Philosophical Ranting of an Engineer

Clay Shirky’s “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemies.” This is the first paper we’ve read that specifically addresses designing for communities and it excites me.

Throughout my use of different social tools on the internet it is clear that succesful communities police themselves to avoid being their own worst enemy. Every forum I’ve ever seen that gets used on a regular basis has an Off Topic section because people are going to post off topic and if you don’t have a special section for it, then it goes into the topic section. Shirky addresses this towards the end of the paper where it addresses a meeting where everyone had too much fun talking to get anything done. If a forum has a purpose it has to control the fun talk.

The one forum I’ve spent more time on than any others is the forum on Anandtech is a large hardware review site and its forum is one of the largest English message boards. It is sorted into several software and hardware discussions including a Highly Technical section. This is one of the least used, yet most highly policed sections. Post in there asking how something simple works and you will get jumped. The users know what this mini-group is for and they squash innapropriate behavior. Contrasting this is the For Sale/Trade sub forum. This is also policed, but exclusively by moderators. In this setting community policing is not enough, governmental intervention is required. All this from the same “community!”

I found the analysis of healthy group size on IRC fascinating. I use IRC frequently and while I would only call myself a “member” in two or three channels I idle in about fifteen. Some of these are too small to maintain conversation while others are too large and it becomes difficult to maintain a conversation with anyone.

Shirky asks why social software and blogs didn’t catch on before. What I’m wondering is why they replaced IRC and chatrooms but not forums. Of course social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are much more appropriate for building and maintaining personal relationships but where is the discussion? By focusing on who I am and who you are and what our relationship is, these sites seem to prevent us from having discussions on topics we are interested in. If one is interested in motorcycle and wants to find an online community, he looks at forums not MySpace. IRC use seems to be restricted to more “geeky” interests.

Perhaps this is why, while I have a Facebook account, I don’t log nearly as many hours on it as some of my friends. I know who my friends are in real life and I don’t need to document it on a website, I’m more interested in conversing with others in certain fields. And since I do this to pass the time or to distract myself while doing something else, I tend to use IRC more than forums.

The last topic that really piqued my interest was Shirky’s insistance of handles in building an online community. There are online communities that purposefully prevent users from identifying themselves through a handle. 4Chan is the one I’m most familiar with. Every user posts as Anonymous and while it is possible to identify yourself from post to post using a built in hash function, the community frowns on this behavior in the same way that some Usenet groups frown on anonymous postings.


2 Responses to “Response to "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" by Clay Shirky”

  1. Toth Says:
    did you read this on the XKCD Blag? Fairly interesting idea actually
  2. Darkell Says:
    These past blogs have been an interesting sociological study on group dynamics. I read some of Shirky's essay.

Sorry, comments are closed for this article.