Wednesday 21 April, somewhere in Paris. Just one line of code is enough to ‘release’ ‘Prison Valley’ into cyberspace. The tale of how #prisonvalley spread in a matter of minutes.
7.17 yesterday evening, rue Saint Maur in Paris. One of the developers working on Prison Valley, Maxime Quintard, types four letters on his keyboard: “true”. “True” as in the hour of truth. “True” as in a line of code, a release, well 7.17 pm, 21 April, the hour of truth for Prison Valley as it went on line on the sly.
Developers love doing things on the sly. It helps them test things in real conditions. To see how the server behaves. How the ‘beast’ deals with the connections – or not.
Producers like doing things on the quiet too. Because nothing stays quiet for very long these days. ‘On the sly’ is the open secret updated to 2010. At 7.30 pm the secret gets out on Twitter. The connections kick in and there’s a surge.
10. 22. 55. 77. Champagne. Arte, the broadcaster, turned up out of the blue. With our partners from Libération (cf. their special report on Prison Valley), Yahoo! and France Inter (its dedicated Prison Valley pages). Journalists too, bloggers, total strangers, the managers from the Centre National du Cinéma, without anyone… etc. etc.
Got to tell you something. Prison Valley has been like this since the very beginning.
On the sly.
Hour of truth.
And then it spirals.
In the early hours of 22 April it’s still climbing. 84. 150. Then 1,000. Then France Inter (cf. the radio programme “Comme on nous parle” hosted by Pascale Clark). Then the page goes black. The server’s bust. Down.
A new confession. A broken server gives developers a secret kick, it’s their venal sin, the thing they live in fear as much as in hope of. The machine has tamed them – and they’re going to take their revenge. Never trust their worried expressions; their half smiles of pleasure are closer to the truth. True vs False. You have to know to recognise it.
In the early hours a few pieces of feedback show there’s some confusion out there. How the documentary works is announced at the start of the programme and seems intelligible (on Twitter and Facebook – luckily the user can ALWAYS choose whether s/he wants to carry on with this type of automatic publication). At 11.30 a.m. we take a decision. We unplug the beast. Temporarily. Long enough to tame it. Long enough to put an alternative in place.
Meanwhile more and more people connect to the site. The first posts appear on the forums. Characters from the film log-in too. A year and a half after the first work, Prison Valley is no longer just our baby. “True.” The programme is living its own life. At last, already. Reactions come in on Twitter, on the chat forums, on blogs, almost in real time.
A rock’n’roll moment.