The Search For A Lonely Houston Web Phenom

This is the story of an overweight, lonely, possibly lesbian, cheating, married, Christian and, at the moment, anonymous Houston woman. She was one of 650,000 AOL users whose Internet queries were publicly posted by the company for three days in 2006. By the time AOL removed the data, it was too late - it had been replicated elsewhere online.

The oddly revealing, oddly narrative search queries of User No. 711391 captured the collective imagination of the Internet. She's now something of a cult figure. Does she know of her exalted online status? Does she know that, for example, it's been written that "user 711391's search history is funny, beautiful and intensely tragic, and the most incredible collection of words I've read in years"? It doesn't seem likely.

Reading User No. 711391's search queries is like reading her journal. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's funny, but it's always intensely intimate. You get the feeling that she's so lonely, she considers the search engine her friend. For example, here's what she searched on March 3, 2006:

can pre menopause cause sleeplessness 07:43:04        
can peri menopause cause sleeplessness 07:45:23        
can perimenopause cause sleeplessness 07:45:34        
what are the best hot rollers curlers 10:02:18    
who is crystal bernard romantically linked with 10:10:45        
is crystal bernard bisexual 10:11:24        
women that love to eat pussy 10:14:32        
anchorage 17:20:58    
expedia 19:56:07        
larry the cable guy's new movie 21:51:07        
larry the cable guy.com 21:51:41    
larry the cable guy's new movie 21:53:38        
funniest things on the net 22:48:04    
did anyone ever tell you how proud of you they are 23:27:44        
i'm so proud of you 23:29:35    
men need encouragement 23:32:29    
men need a womans love 23:37:47

You can tell she's from Houston because she looks up things like "gay churches in Houston tx" and "houston tx is one hot place to live." Sometime into the three months of searches AOL made public, she plans to rendezvous with a man she met online in San Antonio.

She has an affair but almost immediately regrets it, typing into the search engine, "surviving an affair," "sexually transmitted diseases" and "god can help you get over the sin of adultery."

She dreams of moving to Alaska, searching "Alaska attractions," "Alaska is awesome" and "I love Alaska."

User No. 711391 worries that her husband is hip to her online activities, searching "spy on someone while they are on the computer." But she doesn't realize that she has a bigger problem on her hands.

Two Dutch filmmakers, Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug, made a series of 13 mini movies based on her queries, called I Love Alaska. You can watch them here. The movies show snowy mountains and other beautiful Alaskan scenes, as a women with a Texan accent reads selections from the queries to tell User No. 711391's story.

Hair Balls found out about User No. 711391 from the filmmakers, who are here in town for a month. They're making another movie -- a documentary about their search for User No. 811391. They plan to call it You Are What You Seek.

In an email, they wrote, "Even though the IP addresses in the document where [sic] anonymised [sic] by AOL, the content of the search queries can with some determined investigation lead to the deduction of her identity and location. The quest of the makers should eventually end up with a knock on user 711391's door and with the handout of her own search queries. The filmmakers hope to be able to talk to user 711391 about the aftermath of the AOL drama and her (almost) cult status on the internet."

Originally Engelberts and Plug wanted to speak to Hair Balls about the project in person, but after setting up a meeting, they wrote to say, "Unfortunately we want to cancel our meeting for this afternoon. Our producer thought it is not a wise decision to have a meeting with the media about our film due to the sensitive of its content." Luckily, they'd already emailed us information about the project.

Okay, User No. 711391, consider yourself warned. Unless you want the whole world to know that it was you who searched the Internet for "how to flirt with a man," "white bump or pimple on face with skin over it" and "masturbation with turkey baster," we suggest you hide.

Or maybe, just maybe, you already made it to Alaska.  

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