The New Yorker's Susan Orlean broke the news this morning that Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, the former of BuzzFeed and the latter of Howcast (previously, also, of Buzzfeed) were behind the Weird Twitter spambot account @horse_ebooks. But what is @Horse_ebooks, and why should humans care about its existence?

For the uninitiated, @Horse_ebooks has been tweeting occasionally profound sentence fragments since August of 2010 and has steadily built up a massive and loyal following. Early 2012 was the big year for the account—lots of exposure and a handful of profiles mostly trying to pin down its origin story and/or find out who or what has been fascinating various sects of the Internet.

@Horse_ebooks stood out because it wasn't your standard Twitter bot—it didn't randomly spam specific users or mass-follow people. It just kind of existed (theoretically) to sell ebooks, and didn't really even do that. It appeared deserted, like some kind of ancient monument to poor programming and Internet capitalism. The account was linked to an Alexei (or Alexey) Kouznetsov, a Russian man who owned "roughly 170 other domains, nearly all of which are connected to current or defunct horse_ebooks-style spam accounts," John Herrman wrote in an early-ish @Horse_ebooks retrospective.

Both Herman and Adrian Chen (who tried to find Kouznetsov in a piece for Gawker) agree that the account's patient zero moment was on September 14th, 2011, when @Horse_ebooks' tweets switched from being posted "via horse_ebooks" to "via web."

After that, tweets became both more coherent and more officially bizarre. Prior to that the account mostly tweeted out links to books you couldn't buy, broken websites, and scammy marketing companies. Chen tried to track him down, unsuccessfully, but confirmed that @Horse_ebooks was a "30-something Russian web developer" that lived in a small town south of Moscow called Tula. Case closed for almost two years.

The whole hunt was a little circle-jerky but interesting enough; it was also brief, especially on (IMT) Internet Media Time. The account's popularity didn't diminish but its relevance for reporting did, so @Horse_ebooks continued business as usual. The speculation that the "via web" switch indicated a new operator was quietly present, but nothing could ever be confirmed. Orlean's post this morning confirmed something that no one was really thinking or talking about, but were definitely pissed to hear—two BuzzFeeders were behind @Horse_ebooks.

The account has now officially become, says Orlean, a "performance art piece," with the final chapter taking place today at the Fitzroy Gallery on the Lower East Side, where its creators mark the death of @Horse_ebooks with the birth of their new project, "a choose-your-own-adventure interactive-video piece called Bear Stearns Bravo." Orlean is also taking part in the installation (she's the one on the far right), likewise putting to rest some speculation surrounding her status as a human.

Tweet something about Karl Marx or communism and see how long it takes for @RedScareBot to find you. The Nietzsche bot retweets Grumpy Cat all the time. Some intersections don't make much sense. It seems there are two things going on with @Horse_ebooks: Weird Twitter and bots. We'll start with Weird Twitter.

Perhaps @Horse_ebooks started Weird Twitter. At least, for a time, it was its poster child. Weird Twitter, as a community, has common threads (and, coincidentally, was covered quite well in this Buzzfeed piece). It often targets, and parodies, ads and brands through absurdist, nonsensical sentences and surrealist imagery. They are funny. Someone, somewhere, is writing about Weird Twitter and irony right now. It isn't that simple. Weird Twitter is just weird. In a larger sense, Weird Twitter pushes against notions of standard and acceptable behavior (crucially in a non-inflammatory way—these are not your Reddit trolls, your Holocaust memes) and humorously engages with the medium. I'd rather have Weird Twitter than nihilistic Free Speech advocate-trolls hanging nooses across comment threads.

Twitter cannot simply stand in for the Internet—it's much too diverse and hyperactive and segmented—so we have to think about it only in terms of Twitter. It can be situated within the larger geography of the Internet, for sure, but not at the expense of the nuances of Twitter itself. As it approaches its IPO and sponsored tweets pop up more and more and corporations find new ways to market, we'll probably see more of Weird Twitter.

And then there were bots. We perform and engage with automation hundreds of times a day. The Internet is already some kind of nightmarish, circular Turing Test where we are either always proving our humanity to buy concert tickets or not noticing the actual bots we regularly interact with, interact with us, and interact on our behalf. Engaging with non-human Twitter entities can be fun—their presence confronts you with the automated side of the web we don't (or perhaps choose not to) see all the time. Generally, they conflict with the idea that the Internet is Humankind's Fantastic Playground, mainly because they aren't human.

@Horse_ebooks was a mistake, an error, a glitch. It was an accident that continued for about a year until someone got control of it and saw an opportunity. @Horse_ebooks was definitely more interesting as an actual bot program: We saw in real time the fracturing and distortion of programming that is under great pain and effort packaged to be seamless, efficient, clean. Noise every so often miraculously produced a fraction of a signal in the rare coherent tweet. Inundated with 200 million tweets a day, @Horse_ebooks was cool. You can't make that shit up, except apparently when you can.

I'm not sure if it's a big deal that two dudes from BuzzFeed were behind the account (Note: they aren't even on the editorial side!) for so long. It definitely makes me want to undo some @Horse_ebooks retweets because it doesn't feel the same. As a piece of commentary, I think Bakkila and Bender capitalized on an opportunity and did something smart and have an interesting project.

But it was under false pretenses, in a way, and instead capitalized on the accidental success of a computer program by mimicking it. The fascination with the account was a fascination with a broken computer left to grind its gears for eternity. Like the same game of Civilization that ran for 10 years, leaving the world nearly uninhabitable in an apocalyptic perpetual state of nuclear war, severe pollution, and famine or the classic Twilight Zone episode of the bookish bank teller who (along with the library) survives the end of the world only to break his reading glasses, @Horse_ebooks was a fascinating look at technology failing, maybe even making us think about our own relationship to it a bit more than we would normally.

Maybe it just demonstrates how good BuzzFeed is at what it does, all the way down to who it hires, because no one who wasn't obscenely tuned-in to the Internet could've maintained the account so well for so long. Maybe it just signals (aside from their obscene traffic) that BuzzFeed's hive mind really is onto something.

The thing about real bots is that they are never profound. The real bots have no followers. They are single-service accounts that tweet a link at you then probably get deleted by Twitter's army of sanctioned bots right away. We corral and nurture and cultivate bots like @Horse_ebooks and @RedScareBot because there is a comfort to managing and interacting with these things on our own terms. Real spambots are invasive and disruptive, not fun. AND you can't engage with them! They come into your phone, tweet you at night links you never click on, and actually fuck shit up and then they are gone. Bots, like this, primed for keywords:

Maybe the future has already been laid out by the path that @horse_ebooks has taken: New professionals hired to manage fake bot accounts designed to mislead and confuse for marketing purposes. The next wave of jobs will be the (under)paid bureaucratic administration of Turing's test.

Gawker has video of the installation (which is a series of phones ringing and tweets being read upon answering them) which will be going on all day. This story, essentially, objectively, is perfect—for you, for trolls, for the world: an insular, mostly New York-based media covering a fairly unknown spam Twitter account, that somehow BuzzFeed will be considered partly responsible for, at a gallery space on the Lower East Side where tweets are being read aloud as a performance art installation in which a Very Important New Yorker writer who "broke" the story is participating in all explained and then opined upon in a very long Gothamist post for readers who care very little to comment upon. Have at it.