Where is Bob?

You know you’ve reached a strange point in your life when you find yourself reminiscing about stuff you saw on Reddit almost a decade ago. However, sometimes something you read or see online just sticks with you. It resonates. Whether it makes you think, feel, or laugh, it leaves an impression. The “Where is Bob?” blog, which appeared on Reddit back in 2008, was such a thing for me.

Penned by a wickedly funny IT worker, the Where is Bob blog hosted a set of possibly non-fiction stories about a work place run by an obnoxious and often absentee manager named Bob. The submission garnered the praise of the Reddit community and earned just shy of 1,000 upvotes. That may seem like a pittance today, but at the time it was enough to get to the top of /r/funny and enough to get onto Reddit’s front page. It was also enough to capture the interest of a literary agent. I remember this last part because sometime after the subscribing to the blog, all of its posts disappeared and rumors swirled of a book that was to come out.

After what felt like an eternity (~17 months), “Where is Bob?” by Irina P. was self published online. Viral sensations have a very short half life, so it wasn’t surprising that the post announcing this publication netted only 10 upvotes. I was able to catch the announcement, and even though it had good reviews, I was too cheap to shell out the $10 or $15 the author was asking for it. I figured my stack of unread books was already high enough.

In the years since “Where is Bob?” was released, my pile has only grown larger, yet one day around 2 years ago I found myself in need of a laugh and thought about the old “Where is Bob?” stories. I decided to look the book up, and to my dismay, found that it and its corresponding blog were gone from the Internet.

I spent several evenings trying to track down the book: Maybe someone had uploaded a PDF, maybe it was still for sale, maybe someone had archived some of the public blog entries… but it was to no avail.

I’m never one to easily back down from a challenge though, so using some clues I found in various corners of the net, I deduced the author’s current contact information and sent her a message. I told her I that I had really enjoyed her stories and I offered, if possible, buy the book directly from her. In response she sent me this message:

Hi Pat,

Yes, indeed, it was I who wrote “Where is Bob.” How cool that you found me, despite my best efforts to stay hidden! “Where is Bob” was a really fun way to express my frustration with certain aspects of IT, which is the field that I used to work in. I even had a literary agent take interest in it, but she had a difficult time selling it to publishers because it was too short to be a novel and didn’t really fit into any other category. So I put it up as an ebook through Lulu Press, because there were a bunch of people who thought the idea was cool and were willing to pay to read the whole thing.

That was a long time ago. I have since switched careers. I currently work as a high school science teacher, and when I began that job, I decided to decrease my Internet presence as much as possible, because I wanted my non-school life to remain hidden and private from my students. I didn’t want them googling and finding that book. It also wasn’t really making any money (not after the initial surge of sales), so I didn’t think there was any interest in it. If I ever write anything again (which is improbable, albeit not impossible), I will publish it as pseudonymously as humanly possible, but if you want, I can add you to the small group of people who will be notified.

Anyway, thanks for the note, it was a pleasure.

All the best,

There was no mention of selling the book, and I didn’t want to push the issue too much. I understood her point too. I remember being in college and having friends giggle with glee about finding their professor on an online dating site. A saucy book of old IT stories from a previous career might not mix well with science class.

At the time I decided that was that and moved on. A few days ago I again thought of the book and once again I tried finding it, only to come up empty handed. This experience has underscored something that I’ve often thought about that seems to be against conventional wisdom: Stuff does disappear from the internet. As much as we think things will last forever once they hit the web, that’s only the case if the information has a caretaker that wants it around. If it doesn’t have such a caretaker, it’ll eventually either disappear or sink into the deep web.

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