Abstract: Online communities represent a new world of research opportunities. However, it’s important to understand the unique dynamic of virtual interactions in order to best 1) facilitate engagement and 2) discover insights. The phenomena of Rage Comics provides an excellent case study on accomplishing both.
Originally posted right here.
The Rage Guy meme started with a question about toilet back splash. But that’s /b/ for you. As The New York Times wrote, 4chan.org’s image board “/b/ reads like the inside of a high-school bathroom stall.” Though it’s more commonly referred to as the *** hole of the Internet.
However, many of the most popular memes of all time have been born on /b/, the online image board home to a community of hackers and young technorati with a penchant for trouble-making, including: LOLcats, RickRolling, “Chocolate Rain” and many, many more I’m sure you’ve never heard of.
These memes were born from a rich online community. There is a lot we can learn from /b/ and its memes when it comes to facilitating community engagement online AND discovering insights. Here are 4 key learnings.
According to knowyourmeme, “Rage Guy (or Rageguy) is a series of four-pane comics that became popular through 4chan’s /b/ board in late 2008. The “fffuuuuu” Rageguy is a type of exploitable image macro in which the main character expresses serious disappointment… in reacting to a given situation.”
The original image, which as noted above began with a comic about poop, was cleared away and re-posted with only Rage Guy remaining in the forth panel of the comic, thus allowing people to tell their own rage stories. Example 1, Example 2.
On the history of Rage Guy encyclopediadramatica recounts, “/b/tards then went ca-razier than usual narrating the most frustrating part of their lives into a form that struck a chord with the rest of the /b/ collective. Many of these were centered around other annoying bathroom occurrences, but it eventually spread into every corner of a /b/tard’s life…”
Key Learning 1: People want to participate, but need an impetus to do so. Rage comics provided a prompt that was easy for people to mimic and build on.
Today, Rage Guy has long since expanded beyond the image board of /b/, and it has evolved quite a bit. Known today as f5u7 (i.e. fffffuuuuuuu), the meme no longer deals exclusively with “rage,” and a whole cast of emotional faces have evolved to fill out the story telling arsenal.
There are now literally thousands of these comics floating around the net. They have broken out of the four panel format, with many going at least 9 panels and sometimes going on for 20 or more panels telling long, complex stories.
Key learning 2: People want to share stories, but not everyone is a writer. Helping users to communicate visually quickens and deepens their virtual interactions. Rage comics provide a rich visual vocabulary for people use for storytelling.
This vocabulary allows people to easily make something fun. But, what’s striking about some rage comics is that they aren’t always meant to be funny–in fact, some comics can be extremely personal.
The topics of Rage Comics range from relationship issues to religion/politics to commentary on every day situations. They have become outlets for sharing experiences and (at times) real emotion.
Further, these personal anecdotes serve as a jumping off point for conversations. There is a very busy thread on Reddit.com specifically devoted to f5U7, which is constantly being added to if you’re curious. But, don’t forget to check out the comments, too, this is the other half of the equation.
Key learning 3: People gain real satisfaction from virtual interactions, and not unlike real life they crave commonality and conversation. Not only do Rage Comics allow people to easily share personal stories, but they are also an impetus for conversation.
Finally, though Rage Comics fall well outside the definition of “online gaming,” there is a game-like quality to them.
It’s understood that a Rage Comic should have entertainment value. As a result, authors work hard to make something that people will like, or at the very least identify with. Thus, while few comics still end with “fffffuuuuuuu,” one commonality is that there’s almost always a punch line, or a pay off at the end.
On websites like Reddit.com (where most Rage Comics are born these days) users can up-vote or down-vote submissions. This popularity contest with Rage Comics is a key driver in their very creation. People desire to submit quality content in order to receive a positive response from the community at large.
Key learning 4: People crave feedback, and feedback drives more content creation. From up-votes to comments to responses via comic, the communities that make Rage Comics provide feedback to makers and this helps drive the creation of more quality content.
Final thought. Not unlike interviews or focus groups, as an account planner half my job is to get people talking. Clearly, facilitating engagement online is key for good qualitative research. But, unlike in person question, response paradigm, online a lot more can happen. When people stop talking and start making, sharing and providing feedback, there’s a rich environment for finding insights waiting to be explored.
Some examples of Rage Comics: