen to have things a little different. Let's not forget too that whilst I had a lot of faith in YouTube Poop becoming huge, I had little faith that I would be the one who made it so. How many thousands of fools create a website, open a forum and then end being surprised that no one posts there! So I wanted all parts of the site working, popular, nicely designed and basically as professional as possible. No dead wood because that would end up costing later.
As it turned out the forum was extremely popular! So much so that in three months time, the server had crashed so many times through over-usage that my hosting provider told me I couldn't have a forum anymore unless I paid hundreds of pounds! So I took the forum to some other server and youchewpoop.com was born. I remember that night too - just giggling at you-chew-poop! How awful! Just what was needed.
How did you come up with the name for youchewpoop.com? And about the users who first joined the forum, did you invite most of them or did they join on their own accord?
It just came to me as I rolled the phrase "YouTubePoop" through my head - I suppose if you say it quick enough it kind of sounds like "YouChewPoop"! I guess I invited about 100 people, with about 60 of them who joined and became regulars. They in turn must have invited a bunch more people, plus word got round and we went straight to the top of Google searches. I remember quite a few members who joined didn't make the videos, they just enjoyed watching them! This surprised me as I saw the forum in terms of being a technical support forum rather than a chat room, but people made the forum work for them as they wanted it to.
In addition to creating the largest YTP community on the net, besides YouTube itself, you're also responsible for the creation of Poop Tennis. The first tennis match between you and Misselaineous10 can safely be assumed to be the first ever collaborative effort between two poopers over the internet. How did you come up with the idea for Poop Tennis? And did you ever imagine it would turn out as well as it did?
Of everything I did whilst I was involved in YouTube Poop, Poop Tennis is what I am most proud of. For me, it was a way of dealing with creative block - to have something to respond to and interact with was a lot easier then just making a video from scratch. The idea wasn't that original. It's based on Photoshop tennis, which I discovered a few years before when I read a Photoshop book.
I'd wanted to do a video editing tennis game along the same lines so poop came along at just the right time. There had been poop collabs before but what always happened was people would add all their bits together. The videos would be long and wouldn't really benefit from the collaboration process in the same way as tennis would. That first match was awesome, though.
The War on AIDS marked a huge turning point in YouChew's general attitude, and a lot of people have used it as way to tarnish your image as well as the site's. Why did you feel it was needed? Do you think your actions were justified in changing the directory's policy so drastically? And how do you feel about the negative attention you gained for doing so?
I know that I should be sitting here face-in-palm, embarrassingly regretting my hot headed younger self but ultimately I stick by what I did. Yes, some people took it personally, yes, some people got carried away, but frankly the whole affair was a lot more tame than the kind of thing that goes on on a daily basis on 4chan (where most of us spent time) or even YouTube itself.
As a quick explanation, I wanted a bit of quality control in the directory, so that it could continue to be useful. I was getting about ten new people per day signing up and expecting to be listed automatically. I'd gone through the phase of being polite and setting a limit to 10 videos maximum but you have to understand that a lot of really dumb people were joining. Arguably brain dead, very selfish and rude people who cared about as much furthering the art of YouTube Poop as they did about social-political machinations of pre-renaissance France.
They certainly did not care about having to actually 'think' - or make any effort to use the forum. They just wanted to take, take, take and thought they had the God-given right to be listed and that YouChewPoop owed them their validation because they'd taken a CD-i cutscene and re-edited in a familiar way. So, I simply said no more CD-i in the directory, and then I dressed it up in a bit of pomp and circumstance in order that people could join in. I invited people to vent their spleen, many of which did so - to be as outraged as they were outrageous.
The consequences were fairly inevitable. Liberals attempted to champion the underdog, wishing to make things more 'fair'. And those who resented me simply because I owned the site saw it as an opportunity to have a go at me. Meanwhile, some of the more talented poopers made some really great CD-i remixes just to prove a point.
