62 thoughts on “Reinvoking the Law

  1. Alas, I was not a reader of your blog when you first posted this.

    It is a true effect. It has a long and glorious history on the intertron–enough such that a whole ‘net religion was spawned with this as a central miracle. The Law of Internet Invocation predates even the WorldWide Web, for that religion I mentioned above is Kibology. Which, of course, makes James “Kibo” Parry potentially the original internet demon one could summon by mere mention of his name.

    So, John, this was labeled over 15 years ago: to kiboze. Now, admittedly “to kiboze” has specific connotations linking it to USENET, but I do believe it is right and proper to extend the word and the concept to message boards on the WWW.

    Firstly, message boards on the WWW are a spiritual heir to USENET. So, googling yourself and posting to a comment thread should you find someone mentioned you is certainly an act of kibozing.

    Secondly, it is in the nature of geeks to extend and contort words and phrases. Particularly colorful ones with fun bits of history, like kibozing.

    So, The Law of Internet Invocation: “If you name them, they will kiboze.”

  2. Jeff @2: I find myself wondering if it still works. (And hoping it does.)

    I also find myself wondering if he ever got one of the “Watch out for the Cone Zone” bumper stickers that CalTrans had some years ago. They always make me think of him.

  3. Hmmm… mental note… compile list of appropriate accoutrements and signs for the invocation of various famous persons one might wish to summon.

    For instance, when summoning The Scalzi one should always be certain to prepare one’s forum/blog with one or more bacon related threads. These threads shall serve as a distraction, buying you the valuable time needed to prepare appropriate supplications and bindings.

    One should be careful not to anger one of the great one’s upon invocation, as they may choose to call upon the aid of others of their kind once per day, with a 55-75% chance of success.

  4. I have attempted to work this magic deliberately without success.

    The fact that I’m trying to summon up people I met in Nepal is probably a factor, however.

  5. @Dan, @Humza – both of those examples call to mind an interesting thought. Do invocable entities such as Beetlejuice and Hastur have some sort of preter-Kibotic ability to grep the worldfeed for their name? The triple repetition, in Dan’s examples, certainly helps cut down on false positives (and ISTR Kibo himself also grepped for triple repititions of any letter to make sure he didn’t miss any ascii-art).

  6. And here I was working the Invocation all wrong!

    While I prove I have no life on a Friday night by reading about the BB Storm and it’s shipping challenges (alas, I am sad as I am not as special as the great ones and came home empty handed).

    I’d just thought how wonderful it would be to have me some more Scalzi to read instead of more sadmaking stories of non-existent Storms; and *poof* upon my refresh, lo, there was more and I was fulfilled! :-)

  7. John, I admit to some startlement when you (or at least an lj user called “scalzi”) left a comment on my recent and woefully inarticulate livejournal post about The Last Colony. But that was mainly surprise because you’re so busy and no doubt get name-checked on the net constantly.

    I often post casual this-is-my-opinion reviews on my blog, and more than once I’ve had the author appear out of the google mist to counter-comment or explain a point. I’ve had quite a few stimulating debates about the merits of their work, which has been most enjoyable.

    And the point is… nope, lost it. Perhaps I’m gabbling because I was wondering guiltily if I’d done something wrong.

  8. Hmm… I didn’t search-engine myself within the first hour that I was aware of search engines. I think it was a few years later, when someone else was searching on themselves and people they knew, and sharing witticisms as they went.

    I don’t often search-engine myself now, either. Maybe I should start? Then I’d develop an ego satisfactory for meeting the Great Scalzi? o.O

  9. I discovered the law of internet invocation by accident.I did a post on my blog about Harlan Ellison after seeing the trailer for the documentary about him. I received a nice thank you from the man himself for the “gracious comments” I said about him.

  10. I will note that talking about people with an unusual name increases the probability of application of the Law.

    I can talk about my brother online till I’m blue in the face and he’ll only find it by following me, not by searching. His name, you see, is Mick Foley.

    I did, however, use the technique to get in touch with a number of old friends from high school, simply by posting their names and sufficient other details on my blog and waiting for the searches to be followed by emails.

  11. I did not ego-search within the first hour of using a search engine. I first used search engines back in the mid nineties, and it never crossed my mind for some time that anyone might have written about me. It wasn’t that kind of internet, then.

