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Rethinking Virtual Community: Part Two 60

In the early 90's, the Net was relentlessly criticized for everything from undermining authority to promulgating porn and depravity, even aiding and abetting nuclear terrorism. The handful of writers and journalists defending the idea of cyberspace sometimes got myopic about it, romanticizing ideas like the Virtual Community and the impact of the network on politics. The dotcom era made everybody a bit more hard-headed. Today, online communities increasingly focus on information and data, not human interaction. But the idea of the Virtual Community has never been redefined, and needs to be. (Second in a series).

When author Howard Rheingold wrote The Virtual Community in 1993, "the common wisdom of that time... was that only socially crippled adolescents would use the Internet to communicate with other people. Perhaps I put a rosier tint on my portrait of online socializing in reaction to the stereotype. Perhaps prospects for life online were brighter then, seven years before the dotcom era. And perhaps I've grown more critical of ideas I once proposed, out of more prolonged exposure to their shortcomings."

It's difficult now to describe the climate of the 1980s when the the culture of online communication came under a recurring barrage of media and political criticism for undermining culture and authority, and promoting unchecked depravity and destruction. There was Time Magazine's famous child-porn cover, and the movie War Games, in which a young hacker nearly triggered a nuclear war. Before corporations figured out how much money could be made, much of the country was scared witless by computers, and their fear translated easily to the Net. The journalists and first-generation Net advocates Rheingold refers to were constantly forced to defend the Net against attacks from the offline world, a state of intense cultural conflict that did promote myopic views.

The virtual community has changed incalculably since. E-commerce overwhelmed the idea of information liberation, and technology itself became the point, rather than a byproduct or tool. Enormous new v-communities did emerge, but for profit: sex and auction sites, financial services and retailing,, Yahoo and AOL. Social technological movements like Open Source and file-sharing also created revolutionary kinds of communities, systems and Weblogs, but for the most part concentrated on information-sharing, peer-review and other information changes and services. Information -- more of it, and ever-cheaper -- became the point of most communities, as well as the driving force behind the growth of the Web. Technology was no longer the only the means, but increasingly, the end.

Where Rheingold wrote about communities in which people connected with one another, these new sites helped people connect to information. In fact, non-utilitarian communication is often greeted with contempt: if it's not about technology, it's a waste of bandwidth. It's almost as if the next generation of e-dwellers understands, without having to be told, that life online offers one kind of community, the offline world another.

(Note: Lots of people e-mailed after the first part to offer examples of some virtual communities that work: Typical were messages like the one from Nancy, who wrote: " I belong to one -- the Delphi textside service. For years I have conversed, gotten help, commiserated, con-congratulated with these people from all over the US and the world. They are my family. When Delphi went Web only (except the telnet textside service is being allowed to die a natural death) they almost lost me. The Web doesn't work very well, IMHO. I want a nice text console! It feels right, like the old BBS I used to use, now defunct. I love my Delphi family. Occasionally we meet in the flesh, but we have been meeting virtually since 1984 (I joined in 1994).")

John Lester of Massachusetts General Hospital wrote that " I have been running a community for people suffering for Neurological disorders at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital for the past 5 years. We have about 30,000 posters and 400,000 regular readers, and it is thriving. It has literally saved human lives."

" ... More and more, my community members are meeting in the PHYSICAL world. It is truly amazing and beautiful."

But health problems bind people together in a particular way, and people who are dealing with them form some of the most powerful virtual communities. For others, it's more problematic. Rheingold himself grasps the central questions that always gnaw at the idea of the virtual community: "Is the use of the phrase 'virtual community' a perversion of the notion of community? What do we mean by community, anyway? ... Is the virtualization of human relationships unhealthy? Is online social behavior addictive? Most important, are hopes for a revitalization of the democratic public sphere dangerously naive? Will Internet-based publishing and communicating decentralize the distribution of political power and influence, or will many-to-many-media be dominated by a few?"

Questions like this reflect the particular context in which idealists like Rheingold operated and encountered cyberspace. Contemporary Net dwellers might pose a different set of questions, more practical and technological ones. Rheingold and his generation were deeply influenced by the 60s, whose sweeping and sometimes profound social evolutions are taken for granted by younger Net users.

Perhaps as the means of communicating -- especially IRC's and IMessaging programs -- make messaging so simple and instantaneous, the sense of a distinct new way to communicate erodes.But it wasn't always so: The WELL, for example, was very much a reflection of San Francisco at the time, a magnet for idealists and cyber-hippies as well as digital entrepeneurs. Many of the early WELLbeings, as they sometimes called themselves, were not particularly interested in technology; they sought the community that technology might make possible. Clustered in the Bay area, they also created a significant non-virtual component to life on the WELL. They were always meeting one another at parties, picnics and public events; having affairs; having feuds; recommending books and movies and dentists and restaurants and chili recipes. This seems oddly squishy to most large open media communities operating today, or even to smaller, more individualized weblogs, but it's not long ago that many computer users were drawn to the idea of using the online tools to strengthen their personal lives and relationships.

That sensibility is perhaps the single biggest casualty of the dotcom era when it comes to virtual communities. As the number of Net users has multiplied and become much younger, online communities have become more entertainment-driven, bigger and more impersonal. Contemporary Net users have fewer illusions about the virtual community, a different understanding about what the Net is and isn't good for. They don't necessarily expect to make close friends and share their deepest feelings online. They are skeptical, cynical perhaps, about humanist ideals for cyberspace.

And the virtual community faces a daunting list of ethical problems. In the third edition of Computer Ethics, Deborah Johnson of the Georgia Institute of Technology lists a few ethical issues facing online gatherings of people: vandals, trolls and script kiddies who damage sites; theft and extortion; flaming and spamming. She might also have added issues relating to misrepresentation of identity, intellectual property and accuracy. Into the Second Generation Internet, there is nothing like consensus on how to deal with any of these issues.

Then, too, there is growing dichotomy in the economics that different kinds of virtual communities face. Communities on the Net aren't like hippie communes: they are expensive to design, operate and access. They need to have some financial as well as social underpinnings, especially in the age of AOL/Time-Warner, when commercial "communities" offer access, information and all kinds of other services as a carrot for buyers.

One of the ways in which younger Net users separate themselves from their elders is by seeing themselves as apolitical, cutting-edge technologists. Perhaps this is because so many of their elders talked incessantly about revolution, but didn't manage to make one. They, on the other hand, are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it.

Next, Part Three: Redesigning the Virtual Community.

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Part Two: Rethinking Virtual Community?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    YAFIAS (Yet another first in a series)

    Hey Katz, if you feel you need to release stories in multiple parts that's probably because IT'S NOT FINISHED YET. Finish writing your article, then post it.

    Or if that would be TOO LONG WINDED, then cut it down to a reasonable size.

    Or is this your way of feeling more important and prolific a writer than you really are by releasing one article as three or four or five? It's one. One. One article.

    You are just a slacker and no different than a high school kid fluffing up his 1 page report with unnecessary bullshit dialog until it fills the required three or however many pages the teacher wanted.

    Now go away, Katz. Thanx.

  • I disagree, releasing it as a series allows Katz to expand on a number of topics related to a main theme. This allows him to go more in depth than a single article would allow, notice that each article is self-contained but links to the theme of the whole, this is the way a series like this should be. Other advantages to the series format is that he can add a postscript that addresses the criticisms of the previous articles. This way he can continue the discussion on the things he wants people to discuss.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Hi, I'm Jon Katz, I am master of bullshit."

    Anyone else ever notice that Jon Katz seems to just make stuff up? He likes to use buzzwords and coin his own phrases. He likes to stereotype. He's the kind of person that really has to have an answer to everything psychological. I mean, jesus, just shutup and live like the rest of us.

    He's succumbed to society. He rambles and rambles about issues that society seems to have, but that most people really don't care about. Maybe that's actually what journalism is. I don't find ANY of his writing even the slightest bit interesting or intelligent, for that matter.

    I find it really disturbing and annoying that people like Jon Katz have to label everything. Virtual community?!? Who cares what that means, it's a stupid term anyway. The Internet is simply a huge network of computers.

    Jon Katz has a terrible style of writing. He uses the thesaurus too much. He uses words like promulgating, myopic, and dichotomy. In context, they sound ridiculous. His sentence structure doesn't flow, which is probably why I don't find any of his writing the least bit interesting. I like reading material that keeps me reading. It's all about sentence structure, introducing new ideas into the fray. Katz just has one idea in mind and tries to bore the living shit out of you with it.

    Now, about the article...

    One of the ways in which younger Net users separate themselves from their elders is by seeing themselves as apolitical, cutting-edge technologists. Perhaps this is because so many of their elders talked incessantly about revolution, but didn't manage to make one. They, on the other hand, are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it.

    &ltvoice name="Dave Chappelle"&gtWhat the fuck are you talking about?&lt/voice&gt No, really, a revolution? Script kiddies??!? Patriots??!?! Your entire article led up to this stupid ass conclusion? What are you, retarded? I'm pretty young (can you tell by my language? i express myself with cuss words, so if you don't like it, shut the hell up), but I don't see myself as an "apolitical, cutting-edge technologist." There you go again, stereotyping EVERY single group of people you can possibly label as a group. Why the hell do you always do that? It's ANNOYING. I'm very political, hell, I talk openly to friends about physically harming certain politicians because of shit they've done. Oh, and I'm very technological too, I love science, I love technology, I love computers, I love car stereos, I love space stations, I love rockets, I love shit like that.

    Really, Jon, you stereotyping raving lunatic, you need to wake up and smell the coffee and drop your incessant mass-labeling of people. You'll find you make less enemies by NOT pissing off the general population.
  • Hmm this is interesting. Is Katz aware that Rheingold recently participated in an open interview on the WELL where many of these same issues were explored? Including redefining "virtual community"? See this WELL link [] to read all about it. It's open to the public.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Who let the Katz out? (Meow! Meow meow! Meow meow!)

    Who let the Katz out? (Meow! Meow meow! Meow meow!)

    Who let the Katz out? (Meow! Meow meow! Meow meow!)

    I really want to know-ho-ho
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Contrary to what Jon Katz says, virtual communities are not about data and ideas; they are about people.

    Take Slashdot for instance. Slashdot is about all of us hating all of him.

    If that's not people, I don't know what is.

  • look at me! i am jon katz! you might mistake me for the cartoon therapist to celebrities but he actually has something interesting to say.

    now i'm going to whine about how nobody likes me and how it is a global problem because i should not bear any responsibility for the fact that nobody online likes me.

    just the other day i was lurking in #!!!!!!!pissdads and when i asked azdadbear if he liked kissing boys he said that was gross because they're boys. i was so upset and i realized that online communities are a dying breed because of corporate spam.

    why can't the internet be the way it was all the way back when al gore first invented it in his garage on his atari 800? at least he was kind enough when creating html he dropped the usage of the GORE tag. but back then i was talking with matthew broderick on his speak and spell and he would tell me all about linux and how he modified his speak and spell to play dvds while playing thermonuclear war.

    boy, that was a close one.

    now look what you've all done! you've made me cry you teenaged flamers who have no sense of community and don't like a jon katz article! i hope the ghost of slashdot past, present and linux comes along to teach you the true meaning of christmas!

  • No more Katz stories. Damn you slashdot dot, damn you to hell!!!!
  • I think the reason people have such a hard time defining and re-defining, and then trying to assess the success or failure of, the "Virtual Community" is because "Virtual Community" is such a vague term. We've had virtual communities for almost two decades, in one form or another.

    I have been a BBS operator for nearly 13 years (click to log on []). In that time I've seen a small virtual community form, grow, and thrive. It's a wonderful thing that I wouldn't trade for anything.

    Slashdot itself is a virtual community, as well. Anywhere you put together a recurring group that interacts with one another, instead of just with the computer, you have a virtual community.

    There are so many of them that you can't apply any generalizations to the term and expect realistic assessment. Just like physical communities, some of them thrive, some of them coast, and some of them fall apart.
  • Amen. I've been involved with LambdaMOO for almost 10 years now. It's a community in every (good and bad) sense of the word. We have popular "celebrities," cliques, politics, elected positions, we vote on policy (MOO-wide petitions, ballots).

    You just can't /do/ that on the Web. The Web is stateless, and every hack used to give it state is still just a hack.

    That said, I consider Slashdot a community. We have our own lingo, mythos, and prominent figures. I'm not as involved here, but others certainly are, and know each other and their personalities.

  • For those of you who find Katz's "analysis" a bit thin and unsubstantiated, but are still interested in real questions about the sociology of the internet, I recommend two books: The Internet and Society by James Slevin, which is IMO the most sophisticated, well-researched, and well-thought-out work about the societies that "inhabit" the internet and the relationship that those net-based practices have on the societies in which they occur at large; and Communities in Cyberspace edited by Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock, an excellent collection of articles that includes some quantitative analysis of internet-based practices.

    While I understand that Katz's position here is a precarious one, it saddens me a bit that he is the local "house humanist." As someone who migrated from the liberal arts to technology and science in his studies and in his career, I want to emphasize that as much intelligence and creativity and rigour (albeit without the same straightforward falsifiability) is possible in the social studies and even the humanities as in other fields, and that judging it by its most popular and accessible works and writers is like evaluating the state of computer science by reading the Foo For Dummies series.

