In Charlotte media circles, Justin Ruckman and Matt Tyndall are already well-known names.
They launched the now-defunct CLTBlog in 2011; created PPL, a workspace for independent, freelance and mainstream media members to work during the Democratic National Convention in 2012; and currently continue to create content on command with their production company, Priceless Miscellaneous.
Ruckman and Tyndall's latest venture started as a side project among friends, for friends. But soon after releasing it, Force Block went viral. The app — a Google extension if we're getting technical — throws up a block on any webpage with suspected Star Wars spoilers inside.
When they released it in the lead-up to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens release, it gained national exposure. Just hours before the movie's first showing, Tyndall estimated that 200,000 people were using it.
Creative Loafing caught up with Tyndall in those hours leading up to the film's premiere to chat about the process behind developing Force Block and how it operates.
Creative Loafing: What brought about the idea for and implementation of Force Block?
Matt Tyndall: I'm a big Star Wars fan, I've been planning to go since they gave the release date. The day the presale tickets came out I went out and bought 18 of them. Me and [Priceless] editor Erik Button, who works in our office, just kept joking around that we'd never be able to get online during that week.
We were joking about it a lot. Really, it was just a week or two ago that we were like, "Oh shit, we can actually just make this thing. Why don't we make it? It's not going to be that hard."
I pitched Justin on it, and he was down, so we devoted the weekend to coding it and designing it. Erik was working on the quotes, he wrote all the funny quotes on Friday, and we had it done Sunday evening.
You mean the funny quips that pop up on your screen if a website is believed to contain spoilers?
Yeah, and I think that's the real differentiator; what's different from us and other things online. We did something that will help people and block spoilers but we also did it in a fun way that nobody else was doing.
Are there other apps like this on the web?
There's a thing called Unspoiler that will look at words on the page and they just block those words. But I don't think that's a good way to do it because you can get context out of it. Then there's other keyword blockers out there where you just enter in your own keywords and it will block stuff.
How did you get from the idea to the point of having it ready to use? What's the process like, getting something like this to operate correctly?
We have a lot of friends who are movie critics who had seen it. I went to some of them and asked, "Can you email Justin a list of key terms, any of the big spoiler-y stuff?"
How the thing works is that we've got three... dictionaries is what we like to call them, or sets of keywords. The first one is stuff like Star Wars, Jedi, Death Star, etc. If there's four or more of those words on a website that are unique then it flags it.
So if you go to Entertainment Weekly and it just says Star Wars like 100 times on the site, its not going to block it, but once you start getting Star Wars and Luke Skywalker and this and that, boom, it will block it.
The other set of words like spoiler, spoiler alert, Star Wars spoilers, if you have one of those words and any words from the [first set] it will flag it.
Justin has a third list and if it hits any of those key phrases that are definitely spoilers then it just needs one instance of those.
[As a big fan himself, Mark had no intention of being informed of what makes up the third list, considering he created the app to block himself from those terms.]
How does it work on platforms like Twitter, where content is constantly uploading?
If you go to Twitter and you log in, that initial load of all the content, it will search that. If you go to the bottom and hit "More" or just keep scrolling to where you're in that infinite scroll, it will not block it. So that breaks it a little bit, but it's one of those things that we just decided to cut because we were doing it over one weekend.
We could've made it a lot more advanced, but the real value of this is that it's not going to block everything, but it's going to make you a lot more cautious when you're going around the web. It's going to block that big headline of a website or tweet or Facebook post when you're not even thinking about it. It's one of those things that makes you think, "Oh yeah, I've got to be a lot more careful." You know, it lets you tiptoe around the mine.
I think anybody can tell you who watches Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, they've gone to a website and it's like "Oh, that person died, dammit."
Has it been profitable in any way?
It's just for fun. We built it for ourselves. We're not making any money on it. We're not collecting any data. There's really no benefit to us besides the press, and maybe people around town hearing that we do cool stuff. It's kind of just a thing that we built for ourselves and we thought other people might like it and it looks like there's a lot and a lot of people that really like it.