    You may use my first and last name without a lot of fear of invoking me: my name is so common that the false positives overwhelm ego searches unless I’m searching in a very targeted way, already knowing a lot of context.

    Hence the middle initial.

  12. MarkHB @20:
    I try to make a practise of never summoning anything bigger than my own head.

    A proposal most suited to the modest (and therefore, in some senses, a modest proposal).

  13. In your experience, how often does avoiding the name of the invokee (or their close associations) suffice to avoid triggering the law?

    In the Making Light thread where you coined the name of the law, the comments include an anecdote about a contemporary mystery writer who appeared in a popular forum named after a Golden Age mystery writer after being mentioned critically, and proceeded to Behave Badly, at least in the perception of the forum’s moderator.

    Neither the writer nor the forum was named in the Making Light comment, but the commenter gave plenty of clues that made it easy for anyone who cared and was familiar with the genre to figure out who it was.

    The writer in question, who’s online, never showed up in the Making Light thread. Now, it may be because they read the tenor of the thread and thought it wiser not to make an appearance. Or it may be that avoiding the writer’s name, and any other obvious search engine bait, sufficed to keep the thread out of the writer’s ken.

    (I wouldn’t consider that an infallible safety rule Even if not directly named, someone might have one of their fans spot the allusion, and forward it to them saying “Did you see *this*?” But I don’t know how often that happens, where the person is not actually directly named.)

  14. Eh. I hate Googling myself. This is not lack of ego, mind you. It’s that I can’t face the near-absence of anything out there…

  15. It’s happened a couple times with me. Both times when I posted reviews of an author’s work – once on Usenet, and once on my blog. I was surprised on Usenet. I was young. I wasn’t surprised by the time it happened on my blog.

    On the opposite side of the law, I have found poetry of mine snatched from my website and reprinted in places I would rather it not have been without notice or recompense, but at least with proper citation. And since the mental stability of the thieves was highly questionable, decided a cease and desist letter/email might annoy them, and since information about where I live is easily obtainable on the internet, decided it could be more trouble than it’s worth.

  16. Man, I’ve slagged a pile of losers from my blog — internet snark being my only stock in trade — and I’ve /never/ attracted said losers, or even received a spittle-inflected screed from a random net.kook.

    My SO got a random net stalker just for writing about her anthropology studies on her blog, and I got nothing. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

  17. Hmm. My name is sufficiently common that if you Google it you’ll get a lot of other people who aren’t me. I’m nowhere near the top, in fact. Consequently I don’t ego-search often; in fact, I never did until my mother tried it and found a guy with my name in England who builds racecars.

    There’s a guy with my name who wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is not me. A few (very few, because most of my friends are smarter than this) of my friends asked me if it was me. I said “don’t you think that if I’d written a TV episode you’d have heard about it ad nauseam by the time I submitted it, let alone by the time it was shown on TV?” I mean, geez. I don’t exactly hide my light under a bushel.

    I’m speaking of my legal name, of course. But I’m hardly the first or only person to think of turning Christopher into Xopher. It’s a fairly obvious substitution. I can only rarely get that ID on a new system, for example (blogs don’t tend to care about duplicate names, so it’s good there). Now I’m a frequent commenter in a couple of places, and have even (for the first time this year) had a couple of people come up to me and say they enjoyed my posts on Making Light! (Yes, I can honestly say “the lurkers support me” not in email, but at Worldcon!) I was inordinately pleased by this.

    So invoking me probably won’t work that well. I’m not nominally* distinctive. I’ll notice if you mention me on ML or Whatever, and maybe BoingBoing, but probably not on your LJ.

    *by which I mean “of or pertaining to a name”

  18. My first book is just out and reviews and discussions about it are starting to pop up here and there. I’m not to proud to admit I get Google updates on myself.

    My question: Is it okay to drop in and leave a comment or is this incredibly lame? Also, when an author is invoked should they respond to a negative review (most of mine have been positive or neutral, but some have little critiques that I fight not to address). I’ve dropped in a few and basically said, “It’s me. Thanks for the mention…” and then contributed something to the discussion.

    So, the Law of Invocation is in place, but is there a law or commonly held etiquette that should be followed by the invoked?