  • It seems that everything posted on /. is an over reaction to things these days, one way or another.

    As the number of Net users has multiplied and become much younger, online communities have become more entertainment-driven, bigger and more impersonal. Contemporary Net users have fewer illusions about the virtual community, a different understanding about what the Net is and isn't good for. They don't necessarily expect to make close friends and share their deepest feelings online.

    So be it...the net didn't come into existance last christmas as most people would like to believe (ok it was more like 2 xmases ago though we will have a whole new flood of young AOL'rs and Grandma's on their new iMacs and iNet Appliances this week). The net wasn't born overnight and we all had probably years to get acclimated to its existance. I've been around since the days of the C64. I ran a multiline BBS on my 128 (ok it was only 2 lines and one of those was run from my next door neighbors house in the winter while she was away in Florida as the old folks go...she'd complain about the gov't monitoring her for weeks after she got back from the dumbasses that didn't bother to read that it was back to a 1 line system...mmmm...the timbre of a 300 baud modem still sounds musical to me).

    Back to the point, the folks that are getting on line are slowly building their communities. AOL is ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY. We may not like it, but the site is all about people getting together to talk and not have to worry about computers and technology for the computer is only a tool and not the toy it is to us.

    My father never understood the ideas that I would be on the modem every night even after he let me get a dedicated line installed (ok, that was just so the rest of the family could get calls). He now spends hours and hours talking to folks around the country about DooWop and traveling around to different conventions set up by these folks. Its almost as bad as the folks I knew going to the damn GENCONS and stuff, but for old folks.

    I have a virtual community dedicated to music as well. We have a simple mailing list dedicated to music technology and we have a BBS (actually UBB) dedicated to the same thing, just broken down into many sections. Yes people come mainly because of the tech info we put up, but they stay for the community. I finally had to set up a general chat area where people could interact in any way they want because they couldn't seperate the tech talk from the other stuff. Look at /. How much of the OffTopic stuff is us simply wanting to break out of the restraint that /. has given us in that particular day.

    Why isn't there a general purpose /. room that the average person could find without putting in some cryptic SID. Most folks don't even know the other rooms even exist here and that is part of their desire for community even among the outcasts. Take a sTROLL over at SID=TROLLTALK or their supersecret SID that changes from day to day and see the same folks trying to fuck things up here acting in a pseudo-constructive manner and actually talking articulately. I think JK should do an article on the underside of /. because there is a lot of things going on here that you'd never know.

    No, the virtual community is not going anywhere. Is it evolving? Thats a fucking stoopid question...everything is evolving. As the saying goes, you can never step into the same river twice. As folks get on, they redefine what they are looking for and redefine what we've always looked for. I was apprehensive the first time I got onto a Web community as I didn't think it would work. I was use to text BBSs, MUDS, mailing lists and IRC. I'm convinced Web Communities offer even greater communication possibilities, but something else will take over that in the near future.

    Community exists. It may be based around tech natures or information or entertainment, but it exists. This will not change and every day the world seems smaller. This is cliche but true. How may of ya'll think of folks you've met on the net everytime you take a vacation? How many of these become as real of friends as your real life (ok, I should ask this on a non-geek board :) It exists and this is just another example of /. trying to make something outta nothing.


  • You're using the movie "WarGames" [] as an example of the computer culture of the early 1990's? That movie is from 1983.
  • Gee, not a single reference to "The Network Nation []", a 1974 book describing past and possible computer-mediated communications. It's old enough that in 1994 it was examined [] for its historical value. However, web-based interfaces are more recent than that. I think a better network communication summary is this paper [].
  • by goliard ( 46585 ) on Tuesday December 26, 2000 @08:42AM (#1423379)
    It's the dedication that usually isn't there - one person usually holds the bag for a while, then it collapses when he/she leaves. You need a large base of committed people to bring it together - the larger, the better. So that if one person cannot contribute, others can.

    True, but you're missing an important point. Most technologies on the Net are terrible at providing collaborative access, so even if there are individuals willing to contribute, the tech often foils them.

    Pertinent example: Say Jane Random wants to collaboratively run a 'blog, and has a couple of friends who are eager to help with content. Jane can't afford the connectivity cost of running her own server -- and besides, none of the cable modem cos in her area sell fixed IPs -- so she's looking for a service on-line which will sell her vhosting and which will allow more than one account to access her web directory.

    Sounds simple, doesn't it? But most ISPs make no provision for that, unless it's a "business account", which costs just as much as the cable access. For "home users" they sell one shell account, which alone can access the files to be served to the web. Now, provided Jane is savvy enough about such things to ask her ISP about setting up a permissions group, she now has the problem of getting her friend to pony up for accounts at the same ISP. The cost has just been shifted to her would-be collaborators.

    Now, let's say Jane has a friend, Hiro, with a T1 to his house, running his own web server, and he owes Jane a favor. Jane goes to Hiro and ask if he will serve her collaborative 'blog for her. Hiro says he would be happy to give Jane a shell account on his machine and vhost her page, but he doesn't really know Jane's friends and doesn't want to give them shell access. He tells Jane that he's looking into Zope, and if all goes well, as soon as he gets around to it, he'll set something up. Someday.

    All for a simple collaboratively maintained webpage. Not even a chat system like /, just a single stupid page.

    So much of the net works that way though. I belong to a club that has constant problems with this. We have plenty of high-tech volunteers willing to help, but, dammit, if a web page needs to be updated while its owner is at Comdex, there's really not a thing the rest of us can do. (And our servers seem to have a preternatural ability to detect when their admins are out of town.)

    This goes for listservs, too. Dunno about Mu*s.

    If there were more and better ways for people to collaborate (especially in groups) on-line, community would be much easier.

    It's not community if you only communicate with one another. You have to be able to work together, too.

  • Yes, many web sites are big and impersonal. But there is a large community of people that do not use the web to interact.... And those people have always been there. I'm refering to those who use talkers, MUSHes, MUDs, MOOs, and all the various other MU* to interact. There are a great number of games that aren't based on questing or killing, but on working interactively to create different stories.

    On these games, people do connect. Friendships, relationships do happen. And it /is/ a community in the most basic sense of the word. People take care of each other. People care about each other. Yes, there are annoying people who flame, but they tend to get policed out by those who care about the place.

