Monday, March 26, 2007

The Blogosphere Experiment

These thoughts come solely from personal observations of, and experience with groups of all kinds, in many different venues, over many years, rather than on any academic basis, so as such, are totally subjective. However, studying human behaviors has been a lifetime fascination for me, and one I have delved deeply into, online especially, over this past ten years.

When people "group themselves up" in any setting, they all bring baggage with them. Every single one of us have bags full of unresolved issues of one sort or another, some we know about, some we don't. So, there we are, in the midst of a group, and as we interact on more and more intense levels, some of those suitcases will pop open, and stuff will spill is inevitable. Conflicts arise. Misunderstandings, mis-perceptions, over reactions, projection super defensiveness, attack/counter name it, it is GOING to happen, in any group, sooner or later, no matter how "cohesive" it seemed to be at the start.

This has gotten labeled as "dysfunctional" in this label loving, disease oriented culture. I don't think it is, although I used to. Now I see this as a "process" through which we learn HOW to get along: what works and what doesn't, to learn more about who we are..and how we are..through the feedback and reactions of others. To learn more about others. Messy and sometimes painful as hell? Certainly. So is childbirth. So are all developmental growing pains, to some degree.

Anyway, the likelihood of this kind of process getting kicked off in any grouping, go up astronomically in a limited medium like this, where all we have of each other to work with, is written communication and NO non verbal cues at all!

Non verbal communication is by far and away more impactful than spoken or written words, and here are trying to make do with only about 30 to 40 percent of the info we need to fully communicate with each other. It's a wonder we get as much decent communication accomplished as we do!

Ok. Back to what is considered "dysfunctionality" in groups, (that I see more as a learning process.) No two of us are ever at the same place in terms of being "ready to learn" things. Or to take in new info. Some are ready to hear honest mirroring and feedback from others, and many are certainly are NOT at that stage of their lives yet, and will perceive it as an "attack" instead.

And many have no CLUE as to how to offer objective feedback in non threatening or non-judgemental manner. Thus they are almost guaranteed to trip trigger points right and left and engender immediate "defensive counter-attack."

And to make it almost inevitable that things will deteriorate if all of this goes on too long is this simple fact: most of us cannot make the simple differentiation between a persons "behaviors" and a persons 'intrinsic worth" as a human being. So we end up attacking each others basic character and/or integrity as a human being, based on written words said on a screen.

That's it. That's all we are reacting to. Words on a screen. A persons visible behavior of the moment, that may or may not reflect who that person truly is at all, if we were to come to actually know them. It took me a long time to "get" that simple reality.

My behaviors are one thing: my worth as a human being is another thing. They do not always match. There were many times in my life when my behaviors were rotten and hurtful to others, because I had no insight into myself at all at the time and my baggage was in charge of me, not my essential core self. I know now my core self was never really "rotten," Just misguided. Ignorant of truths I had yet to learn. Affected by an addiction I was not ready to own and traumatic issues still stuck where I couldn't see them yet. That made me a fallible human, not a "rotten" one. A" fixable" human being, once I was ready to do it.

Ok. So one way or another, we find ourselves in these groups that feel and seem to be falling apart at the freaking seams. all around our ears. Some of us panic, not wanting to lose whatever measure of belonging we had found..and attack the hell out of any visible outsiders that might be "causing" this fracturing. Or we may turn on each other. Or we may decide to walk away altogether. All of these are understandable human behaviors given wherever we each are at in our own lives.

But sometimes, this dynamic seems to escalate and takes on a life of it's own. It begins to spread, like a virus, from place to place. Once it gets inside of us, we can end up carry it like any contagious viri, wherever else we go outside our own "group"..and infect others along the way. Until it can reach an epidemic stage.

I believe this is what we're seeing now, in the liberal blogosphere. Not only did we all bring our own personal "baggage" to these blogs, which in itself is a hell of a growth challenge, we also were all facing head on, the visible proof of the internal demolition of our entire country unfolding before our wide open eyes.

