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The Secret History of Omegle


Once upon a time, in an internet of ages long past1, people started getting weird messages on AIM. Or perhaps yahoo. Maybe jabber (which was a Thing, for a little while).

Out of the blue, a stranger would message them some pure nonsense. Their name would typically involve salmon (coho or otherwise), or sometimes trout.

They'd reply asking who the fish was, only to get a confused response along the lines of "whaddya mean who am i, you messaged me!", which obviously wasn't true so what's the scam here?

Then the two people would talk to each other via the salmon bots and try to figure out what the heck was going on. Or they wouldn't, which was boring but common.

These were the bots of the mysterious Project Upstream, led by the mysterious salmon master. They made a couple posts to the livejournal community that was talking about the bots, and eventually set up a page for "requesting" a salmon bot to visit you.

This was a very similar idea to another bot that had visited the LJ community: The Great Hatsby. But instead of being fish-themed, that one was hat-themed. Aside from probably being the inspiration for project upstream, there was no relationship. I think the Hatsby operator may have addressed the copycat project once2.

How Did This Work?

Project Upstream would scrape recent posts from Livejournal3. If somebody has an AIM/Yahoo/etc screen name on their profile, it would grab that and queue them up for a visit.

Then it would pair two people and make the connection. It didn't matter if one was AIM and one was yahoo; salmons speak all protocols. This confused people even more when one claimed to be using AIM and the other was on Yahoo.

When it messaged people, their chat could be seen on an IRC channel, posted there by yet another bot. We could watch the chaos and confusion, the anger, and the tender moments live, in high-definition text on IRC.

There were a couple commands for the Project Upstream folks so we could cause additional chaos in active chats. I think the two big ones were text filters and the ability to send messages "from" one person to the other.

It was actually a little confusing for us since there would be a couple conversations going at once. I think there may have been a command to split one pairing of strangers off into a separate temporary channel, so it was easier to follow their conversation?

The text filters were funny. We could make it look like everything Person A said to Person B was in pirate-speak and probably a couple other things. But then they'd get accused of talkin' funny by Person B and would deny it.

There wasn't really a point to it. This was before "mining all the data so we can sell it to advertisers" had pervaded every aspect of our lives, so it wasn't some kind of grand plan to harvest data or anything nefarious like that. It was just entertaining.


The Project Upstream bots inspired Omegle. And I don't mean "inspired" in a spiritual way -- there is a direct line between Project Upstream and Omegle. Eurlief was both the salmon master, and the creator of Omegle.

I don't remember exactly how it went down, but I would guess when Project Upstream opened a request system, the idea for a monetizable version of Project Upstream happened.

Why Do You Know Any of This?

I was there, in the IRC channel, watching it all. And occasionally fucking with people by turning on the pirate text filter.

Sorry if you hated that.

And just to be clear: I am not the salmon master. I didn't make any of this. I was merely In The River Where It Happened.

  1. Roughly 2008, which is approximately 4,000 years ago in JS ecosystem years. 

  2. But i don't remember what they said about it, sorry. 

  3. I don't remember if it ever supported other sites? was tumblr a thing in 2008?