“Not the runny oil” said @Horse_ebooks last Friday. The previous day an equally bizarre tweet simply read “objects and people”. And earlier in the week we were promised momentous revelations when @Horse_ebooks announced, “YOU ARE ABOUT TO DISCOVER LIFE CHANGING INFORMATION!”
So what the hell is @Horse_ebooks? Who or what is behind it? And why, with almost 200,000 followers and millions of retweets, is it so very #meaningful?
We all want to sing those beautiful, sweeping opera arias - and we want to sing— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) April 24, 2013
In a nutshell, @Horse_ebooks is an automated, spam Twitter account promoting ebooks (not necessarily about horses) available at e-commerce websites run by a company called ClickBank, such as horse_ebooks.com. @Horse_ebooks tweets are (seemingly random) snippets derived from a wide range of ebooks.
IS IT SPAM?
For real. Spam is often seen as the scourge of Twitter, with bots irritatingly tweeting about diet solutions and trying to trick you into phishing scams. But because of @Horse_ebooks’ wonderful, unpredictable weirdness and benign quality, the account has evaded closure by the network’s spam-hunting algorithms. In fact, it has instead become a key part of Twitter culture and is cherished by many devoted fans.
Some Twitterbots are pure spam while others have been created specifically for the purposes of comedy, like @TheChocolateMoo which finds anyone tweeting sentences with the phrase “chocolate moose” and replies, demurely, “It’s spelled ‘chocolate mousse.’ ” @Horse_ebooks, however, is unintentionally funny/ominous/enigmatic. Which is partly why it’s so popular.
Very, in Twitterbot terms. As noted above, the account is racing towards 200,000 followers with a current tally of over 184,000. After some digging to try and find the most popular @Horse_ebooks tweet of all time, I came across the beautiful example below, which at the time of writing has enjoyed 6,640 retweets and 4,335 favourites.
Everything happens so much— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) June 28, 2012
A Gawker investigation by Adrien Chen in 2012 revealed here that the creator of @Horse_ebooks was a Russian web developer called Alexey Kuznetsov. Although he did not respond to Chen’s requests for an interview, Kouznetsov’s links to @Horse_ebooks seemed to be subtly acknowledged when his new web design company, LITE webdesign launched with a stylised @Horse_ebooks logo.
One of the projects which attempted, valiantly, to capitalise on the strange and mystical quality of @Horse_ebooks tweets was this Slacktory series of poems gleaned from the account’s feed.
@Horse_ebooks is actually part of a network of Twitterbots set up on exactly the same lines. Take @mystery_ebooks for example, or @HomeEbooks. The thing is, none of these is anywhere near as amusing. The tweets are less off-beat and random, they seem somehow dreary and perfunctory by comparison. And there’s no horse.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF DALTON
Long-time followers of @Horse_ebooks have noticed some interesting recurring characters, themes and plots. One of the more tantalising is the figure of Dalton who appears to have become embroiled in an international criminal conspiracy. One tweet suggested that he faced justice at the hands of the Costa Rican government while others simply present curious vignettes of this shady fraudster:
Dalton must be investigated and I urge the Costa Rican Government to make sure this happens. I call on the Costa Rican Government to— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) August 23, 2012
FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
Finally, consider those moments when @Horse_ebooks seems to speak for itself. The horse, the mind, the super-being. It’s fantastic and terrifying.
I have completely eliminated your meal— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) May 23, 2013
If you re thinking of building a tiny house, I can— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) May 9, 2013
What did you buy? l bought a dress. l bought some steak. Where did you go last weekend and what did you do?— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) May 8, 2013
Dalton pacing up and down; another man enters; men shake— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) July 26, 2012
Follow Chris Baraniuk on Twitter here @machinestarts