History of LOLCats

November 11, 2007 at 1:00 am 24 comments

Oh no….just like some posts I did on aliens (which I did largely to distract myself from fretting over the loss of personal liberties in contemporary society), I amused myself this week by delving into LOLCats. Love those kitties. A total waste of time, but there’s no doubt that LOLCats have created an online subculture. Good news is this subculture is all about cute, furry animals; bad news is LOLCats will most certainly cause an infectious case of bad grammar.

So ThinkingShift reader, Pippy H, has asked me to give a run-down of the history of LOLCats. I started this post by uttering “Oh no” because (as with the posts on aliens), I seem to have attracted a whole host of new readers who are LOLCat obsessed. Oh well, I’ll just add these new readers to all my other readers who are obsessed, like me, about privacy and surveillance issues (along with aliens).

Back to LOLCats: I am no expert on the history of these cute kitties, so I needed to do a spot of research. And I also decided to apply some knowledge management techniques to LOLCats by checking out some of the archetypes. But first to the history and if you know of any further or different historical details – leave a comment. It seems that LOLCats is a surprisingly new phenomenon starting in January 2007. And an out of work software developer from Hawaii, Eric Nakagawa, seems to be the culprit. After reading about how LOLCats reached the proverbial tipping point of popularity, I suddenly became pretty jealous of Mr Nakagawa! He found a photo of a chubby, smiling cat on the Internet. The photo had the caption “I can has cheezburger?”. He thought it pretty funny. I’ve tracked the photo he found and here it is.

And this is why Mr Nakagawa is one clever dude because I would have thought “stupid person can’t spell and cats don’t eat cheeseburgers” and I would have moved on.

Mr One Clever Dude didn’t do that. Nope, he created a website with images of cute cats with silly captions written in baby-style talk, which is now known as kitty pidgin. I guess when you’re out of work, this sort of activity keeps your mind active. He called the site I Can Has Cheezburger (the lawyer in me asks: wouldn’t the dude with the original photo and caption be ready to sue Mr Nakagawa for using the caption and idea???). Anyway, Mr Nakagawa runs the website with his partner, Tofuburger (she refuses to reveal her name), and they found that by May 2007, the site was getting 1.5 million hits during the month (I can only dream of reaching this number of visitors…mmmm where’s that cat photo I took the other day??!).

The idea is pretty simple: you snap a digital image of kitty. Add some excruciatingly bad grammar so it looks like the cat is uttering words of wisdom. Submit to the site where images are screened for originality. And hope that your image gets rated on a scale of one to five cheeseburgers (yep, really). So if like me, you’re concerned about privacy issues, you can have kitty say:

So the time between launching the site to a critical mass of users seems to be pretty quick. And just like a good community of practice, I Can Has Cheezburger is sustained and self-organised by its users who create content and add comments.

Now, if you are in the sorry state of having no cat of your own, don’t despair you can still join in the fun. Mr N has thoughtfully built a tool called LOLCat Builder and you can select a photo of a cute kitty and generate an appallingly bad caption, which is then submitted and approved (at least I think this is how it works).

I decided to apply some serious KM techniques to my study of LOLCats. What are the major archetypes? I believe I can break them down into the following:

  • Schrodinger’s Cat – just like the famed kitty of quantum mechanics, there seems to be a Schrodinger’s Cat archetype popping up.

  • another feline archetype seems to be fat, grumpy kitty:

  • then we have the theatrical archetype:

That last image has me a bit worried about cat abuse – check out the legs and tail!

  • and then there seems to be something going on with computers and refrigerators – this could be a variation of the Schrodinger’s Cat archetype:

That last image is a personal favourite!

  • We have the alien LOLCat archetype:

  • And finally, the Something is Invisible archetype:

But some serious research uncovered a little known video that may suggest that LOLCats have been around for a very long time, perhaps since Egyptian times. Here is the video I discovered in a dusty old library – note the interview with an esteemed Egyptologist.

What I haven’t been able to work out yet is why a lot of LOLCats seem to start their sentences with “Oh Hai” – perhaps they’re Scottish cats. But I’m guessing it’s kitty pidgin for “Oh hi”. Can’t wait for the first PhD analysing kitty pidgin! It could be that Anil Dash might be busy analysing kitty pidgin already – check out his blog.