  19. Xopher,
    *palm to forehead*
    D’oh, Xopher = Christopher. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. Every time I read it I say it as something like zofa.

  20. Patrick M @26 – You’re thinking of Godwin’s Law II: Electric Boogaloo. It’s still in committee as far as I know; I think Tom Coburn has a hold on it. I figure it’ll pass sometime in 2009.

  21. John @ 22: I’d be the commenter you’re talking about in the ML thread, FWIW.

    I was aware that the author in question was a member of our community at the time I made my comments, I did not expect her behave even 1/10 as badly as she did. After we banned her, she formed her own community (which never really took off) with really interesting rules that members had to explicitly agree to in order to stay. One of them was that if they posted speculation about something that was going to happen in the next book she was writing, that it was totally okay for her to use that without attribution or credit to the person who actually thought of it. Which pretty much confirmed my suspicion that she was only a member of our community in the first place to make sure we weren’t saying bad things about her and to get ideas for her books. In other words: not a good faith member of the community and no great loss.

    The law of invocation totally does work if you mention names, though. When I was a sophomore in college I had a bizarre encounter with an underground filmmaker and I decided to write about it on my blog and named names (the post is no longer public at my site for completely unrelated reasons). Two days later, the filmmaker showed up and called me fat and ugly. Which was about as classy as I remembered him being, so really, not a big deal.

  22. Natalie @ 36:

    It’s actually quite possible that a rule about using something you posted about in her group without attribution is just to cover her ass, without any intent to steal anything. Otherwise, someone who posted an idea that was even vaguely similar to something that ended up in one of her books later on could sue her, even if she’d never even read the post in question.

  23. Patrick M:

    I said, “generally.” Also, in that case, responding to the review would have been dropping a comment explaining why the review was wrong, which is something I don’t do.

  24. Apparently, comments are closed on teh original post, so I’ll comment here. You were wrong when you said:

    There may be a human being who, when confronted with an Internet-wide search engine, didn’t type in his or her own name within the first hour to see what popped up. But if they exist, I haven’t met them.

    Because you’ve met me at a con, and I didn’t do a vanity search when I first got on the internent, because I figured it was pointless to do so when I shared a name with a famous person. So THERE! :-)

  25. Ah, I remember Kibo when he spake of naught but beenie weenies and was just an annoying kid. Who knew he would become such an iconic figure?

    There used to be someone who would respond to any usenet post on Turkey. Someone inserted the text of a Pizza Hut ad in their .sig file which mentioned leftover turkey being served repeatedly after Christmas.

  26. It is true that if the person has an unusual name, they’re much more likely to stumble across it, and regardless, you can sometimes avoid having them show up by deliberately avoiding their name. (If it’s an author you’ll also want code names for all their books, and any characters with distinctive names, since we google those, too.) However, in addition to the ego-surfing method of finding stuff, there’s also the slower but almost-as-reliable method where people e-mail you to say, “hey, they’re talking about you over here, check it out!” This usually happens sooner or later. The human compulsion to be a busybody tattletale (er, I mean, “to bring important things to the attention of others,” of course) does not just vanish after third grade.

  27. Naomi, if the tattletale and meddle-in-the-affairs-of-others impulse disappeared after third grade, the law-books would be approximately 3% as thick as they are now. Probably to the great benefit of all.

  28. I have never googled my name, and I have been using the internet since before Google. I just don’t care what people are saying about me: if they can find anything in my boring life interesting, more power to them.

  29. Ugh. I hadn’t ego-surfed in ages; now I’ve wasted a half hour looking through stuff I forgot I ever posted to the net. Mind numbing, to see stuff I wrote but have no recollection of doing so (but it’s in my style, on topics of my interest, so I’m pretty sure they’re mine.).

  30. John – I know. :) You don’t comment ON reviews, you comment ABOUT reviews. You’re smart enough not to walk into someone else’s house and start telling them right and wrong. You just point from your house in an amused way.

    It’s the smart way to do it.

  31. I too share a name with a famous person. (Elizabeth Mitchell. She appeared in the second Tim Allen Santa Clause movie, Frequency, Lost, and a bunch of other things I haven’t seen. In fact, I have never once seen her act, although I admit it’s a bit startling to be in a theatre and hear my name–as I was for the previews before Pirates of the Caribbean when Lyon’s Den or whatever it was had trailers.)

