Inside Boppbopp


It’s late at night in Palo Alto and Isa­iah Nick­son is wrap­ping up final­iz­ing the newest fea­ture set on his web­site. The 900 mil­lion mem­bers have been yearn­ing for more Bopp­bopp. This new fea­ture will rein­vent the Bopp­bopp brand, says Isa­iah, from “a glob­al phe­nom­e­non to a human phenomenon.”

Rewind six months ago when Bopp­bopp was just being launched. “I had the idea one evening, just by myself, that the world is so hec­tic these days… and then I made Bopp­bopp.” We all know the Bopp­bopp cre­ation myth by now. Strug­gling sand­wich deliv­ery boy turned Sil­i­con Val­ley super­star overnight. He’s dined with Barack, wined with Oprah and slept with the hottest of Hol­ly­wood’s star­lets (Easy A? Yes). Yet, for those of you who have been liv­ing under a rock (and even then you would’ve heard about it on the Bopp­bopp-osphere), allow me to intro­duced you to Bopp­bopp. The excit­ing new inter­net sur­face is tak­ing 140 char­ac­ters down to one. It works on desk­tops, mobiles and Bopp­bopp key fobs. It’s easy to login with just an e‑mail address, though now peo­ple are log­ging into Twit­ter and Face­book via their Bopp­bopp accounts, if at all through the aging sites.

Bopp­bopp accounts are sym­bol­ized with the ◼︎– sym­bol, cre­at­ed by artist Susan Kare (a sym­bol which we can’t recre­ate here). Sus­pi­cions exist on Popob, an online com­mu­ni­ty built around Bopp­bopp, that Bopp­bop­p’s founder Isa­iah Nick­son cre­at­ed the sym­bol him­self.  The sus­pi­cions come from the lack of inter­views from Isa­iah or any­one on the Bopp­bopp team. How­ev­er, they’ve allowed me to fol­low them as they intro­duce their excit­ing new fea­tures. (Full dis­clo­sure: Boppp­bopp grant­ed this exclu­sive look into the devel­op­ment of their new fea­tures through an undis­closed agree­ment with Minu­tiæ’s par­ent com­pa­ny, TARK.)

“Peo­ple are always look­ing for holes,” says Isa­iah, “They want to think there is some dark­ness to what’s behind Bopp­bopp. To those peo­ple, I have to say I apol­o­gize. I’ve heard the rumors and none of them are true.” This is a pow­er­ful web sur­face, and the fic­tion sur­round­ing it grows every day from the dis­grun­tled ex-employ­ees to New Orleans res­i­dents claim­ing Bopp­bopp is hin­der­ing the rebuild­ing of their home, in order to dis­con­tin­ue human inter­ac­tion in favor of a pure online Bopp­bopp inter­ac­tion. “I feel bad about the sit­u­a­tions of those less for­tu­nate, but I can­not stop peo­ple from how they are using Bopp­bopp. I only pro­vide the sur­face. I love Black people.”

When Bopp­bopp start­ed, it was con­sid­ered a fun diver­sion from the over­whelm­ing onslaught of tweets and pokes and zoops (from the failed Bopp­bopp com­peti­tor, and now sub­sidiary, Zoople). In the begin­ning, users would send bopp­bopps to each other—not know­ing what they meant—as sort of a cute game. Yet, as time went on, users, or pobs, began to assign mean­ing to the mes­sages, and the Bopp­bopp land-grab began.

The Bopp­bopp com­mu­ni­ty is explod­ing, not only amongst reg­u­lar inter­net users, but also with celebri­ties who have embraced the web ser­vice whol­ly. Justin Bieber is cur­rent­ly bop­pop­pu­lar with 510 mil­lion pobs, sec­ond only to founder Isa­iah Nick­son. UK Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron start­ed a Bopp­bopp account last August, but due to nation­al secu­ri­ty con­cerns, his bopp­bopps are now encrypted.

Even busi­ness­es have begun to launch Bopp­bopp pres­ences. The now clas­sic sto­ry of State Farm Insur­ance using Bopp­bopp to offer dis­counts result­ed in a 300% increase in rev­enue. Does any­one remem­ber Geico? They went the way of the cave men. How­ev­er, great suc­cess on Bopp­bopp has also been met with huge finan­cial fail­ure. Sup­pos­ed­ly, Amer­i­can Eagle set up a Bopp­bopp account, and two days lat­er their busi­ness was down 80% after send­ing out con­fus­ing bopp­bopps like “◼︎” fol­lowed 20 min­utes lat­er with “◼︎”.

