Community sites, or virtual commons

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I bang on about the virtual commons quite a lot. I'm involved, and have been involved, in a few different community websites and (more reluctantly) social media networks. Some are great, some are tolerable, some fall under the 'necessary evil' category and others are just downright painful. In one particular case, it started out as great and made a rather swift downward slide towards absolutely-worthless-and-offensive-to-boot.

It is difficult to say goodbye to a community network, even one that has become something you no longer have a desire to participate in. There are always a clutch of people you wish to retain contact with and, in some cases, the only way to do this is through the site in question. In this case I was lucky enough to be able to keep in touch with these friends through other means - Facebook, this blog, and Twitter - but it doesn't make the break any easier. People are discussing things that are going on in the community, and you feel the pull back to it. The moral objection has to be strong to survive that. But at least it makes you question your objections, and define and defend them. That's healthy for any conscientious objector, I believe.

But in all this change and turmoil, the question that begs to be answered is "What went wrong?" Often, this question can't be answered until after the break is complete. And so I found myself, some months after extricating myself from this particular community, wondering idly exactly what happened. Coincidentally, I ran across a random link to Paul Graham analysing his first two years as the founder and creator of hackernews. I've never followed hackernews, so I can't comment on it directly. Paul Graham's analysis is rather lengthy, but stick with it if you can. It's absolute gold in terms of online community-building. He discusses things he tried, whether they succeeded or failed, and why he imagines it happened. He also takes a brief look at Reddit and Digg, and discusses their good and bad points. There's a lot to take away from the article, and it reignited my ideas about the community site I left.

Interestingly enough, the owner of the site in question has opened a dialogue with me. While I've been free with discussing the problems, I have kept mum on my ideas for fixing them. Perhaps it's uncharitable of me, but until he stops excusing the issues, and until he accepts that there's a problem he needs help to solve, I'm keeping my ideas to myself. I might decide to start up a competing site one day (in my spare time, ha!) and who am I to give away all my great ideas to someone who won't make the best use of them?

Yet again, xkcd hits the proverbial nail on the head in Comic 386

xkcd is issued under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial license. The statement from the xkcd website can be found here.

Updated 18 March:

Just stumbled across this post on Vulpes Libris, all about the strange relationship we have with community sites. It definitely explains why we find it so hard to tear away from a previously much-loved forum, even when the forum in question is more hurtful than helpful. Go have a read.

Well, go on ... !



Stelle said...

The cartoon is hilarious!! How true!

: )

Loquacity said...

The mouse-over text on the original is spectacular too ;)


Michael de Percy said...

I must admit to struggling (mostly I fence-sit and react to events) with the public/private ideas and the commons/my own innovations dilemma. But I wonder if competition and a plurality of approaches to establishing virtual commons is not necessarily a bad thing? Network theory (put very simply) suggests power resides in the node, rather than under central control, and the node constantly changes as interests/issues/etc change. Some might believe that such a system is inefficient, but I wonder if the down-side of inefficiency in a virtual and volunteer environment is such a bad thing? The upside is that innovation is more likely to occur in a diverse environment... and it is becoming clear that the Net is enabling a much more open society. But the dilemma remains - maybe pragmatism is the solution?

Loquacity said...

Hi Michael, thanks for stopping by. I agree with you that plurality is a very good thing. Social commons are as diverse as their members, and where I see worthless and offensive, others see value and community. Not all social interactions mediums are equal, but neither are all the humans who use them. Your point about innovation is a valid one - we grow and thrive and create in a social network that suits us, and that we enjoy being a part of. What type of network that is, and how we interact with it, is a matter of individuality and personal taste.


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