    As one brief example, a friend of mine is about to undergo a kidney transplant, and is offline for the time being. When this was announced to the game that we both play on, four different people stepped up to offer to be donors. How is that not a community?
  • by doonesbury ( 69634 ) on Tuesday December 26, 2000 @07:59AM (#1423381) Homepage
    Uno: When you say "building online communities is expensive", that's not exactly true. Building online communities *can* be expensive, and many, many companies have spent billions, possibly trillions altogether, to create communities. The problem is, a community really is a set of people with common interests, the dedication to commit to working together to share, enhance, and grow through those interests, and a "space", some common resource, that they can call their own.

    All three of these are necessary: obviously, no people, no community. No dedication, no one will work on stuff, and it falls apart. No space, nothing people can identify with that community.

    The first one's easy; people love comminities, always want to join them. The last is just a space. Contribituing code, money, time, energy is something people want to do, if it gives them a chance to belong, grow, etc. It's the dedication that usually isn't there - one person usually holds the bag for a while, then it collapses when he/she leaves. You need a large base of committed people to bring it together - the larger, the better. So that if one person cannot contribute, others can.

    Money isn't necessary; look at where slashdot *started*. Not where it is now. Look at ain't-it-cool-news. Look at Yahoo. All started through dedication of a few individuals, common interest from lots of people who were willing to add/grow/develop, and then it started to grow.

    Second, on your final point: "They, on the other hand, are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it." That implies one thing: that we care about making a revolution. Hardly; I think most geeks care more about the standard things, being accepted, belonging to something bigger than themselves, enjoying themselves. These web pages, these online communities, dang near all of it - was created for our own interests, our own pleasure, because we wanted something and didn't see it existing.

    We aren't creating a revolution, we're just tired of the old rules and have decided to make up new ones.
  • I have the suspicion that you didn't. Perhaps you read the title.

  • I'm not sure where I'd fit in Mr Katz's definition of "first generation" and "second generation" internet users. I started using the 'net back in 1997 (yup, after the "Great September"). But I don't spend my entire time on the web, looking at the pretty pictures and animated .gifs. Instead, I tend to spend most of my time online involved with a couple of Usenet newsgroups - which I've been involved with (as a reader at least) since I first stepped onto the 'net back in '97.

    In both of these newsgroups, there is a strong sense of community (admittedly, in these days of the brave new Usenet, with trolls, flamers, and Usenet Performance Artists, this is a rarity). In both of these communities, I felt welcomed and valued as a community member. In at least one of these communities, I've been doing my level best to put something back in (always the mark of a successful community - if you've got people wanting to put things back, you must be doing something right), to add to the community.

    In both cases, the community which started as a single newsgroup has spread to two or more. In at least one case, there's a small IRC network (two or three channels on two servers) which serves as an adjunct to the newsgroup. Rather than the IRC setup or the multiple groups dividing the community, it instead serves to gather it closer together. In both of these communities, it's worth noting that members of the community try to get together in "Real Life' (TM) as often as possible. In each case, the initial newsgroup is the core component, but there are lots of other ways of getting to know the people involved. While there is a strong component of online socialisation, there is just as strong a component of "offline" socialisation to complement this.

    One of these two communities celebrates its tenth anniversary in about a year or so - and we're trying to organise a worldwide series of meetings for members of the community. Possibly they'll be linked by phone, or IRC. Possibly not - we've got a year to plan this, so we're going to do our best.

    The days of the online community are not gone. There is still the possibility for communities to be forged, out of shared interest and shared friendship.

    Meg Thornton.
  • "[snip]...undermining authority to promulgating porn and depravity"

    And this changed when, Jon?

  • You know, the internet, the 'virtual' communities -- they're not so very different from (dum-da-dum) The Real World.

    The Big Blue Room, as my boyfriend calls it.

    Everyone has a different opinion about it, there's always a bunch of pepople saying its 'in decline' or 'not like it was before' or 'I miss the good, old days".

    And, probably, 20 years from now, we'll be doing the same thing. "This 3-d headset stuff is lame, I miss the good old days when you didn't have to SEE these people and noone could see you."

    There are close knit, large scale (150-200 people) communities in existance on the internet. (Specifically in the case I'll be referencing, IRC, and webpages/messageboards) (Unless, of course, I'm in the only one that exists, in which case -- nyah, nyah, nyah. MINE! MINE! MINE!)

    I'm in a comic fanfic community -- it started off rather small about 4 or 5 years ago (I got in 3 years ago, but I know my history), maybe.. 10 or 15 people who communicated regularly, and probably 10 to 15 more who lurked.

    Now, 5 years later -- after 2 major webpages switches, the death of the mailing list, and birth or a new one, the death of the newsgroup, the death and rebirth of the IRC chatroom, countless feuds, break-ups, fiascos, arguements and whatnot -- we're pushing 200 active 'members' (There's no offical 'membership list') -- and probably at least twice that in lurkers. (By 'active' I mean writing, emailing, chatting, posting to messageboards, and generally making a nusicince of yourself)

    We cover damn near the entire globe. All but one of the continents (But, DAMN, we're trying to find that Batman fan in Antarctica!), every state in the US, most of Canada, Australia, Japan, Finland, Isreal.

    We've managed to produce two recurring major (Major for us being 40-50 people) conventions -- one in Toronto, one in California -- and COUNTLESS minor ones (10-15 people).

    We're tight-knit -- as tight-knit as a high school class, which is about as tight-knit as 200 people can BE -- we've got cliques, we've got people who don't get along, we've had fights, fueds, relationships, breakups -- the whole she-bang. 95% of this entire mess is done online.

    I don't think Katz, or the books he's referencing are looking hard enough -- or spending the time that it takes to get involved in a community.

    Just like the real world, you can't just log onto a page, or pop into a chatroom and expect to be welcomed. It takes getting to know people, it takes social skills, it takes repeat visits. It doesn't happen in a day, or even a week -- and sometimes, it doesn't even happen in a MONTH.

    Its just like, in many ways, the real world. -- You get out what you put in. -- You can't expect your co-workers to love and adore you if you never talk to them, or if you work at home and never show your face in the office. You can't expect people at a bar to know you if you only go in twice, or only go in once every 2-3 weeks. You often can't SEE a community unless you are already part of it.

    And, its fairly obvious that Jon Katz isn't part of any community except this one -- and here, he's much like the weird theatre kid in high school -- sometimes brillant, sometimes talking out his ass - and ALWAYS not exactly on the same 'track' as everyone else.

    The internet isn't any different from the real world, its just another OPTION.

    Poor little no puppy toe!

  • We aren't creating a revolution, we're just tired of the old rules and have decided to make up new ones.

    THAT, my friend, is a revolution in EVERY sense of the word. Remember; behind every set of outdated rules/laws is an ancient, entrenched, and powerful establishment(s) with a vested interest in seeing that those rules/laws do not change!