Now THAT one hell of a load to place on humans who are only connected via 30 -40 percent of our ability to communicate with each other, folks. Maybe an impossible load to expect fallible human beings to handle. I will posit that it is an impossible load at this time in our evolution.

Blog owners, whether big or small, are first and foremost, imperfect human beings at various stages of maturing. Yet somehow, the expectation seems to exist that they ought to be some kind of highly advanced species, suddenly able to do what has never been done successfully in any group of humans: please everyone and never make a single mistake! Good luck with that.

Community members who loyally align themselves with these "community" type blogs, also seem to expect something that has never yet been perfected in human history: a peaceful, collaborative, community with little to no serious conflict or disruption! Good luck with that too..especially when communication with just written words that are often interpreted differently by nearly everyone reading them! And with public doorways wide open to whoever wishes to wander in!

So my conclusions are that "community political blogs" have been a necessary, valuable and fascinating " step ahead" using new technology, in the overall human search for better ways to come together and relate effectively.

I think this "step" has served pretty much served it's purpose quite well, and is now in process of ending itself naturally so people can pick up whatever they have earned from it, and use it for the next step ahead, whatever that will turns out to be.

I am pretty darned sure what it will take online, is a separation between "political blogs" and "community blogs". I do not see the two goals as compatible at all. You add politics, or religion for that matter, as a focus point in any "communal gathering" and stand back..fireworks are inevitable.

Politics is only one of many ties that can bind us together in some sense of "community".
"Debate" is not the only satisfying from of human interaction. But those who love these things most, would still have them everywhere, on political discussion boards.

Those who, for whatever reasons, desire the sense of having online "community" with others they wish to maintain connection with, can also choose to build those kinds of sites on line, in whatever format works for them.

But as far as I can see, mixing politics and "community" is an experiment that has proven impossible to maintain, due to the levels of toxicity and pollution that they have produced, and it's time to pack up and move on to the next experiment. :)


DavidByron said...

This piece expands on an observation you made last year, about 5-6 months ago, that the blogs lack a goal and often have implicit conflicting goals or try to do two things at once. Generally I agree.

On reflection however "community" is an exception. In my opinion whatever else you try to do you will get community as a side effect. It may be impossible to avoid it. It may even be a truism to say you will always get a community, depending on your definition. These politcs-only boards you suggest will inevitably, I claim, have communities.

The other reason "community" is a special case goal is that it is not clear to me what that means exactly. If community is your sole goal, what do you do to achieve it?

So I think perhaps "community" is best not understood as a goal at all. Very specialised forms of community such as victim support groups might be thought of this way but it seems you might equally say that such places have as a goal to support victims of XYZ and then communities just appear as a side effect of that socially orientated goal.

It seems to me that the communities might ironically work out better, the more the goal is well defined or at least not exactly "well defined" but able to command the attention and respect of the members.

At any rate an analysis would require post-mortems of specific cases I think, and/or comparisons of boards which ended up with different results.

Mostly my analysis of this stuff has been aimed at the low level or proximate causes, but here you are taking a very much higher view of things and suggesting a fundamental change of the way things are done.

The Blogging Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Blogging Curmudgeon said...

Scribe wrote:

I am pretty darned sure what it will take online, is a separation between "political blogs" and "community blogs". I do not see the two goals as compatible at all. You add politics, or religion for that matter, as a focus point in any "communal gathering" and stand back..fireworks are inevitable.

But as far as I can see, mixing politics and "community" is an experiment that has proven impossible to maintain, due to the levels of toxicity and pollution that they have produced, and it's time to pack up and move on to the next experiment. :)

That is an excellent diagnosis of the problem and an equally excellent prediction.

Politics IS conflict; and what has caused so many distress on the political blogs has been an expectation of a harmonious community that could not possibly be.

The administrators of the blogs, heeding the cries for a restoration of harmony, respond with heavy-handed measures (such as admonitions, bannings, etcetera) that only reinforce bad feelings and increase charges of favourtism.

