While not wishing to make any comment on the value or lack thereof of 4Chan (the heated comments in youtube were enough for me), I felt Chris Poole (and audience) raised some interesting ideas about community formation online, and potential differences between that formation now (or rather, back in 2012) as compared to ‘the good ol’ days’ of the Interwebs.
In this first segment, Poole suggests that the interest-based web has given way to the friendship-based web, with social networking identity-based communities leading to the demise of ‘old’ communities. Rather than just nostalgia, Poole’s claim seems to be based on the investment that people had in ‘old’ communities, because it took them so long (‘weeks, months’ [7:40]) to find it. Poole raises this point again in the second segment [10:00], when he notes (not verbatim),
in order to become a member of a real community, you accumulate social capital just by being there. It’s a long process of you lurking, seeing how things work, dipping your toes in the water, making a post.. people yelling at you and you thinking, oh shit, I’ve got to lurk more. Finally you post a thread, and you get replies, and you think, I’ve won.. Can I do it again? Then you try again, and no, it’s going to take another year…
He uses the metaphor of pitching one’s tent: one used to have to look for the right village to pitch it in, but nowadays people can pitch their tent in the desert and then import their contacts. By morning, their tent is surrounded, the village has come to them – but it lacks the qualities of being a ‘particular’ village; it is ‘the’ village, the one that follows them through their contact list.
I wasn’t about on the Internet during the 90s, or even much in the 2000s, so I don’t have any direct experience of the earlier communities to which Poole refers, but it makes sense to me that the level of investment has a significant impact on sense of community, and committment to it. It is, I feel, related to Walther’s 1997 assertion about the significance of ‘anticipated future interaction’, which Kozinets (2010) refers to:
If participants believe that their intraction is going to be limited and will not result in future interactions, then their relations tend to be more task-oriented. If, however, a future interaction is anticipated, participants will act in a friendlier way, be more cooperative, self-disclose, and generally engage in socially positive communications.
What I think Poole’s comment adds, however, is the importance of ‘reading’ the community, and coming to understand its norms, and how if you are invested/anticipate future interaction, this is part of the process. While Kozinets does write of this pathway to group membership (pp. 27-28), the richness of the communities Poole talks about is also found in these communities being makers or producers of cultural artefacts, rather than just social networks.
Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: Chris Poole part 2/3- ROFLCON 2012 – Solo Panel
In this segment, Poole suggests that ‘net culture doesn’t exist anymore’, and that while we speak of ‘mainstreaming Internet culture’ what is really happening is ‘internetting of mainstream culture’. As a result, Poole suggests it has (or, its communities have) lost some of its (their) ‘richness’.
A member of the audience disputes this, because
- some young people will always find sub-culture
- the evolution/location of culture is cyclical:
A second audience member comments that while the Internet has more users, it seems to be shrinking because people visit fewer sites regularly. As such, she continues, it has become rewarding to find your place away from the mainstream. For me, this is probably connected to having a voice, and the impact of scale on community. What is the maximum scale in a community, for participant to still feel they have a voice?
I’m drawn back to a Dave Cormier’s video on success in MOOC, and the need to ‘cluster’ with people with similar interests / who are focused on what you are interested in. Managing community participation seems to be about connections, but also about filtering so as to manage scale and maintain a voice.
Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: Chris Poole part 3/3- ROFLCON 2012 – Solo Panel
In this final segment, Poole suggests an ecosystem for content:
Poole suggests that, with increased use of the Internet, most ‘people joining the web fall into the bucket of consuming’.
It occurs to me that what Poole counts as ‘real’ community is that of the ‘creators’. When I look at the strongest communities I know online, this – being creators – is frequently (though not always) a characteristic, whether they are creators of visual artefacts, or of scholarly ideas or social movements.