  • wow you're an idiot. This guy wrote all of this [] and still beat you by 5 posts. What kind of lamer are you?
  • I operate a very successful online community, The site is an interactive account-oriented online BBS that "borrows" more than a few ideas from the old dial-in BBSes. The difference is that it doesn't try to be another "everyone and their uncle come here and chat -- we have 5 million users!". It focuses on a very specific set of people (fans of the band Moxy Fruvous). The effect is that it retains the community closeness and size of the old local BBSes, but it does it by focusing on an interest instead of a location. IMHO, this is the way online communities will need to adapt to avoid the trolls and the lack of "closeness" that is often associated with the new communities.
    Josh Woodward
  • Is there still life out there? I havent left my terminal in weeks...
  • Another result of the increase of size,scale, and popularity of some community websites is the amount of problem causers that take interest. In a community of fifty to one hundred people, one or two morons trolling is easy enough to ignore. Hundreds or even thousands of people with nothing better to do than make things difficult for the community are much harder to ignore, even if the community grows to over one hundred thousand. Smaller groups/boards/channels/whatever really have an advantage in this sense, they're easier to administer, have fewer problems, etc...
  • maybe this is a bit off topic (moderators, do your thing), but I in my vast 26 years of life have noticed that every time some new tech comes along, or an existing one is re-tooled, there is a large group of advocates for it whose sole reason (at least the one they hand to the public) for supporting it comes down to one thing. It will bring us all together ending war, hunger and disease. Now, don't get me wrong, the exchange of info is a plus in R&D efforts, not to mention the ability to create a world-wide "threat board" for everyone to find out about little Johnny Snotnose in Armpit, AR who [was oppressed | won an award | invented 'X' | fell down a well] (OK, so maybe only the first well victim gained planetary fame... I actually lived there, and came to know some of the rescuers later, but thats not exactly gonna get me an oscar)

    Anyway, I expect the marketroids to push things on the note that it cures disease and 'brings us all together', but a LARGE segment of the general population (and the Media mainly) continue to evangelize the 'planet saving' idea of the product/tech.

    Now, thermodynamics might suggest that there is always a Naysayers club (Patent Pending) that will go against said 'new thing' simply on the merit that it is new and they don't understand it. Most technology is useless to the general public by itself... offhand I can't think of anything in the past 30 years that actually CREATED something new. It simply made it easier/faster/cheaper to perform an existing task, or expanded an existing idea/task. Yet, many will scratch their heads (or bang them against a brick wall) in an attempt to 'solve' the 'problems' that this technology creates.

    So, I guess my confusion lies with the naivety of people in general. I even had a bit of a problem with the Star Trek theme of how Warp Drive seemed to solve all of mankinds problems, how people banded together, etc, etc, etc... First Contact really played on this, IMHO, but an earlier book I read about how Zephram Cochran (sp? huh, like it matters at this point :) came about inventing the FTL drive. It was more realistic about peoples greed, hatred, and bigotry. It even had one of the characters mention how silly it is that every new thing is touted as the "THING" to save us all from ourselves.

    Well, end of that mess for now... I just wonder, about FTL and all, if that will solve all our problems, and especially if establishing ties with non-Human civilizations is possible. If so, shouldn't the 'Galactic Expansion Beta' have proved that you can take the Human out of (off) the Earth, but not the Earth out of the Human? (i.e. Expansion into the Western Hemisphere)

  • Nobody in the real world knew what the net was back in the early nineties. Usenet freaked out everytime an even slightly critical article came out about the net in the print media.
  • But health problems bind people together in a particular way, and people who are dealing with them form some of the most powerful virtual communities. For others, it's more problematic.

    Perhaps a necessary (if not sufficient) condition to creating a virtual community is a group of people who feel ostracized, or at least "different" from the majority. Severe health problems can certainly make you feel that way, as much as being a computer geek does. Everybody on /. is familiar with being regarded as strange because of your computer interests. People who keep and breed snakes get the same kind of treatment from most people. The small subset of snake keepers who keep giant snakes (Burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, anacondas, amethystine pythons) are considered weird even by many people who keep smaller snakes.

    I'm on 4 snake-related mailing lists. They all have something of a community feel, and one in particular was set up to be a small community of friends who have or want giant snakes. We have about 30 members, and people who join (invitation only) and then just lurk are removed. We discuss many part of our lives other than snakes - family problems, health concerns, movies, books, jokes, a lot of flirting, and all the kind of talk you get when intelligent and open-minded people get together. I care more about most of those people than I do my co-workers and neighbors.

    None of the other mailing lists I'm on that deal with other interests have anything like the sense of community I get from my snake lists. What are the experiences of other people who have "strange" hobbies, or those with more common hobbies? Is there a difference in the sense of community based on how socially acceptable the hobby is?

  • by jeroenb ( 125404 ) on Tuesday December 26, 2000 @07:32AM (#1423394) Homepage
    One of the reasons most virtual communities, especially websites, seem or are unpersonal is because of their (unexpected) immense size. I don't think CmdrTaco expected Slashdot to be as big as it is today, although its current size definately makes it a lot less personal - lots of newsposters, more regular commentposters to really define a "regular crowd" and the amount of news has reached the point were I sometimes only skim through the headlines.

    I think this is partially caused by a huge demand for these virtual communities. Again, Slashdot-visitors might be easily divided up among 10-20 websites that all have a different approach to the geek/free software/linux theme, but most of these alternatives simply don't exist yet, so everybody ends up hanging around here and the few other good sites on this topic (such as kuro5hin.)

    This could very well change in the future, as more and more people kick up their own virtual community and people move to ones that are more fitting to their personal tastes and opinions.

  • I agree with most of this article except for the statement that online communities are expensive to implement and maintain. In fact, they are simple. Especially now with the many community sites such as egroups, yahoo, etc that let you manage your own community free of charge. This is why the internet is helping communities that may otherwise never had formed. And in fact these communities exist and are thriving.
  • When I hear the term virtual community, I take for granted that it means a group of people who discuss topic that interest them. THere may be a forum or a site for each, or one that offers them to choose where they want to go.

    I'm the type of person that absorbs people opinions to learn about what other people think about something as well as rigorously evaluate my own feelings. I do agree that the break down not only occurs in the defining of the v-comm but in the fact that the business world, realizing that services bring in the money have better PR. The PR that pretty much shape most people's opinions about what to find on the Net. You don't see a tried and true v-comm of people wanting to just talk and share ideas advertised, you have to find it for yourself (accidentally, through google? :-) or one of your friends tell you about it (and if you are lucky at that point it won't be crowded with trollers and spammers, etc.)