    I used to be the first Elizabeth Mitchell on google. Then I moved, and had no internet access for a few months, and lost it. I dropped to sixth on Google. Now I don’t even show up for about five pages or so, if that. :(

    Accidentally invoking people: I actually accidentally invoked Brandon Sanderson before he became relatively well-known. Elantris had been out for a little bit, and I read it, liked it and made a review on my journal. But I also made a silly throw-away comment about something not to do with the book, and lo, he showed up and commented in my journal. (Even though the silly throw-away comment was obviously silly and harmless, I hadn’t thought he would see it, and was kind of embarrassed that he had. He was very nice about it though.)

  32. I’ve summoned someone accidentally a couple of times and felt like a complete jerk about it almost every time.

    The first time I did it I wrote a story set during my senior year of high school when I won a science scholarship named in honor of a Nobel Laureate. The Nobel Laureate in question called me up to congratulate me and discuss my career goals. My older sister answered the phone, and not knowing the name of the only Nobel Laureate to ever emerge from our entire podunk town, hung up on him and I never got to talk to him. That’s the gist, anyway.

    Well, my readership felt sympathetic about it, and a few hours later a couple of them e-mailed him, and then after that I got a really nice e-mail from him saying he liked the story and that it made him laugh. I replied thanking him for his reply and then feeling really really deeply ashamed that I was responsible for the 1996 Nobel Laureate in Physics reading the “F-Word” several times.

    I’m also one of those people that loves to push off “things I like” onto other people. I like to direct my readers to good stuff that I feel deserves a wider readership, so I’ve inadvertently summoned a few authors that way. Since I write over the top reviews that generally have almost nothing to do with the book, it was pretty embarrassing. My policy is that if a creator ever objects to anything I’ve written I’ll take it down. I also try to self-police, but I’m generally pretty bad at that since I have a very disturbing sense of humor.

    I think I keep re-offending because I can’t shake the idea that no one would care enough about what I said to actually pay attention to it.

    It was kind of a shock to me that people look themselves up on-line or check their traffic stats, since I rarely ever do either (I have a tiny readership, but I do get written about on blogs every now and again and it sometimes gets pointed out to me in e-mail). Although I did google myself once, both my pseudonym and my real name and was surprised to see that my real name was buried under several hundred entries for Christian Rock Star Andrew Peterson, but my fake name had somehow managed to triply rank over all the forests of British Columbia.

    Take that groups of trees in British Columbia!

  33. Natalie @36: There can be reasonably good reasons for the “if they posted speculation about something that was going to happen in the next book she was writing, that it was totally okay for her to use that without attribution or credit to the person who actually thought of it” clause — it’s somewhat like one of the reasons why lots of authors (and TV show writers) have an explicit policy not to read fanfic about their characters.

    The problem you see, arises like this: Suppose that the author has an idea about what is going to happen to the characters. And suppose that a fan independently generates essentially the same idea — which, given quantities of fans, the broadness of the area covered by a generic idea, and the fact that fiction is constrained to make sense and lots of things are implied well before they happen, is not at all an unlikely thing. And then suppose the fan posts it where the author can read it. So what should the author do? If they use their own idea, the fan still probably thinks that it was stolen, and will get upset, and things could go quite pear-shaped, especially since the only public documentation anyone can point to is “the fan wrote it down first”.

    Or, worse, suppose that the author does get influenced by the fan’s suggestions, but in a way of the sort where it all gets mushed around and combined in the hindbrain (which, in general, does not keep references intact when making homogenized idea cioppino like this), and when the author goes to write, they have no recollection that big pieces of it came from someone else? Then, it could really get messy.

    The fundamental truth, though, is that in general any decent writer will have vastly more ideas than they know what to do with; stealing more is very much not needed. So it’s quite unlikely that any author is likely to intentionally set out to steal fans’ ideas.

