Introducing Frinkiac, The Simpsons Search Engine Built by Rackers


Introducing Frinkiac, The Simpsons Search Engine Built by Rackers

When it comes to television shows, it’s hard to find one more quotable than The Simpsons.

And if you’re like the millions of Simpsons fans who love to quote the show at length, finding the perfect line for the right moment just got a lot easier, thanks to some Simpsons-loving Rackers.

Combining their fondness for the show with some pretty incredible technical talent, Rackspace employees Paul Kehrer and Sean Schulte, together with designer Allie Young, built Frinkiac, a Simpsons-specific search engine (named for the show’s bespectacled Professor Frink), which indexes some three million screencaps from the show’s 15 seasons, matching each and every quote with the exact moment it was uttered.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to reply to a question about your grandma’s not-so-good blueberry muffins by referencing Ralph Wiggum’s classic “They taste like... burning,” quote. Type “They taste like burning” into Frinkiac’s search field, and viola, you get a downloadable image of that precise moment from Season 9, Episode 14.

Kehrer and Schulte built the platform a few months ago, and enlisted Young to help with the design before going public, which they did earlier this week.

“We told a couple of friends about it, and even posted something on Reddit,” Kehrer said, "and at first, nobody really noticed.”

But all that changed Wednesday, when Wired picked up the story, followed by write-ups in Engadget, VentureBeat and others, propelling Frinkiac to viral status. Suddenly, the friends' side project saw thousands of visitors flooding the site.

Kehrer and Schulte had built Frinkiac using a stack comprised of OnMetal Cloud Servers, Cloud Block Storage and Docker Containers. While they expected that to handle most traffic loads, they didn’t foresee the massive traffic spike that came with sudden viral fame.

“And when we suddenly had 3,000 concurrent users doing nearly 100 searches per second, things got rather compute intensive,” Kehrer said, understatedly.

When Frinkiac exceeded the capabilities for its server deployment, Kehrer and team harnessed OnMetal to spin up additional bare-metal servers ­— in as little as ten minutes — to keep the site up and running.

With traffic under control, Kehrer was able to take a step back and comprehend the amazing trajectory Frinkiac had just endured.

Not only were thousands of people around the world using the site at any given moment, Twitter came alive with praise for Frinkiac, adding even more to its virality and eliciting feedback from some noteworthy sources.

“We received tweets of support from former Simpsons writers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, as well as current Executive Producer Al Jean,” Kehrer said. “All of them said they love Frinkiac and thanked us for building it. That was pretty incredible.”

Beyond that, Kehrer said the massive outpouring of adoration has been overwhelming, and even a little emotional.

“It kind of blows my mind,” he said. “Having the writers reach out was amazing, and then connecting to all these fans has just really been incredible. As a Simpsons fan, it’s hard to even articulate — it means a lot to have built this resource that other people are using and enjoying so much.”

Kehrer said his twitter handle @reaperhulk has been getting 30-40 mentions a minute, and people keep posting hilarious memes based on the quote and image pairings they’ve made on the site.

“I know The Simpsons extraordinarily well,” he said, “but there have been quotes people posted that I had totally forgotten about, and that’s awesome. People are digging up some real hidden gems.”

None of this would have been possible, he noted, if it weren’t for Rackspace and its internal culture, which allows employees the freedom of creativity to deploy Rackspace infrastructure in new ways.

Kehrer is a member of the Technical Career Track, and as such, he’s given an unlimited cloud account from Rackspace.

“And when we decided to go down this route and try and build a thing like this, we were able to play with some of the new technologies and extremely impressive services like OnMetal, and use them in ways we never anticipated we’d be able to,” he said.

Being able to tinker with these technologies and figure out new ways to scale things allows Rackers like Kehrer to build fun side projects with friends, which ultimately creates better customer outcomes in the future.

“And that’s what this process allowed me to figure out,” Kehrer said. “Dealing with the traffic spike we had, I gained new insights into how I can deploy OnMetal and other technologies to assist customers who are facing similar circumstances.”

As far as the future of Frinkiac is concerned, Kehrer said he’d like to expand support for Twitter Cards and Facebook Open Graph so people can share their memes more effectively, and find a way to offer subtitles for non-English speakers to enjoy the site as well.

But overall, he said, it’s that ability for Simpsons fans to enjoy the site that makes it all worthwhile.

“There’s an endless fountain of quotes that you can run through, and every last one of them is amazing,” Kehrer said. “I’m just happy we found a way for people to have fun with them.”