The very nice and kind nerds at Mastodon are at it again.
Mouse Reeve, whose day job is software engineering and development at Internet Archive, created the social network's instance oulipo.social with one big rule: No one is allowed to use the letter "e," or "any variant of it, that is found in Latin script."
Reeve told me she was inspired by the novel "A Void" by Georges Pereca. This lipogrammatic book uses every letter in the alphabet but that one accused symbol. It follows the French literary philosophy of Oulipo, a constrained form of writing that combines mathematics and literature.
The banning of this letter is one of Oulipo's most famous constraints: "It limits writing without making it too hard," Reeve told me. "You can still sound natural and say what you want to say, though you may think on it a bit in a way that you wouldn't without constraints." The limitation pushes one to think harder and more creatively about each word chosen, she said.
She wasn't expecting oulipo.social to get popular—this started as a way to test her skills at Ruby on Rails and sharpen some operation systems abilities—but the instance has amassed more than one hundred accounts in the six days it's been running.
"It's a joy to watch folks do things I wouldn't think of—#drilipo, and applying oulipo constraints to famous writing and songs—and just chat about day to day stuff," Reeve said. "It's also gratifying that folks will look at oulipo.social and go on to think up constraints or gimmicks for additional variant Mastodons."
Reeve replied to my email in less than an hour, with nearly 300 words and no appearance of the banned character. I attempted to write this article without using the letter "e" and gave up after five minutes of weak effort.