2363: Message Boards

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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(c) You can have a scooter when you pay for it yourself, and (d) if you can't learn to start a new thread rather than responding to an old one, you'll be banned. [thread locked by moderator]
Title text: (c) You can have a scooter when you pay for it yourself, and (d) if you can't learn to start a new thread rather than responding to an old one, you'll be banned. [thread locked by moderator]


The joke of this comic lies in the dates of the forum posts and the (presumed) relation between the posters.

The initial post was made in 2000 by NIN85 who was, at the time, a teenaged girl (likely 14 or 15 years old given that her username ends in "85," implying she was born in 1985), complaining that her mother did not allow her to get a Vespa. Vespa is a brand of scooters and mopeds produced by the Italian manufacturer Piaggio. Most U.S. states require motorcycle licenses for any vehicle with an engine size over 50 cubic centimeters. Most Vespas are larger than this, although 49 CC models (classified as mopeds) do exist. Depending on the state, the minimum age to get a moped in the United States is 14, 15, or 16.

The reply was written in 2020 (twenty years later) by JULZ (or Julian), the presumed son of the now-adult NIN85, likely in his teenage years. The "Z" may refer to "Generation Z", paralleling the "85." "JULZ" complains about his mother refusing to allow him to get an electric scooter, which doesn't require a license. He is implicitly pointing out the hypocrisy of his mother, as a fifteen-year-old, thinking that teenagers with scooters are perfectly reasonable, while as a thirtyfive-year-old, being against the idea.

The primary source of humor in this strip (made explicit in the caption) derives from the fact that the Internet has been in common use for so long that teenagers can now look up old posts that their parents made when they, themselves, were teenagers. The late 1990s to early 2000s was right around the time the average person would be expected to have access to the internet and use it regularly, which means that, as of 2020, that's been the case for around one human generation. This can be jarring for people who are still used to thinking of the Internet as a new technology. Noting how much time has passed since events that feel recent is a recurring theme in xkcd.

Of course, the basic premise of this exchange is nothing new. Teenagers have encountered (and been surprised by) the notion that their parents were once young for as long as there have been people. In the past, it's happened through finding old photographs, old videos, old diaries, or simply by hearing stories from their family and old friends. Young people are often shocked by what they learn, and accuse their parents of hypocrisy when they punish behavior that they once engaged in. Of course, this isn't true hypocrisy: we expect teenagers to grow and evolve, and develop mature, adult viewpoints. Parents naturally have both more understanding of dangers and lower tolerance for risk when dealing with their children. This strip points out that the internet has now existed for long enough (and preserves archives for long enough) that it's now become a potential medium for this whole dynamic. Part of the humor results from the unexpected situation that the child went to the trouble of tracking down his mother's old forum post, and that his mother is still active in the same niche forum 20 years later (as evidenced by her rapid response).

In the title text, the parent is apparently a moderator on that board now, or at least can quickly twist the ear of an actual mod. She has the thread locked (preventing further replies) and threatens banning the kid if he does not learn to post new threads, instead of dredging up dead threads from two decades ago. The act of reviving long-dead threads is often called "thread necromancy", "necroing" or "necroposting", and many forums (and users) frown upon it. It is seen as similar to bringing up a conversation from ages ago in real life. It often adds nothing new, and the original participants in the discussion may no longer be active or no longer interested in the topic. Some forums may actually encourage tagging onto existing but idle discussions (to add new or updated information), but this is not especially common, and does not seem to be the case here. This complaint also parallels the actual conflict here: bringing up someone's actions or attitudes from the distance past is generally frowned upon, just as posting onto old threads with a new argument is considered a breach of etiquette.

Invoking the power of moderation could suggest that, in typical parental fashion, she's using her greater influence and social position to end the discussion, making clear that she's the one in charge. "You'll be banned from this forum thread" could be seen as the Internet version of "as long as you live under my roof, you'll live by my rules".


[Single panel showing a view of the "MopedPro" forum on a message board, with a caption below the panel.]
Forum Tab: MopedPro Forum (Top Left) | (4 tabs with illegible writing on them. None of them appear to be selected) (Top Right)
NIN85 (posted December 5, 2000 - 13:01):
So mad that my mom won't let me get a Vespa. I'm old enough for a moped license and they're really not that dangerous.
JULZ [new user] (posted September 23, 2020 - 17:05):
At least she's not stopping you from getting an electric scooter you don't even need a license for
NIN85 (posted September 23, 2020 - 18:36):
Okay, Julian, (a) you know we talked about this, and (b) how the heck did you find this thread
[Caption below the comic]:
I love that message boards are now old enough for this to happen.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Randall stimulates people doing this to their parents? 01:23, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

He doesn't necessarily think it's likely. But as the caption says, he's amused by the fact that it's possible because the Internet and message boards have been around long enough. Barmar (talk) 02:04, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