“Gin­ger Span­gler is a fuck­ing rock­star because of Bopp­bopp,” says known record­ing artist Pick, who dis­cov­ered the Hun­gar­i­an sen­sa­tion after falling in love with the lyrics she post­ed on Bopp­bopp. In a short time, Span­gler has already pressed two plat­inum records and has launched a sold-out world tour “Span­gled.” Even the row­dy boys from the real­i­ty show “These Boyz ‘R’ Noyzee” have found suc­cess through Bopp­bopp, fund­ing their own char­i­ty that builds schools in Africa. “We love Black people.”

The morn­ing before Bopp­bop­p’s press con­fer­ence at Bop­p­con 2010 at the Yer­ba Bue­na Cen­ter, Isa­iah is going over his keynote speech and the excit­ing new fea­ture: colors.

In an attempt to sim­pli­fy the huge growth of the sur­face, four col­ors are being intro­duced, cre­at­ed by Bopp­bop­p’s Col­or Artists in Palo Alto after a sev­en-month sab­bat­i­cal to The Ukraine. The secre­cy sur­round­ing these col­ors have near­ly made Bopp­bopp a prison state to work in the pre­vi­ous weeks. Col­or­blind guards have been stand­ing guard day and night. Nick­son can’t wait any longer to tell the world about the incred­i­ble innovation.

The keynote speech begins with Nick­son cov­er­ing the past six months, and then the moment hap­pens. The slide turns to the four name­less col­ors and the room erupts in a mix­ture of applause, tears and shock. Nick­son is unable to con­tin­ue with the speech as the thou­sands in atten­dance, and mil­lions world­wide, flock to Bopp­bopp to start send­ing bopp­bopps in col­or. The inter­net comes to a shriek­ing halt.

Two days lat­er Nick­son wakes up a mul­ti-bil­lion­aire. Despite the com­pa­ny not being pub­lic, esti­mates say that his 80% share in Bopp­bopp is now val­ued some­where between 4.2 and 140 bil­lion dol­lars (The irony? Yes). Mon­ey like that, how­ev­er, is sure to attract naysay­ers and rat­tle a few cages. Wall Street Jour­nal reporter Clyde Eck­hart wrote “we have no way of know­ing the true val­ue of Bopp­bopp. They don’t host ads, they don’t release their earn­ings. I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that the busi­ness is val­ued some­where around $650. The amount it costs to host a site of that size and pay for the employ­ees that we know for sure work for the com­pa­ny. They don’t even adver­tise themselves.”

The huge growth of Bopp­bopp can large­ly be attrib­uted to Pobbpobb, the grass­roots user com­mu­ni­ty that has grown up around Bopp­bopp. “Hell yeah I love Bopp­bopp,” says Pobbpobb founder Nyle Good­whyld (pob name Born2BGoodwhyld). “I start­ed Pobbpobb because I saw the poten­tial that this sur­face would have. It has brought peo­ple togeth­er in extra­or­di­nary ways. In the past six months, I’ve been all over the world, meet­ing oth­er pobs, start­ing grass­roots cam­paigns to raise aware­ness.” (It worked? Yes). Pobbpobb has the largest Bopp­bop dic­tio­nary and com­pendi­um in the world, and is con­stant­ly being expand­ed to include new terms, which has become espe­cial­ly dif­fi­cult with col­ors. “I was there that day when Isa­iah intro­duced the col­ors. I blacked out. And when I woke up I was in an oxy­gen bar back here in Leeds.”

Pobbpobb has been espe­cial­ly help­ful in nam­ing the new col­ors. They were released by Bopp­bopp with­out offi­cial names or mean­ings, and it’s been up to the user com­mu­ni­ty to assign them. There is ‘Re,’ ‘Fa,’ ‘Ti,’ and ‘La’ (the names have since been trade­marked by a com­pa­ny called Enter­pris­es), and the grass­roots cam­paigns (such as Banksy’s unfor­get­table bop­pi­ca­tion of the Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al) have secured the new col­ors’ place in the world.

There are sus­pi­cions, though, that Bopp­bopp itself start­ed this grass­roots user com­mu­ni­ty. Sev­er­al graph­ic design­ers have formed a coali­tion to cre­ate unof­fi­cial Bopp­bopp badges, stick­ers and decals for water bot­tles. How­ev­er, there is mount­ing evi­dence that Bopp­bopp start­ed this user-gen­er­at­ed coali­tion. Orga­ni­za­tions such as P.A.◼︎. (Peo­ple Against Bopp­bopp) have sprung up all around the world. “We are not asso­ci­at­ed with Bopp­bopp.” There are rumors that P.A.◼︎. is a Bopp­bopp-backed organization.

