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Friday, July 1, 2011

The Man Behind the Hipster-or-Homeless Website Answers: Why?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 12:30 PM

Some people think the premise is mean, but Parker Ruhstaller plans to give any ad revenue to homeless advocacy groups.
  • Some people think the premise is mean, but Parker Ruhstaller plans to give any ad revenue to homeless advocacy groups.
One day I decided to walk to work without my glasses. The view was blurry to say the least. I had my headphones on, but I was inevitably stopped by a man to chat. Normally I would have kept walking, but he looked like a harmless hipster: twenty-something, attractive, bearded, carrying a mason jar presumably of coffee, and charmingly talking to a stranger (me). I let him compliment me and when he came in closer to shake my hand he wouldn't let go. I got a better look and realized, oh no, this is no hipster. This man is homeless. And that sure wasn't coffee.
Parker Ruhstaller
  • Parker Ruhstaller
And so, I totally get Parker Ruhstaller's site, Hipster or Homeless. Site visitors see a photo with a funny caption and then get to decipher whether it's a hipster or a homeless person. All of the photos are submitted by users, and it's become widely popular. Ruhstaller, 24, simply sent a link out to his friends last weekend and now has hundreds of submissions. He's been tweeted by high profile celebrities, 'liked' by more than 2,000 Facebook users, and has more than a quarter of a million hits. Not bad for something that went live on Monday.

Last night I caught up with Parker, a self-proclaimed Internet addict, to chat about his viral baby. I also asked him about some of his favorite hipster things.

What's your story? Where are you?
I grew up in Stockton, went to SF State for a bit, and later got a degree in Computer Science from University of the Pacific. I'm currently in Woodstock, about an hour north of Atlanta, staying with friend. We're both working on our own startup projects. It's good to get away and focus on stuff.

How did you get the idea for Hipster or Homeless?
Growing up in the Bay Area, my brother and I used to laugh at the hipster subculture. We noticed sometimes hipsters would dress like they were homeless.
I've done some other joke sites ( ), and this is just one that's been on the back burner for a while.

What's the point?
It's just a fun little project that kinda blew up. Any revenue from ads is going to the Bay Area Rescue and the Homeless Youth Alliance. I'm open to any other charities that help the homeless. The whole homeless thing wasn't an intention, but I thought why not just donate all the revenue. I'm not gonna junk it out (with ads). It's more about user experience.

Where did you find photos?
The photos were just uploaded by friends, then friends of friends. They got them from their friends or online. User registration is quick and user friendly so it allows a lot of people to easily submit. When you create an account you can upload a photo, and after it's uploaded you crop it and can put in a caption. Submissions are all user submitted.

You're "liked" by more than 2,000 and have been Tweeted by almost 400. What are your thoughts on that?
Unfortunately that's how the Internet works now, you have to share it on Twitter, submit it on redditt. That's kind of where the Internet goes for new stuff. It's just a way to share it. I couldn't care less if the site got 10 people a day or hundreds of thousands. It doesn't matter. It was really just a fun project.

I have to say this though, I'm really against Facebook, and I can't stand it. Have you tried Google Plus? It's kinda like the social network that I've been waiting for.
I like the Internet as a cool place to share stuff.

What is your definition of a hipster?
Quintessentially, someone who's going to the dive bar, with an ironic mustache, skinny jeans, riding a fixie, drinking PBR, playing obscure music on the jukebox. If everyone who is a hipster were unique, then they wouldn't all dress and do the same things. Stereotypes are mean and sometimes not true. Yet it's ironic that you're trying to be so different but at the same time you're creating this elitist group of people. I think at first it was definitely a select group, but now as it became more popular, a lot of people are trying to monetize on this new hipster/scenester status. It's definitely become like a cult subculture.

Do you ever think that maybe you're just too mainstream?
Maybe I am mainstream, but I definitely am open to a lot of things. I'm progressive. I grew up going to punk shows all the time. I've been listening to a lot of Lady Gaga lately. I think everyone plays off everyone else's style anyway.

Do you think this is going to grow into something bigger?
It's more a side project than anything else. I'm kind of in the mindset that I want to do something bigger on the Internet. But with or without this website, it wouldn't matter for my future plans.

Next: Parker's favorite hipster things

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Stephanie Echeveste


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