    Even disscussions lists are plagued with the same problem. The solution? Not sure of that yet, but I'm quite curious about what Jon Katz and other slashdotters have to say about it.

  • Please learn to read and comprehend what you read before criticizing others.
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Tuesday December 26, 2000 @07:35AM (#1423398) Journal
    In the aftermath of the american revolution, the founders of the american republic argued long and hard on how it was to be set up, and how to get it right. It was a vital national debate on how to do it right. Political ideology aside, it can be that the result was "designed by geniuses to be run by idiots".

    I can agree with this. Despite the quality of the politicians we do have, it has done fairly well, more or less

    The Internet has not had any such saving grace. While the underpinings have been designed by geniuses, it has all to often presumed a certain amount of maturity and education and responsibility.

    This has not worked well. There has not been the same level of responsibility in the broad population of the net, in the social engineering of the net, and now we have what we have. It has not been designed to be "run by idiots". And it winds up with all kinds of idiocies.

    As a famous sig line has said, "Oh my God! It's Full of Spam!"

    The Internet Community did alright up until the infamous "September that never ended" - then it was overwhelmed.

    I have heard of several options, but I am not sure of any of them. The struggle toward a virtual community survives in well enough small town sized populations, where it is possible for poeple to get to know each other after a while, and where there are common concerns or values that folks can relate to.

    But when you get larger, it turns to chaos. Between the people with their own political agendas to those who treat the whole thing as their personal playground (and how dare you try to steal their toy), it is chaos.

    A pleasant chaos perhaps, but chaos none the less.

    I guess the best you can say is: "Welcome to life on Planet Earth!"

  • I guess I'm a very lucky person to be a part of the generation that this article is talking about. My first experiences with computers at age 5 was with a Commodore 64, playing games like Zork, and fooling around with C-Basic with my brother for hours, days on end. When I was 13 I got a 286 with nothing but DOS on it. I called my first BBS at this age with an old friend at 2am. When it prompted me "What is your name:" we got totally freaked out - yet mystified that we had made a connection with a remote computer system somewhere in the world. We turned the computer off, unplugged everything from the wall (including the phone line), and went to sleep, shivering (not so much in fright but in excitement). This was the basis of my online experience. The next day came around and I called again, and chatted with the SysOp of the board, completely mesmorized that you could chat in real-time with another person over a computer. BBSes became my hang-out after (and before) school, playing online games like LORD and chatting in Message bases. When the internet came around, I was skeptical... And now that I've gotten used to it,... I'm *still* skeptical. User-friendliness has corroded the internet with flashy graphics and point-click garbage. That's why I'm sitting here on my Pent. 100 laptop with Linux, using Lynx to write this reply. =) I feel more at home here.
  • A community is about people and their differences.
    Differences provokes people to engage.

    Right now you probably don't know what I am talking about.

    By weighing Katz over the hordes of indifferents stepping all over him, Katz sounds like the lesser of two evils. Katz for president! :)

    As for the virtual community topic.. I have a dream too. One day when technology is ripe for a brainscan to cout my dream to reality it is no longer a dream, but life as we know it. Until then, I'm merely a simple engineer.

  • The author referenced WarGames in the paragraph describing the atmosphere of the 1980's regading media portrayal of 'online communications', not the 1990's.

  • why o why did I waste my moderation points on the robot thread?

    because this one only appeared after I was finished *sigh*

  • nuff said
  • but I'd changed my filter for moderation...

    no goals except ping times, fps and napster downloads.
    no goals? since you mentioned Napster... breaking the music industry oligopoly is not a goal? trying to get better deals for the artists is not a goal?

    There was true revolution of thought in the 60's
    Your generation right? *grin*

    now we are just a bunch of whiners who have everything handed to us
    speak for yourself...

    These kids don't give a damn about civil rights, starvation, or murder, but have some oil spill on a pengiun and they are up in arms.
    civil rights depend on your country... starvation and murder have been going on for a long time, there's only so much you can do about them... those oil spills take a long time to clean up, they ruin the ecosystems, and unbalance the food chain... causing long term damage, some of it may be permanent... but I guess you're old, and you'll be dead when it's a problem.

    Courteny Love didn't make 45 million on her last album? Burn RIAA Burn!!!
    The RIAA deserves so much pity after all... with the way they treat their artists, the artists they claim to defend.

    few kids have nine computers... few adults either... if you're talking about DVD zoning, we have a right to complain. Zoning doesn't stop piracy, any idiot can see that, it's to stop pricing wars, because they're no good to the manufacturer...

    Cause we don't, don't give a f***, and we won't ever give a f***, until you, you give a f*** about me, and my generation - Limp Bizkit

  • a generation spans 20 years

    he's 35? well I'm 23... that's my generation.

  • In the early 90's, the Net was relentlessly criticized for everything from undermining authority to promulgating porn and depravity, even aiding and abetting nuclear terrorism
    You never see the telephone under this sort of attack do you? techno-phobe silliness. A tool is a tool is a tool, if it's in the hands of a killer it will kill, if it's in the hands of a healer it will heal. Stop blaming the instrument for the actions of it's users.

    only socially crippled adolescents would use the Internet to communicate with other people
    I guess geographical isolation doesn't exist where he lives, or disabilities, or terminally ill patients in hospital, or those on nightshift and insomniacs, or people who are so busy working they never get time to go out and socialise. Those with special interests and families that live miles apart obviously just never entered his head.

    technology itself became the point, rather than a byproduct or tool
    Technology is nothing but a tool, that is it's purpose.

    Enormous new v-communities did emerge, but for profit: sex and auction sites, financial services and retailing,, Yahoo and AOL.
    Let me tell you something about, they did not build their chat "community", they purchased it. They bought WBS, the Webchat Broadcasting System, one of the longest running Webchats in the world. And what did they do with it? without discussing it with the WBS members, they changed a thriving Webchat into a run-of-the-mill IRC style chat, and not surprisingly, most of the members left. Buying a subscription base is no good if they don't stay. And the Go network managed to alienate a large bunch of active internet users (not such a great PR move). But anyway, these commercial places tend not to have very close-knit social groups, because of the way the corporations run them. I don't know if that's their intention or not.

    Information -- more of it, and ever-cheaper -- became the point of most communities
    Isn't any hobby or special interest group based on the concept of shared knowledge? online or offline, that's the point.

    "Is the use of the phrase 'virtual community' a perversion of the notion of community? What do we mean by community, anyway? ... Is the virtualization of human relationships unhealthy?
    Well I hope you know what community means... virtual means "in essence"... in essence it's the same as a regular community, there's just no physical, it's pretty simple. A virtualised relationship? if you're using the meaning of virtual "not real", then yes, that could be a problem, but anyone who has problems with reality has problems, full stop (period for you Americans).

