Internet Oracle

From Academic Kids

The Internet Oracle (formerly known as The Usenet Oracle) is a collaborative effort at collective humor in a pseudo-Socratic question-and-answer format.

A petitioner sends a question to the Oracle via email, and (usually within a day or two) the answer arrives, also by email. As "payment", the petitioner must sometimes answer a question sent from the question queue.

A representative (and famous) exchange is:

 The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
 Your question was:
   > Why is a cow?
 And in response, thus spake the Oracle:
   } Mu.

Many of the oracularities contain Zen references and witty wordplay. Most are significantly longer than this example, and they sometimes take the form of rambling narratives, poems, top-ten lists, or anything else that can be put into plain text.

A complex Oracle mythos has also evolved around the figure of an omniscient, anthropomorphic, geeky deity and a host of grovelling priests and attendants. Other staples in conversation with the oracle include:

  • A *ZOT* is earned when the Oracle is irritated. *ZOT*s are something like lightning strikes and are usually fatal.
  • Woodchuck questions are a sure way to earn a *ZOT*. The Oracle will often censor the word "woodchuck" as "w..dch.ck", or simply refer to it obliquely ("rodent of unusual size"). This is a reference to "The Woodchuck Question": "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
  • Traditionally, questions to the Oracle open with a suitable grovel such as "High and Mighty Oracle, please answer my most humble question," although grovels are often very creative and can be very long, or even part of the question.
  • Answers from the Oracle traditionally contain a request for payment such as "You owe the Oracle a rubber chicken and a Cadillac."

An assorted mythos of recurring characters—or in-jokes—has accumulated over the years. These include the worthless High Priest Zadoc, the Oracle's girlfriend Lisa, an assortment of deities, and the caveman figure Og. Many Oracle fans have mixed feelings about the mythos, as passing off an in-joke reference or story often becomes uncreative.

Delphic Research, Inc. was an alternate mythos for the Internet Oracle, created by a group of people who, for one night, flooded the Oracle's queue of questions with prewritten questions and responses involving the research adventures of three women.

The "Oracularities" are compiled into periodic digests by a team of volunteer "priests", who cull the responses and select what they consider the best. These are posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.humor.oracle.

The Oracle was started in the mid 1980s by Steve Kinzler, as an indirect descendant of an older game program written by Peter Langston in 1975-1976 at the Harvard Science Center.

Internet Oracle derivatives

The Internet Oracle has spawned a sub-breed of question-answer website exemplified by the Conversatron, TrueMeaningOfLife.com, and the now defunct Forum3000, among many others. These share the following characteristics:

  • Answers are provided not by users, but by an individual or group of individuals.
  • The group of responders stay largely behind the scenes, attributing responses to various characters or culture references.
  • Multiple answers are frequently given to each question.
  • Each answer is accompanied by a picture or icon of the character to which the answer is attributed.

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