Earlier today I received a rather simple yet strange instant message on AIM. The strange thing about it was that the other person’s screen name was in the form of a 9-digit number. I really didn’t think it was an ICQ number and it was one digit too short to be a U.S phone number. I Googled the first three digits just to make sure it wasn’t a phone number and it turns out 614 is the area code for Columbus, OH. I don’t know anybody from Ohio, so I responded.
me: You said hi first.
614929371: haha who are you?
me: You said hi first.. who are YOU?
614929371: hmm i think youre project upstream?
A quick Google search took me to the Project Upstream website. Upon reading their website description, I remembered what this was all about. It turns out Project Upstream is the new name for a project that used Salmon-themed screen names (FlavoredSalmon, SenileSalmon, CannedSalmon, etc ) to get two strangers to talk to each other. Both users would receive a message and would be connected if they responded. The screen names have also been known to end in -Coho or -Trout. This project also used to be called “The Great Hatsby”. This is the description from an archived Wikipedia page, since the current one has been deleted:
The Great Hatsby is the name of an AIM Bot that instigates conversation between two totally unrelated people. Its name is a play on words from the book The Great Gatsby. It is a relay bot that retrieves the most recently updated LiveJournal posts and obtains the AIM screenname of the posting user. It then sends the user the message “I say, old bean, have you seen my hat?” Responses from users are then forwarded by the bot to another one of the users similarly contacted. From this both users are typically confused insisting the other messaged them first and try to figure out what is going on
If you find it annoying, there’s a way to opt out from these messages. When you get a message from a screen name ending in Trout, Coho, or Salmon simply type
$optout and it will respond with
OPERATOR: Are you sure you want to opt-out? If you do, you will *never* be contacted again on the account “”. There is *no way* to opt back in and undo this. If you are sure, type “$optout DADD”. Remember, this is permanent and irreversible!
Once you type
$optout DADD to verify you are sure, you will see
OPERATOR: You have opted out. The account “” will *never* be contacted again. Good bye! and you will never be contacted again – in theory.
Personally, I think it’s a neat social experiment to connect strangers online. I remember posting a some conversations on the themissinghat LiveJournal community a few years back when I first received one of these messages. Based on the most recent posts, it seems the bot screen names have now shifted to variants with numbers. If you want to opt-in and receive these messages, head over to the Project Upstream website, type in your screen name, and wait!