    Will Internet-based publishing and communicating decentralize the distribution of political power and influence, or will many-to-many-media be dominated by a few?"
    Will Americans ever figure out they're not the only ones on the internet?

    Rheingold and his generation were deeply influenced by the 60s, whose sweeping and sometimes profound social evolutions are taken for granted by younger Net users.
    Every generation likes to think the latest generation doesn't appreciate their efforts... but in turn, they don't appreciate the efforts and different goals of the new generation...

    it's not long ago that many computer users were drawn to the idea of using the online tools to strengthen their personal lives and relationships.
    it's not long ago because it's right now... maybe some of the irc lines skew the figures, but there's a large number of net communities which meet a lot in person. Some of them don't live all in the same city, so it might not be every weekend that they meet, it might be once a month, every couple of months, but they do meet, it's not too "squishy". And then there are the families that use the internet to strengthen their relationships, emailing new photos of the grandkiddies, along with wav files of them singing happy birthday to Aunty Bev...

    They don't necessarily expect to make close friends and share their deepest feelings online. They are skeptical, cynical perhaps, about humanist ideals for cyberspace.
    Most people do not expect to make close friends online, but it doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Most of Generation X is skeptical and cynical, not just of cyber space but of anything that can be tainted by commercialism, we've had it crammed down our throats all our lives.

    And the virtual community faces a daunting list of ethical problems...[snip] there is nothing like consensus on how to deal with any of these issues.
    Are there any communities which do NOT face lists of ethical problems? and when it comes to ethics, consensus is always difficult, because people want and believe in different things.

    I really don't understand why journalists do NOT try and see whether a problem exists offline as well as online before they write such rubbish... because it's a waste of everyone's bloody time.

    Communities on the Net aren't like hippie communes: they are expensive to design, operate and access.
    Okay... you do NOT design communities unless you're an idiot (see above - Go Network). Real communities build themselves... all they need is a seed to build on.

    One of the ways in which younger Net users separate themselves from their elders is by seeing themselves as apolitical, cutting-edge technologists. Perhaps this is because so many of their elders talked incessantly about revolution, but didn't manage to make one. They, on the other hand, are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it.
    Very few people are apolitical, even those who say they are. People may dislike the politicians on offer where they are. But being apolitical means you have no opinions on politics, the government and just about any issue, since almost all issues end up politics in one way or another.

    Don't seem to know it? in what way? because they don't talk about it constantly? you only have to look at S11 and the Coke backflip achieved by the Climate Change group to see that they are well aware that they can cause change.

    The internet makes social rebellion a lot easier, it's cheaper, it's faster and it's global. I don't think Climate Change would have found the same success if they'd had to print a newsletter and post it to every University on earth.

    And finally...

    When I first started reading Slashdot, I thought a lot of the "Katz bashing" was rather harsh and uncalled for, after all, he wasn't THAT bad... but after post after post of the same stuff every time, I am actually really sick of the Katz view of Generation X.

    If you don't understand my generation, stop writing about it and find something else to mangle or try and figure it out and then write something worth reading.

    Even when all Katz does is quote another person, it's still a totally biased article, which (by the way) is the very worst sort of journalism.

    I will from now on, not be reading any more of his articles on Generation X (which is all I've noticed him write about)

    Ever heard of two sides to every coin?

  • ... a 'virtual community' is possible. There's one here in the Phoenix area, and it has many unique characters. There are people in the circles of the Phoenix Linux Users Group [], the Arizona chapter of SAGE, the the ASU Linux Users Group [], the various BBSes (yes, there are some BBSes with even Fidonet nodes and Tradewars 2002, Legend of the Red Dragon, BarneySplat!, etc still running), and freenets that do have 'community' feel, where many of the technically minded people know each other. These spill over into the Sci-Fi realm with The United Federation of Phoenix [], Tardis [], and the Central Arizona Speculative Fiction Society []. All of these groups contribute.

    also, when one uses protocols like SSH and FTP and older text-mode IRC clients and such, the "dotcom" world doesn't really invade. As far as I am concerned, because of how it's implemented the web just sucks.

    "Titanic was 3hr and 17min long. They could have lost 3hr and 17min from that."
  • The hand wringing over a failure of community-building seems a bit premature.

    Take a moment to think about the numbers: The public-access version of the Internet has been in existence for approximately fifteen years. The bulk of the users online came onboard approximately five years ago. At present, a little over 40% of the US has gone online, with a worldwide average of 10-15%.

    Even with that rather small sample of humans on the globe interacting daily online, an amazing variety of groups and networks has already sprung up, enhancing relationships offline as well. The true potential lies in getting the remaining folk online to try it out, explore and really show us what can be done!

    Sincerely, Kathryn Aegis
  • New logo for the t-shirt crowd.
  • Forget about Katz and his uninformed speculation about nothing. People like him and Rheingold have been sitting on the sidlines rehashing the exact same questions for a good ten years now. If they were going to get anywhere that way they would have done so long ago.

    You raise a much more interesting question: What exactly makes an email address sound professional? I don't use on my resume, and probably my address sounds impressive to a few people, especially if you are only trying to impress an HR gargoyle. What about or Too common? Since is the one I actually use, even though no one is given the address directly, wouldn't using it make me look, I don't know, practical and down-to-earth? What about Too artsy fartsy? Does it make a difference to anyone if your email address is on your own machine, or on a machine that you pay to use, rather than a free email service? And finally there is your university's email. Will impress anyone? Or does it have to me a Stanford machine before it starts to give you any points?

    Just wondering.

  • The reason people like Katz need to believe that "They... are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it" is that it justifies his existence. Katz needs to think that without him none of us would be able to look around and notice whether or not the world now is the same or different than it used to be. It's bad enough that he is clueless. What is offensive is that he thinks we are even more clueless than him.

  • Dunno... but after reading this I have the distinct impression I didn't read anything. It seemed to be a loosely connected grouping of comments and factoids... it really conveyed nothing.

    Instead of breaking these things up, why not just put it online when your done. Disjointed as these parts are it just makes it confusing..

    So please, get to the point, and quit wasting our time in the mean time.
  • I think everything about virtual communities can be summed up as this:

    Humans are social creatures. They enjoy interacting. It's instinctive.

    The online world isn't like the real world where people can just meet. It requires tools to be made. Ever since messaging on systems was invented, people have used the online world for communication.

    Most community sites on the internet are commercial driven. There are mass-market sites like egroups and what not that offer cookie-cutter communities. These are terrible.