I think it was around this point that an extremely talented video editor called WalrusGuy appeared; I don't remember him before the War on Aids. His videos were really good. I didn't personally like them but I still saw that they were well-made and they were popular. But of course, his success gave new life to the whole debate and it spawned another round of copycat videos by idiots who just missed the point of YoutTube Poop and wanted to make WalrusGuy videos.
When you first created the site and its components, you were about thirty years old. Did you ever find it frustrating that most of the people you dealt with were teenagers or younger?
Absolutely! Mind you, there was some really cool and intelligent people around. I also found there was a bit of a cultural barrier. It was quite brit-centric, plus some of my personal favourite poopers were British so it evened out quite well. People like MrSimon, Stegblob, and SeductiveBaz really had an impact on the forum and YouTube Poop as a whole. But there was a lot more! Interestingly, though, I found age had very little to do with skill as an editor. There was a handful of members under 14 making poops and they were really good.
I did wish there were a handful more older people around, though - I thought it would improve things. I spend a lot of time on Reddit at the moment which seems to have a good demographic in that regard. It's witty.
During your time as administrator, what were your most favorite experiences with the YouChewPoop community?
I had a lot of fun using the Vanilla forum. I remember it could do a lot of stuff that was just plain odd. I remember one time setting things so everyone's avatar was a picture of Ronald McDonald. Of course everyone went mad, thinking we'd been hacked.
We've spoken about Poop Tennis but I enjoyed the Poop Chain a lot too - I think that first one we got about 50 people. The big tribute video was fun too because everyone replied to it and it got to the front page of YouTube. It had thousands of views in a short period of time.
Oh - there was the time I made Pimpsahoy a moderator for a few hours ...!
How big and what kind of impact do you think YouChew has had on YouTube Poop and its larger community?
I find it hard to believe that any more than a few poop makers aren't aware or don't use the forum. Back at the start I'd say it was 50/50 and quite a few were happy to use YouTube alone and leave it at that. Furthermore, I'd argue that those who actually refuse to use the site probably refuse to use the term "Poop" or "YTP" or whatever. There are a ton of 'remix videos' or 'mash-ups'; usually sentence mixing videos. People just trying to be different. I've also known of all sorts of minority schemes like putting videos on other video sites, calling them 'DailyPoop' or whatever. They rarely get any traction; same as long-form videos. I watched tons of video remixes such as Crazy Dave Tape or Video Armageddon - they're basically 'poop movies' but without the baggage of poop - but also not the culture of the forum.
That is to say if you work in isolation, then you are free to make whatever you want; but if you join in with things, your voice as an artist is heard because it's given a context or a broader conversation. I've seen it both ways - neither way yields better results. It's like Poop Tennis, some people just don't find it creatively satisfying.
What ultimately led you to abandon YouChew and the YTP directory?
I think I was just totally spent. Most of my latter ideas weren't as strong as my earlier ones and were received either coldly or with increased hostility by the now far more cynical community. I remember an email from someone saying they had found my address via whois and were coming 'round to my house to kill me because I'd banned their friend from the forum. I remember someone clearly very upset replying to some bullshit email that was signed as Conrad Slater despite me not writing it. (The anonymous world of 4chan suddenly became more appealing to me at this point!) I remember servers constantly crashing, too. Hackers or whatever meant I'd spend all my time sorting shit out instead of making videos and enjoying my community.
And then 'Planet Freedom' popped up as a new forum for 'when YouChew was down' which I saw as pretty much a giant "fuck you" from the whole community. So, it made sense to me to hand over YouChew to the Planet Freedom guys, lock stock and two smoking barrels. Of course, no money was exchanged, which would later haunt me as I saw things like KnowYourMeme sell for millions of dollars! With some of that I could have employed a proper team of professionals; developers, proper server people, designers and so on. Instead, I had to get a job! Even now, it makes me very sad that all that's left is a forum that looks like most of the gamer forums. But then I look at the rest of the internet and realise that it's all just a huge mess that's been knocked together - constantly changing and failing in much the same way. But it changes as we change.
