Bored@Baker: End of an Era

Editor’s Note: In light of the permanent shutdown of the Bored@Baker website, we have decided to sit down with the website’s founder, who goes by the alias Jae Daemon, in order to gain a little bit of closure at the conclusion of a decade-long social experiment.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the Bored@ service? How did you come up with the ideas, what were your motivations, and how did the service gain an initial foothold?

Jae Daemon (JD): It was originally created in 2006. I was literally bored in the library and I was teaching myself computer programming, and I essentially stumbled across the idea. If you take a blank page and put a post box at the top and you just post what goes in that box down the page, that’s what you get: Bored@. You have to remember this is before Facebook had feeds, before there was even any kind of feed concept; it was just really kind of an engineering exercise. I didn’t start it with some grand vision; it was just something that I discovered while teaching myself how to program.

TDR: Bored@ was active at a number of small colleges, including Columbia, Carleton, and Butler. Why did it gain a particularly large following at Dartmouth?

JD: I think your answer is just as good as mine. Really all it does is facilitate collaboration, and I suppose there’s just a lot to talk about at Dartmouth. It seemed there was a need for the Dartmouth community to have open and frank conversations. I think that that’s probably why it originally had success.

TDR: What role did you play in building the Bored@Baker community at Dartmouth? To what extent was it constructed by you versus organically built by the participants?

JD: Bored@ was written once, and it’s the same thing for each school, so it’s not like I built anything specific for Dartmouth. I did take feedback that I got from Dartmouth, and the things that people were asking for. Some specific things coming directly from Dartmouth I went and built, but it’s not like I specifically built anything for Dartmouth. It would work for all the other schools as well. It was just a blank canvas, and the culture and everything that resulted from it is just a result of what Dartmouth kids have to say.

TDR: Can you offer some interesting anecdotes from the service’s heyday? What were some particularly interesting or meaningful memories that have stuck with you?

JD: I can’t speak to Dartmouth specifically, because I never really experienced the Bored@Baker culture. What I mean by that is I never really followed the conversation day-to-day like many of the users. Frankly, this is a great question for the users themselves that had all of these crazy experiences. I can say that during the last few years, it was very popular at Carleton College, and I took the time to fly out to Carleton and to visit the students on campus and to join one of their regular meet-ups. I went to a meet-up and there was this room full of kids that are all best friends, and they all met through Bored@. As I understand it, during its heyday, that was also something that Bored@Baker students did as well, whether that was just get-togethers or parties. I never experienced any of that at Dartmouth, but I’d have to say, walking into a room full of Bored@Baker users that are all friends and that had made established friendships during the service was probably the most impactful experience that I had. That came and went at Dartmouth before I even knew that that kind of experience existed.

TDR: You said you didn’t interact with students at Dartmouth very often. Did the administration ever reach out to you?

JD: Only when they wanted something removed. I was always very open to collaborate with anyone, whether that was the Dartmouth administration, the Hanover Police Department, or the FBI. I’m fine. I will have a conversation with anyone. But I don’t get the impression that the Dartmouth administration wanted to have a conversation. They only wanted to have one when they had a particular issue that they had to deal with. It could have been a two-way communication, but was just never prioritized that way. 

TDR: Bored@Baker underwent several hiatuses before the service’s ultimate shutdown at the end of 2016. When and how did you begin to realize that B@B was coming to an end, or becoming too negative or destructive, or on the way out?

JD: It was none of those reasons. I shut down Bored@Baker because it was too expensive for me. Over the past five years I spent about $150,000 running it, building it, enhancing it, adding features to it, blocking malicious users, building a moderation system, building a point and badges system, designing each individual badge myself. I spent a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of money. It was a labor of love, not a business, but practically, I just couldn’t continue doing that, as fun as it was. I simply could not continue to fund it out of pocket the way that I was. That’s the primary reason. Secondarily, I would also say that I don’t think it was appreciated. I’m done with the media writing articles about it and talking about how crazy it was. People only wanted to talk about it when there was something scandalous to talk about. That was the only time people would want to have a conversation about it. Forget about all the amazing things that happened because of it: the experiences people had, the friendships people built, the suicides it prevented, the hope that it provided to some people when they were at their worst; none of that was ever talked about or appreciated. In the age of Trump troll armies and a Dartmouth administration that considered it something they had to battle, I was just not signing up for that anymore. It didn’t make any sense.

TDR: Can you elaborate on the role that B @B played in fostering campus discourse and free speech? What are the biggest positives you can highlight?

JD: At its height, it was where you first heard about everything. It was allowing people to have conversations that they normally couldn’t have in any other forum or any other medium. I think that was its biggest value: just being a place where you could quickly understand what is happening on campus. That’s useful in and of itself.

TDR: B@B received copious amounts of undue criticism throughout the years. Do you have anything to say in response to that criticism?

JD: No. I am no longer trying to make an argument for it. I’m tired of doing that. I’m really tired of it because at the end of the day, no one ever got it to begin with. I could speak for hours about it, but I’m not going to because there’s no point.

TDR: Based on your perspective as the administrator of the service, did B@B leave a significant legacy on Dartmouth, or perhaps the other colleges involved?

JD: I couldn’t care less about a legacy. If everyone would just forget about it, that would be just fine with me. I personally have moved on, and I think everyone else needs to move on as well. I think that it had its time and place. There is nothing good that you can tie the history of Bored@Baker to. Every single thing is some scandal. And that’s a shame that that’s how it’s been portrayed. If it could just go away, that would probably be the best-case scenario. I don’t want anything to do with the Dartmouth campus or culture; you guys have your own set of problems to deal with. I wish you all luck on discovering the solution to those problems. Bored@Baker is unfortunately not the tool to do that; you have to figure it out some other way. I’m sure there are some people who think that because it’s gone, the problems are gone. I wouldn’t even bother trying to have a conversation with that kind of person.

The Bored@Baker Logo

The Bored@Baker Logo

TDR: What have you learned from the whole experiment, and what does the future hold for you?

JD: If you want to have an impact on the world, create a community. That’s often the answer; if you’re passionate about something, if you think something needs change, if you want to bring people together, if you want to accomplish something that seems impossible, build a community around it. Doesn’t have to be a virtual community; it could be a student group, it could be a band of musicians, it could be a camp for Burning Man, it could be anything. The whole point is: if you want to make real change, create a community around it.