  34. I love the law of invocation. I missed that post whenever it was you first posted it, so I feel obligated to let you know that I never ego surf. I don’t know if it’s because I am such a humble and ego-less person. Rather, it’s most likely because I have a huge ego, but am so hypersensitive and have such natural self-loathing that I can hardly bear to know about anyone talking about me, even if it’s something good. Sometimes friends will let me know when there’s a positive review or something, which I always appreciate, because I am unable to go find them myself.

    So, for my part, the law of invocation doesn’t quite apply. Invoke me in your discussion of nematodes and it’s quite likely I *won’t* show up. Also, I am sure that really big celebrities like Britney Spears are not doing a lot of that, but…you never know. Surely they sometimes lurk in places where they are being discussed.

  35. That’s so old it only has, like, four comments on it. Wow.

    Also, thank you for helping me figure out when I started reading the whatever, because I’m fairly confident I haven’t ever read that, but I know I’d been around awhile when “Being Poor” posted.

    And, just FYI, I’ve been on the internet since 1994 (more or less) and it didn’t occur to me to plug my name into a search engine until probably three or four years ago.

    Apparently there aren’t many of us. Who would have known?

  36. 37 & 51: Sure, there are absolutely legitimate reasons for authors to request that sort of agreement, however, the author in question had been lurking in our community for several years by that point and presumably reading /our/ speculations on the series in question. The way it all went down really left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and the way the requirement was worded just didn’t sound on the up and up, if that makes sense? It was basically, “You can’t copyright an idea, everything you say here becomes my intellectual property” or something like that, it was definitely over and above disclaimers I’d read on other author boards at the time.

  37. Thena:

    “That’s so old it only has, like, four comments on it. Wow.”

    Well, it had more comments before, which didn’t survive two different changes of blog software.

  38. I haven’t Googled myself since about 1998 when I was a freshman and had unlimited net access for the first time. See, someone has restraint. I also have a fairly dirt-common full name- obviously my first name is what it is, and I don’t have an extremely unusual last name, so there you go. I also DO NOT WANT TO KNOW what everyone is saying behind my back, thanks. The Internet has the potential to be middle school, so I’ll skip that.

    I get annoyed when I am googling something else and find posts I wrote, though. Ugh.

  39. Since nostalgia is a toxic substance to me, I avoid visiting the websites I used to frequent in my fledgling noobhood. Also since I don’t use my real name online (because I’m paranoid about that sort of thing, and because it’s clunky as hell) finding it splashed all over the Internet would be /creepy/.

    So I don’t egosearch myself – I’ve never been able to see the /point/, really. But then I don’t “get” Twitter or Facebook or whatever the social networking site of the month is either.

    It seems I’m not missing out on much, really. Drama is to be avoided.

  40. #36: I know Terry Pratchett used to worry about being accused of stealing ideas from his fans that he would stop reading alt.fan.pratchett when it got into one of its regular bouts of speculation.

    #43: The Turkey hater was Serdar Ardic, immortalised in Ken MacLeod’s first novel, The Star Fraction where his name is used as a explictive. He had a bee in his bonnet about the Armenian Genocide and onse replied to a recipe for Turkey one Usenet poster had in his sig around Thanksgiving with a pages long rant about this subject.

    The law of internet invocation is just the realisation of that old Woody Allen sketch where he pulls Marshall McLuhan into the movie to tell another character how wrong he is.

  41. #17 I discovered the law of internet invocation by accident.I did a post on my blog about Harlan Ellison

    A little over two years ago, John also made a blog entry about Harlan, showing up in a dream I think. And yes, Harlan posted a comment here, a neutral one.

    George

  42. 1) My name doesn’t seem to be uncommon enough to be susceptible to this–I have to dig and dig through Google just to find something I’ve written.

    2) I admit that I spent five minutes or so using Google’s Blog Search to see if I could dig up what specifically prompted this entry. On the one hand, I failed. On the other hand, wow, people get angry enough with John to post their anger in their own journals. On the third hand, pay no attention to the time I got angry enough with John to post my anger in my own journal.

    3) Get this–a few weeks ago, I simultaneously sent someone an angry e-mail over subject X, and posted more of that anger on my journal. They replied to my e-mail (very nicely, mind you) with a comment about “yeah, I saw your LJ, I can see it upset you!” I was freaking MORTIFIED, despite my journal not really expressing anything I hadn’t already put into the e-mail. One day I will understand how the Internet works.

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