What's your opinion on YouChew's administration since you've left?
Well, it's a tough job but someone's got to do it. When I left I had nothing to do with the site, the staff or even any of its members for a few years. I'd lurk for a few minutes every couple of months and would see some stupid Conrad Slater thread but just bite my tongue. Poop was dead to me. I wasn't that impressed by the direction the site took and have gone on the record before in saying the site was taken over by Star Wars prequel fans. (Which whilst being a statement of fact is also quite a strong insult!) But those guys held onto the site for a lot longer than I did and put a lot of work onto it for which they have to be commended.
I started using the site more regularly around the same time as RabbitSnore and Thereisnospork left and I've been impressed with the changes that Dopply has made. The forum seems more solid now and I think he's done a lot of work to remove the dead wood, but I still think there is a huge flaw there and that's because there are far too many moderators and staff. I remember looking at the staff not so long ago and saw about 30 people there! And there seemed far fewer posts than when it was me and my group of three or four.
And I think that was the biggest change from when I left. The site became a kind of liberal democracy instead of the benign dictatorship it had been when I started it. And whilst this has meant less tears for some it has also meant a dilution of ideas (in the name of fairness) and the absence of a central vision or ambition for the site and YouTube Poop as a whole. If you'll allow me to explain better ... imagine the site to be a gallery that included a bar. Each served its purpose and one was more popular in the day, the other at night. And what people saw in the gallery is what they would talk about in the bar! So then what happened is the bar got very popular, so a bit of decorating was done and the whole building became a bar which had some of the gallery art work on its walls. People still talked about the art but there wasn't a gallery anymore. The social aspect became far more important. However, the agoraphobes and the alcoholics - plus those who just choose not to drink - felt like they'd lost a place to show their work. But everyone else was far happier and that awful gallery curator was gone and no one liked him anyway - always banging on about art!
Who have been some of your favorite poopers? Are there any current favorites of yours?
There aren't any current favourite poopers, I'm afraid, as I've hardly watched any poops lately.
SuperYoshi's poop were always very good - as was a lot of those first few. I loved the constant flow of nonsense from DukeofFortuneMan. 1Upclock I always enjoyed. MrSimon was very clever and I don't think the impact he had on poop was a bad thing. I loved the really nasty stuff like JazzDanceForChildren; Stegblob was also fun, but I'd usually just jump to the Sesame Street bits. There was a handful of obscure poopers I liked, including nextg. But the first poop I ever saw remains my favourite. "The Dalek Emperor Toasts the Universe" by Pikawil - along with most of the rest of his stuff - is absolutely outstanding.
What do you think the future holds for YouTube Poop and its community?
I think YouTube Poop could go either of two ways.
The first is that it just goes out with a whimper. Even now, people talk about the 'glory days' of 2006/2007, and the long-standing disputes and factionalism can only mean people aren't going to work together to move Poop forward.
I think YouTube Poop still has a chance to make a major cultural impact not only online but in the way people watch and interact with videos. To have it ghettoised inside a gamers' bulletin board is terribly sad. I mentioned before how I think there's good money to be made from the whole thing, but I also think a bit of commercial and critical recognition would be up for grabs to whoever put their back into it.
It wouldn't surprise me if it was driven out of YouTube for good, as their content monitor software seems to be better these days and accounts are being closed as much as ever. Even ripping from YouTube seems tougher. But as for the videos themselves, there is no reason why they shouldn't get better and better.
Any final words of wisdom you would like to share?
Site admins serve their communities - even me. Not the other way around.
Also, fuck the police.
Thanks very much for your time, Conrad. It was a pleasure speaking with you!
Thanks to you, too. I've enjoyed coming home each day to have a question waiting for me. Take care.