    Tools such as COG (demo website linked to) [] may change all that in a few months. I sure hope it does.

  • I guess we should be grateful that people as sensationalist and misinformed as Katz exist - otherwise we might unleash attacks on normal folk.
  • Technodummy: Did you actually just read and understand a word of everything you just replied to, or did you just start blowing shit from your fingers?
  • Katz was referring to the semi-hysteria that surrounded WarGames. He wasn't necessarily saying that WarGames could have been a real thing. Ya know?
  • Have you also ever noticed that JonKatz's articles tend to create the most discussion, intelligent -and- flamebait such as yours, because of the way he writes? The man is -not- feeding bullshit, you just have a problem comprehending simple english words.
  • Remember when John moved his basement to the farm and told us all he "went to the mountain?"

    Remember when John got fired from Wired, and was announced a visionary hero here on /.?

    If you finaly get the can here (and we can hope, can't we,) will you become a new visionary for say, Salon, or mabey even Suck?

    Yer a whiner, Katz. You aught to be writing theater reviews or some other thing where dramatics is important.


  • I'm a console fanatic myself. I still use the Dos dos comamnd line, for most of my computing tasks, and still telnet into a t ext only BBS :). I miss my old Unix shell account.
  • One of the ways in which younger Net users separate themselves from their elders is by seeing themselves as apolitical, cutting-edge technologists. Perhaps this is because so many of their elders talked incessantly about revolution, but didn't manage to make one. They, on the other hand, are creating a revolution and don't seem to know it.

    Or they're using the Net the way it is right now, a virtual necessity. You apply for a job? Better make sure you have a professionally sounding e-mail adress. Bought a new video-card? Better get the latest drivers. Need to take a train tomorrow? Check the schedules on the web. There's nothing illusive about the Net for young people, it's already an integral part of their lives, much like television was for the generation before. The web is a tool, it's just that it's useful in more ways than a screwdriver.
  • by Bill Fuckin' Gates ( 262364 ) on Tuesday December 26, 2000 @07:45AM (#1423421) Homepage
    I too, am "dreaming of cyberville", a Virtual Community. My Virtual Community would be exactly like the current, real community, but with one important difference: JonKatz would not be allowed in. My Virtual Community would be surrounded with an indestructable sound-proof fence which would save our tender ears the horror of listening to yet another poorly-written, overdramatic rant by a wannabe geek with a trenchcoat fetish. My Virtual Community would have a team of elite ninja which would patrol the grounds on the lookout for Katz, and kick him in the balls if found. Squarely in the balls. My Virtual Community would be free of the pain and destruction which tempt Katz's mind, and the tender yound boys which tempt Katz's body. The residents of my community would discriminate against no man for his race, color, or creed. These residents would only shun a man if he could be conclusively proven to be none other than JonKatz, the harbinger of doom and Satan's own personal mascot.

    There would also be free donuts.

    See you in hell,
    Bill Fuckin' Gates®.

  • I have to disagree that designing virtual communities is expensive. I think we've been convinced it's expensive, because as the internet has gone mainstream, it's gotten big and expensive. Just because you CAN get big and cater to a large audience doesn't mean you HAVE to. Or should. I wrote my first virtual community systems in the late 70's, long before pretty much anyone had heard of the Arpanet (and long, long before the internet existed); I've been dealing with virtual communities of one form or another ever since, even though they weren't actually called that until reasonably recently. Back in the early 90's, before, we were doing community stuff that tried to handle the net-at-large, because there weren't really any options. now -- there's many options, including the big mothers like Yahoo clubs or team sponsored forums, and the small/individual site really can't compete with that. It shouldn't try. But just because you CAN get big doesn't mean you have to, and the costs to an individual trying to do this stuff have plummetted. Today, you can buy a box, stuff Linux on it, grab some open source systems and tie it together into a system, attach it to a DSL line and do it all for a cost that's affordable to many of us -- back when we FIRST did that (1993-94 was when we installed a leased line into the house and stopped hiding on our employer's hardware), it was a lot slower, a lot more expensive, and a lot harder to find stuff ready to use. I figured that out about two years ago, and started completely rethinking what I was doing, and starting over building what I'll call the boutique community. In 1994-95, I was trying to build systems for everyone. Now, I'm building systems for people I want to be around. If others do the same, and we build referrals so that the right people find the right boutique communities, good things happen. Just because the music scene is now dominated by House of Blues and Bill Graham doesn't mean that this nis all the music out there -- the small club and counterculture scenes are alive and well. Those of us online ought to take a look at that and learn from it. Just because ESPN, Yahoo, etc have wandered in and decided to dominate their parts of the net doesn't mean there isn't room for the rest of us --and on the net, it's even easier -- virtual space is a lot cheaper than real space. Has the disaster that is the dead-dinosaur of USENET taught us nothing? Getting big or being big are not signs of success, and we shouldn't think of "big" as a necessary goal. For some -- sure. But there's MORE need now than ever for people to think small -- to wander into niches and fill them, to encourage and revel in being not-big and not-commercial. And it's more possible than ever before. who cares if you only have 2,000 users instead of 20,000 or 200,000? It's a LOT easier to build things that make those 2,000 users really happy, than building in the tradeoffs 200,000 users require to keep from being pissed off at you. What's missing in most community builders that I've researched is that they haven't yet figured out that a bunch of small, independent communities that cooperate is better than one large one that attempts to be too manythings to too many people. So they think in terms of monopolizing an audience instead of sharing an audience, or cooperate with others just enough to try to steal someone else's audience. There's a great opportunity here to build a real "club scene", or a cooperative. You can be small, be focussed, and be very successful -- and get together with other, similar sites and cooperatively work to build your audience. It's hard to have a successful club scene if every music club is three blocks frmo the other because they're afraid someone might go in another club as they walk to yours. But if you're that isolated, you don't get people walking by and curious very often, and you can't leverage common marketing. The individual person CAN still make a difference on the net. Jus because the big boys have arrived doesn't change that -- but it makes the need for it all the more important, to avoid the genericization of the net. chuq (an overtly non-commercial place, written and managed by two people in their spare time)
  • Unless you simply don't understand the rules, and are instead re-inventing what already exists because you didn't look around and do your research ahead of time.

    There's no revolution in virtual communities. There are just people reinventing wheels and calling them fondue pots.

  • I'd love to read a fantasy novel by George Will. have you read his writings on Basball? Using Will as a person of narrow focus is very wrong here -- it's more an indication you need to read more widely, since he writes rather widely and quite well.

    (of course, I can't read his political writing without wanting to throw it against a wall, but his basball stuff is wonderful...)

Feel disillusioned? I've got some great new illusions, right here!