Now, if I was really technical, I’d load up some images of cats onto a newly created website called: I Can has Knowledgz? And I’d have LOLCats say things like: “I wantz to shez mai knowledgz”. Or: “Buzz awf, hai aint sharin.” Or: “Oh hai. Waz this cynefin framzwork aw about? I’z think I’z stuck in the shadoz of complexity. ” (With apologies to all LOLCat lovers – I think I just mangled kitty pidgin).

Sources: Business Week, I Can Has Cheezburger, Wall Street Journal.

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Entry filed under: Frivolous nonsense, LOLCats.

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24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. yupko  |  November 11, 2007 at 4:47 am

    Completely, totally wrong. Ever heard of O RLY Owl? Ceiling cat? In Ur Base Killin Ur Doodz?

    Reply
  • 2. thinkingshift  |  November 11, 2007 at 5:04 am

    yep, as far as I know O RLY Owl is short for Oh Really? and usually has a snowy white owl for the picture. Ceiling Cat has cats poking through ceilings and In Ur Base Killin Ur Doodz I think started with the game Starcraft? Basically, all these sorts of anthropomorphic animal-based image macros pre-dated LOLCats but LOLCats has probably out done them all as it’s such a huge phenomenon or internet meme.

    Reply
  • 3. yupko  |  November 11, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Even if those were jsut image macros, “I Can haz Cheezburger?” was definitely NOT the first LOLCat(s).

    Reply
  • 4. thinkingshift  |  November 12, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Yupko, can you share with us your understanding of the history of LOLCats? what was the first – if it’s not I Can has Cheezburger?

    Reply
  • 5. yupko  |  November 12, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolcat

    “Tamara Ikenberg of The News Journal states that “some trace the lolcats back to the site 4chan, which features bizarre cat pictures on Saturdays, or ‘Caturdays’.” Ikenburg adds that the images have been “slinking around the Internet for years under various labels, but they didn’t become a sensation until early 2007 with the advent of icanhascheezburger.com”[12] The first image on “I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?” was posted on January 11, 2007.”[13] The use of “lolcat” to describe the phenomenon was introduced no later than June 14, 2006 when the domain name “lolcats.com” was registered.[14] Lev Grossman of Time wrote that the oldest known example “probably dates to 2006”,[15] but later corrected himself in a blog post[16] where he recapitulated the anecdotal evidence readers had sent him, placing the origin of “Caturday” and many of the images now known by a few as “lolcats” in early 2005. The domain name “caturday.com” was registered on the 30 April 2005.

    More recently, the syntax of lolcat captions was used as the basis for LOLCODE, an esoteric programming language with interpreters and compilers available in .NET framework, perl, etc.[2] There is also an effort underway to translate the Christian Bible into the language of the lolcats.[17]”

    Basically, I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER just turned lolcats from “known” into “super-popular”.

    Reply
  • 6. thinkingshift  |  November 12, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    thx Yupko, that’s very interesting. I came across a brief reference to 4chan while looking into LOLCats actually. Would be fascinating to find out who came up with the LOLCats concept originally. But as you say, I Can has Cheezburger has shot LOLCats into the stratosphere. I might look into some more. Thx for your comment.
    Kim

    Reply
  • 7. Sam  |  December 9, 2007 at 1:01 am

    wow. this is more wrong then G4’s spoof of the history of lolcats, and they weren’t even trying. I Can Has Cheezburger was made for a base for lolcats. they origonated from one of two sources:

    http://www.ytmnd.com

    or
    http://www.4chan.com

    also claims to have started it, although goons visit both sites regularly so it probably started at both about the same time. so in conclusion lolcats have been around for years, but werent discovered till some 4chat / myspace hybrid brought them out of the forums.

    Reply
  • 8. Jonathan Jarrett  |  April 9, 2008 at 10:59 am

    The first one I noticed was the sorrowful kitten on hind legs, captioned, “I MADED YOU A COOKIE — BUT I EATED IT”. When the whole Lolcat thing burst upon me, that was my frame of reference, and the funny thing is, a housemate of a friend of mine has a mug with that on which he claims predates I Can Has Cheezburger and the whole lolcat craze by at least a few years; he thinks he got it in 2005. Would 4Chan or wherever have been churning out mugs already then?

    The other thing is, that one stands by itself. The grammar isn’t classically Lolspeak yet, no mis-spellings (or SMS spelling: no `u’ for `you’) and I read it as being the way it was because both the cat and the gag are clearly intended to be taken as childish. Making one cookie for a parent figure, eating it, not talking properly yet, all fit the kitten quite well without it needing to be part of a larger wave. So when I found out about the larger wave, it seemed natural to me that this had started it, as (as has been shown) it’s a very adaptable idea. Is this in fact the original Lolcat?