A key problem with the idea of a "community" blog that is primarily politically-oriented is that these blogs are sole proprietorships. Thus, one inevitably hears the refrain: "It's so-and-so's blog, and he/she can do whatever he/she damn well pleases! Who are you to question so-and-so! This is private property!"

These are the same people who, only moments before or moments afterwards, will claim in all due seriousness that the blog is a COMMUNITY and we're all in this together, one common effort, etc.

Scribe, I think you can have a "mixed purpose" blog, but only if there are segregated sections in the blog: one part of the blog is purely for political discussions, another for art, music, childrearing, cookie recipes, sports, or whatever it is the "community" members want to discuss.

But politics (like religion) are always going to be contentious, sparks will fly, and any sense of "community" is going to be severely strained.

The problem is this: people are always going to drag in their personal dramas and issues no matter what the explicit purpose of the blog may be. You may say "this is a POLITICS ONLY blog, please leave your personal issues out of it", but not everyone can or will abide by that.

So how do you separate a "purely political" blog from a "community blog"? Is it a self-actuating process, or do we have to make some conscious effort?

I don't have the answer. Maybe somebody reading this does?

Anonymous said...

MSOC is now channeling Kos:

According to MSOC, you're a crybaby if you're upset about being troll-rated:

I have, however, turned OFF the ratings system until such time as the less MATURE among us can prove to me that they will not either abuse them OR whine and cry like little fucking children when someone gives them a rating they don't like. Said whining and crying being ESPECIALLY pointless and annoying given the fact that ratings DON'T MEAN ANYTHING HERE.

-9.63, -7.03 If I can't rant, I don't want to be part of your revolution.
by: Maryscott O'Connor @ Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 07:22:05 AM PST
[ Parent ]

(Note: Armando troll-rated Peeder on MLW for disagreeing with Armando.)

Yep, MSOC is building a paradise over there at MyLeftWing. She's channeling Kos, for sure:

"...little fucking children...".

The Curmudgette said it best when she took Armando to task for troll-rating Peeder: "Ratings are a form of communication" on the blogs, including MyLeftWing. And don't enough troll ratings actually HIDE a comment, thereby removing it from the discussion?

So MSOC is full of shit when she says that "ratings DON'T MEAN ANYTHING HERE."

Isn't she the proprietor of MyLeftWing? I would think she'd know as much about her own website as I do.

But you'd be wrong.

Anonymous said...

From the Community Info section:


The cumulative effect of zero ratings is the disappearance of comments, so BE JUDICIOUS. I am NOT a fan of censorship, so unless the damned comments are totally vile or disruptive, think twice about making them disappear, okay? You can express your displeasure with the 1. (Except when it's a joke, of course. But be judicious about that, too...

Wait...I thought the ratings didn't matter? But they do?

Um, ok. Guess it depends on which of MSOC's personalities is writing that day....

scribe said...

I know that if I come upon a blog that states it is a discussion forum, period, thats what I expect to see there: primarily discussion. (and yes, there will regulars who may form among themselves, a sense of community)

But if I come into a blog that advertizes itself as a "community", that sets up whole different set of expectations of what I will see there, in addition to political discussion. I may or may not care to use it as a "community", but then, I might too. If I do, then my investment in it goes way up, friendships are made, strong loyalties are formed..etc. and how I am affected, if it then implodes is likely to be more intense. It's about what expectations a blog owner sets up to start with, I think. One must factor in that many many people who have lots of time to spend online, are really looking for a sense of community, and become very heavily invested in that aspect of the blog.

After having once been pretty intensely involved in leading several online forums, personally, I wouldn't take on a community type political blog if you paid me a million bucks!

sjct said...

DB, from my observations, I don't think a feeling of community is always a side effect of group endeavors. "Community" as I think Scribe uses the term, is a shared bond. It is the feeling -- however illusionary -- that one belongs to a group of like-minded folks.

When I think back to my days participating on the Agonist forum, I don't recall any sense of belonging to a community. The only thing people had in common were varying degrees of being news junkies. I saw people gathered in a forum who competed to be the first one to put up breaking news. After that, their comments interpreting the news never approached consensus. It was more like being in a debating club not really being attuned with a group of others like, say, a drama club.