It would be interesting to know how many online message boards have actually been in continuous operation for 20 years. The original Usenet newsgroups are actually twice that old, but what about Internet boards? Barmar (talk) 02:04, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

Reddit is starting to get there, being 15 years old now. I also do know some forums that started in 2003~2004 and are still active (mostly ones tied to still-updating webcomics). So not quite 20 years, but close. --Elifia (talk) 03:04, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
There'll be BBSes (one I once used is still going, last I checked, well over 30 years old, pre-Web, not sure how many old-guard are there, as I've not for 25 years) and that would rival even pre-split Usenet. A MUD I know (all my characters long timed-out) is still going strong since pre-Web times, too. IRC isn't exactly persistent (and has changed a lot) but still exists. Even if the likes of anon.penet.fi have been closed, there'll be mailer-gateways/request-by-mail things (I used to ask one for Freeware!) on obscure servers. Perhaps Wollongong University still has a Gopher server (one memorable 'place' I visited on a link-to-link round the world trip, back just before I heard of the Berners-Lee thing). I have a habit of forgetting webforums (earliest currently used one was signed into only back in 2008) and a late-'90s one I recall fondly got so spammed (despite whatever passed for CAPTCHA in those days) that the webmaster Read-Onlied it, and domain is now expired. If I was a better person at staying in touch, I'm sure I could have been continuously active for sufficient time on a single platform (I fell off a Usenet group when I lost a newsfeed and refused to use the then-new-fangled Google Groups interface, just the latest insult since WebTV, the push from AOL and the whole Eternal September thing). So, anecdotally, I know there's a good chance. 03:42, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
I have been an active member at GameFAQs.com for longer than 20 years. The message boards there opened in 1999. 04:23, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
Has GameFAQs retained old posts, though? I couldn't find any, even searching in the NES and PC boards. I was able to find old content posted to ars technica, from Nov '99 (caution: mild profanity): https://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=1073636 Davidhbrown (talk) 23:40, 28 September 2020 (UTC)
I was amazed to realize how long ago I was active on PerlMonks, when I has occasion to look something up. https://www.perlmonks.org/?node_id=80322 "user since May 15,2001" 06:42, 5 October 2020 (UTC)

With a name like NIN85, I bet Mom is a Nine Inch Nails fan. ❤️

Too dumb for this one[edit]

Is it just me or was the detail the whole joke hinged on a bit more subtle than usual here? Sure, sometimes it's arcane, but I feel like you don't usually need to read between the lines so much to even get the backstory for the joke.

On first read, obviously the two characters know each other, and the fact that a real life acquaintance would reply to a 20yo thread was clearly part of the joke. But essentially I read this as two people complaining about the same thing, as one often does on message boards. By the time I put it together that "NIN85 must be older now" + "new user from context is a teenager" + "most adults don't know many teenagers" + "except they do know their kids" = "she's talking to her kid", it was far too late for me to get the laugh. In retrospect "we talked about this" is a classic parenting line, but given that one tends to talk to many people about many things, it didn't really point me in that direction the way it was probably intended.

Maybe, not being a parent myself, my instincts also led me to assume that an older person would still sympathize and support a young person in search of totally rad transportation, rather than shooting them down like her mother before her :P So the assumption that "we talked about this" = "I, Vespa fan, have already denied you the same privilege" seemed like an especially great leap!

So, probably just having a slow brain day, but is there anything else to it I'm missing? Also, does Randall have kids? - jerodast (talk) 04:55, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

