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Interview with berkeleytime: UC Berkeley's Snapchat story

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MARCH 18, 2015

Berkeleytime, the controversial but well-loved Snapchat account that became an overnight sensation, only lasted nine days, but its legacy has remained for much longer. The Clog sat down with its creator, who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of retribution, and asked a few questions, hoping to delve into the mystery behind the account. In the process, we learned how this idea has now evolved into a uniquely “UC Berkeley” subculture and about its future prospects as an app.

 The Daily Clog: How did you come up with the idea to create “berkeleytime?” Was it for a project or just for fun?

Berkeleytime: I noticed that there was something similar to berkeleytime at UCSB and saw a friend’s post on Facebook that referenced it. I checked it out and it was pretty entertaining to watch, so I thought it would be cool if Berkeley had one of these where people could just share pictures of stuff around campus and neat things they’re doing.

CLOG: What was the process for setting it up?

Berkeleytime: One day I sat down and tried to figure out how they did this at UCSB. I figured you might have to code something or do a little hacking, but it turned out you could just download a few third-party apps and use those to piece it all together. I’m not sure how they did it at other schools, but that’s how I did it — it only cost $3 to put it all together.

CLOG: Was it just you working on it, or did you have others in on it with you? How did you go about publicizing it?

Berkeleytime: It was just me at the beginning. I talked to some friends and told them to add the Snap Story to try and get it started. Yik Yak is the main way I publicized it, just by crafting posts that would get a lot of upvotes and a lot of controversy. That way more and more people decided they would have to add berkeleytime.

CLOG: Did you want to remain anonymous from the start?

Berkeleytime: Yeah. I think it was important to remain anonymous. Mostly, I kept anonymous because no one wants to send weird pictures to a person they knew and whose face they could see. People would have posted less uncensored content if they knew who was behind it.

CLOG: How many followers and views did the account have at its peak?

Berkeleytime: I couldn’t see how many people had actually added the account, but by the time it got shut down — it lasted for nine days — it was getting 5,000 views per snap. I’m guessing that there were significantly more followers than that.

CLOG: When you initially started this, did you have any type of long-term plan or was it spur of the moment?

Berkeleytime: It was more of an experiment for me — I wanted to see how easy it was to get something to go viral on social media and see how the Yik Yak thing would pan out. I thought it was cool that people had a place where they could just post whatever they wanted, even though it got pretty outrageous by the end.

CLOG: Why did it keep getting shut down?

Berkeleytime: Snapchat told me that it got shut down because it was using a third-party app, but it probably also had to do with the fact that it was completely uncensored and had a lot of nudity on it.

CLOG: Did you try to get it back up and running after the initial shutdown?

Berkeleytime: By that time I was getting pretty tired of looking through every single Snap and seeing all these boobs and dicks, so when it got shut down I was pretty much done. But a friend of mine then asked to make berkeleytime2, so I just gave the account to him. That one got shut down in 24 hours, which made me think that Snapchat knew about the name or the content.

 CLOG: What were the criteria for pictures in order to get posted to the  story?

Berkeleytime: At the very beginning I just posted everything because I was trying to get it started. A few days in, I started only doing ones that were entertaining or that people would have a reaction to. There were a lot of people just sending in pictures of their ceilings to see if it would “get on berkeleytime,” so I wouldn’t post those obviously. But by the end of it, I was getting so many new Snaps — five or six a minute — that I would have to go through and I just didn’t have time to do it. If I went to class for three hours, I would come back and have literally hundreds of Snaps to go through. So I asked my sister, who goes to a different school entirely, to help me go through them all. She actually ran the account for the last two days before it got shut down. I don’t think anyone really realized that someone completely not from Berkeley was the moderator, but she was unbiased and just picked pictures that were entertaining.

CLOG: Do you see this same idea potentially turning into an app of some sort?

Berkeleytime: There have been quite a few people who came to me through the grapevine to help them develop apps. There’s one that these guys came to me with called berkeleytime, which is coming out on the App Store after spring break, and I think that that’s the one that will take the cake. People can post uncensored and anonymous content, basically whatever they want, which is huge. The whole Berkeley spirit is free speech, to do whatever you want and post whatever you want, and I don’t think those censored apps are getting that vibe. I think the berkeleytime one will be able to catch that vibe again and be successful.

Campanile with Trees

CLOG: What was it about berkeleytime that made it so popular, in comparison to other Snap Stories like it?

Berkeleytime: I think they weren’t publicized well and they didn’t have as much shock value. The reason I decided to post so much nudity was because I saw the reaction to UCSB’s and just the shock value it had for people, and that’s what they wanted. I don’t think other Stories really understood that part, so they may have censored it too much. Part of the appeal of it is that you don’t know what you’re going to get when you open the Story — will it be a dick or the Campanile? That’s just part of what made it entertaining.

CLOG: Did you originally anticipate so much nudity?

Berkeleytime: A little, but I had no idea Berkeley would get so into the dicks. No other Snap Story that I have ever seen had so many dicks on it, and that might have been my fault for posting all of those, but for every dick picture I posted there were probably 10 that I didn’t post — it got pretty ridiculous.

CLOG: How do you see this reflecting on the UC Berkeley community as a whole, and especially its use of social media?

Berkeleytime: I think it reflects in a really cool way on the Berkeley community, especially in the way that Berkeley adopted it and made it its own. The other Snap Stories were more about doing cool stuff, and Berkeley was more about free speech and gender equality. When there were a lot of boobs, people wanted gender equality and asked for more dick pics, and vice versa.

After a while it kind of took on its own personality; people were commenting on ‘inside jokes’ and themes to berkeleytime. It would be cool to see how those themes develop further over months’ worth of pictures and information. In the end, I’m just glad that people are carrying the torch and trying to recreate berkeleytime.

Contact Sophia Bylsma at [email protected].

MARCH 17, 2015