In the early days of dKos, the shared bond came from discovering you weren't isolated, weren't the only person who was outraged by Bushco. Finding others gave each individual the sense of being part of a larger liberal/progessive movement. That feeling of joining in a resurgence of the "left" is what made dKos grow. But, the owner, Markos, isn't really liberal and when he started imposing his agenda on the group, it fractured.

From day one, BooTrib was about having a civil community. BooMan may have thought it was about politics but everyone who joined was looking for civil discourse, for a place where they would not be bullied for having contrary opinions.

In reaction, MoBetta is about having UNCIVIL discourse. No sense of community here. LOL! This is a bitchin', flamin', fuck-u zone.

ecfs had to be started to create a community for the participants here...

scribe said...

If one takes out all the personalities involved in whats happening, and focus only on the dynamics that have become very apparent across the board, it's easier to sort out, I think. Like I said, this was a grand experiment, really..and much can be learned from it, once we stop passing judgement on all the personalities involved..because they aren't "the problem". They are simply fallible human beings who have complex agendas like we all do. The "problem" I think, lies with trying to build a multi purpose gathering when the purposes are not compatible under one roof.

scribe said...

Very close, sjct, in terms of how I define that elusive sense of "community". Its a place where those involved share a mutual desire to come to know each other, (as well as have discussions,) and to offer each other things like acceptance of differences, respect, and the desire to actually understand what the other thinks, feels, etcs..even if different than our own stances. Where open conversations are more important than "debate" or forming judgements of each other.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, scribe. I wouldn't take on the job of managing a "community" blog for love nor money. It's the Net equivalent of Sisyphus.

DavidByron said...

It would be great if the anonymous poster could identify themselves with a handle!

If only so we know if it's one person or two.....

DavidByron said...

but only if there are segregated sections in the blog: one part of the blog is purely for political discussions, another for art, music, childrearing, cookie recipes, sports, or whatever it is the "community" members want to discuss.

I've seen this tried and what usually happens is that the extra clicks of effort required to shift back and forth mean most activity ends up in one or two categories.

In particular attempts to move the META or flame wars to other folders to clean up issues folders tends to be seen as an insult / censorship and leads to the usual problems.

You could achieve a move only if all the people involved believed their comments were visible to all the right people.

To be specific: what if, for example it was decided that all the META issues on MLW were better handled in a separate forum -- here for example. Assuming it was agreed such a move was desirable, how would it be achieved if some at MLW felt that their complaint wouldn't receive the level of visibility they could get if they posted it at MLW.

DavidByron said...

I don't know if zero ratings hide comments at MLW or not now. This was an issue even when I was at the board a year and a half ago and I thought at that time it was changed (partly because of me) so they wouldn't. But I can't remember and it's probably changed.

I don't understand why MSOC didn't make all the ratings give the same numeric value. I think that's possible with soapblox. It's a while since I fiddled with the admin side of the demo site at the soapblox site. I tended to lose interest in administrative fixes after I was banned....

If the numbers can't all be the same she could have mixed the ordering up to prevent the "bigger is better" prejudice.

Like I say.... I usually try to think of low scale solutions rather than the high-scale idea Scribe is putting forward here. I prefer (the chances of) evolution to revolution.

scribe said...

I think what's already happening IS a natural evolution. :)

Henry Louis said...

You say you want an evolution, well you know, we'd all love to see the plan :)

DavidByron said...

What I mean is that it's hard to make a big step like "let's create a dKos style blog for the left" (where everything will be perfect), but you might be able to get from X to Y with a possibly circuitous series of smaller steps all of which make sense enough to gain popular support.

For example third parties "don't work" (until they do) but you could make a smaller step of getting people to identify with a group or cause within the Democratic party, and that group gradually has more independence and clout.

I suppose I just defined the word "evolution". It's a great concept though.

The difference between community "just happening" and community having some quasi-endorsement as a goal as I see it is that if it isn't an official goal then it's more difficult to justify the nasty stuff.