All these rumors lead back to one man: Isa­iah Nick­son. “I hate to have to say this, but I’m going to set the record straight. Our pobs sim­ply love Bopp­bopp, and that’s why there is this out­cry of sup­port for us. There are no con­spir­a­cies, there are no secret orga­ni­za­tions in the Under­world, and there is no dark side to Bopp­bopp. Gay peo­ple aren’t even allowed on Bopp­bopp. The longer sto­ry, well, that does­n’t fit into Bopp­bop­p’s brand strategy.”

The naysay­ers will go on and on about the incon­stan­cies of Bopp­bop­p’s sto­ry. Bopp­bopp has recent­ly expand­ed to larg­er Palo Alto offices, how­ev­er, an offi­cial address is not reg­is­tered with the city or state. It is unclear if Bopp­bopp pays tax­es or gen­er­ates rev­enue of any kind, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive. The only offi­cial employ­ee of Bopp­bopp is Isa­iah Nick­son, with every­one else being free­lance or an inde­pen­dent con­trac­tor. Yet, when I sit down with Nick­son, he hands me page after page of an employ­ee ros­ter (Good enough for me? Yes).

But not every­thing is cheery in the Bopp­bopp-osphere. “All I did was set up the sur­face,” Nick­son says, “it’s up to the pobs to shape it as they see fit. Some­times there are bad pobs, but we hope they don’t spoil the entire sur­face.” Kids are being expelled from school from send­ing inap­pro­pri­ate bopp­bopps. Sto­ries are sur­fac­ing every­day of rela­tion­ships crum­bling from mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion over Bopp­bopp. The black­ish Bopp­bopp col­or ‘Re’, is con­sid­ered to be a sign of polite affec­tion, like a tap on the shoul­der, on the West Coast. How­ev­er, dis­par­i­ties across the coun­try and the world have led to dif­fer­ing under­stand­ings of ‘Re’, such as a strong dis­in­ter­est or a med­ical emer­gency (Local 911 call cen­ters are cur­rent­ly inte­grat­ing Bopp­bopp geolo­ca­tion into their sys­tems after pub­lic out­cry that it could have pre­vent­ed the infa­mous sui­cide inci­dent of Kevin Gregors).

“Kevin kept on send­ing ‘Fa’ bopp­bopps, but he had just moved out to San Fran­sis­co and we thought that was good,” says Kev­in’s moth­er Liane, “but he had got­ten mixed up with some new peo­ple who had oth­er under­stand­ings of the Bopp­bopp col­ors. We were fly­ing out to vis­it him when he smashed his head through the com­put­er mon­i­tor. To this day, I can only describe the entire inci­dent as ‘Ti’.”

“Not to be defen­sive,” Nick­son says, “but we fol­lowed up with that inci­dent and dis­cov­ered that there was no one named Kevin Gre­gors, and when we tried to get in touch with Liane, she had mys­te­ri­ous­ly dis­ap­peared to Argenti­na and was refus­ing to answer our ques­tions. We were hor­ri­fied at the sto­ry, but that’s all it is. It’s a sto­ry. Fiction.”

What’s not fic­tion is the tremen­dous finan­cial and cul­tur­al suc­cess of Bopp­bopp. “Kids in Africa, boys in Eng­land, girls in Kansas, all over the world it’s Bopp­bopp, and we don’t see that end­ing any time soon,” Isa­iah says between bopp­bop­ping on his Bopp­bopp key fob, “Bopp­bopp won’t rest until we’re able to pin­point each mem­ber of soci­ety, cor­ral them into resorts, and begin the cleans­ing sys­tem­at­ic pro­duc­tion of the ide­al human spec­i­men. It’s why I start­ed Bopp­bopp in the first place: I love Black people.” ♦

(Ed. note: We tried to print the col­or palate of Bopp­bopp, but our print­ers were not capa­ble of repro­duc­ing them. Minu­tiæ also sends our heart­felt prayers to the fam­i­lies of the reporters who wrote this piece. We hope they are locat­ed soon.)

(Pub. note: Look, some­times peo­ple just get up and go and don’t leave a note. Let’s go back to bed.)