Not just you. It took me a while before I noticed the dates on the posts, but then I put it all together. Maybe a better title for the comic would have helped, something including "necro". Barmar (talk) 05:54, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
Reconstructing my own first reading of this (before I slept last night so imperfect) it seems I read the post-text first, worked out it was a mom/son relationship, 'confirmed' by finally reading the posting dates (the point at which I probably belly-laughed for 'getting it'), spotted the "New User" subtly there in the side-profile and then (after noting the forum name, subtitlr, title-text, etc) wondered about the Profile Pic.
Mom seems to have kept (or deliberately retroed) an image from her youth, even if not the original (if there was any, for the v1.0 forum layout to show) pic uploaded in 2000. This was pre smart-phone/selfies, to any reasonable degree. Is this a scan of of an old emulsion photo? (It also has possible photoshopping artefacts of portrait over new background, by one reading of it.) Would a more worldwise 25yo scan in and upload a pic of her 15yo self? Maybe in a "see, I was there at Woodstock" way (though not actual Woodstock, unless that's the photoshopped background - or something like that - but maybe still not with a 15yo 'selfie' shot, but something from a later age). It's at this point I'm thinking I'm overthinking this (especially given how much 'exposure' many people still give in the profiles and avatars, even 35yo moms), especially given I've never used a selfie-avatar at all. 12:14, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
If you change your profile picture it will change for any post made. That's at least true for all fora I'm member of. Why would each individual post contain the information of which profile picture was active at the time the post was made (plus the actual picture data)? So there's no indication if the picture shown here is "teen mom" or "adult mom" (or "mom" at all). Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:31, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
I know that, and it was on this basis that I presumed its likely a later (though who knows how recent) scan of an earlier physical photo. (Because that clearly looks more like a Randall-girl than a Randall-mom, in Cueball-People style, notwithstanding how in RL™ younger people often attempt to look older and vice-versa.) 15:06, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
In that case, how do you come to the conclusion that the profile picture shown there is a "young" person? By the hairstyle or what? I don't get it. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 15:18, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
Yes. Young hair (as opposed to young-adult hair, then eventually the tied-up bun look that can also mean 'serious' but with ornamentation). It's just my impression. Also note that Julz seems to favour the 'studio background' look (maybe filter-cropped down to just the head and shoulders) while NIN85 favours the more passive "visit to a place" photo that is not obviously a selfie, a height-shot, a posed sunrise/set one, which (the possibilities of photoshopping apart, due to the hint-of-border actually probably only there to maintain contrast between hair and the darker bit of the background) puts it in an early age of photography tropes. In my mind, but obviously not yours.
But on the basis that every drawn feature is deliberately put there (rather than various accidents of setting in actual images of real life) I like to think it's deliberately setting up the trope of a historic photo of young-millenial (meant to be from roughly the time of the opening post, but probably uploaded much later) vs a more current pose by a young-post-millenial. YMMV.
And none of this is a complaint, just a recollection of what I was originally pondering, as I appreciated the comic. Probably taking up no more than a minute of my time, last night, and now I'm surprised it's taking up this much more of it for both of us... ;) 16:09, 24 September 2020 (UTC)
Ah, I see. I get your point, now. Thanks! :) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:17, 25 September 2020 (UTC)
I had the same impression of photos. If nothing else, assuming that if she was doing a one-off reply to a very old thread on a forum she hasn't really used for 20 years, she probably wouldn't bother updating her profile pic in the forum settings :) But it did contribute to me not putting together that it was a parent talking to her kid, since she "looked" like a young person! - jerodast (talk) 08:32, 25 September 2020 (UTC)
Digital Cameras were available before 2005, so it's possible the original profile photo was digital to start. We also had cell phones prior to that, but I went cheap, so I know I didn't have a phone camera myself. 18:42, 25 September 2020 (UTC)
Don't know about you, but with dial-up (which I was definitely using in 2000, when not at work at the end of an always-on ISDN connection to somewhere) I'd have been a bit miffed to be forced to (possibly, depending on how good the caching worked) download a small image alongside every single post (and potentially every time a new post is added, redownload all the last few posts again in the same page). I'm fairly sure webfora as they now exist weren't really as popular until widespread unmetered Internet. Though it might well look like that after numerous upgrades and migrations of whatever the original appearance actually was, which at some point would make it attractive option to dig up an old photo, digitise it (if necessary) and upload. 00:26, 26 September 2020 (UTC)

She’s would be a closer to a gen-xer 18:21, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

Did anyone else think that NIN was for Nine Inch Nails?

Another in-joke is that Vespa is a scooter and there is an electric model [1] that require either a moped license or a full motorcycle license, depending on the engine power, that is a premium model, Peugeot electric scooter cost 40% less, for instance. 07:13, 24 September 2020 (UTC)

Fortunately most forums I was active on in the 90s and early 2000s are all long dead. 08:06, 25 September 2020 (UTC)

I have USENET posts still out there from 1984. I discovered that in November 2019 someone retweeted a bunch of Star Wars comments from USENET after Return of the Jedi came out, including one of mine. 18:42, 25 September 2020 (UTC)

I see three jokes that don't seem to have been mentioned. Firstly this appears to be one of Randall's 'time passes' comics - things thought to be new are older than you think - like 973: MTV Generation and 1686: Feel Old. Secondly, one is used to threads covering a matter of minutes, hours, days etc so it is surreal and amusing to see a twenty year leap conveyed in the space of three posts; one minute she's a teen, next an adult, with similar contrasts in the tone of the posts. Thirdly the title text contrasts the worlds of traditional parental authority and arcane forum regulations, not normally associated.The current description claims she's a mod but she may just be familiar with the forum regulations.

does look like a mod though. Incidentally, 'Julz' could be just an alternative spelling of Jules or Jools, diminutive form of Julian 14:06, 16 October 2020 (UTC)

I once ran into a user named "Citation needed" on another forum which actually isn't a moderator but acts like a moderator. It seems that someone kept thinking that it was I who banned him, but apparently I'm not a moderator either. --ColorfulGalaxy (talk) 21:56, 2 January 2023 (UTC)