    For anyone who may have missed the various other archetypes, I think most of them bar Ceiling Cat are all embroiled in this

    Reply
  • 9. thinkingshift  |  April 9, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Nice story about the mug Jonathan. I am still trying to locate exactly who, how, when LoLCats started out, was it 4Chan? I haven’t seen the archetypes chart you linked to, so thx for that.
    Kim

    Reply
  • 10. Henrik  |  April 9, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    This is so scary, Jonathan!

    Carl is in our base getting medieval on our cats too: http://gotmedieval.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  • 11. Henrik  |  April 9, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    err, the link: http://gotmedieval.blogspot.com/2008/04/medieval-lolcat.html

    Reply
  • 12. thinkingshift  |  April 9, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Henrik, you just beat me to it. I saw the medieval LOLCat yesterday and planned to blog on it soon!
    Kim

    Reply
  • 13. Jonathan Jarrett  |  April 10, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    It was Carl’s link that sent me here, I’m afraid. But I make these things my business as you know, Henrik 🙂

    Reply
  • 14. Mikey  |  April 10, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Don’t forget the whole You Stole My Bucket or whatever. With the walruses (walrusi?).

    Reply
  • 15. illi  |  April 11, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Really enjoyed this item, never knew anything about the LOLcat phenomenon before I saw a pic of the medieval snailcat today with a link to your site to explain it all! x

    Reply
  • 16. billythekid  |  October 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Hi I know this is an old post but you might find this interesting – ben huh speaking at gnomedex ’08

    http://chris.pirillo.com/2008/09/30/ben-huh-icanhascheezburger/

    btk

    Reply
  • 17. joey  |  May 23, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    icanhascheezburger started it. I really didn’t know happy cat died. Who would do that?! Happy cat is the best cat ever!

    Reply
  • 18. TheChin3s3CookCats  |  July 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    You could credit the phenomenon of bad Japanese to English translations of NES video games in the 1980s as the pre-cursor to LOLCats.

    ?Chan4 was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the fad, just as YouTube/Google did with video and search, MySpace and Facebook did for social networking, and now how Twitter has “advanced” text messaging on a public platform.

    Despite how saturated the web is with novelty, there’s always room for more electronic Jello.

    Reply
  • 19. KalahariNight  |  July 7, 2009 at 2:50 am

    I know this is an old post, but thought I’d add to the jolly confusion (or perhaps clarify a bit of it) – I first happened upon Lolcats (w captions, including “I made you a cookie” cat and “Lonely cat is lonely”) on a site called knitemare.org in 2005. The image files are still there (knitemare.org/cats) and his earliest image files are from 2005. He stopped maintaining it sometime in September of 2007 and transferred leadership to another site called memecats (dropline.net/cats). The intro to the memecats site states (and has stated since 9/2007 when I first visited it):

    “About
    Meme Cats is a continuation of the amusing-kitten-collection begun at http://www.knitemare.org/cats. This page exists to bring a smile to your face, either via cute cats or funny taglines. A lot of the phrases are video-game related, so they may not make sense to everyone; this page helps explain the madness… “

    Reply
  • 20. thinkingshift  |  July 7, 2009 at 4:23 am

    seems that LOLCats history is a contentious topic! I reckon the earliest form of LOLCats (apart from the Egyptian cat in the video in the post) is that of American photographer, Harry Whittier Frees. He created novelty cards in the early 20th Century and photographed animals, including cats, in LOLCat-like poses. Go to this post – at the end of the post – to see a photo:

    https://thinkingshift.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/lolcats-were-back/

    Reply
  • 21. you  |  February 14, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    GET MORE PHOTOS ON THIS PLEASE THEY ARE AWESOEM!

    Reply
  • 22. christian  |  May 25, 2010 at 1:27 am

    lol…I must admit I do like your “I can has privacy” one! I came across this today while performing a Google image search for “privacy”…thought you might like this page too: http://community.livejournal.com/loltheorists/tag/foucault (I came across it at http://inputs.wordpress.com).

    Reply
  • 23. thinkingshift  |  May 25, 2010 at 1:36 am

    totally awesome!!! thx Christian, I’ll be having fun with this 🙂

    Reply
    • 24. christian  |  May 25, 2010 at 2:13 am

      Anytime; glad I could be of assistance 😛

      Reply

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