The blog-nazis / self-appointed censors that cause most of the trouble are fuelled by a sense of their own righteousness. It's because they think they do right that they can do so much wrong. So if you make sure the explicit goals are not-community I think you'll get that community illicitly but avoid much of the community-based emforcement abuse.

Arcturus said...

You say you want an evolution, well you know, we'd all love to see the plan

did you leave a "t" off that last word? ;)

i've a conservative sense of 'community' - something like an experience of being together under shared conditions - that encompasses both the 'shared goals' sense with one of 'we're all thrown together in this mess, w/ all our conflicting & varying needs & backgrounds, now what?'

Anonymous said...

Forget a 50-state third party. Couldn't a third party be organized in California or one of the more progressive states that would take us outside the usual two-party dynamic?

Success on a statewide level would give that third party the credibility to expand to other states.

Arcturus said...

just wanted to highlight scribe's:

how to offer objective feedback in non threatening or non-judgemental manner. Thus they are almost guaranteed to trip trigger points right and left and engender immediate "defensive counter-attack."

much as my jump-to-spar mechanism has mellowed with age, this is something I often fail at & struggle with - 's always a good reminder

scribe said...

In psych nursing, you learn this pretty quickly or you end up in the emergency room. (Don't ask how I figured that one out!)

Maryscott OConnor said...

Regarding MLW's ratings and whether they "mean anything:"

Yeah, I'm ALL fucked up about the ratings right now. The troll rating -- it does take a lot of troll ratings to make a comment disappear -- by design. I hate making comments disappear. Armando's recent aborted attempt to fit into the community --- and it IS a community, as yesterday's events surrounding the attempted suicide of b&T and the subsequent rescue, etc., prove -- and all the comments I deleted per the warning issued about abusive comments, etc... well, it just didn't work.

For one thing, a couple people showed up with the sole intention of posting abusive comments. And people insisted on RESPONDING to them, so when I deleted those comments, the responses disappeared, too. Which totally fucked with the "discussions," which quickly turned into giant brouhahae.

What a mess. Have I learned anything? Yeah, I guess. Some people cannot fit into MLW's community, no matter how much I'd like them to; A's prior history practically guaranteed daily flame wars. There was simply no way I could continue to follow him around, deleting every single comment that was borderline abusive, to try to "keep the peace." It made things worse.

People arguing over the ratings at MLW IS silly, because, yes, they ARE a form of communication, so, sure, discuss them as you would discuss any COMMENT. But to get pissy because someone rated a comment a 3 ("No/Respectfully, I disagree") -- there's nothinginherently insulting about a 3 -- the low NUMBER isn't a problem, cumulative SCORES don't mean anything, there's no MOJO, per se, at MLW.

As for the Markosian comment I myself made about "whining like little children about ratings," well, I submit that you'd have to take that in context -- four straight days of flame wars, and someone bitches about a couple of TROLL ratings that in and of themselves DO mean nothing, because there's no WAY anyone ELSE would troll rate Peeder, hence his comment had no danger of disappearing?

Yeah. I scolded like a fucking mother hen at that point. But I seriously doubt anyone took it as a sign of my disdain for the entire membership of the blog itself. Rather, it was a sign of my utter infuriation with the flame wars and the inability of a few people to stop fighting like children, to let go of their pettiness and behave like goddamned adults on a political blog instead of like feuding toddlers in a sandbox.

My learning curve has been pretty steep, and perhaps I AM a lousy blog proprietor. I do my best to moderate, to listen to the desires and needs of the membership -- both the oldtimers, regulars and newbies alike. I Have a suggestion area, though few people seem to useit -- I should highlight its existence more often, I suppose; though frankly, I'm so busy as it is, fending off dozens of requests and suggestions a day would probably drive me batty. As it is, my email is a monumental challenge on any given day.

In summary, seeing my blog management style compared to Markos, however inaccurately and unfairly, made me throw up in my mouth a litle bit; so, if anyone ever DOES see me drifting in that direction (that would be rightward), I welcome warning comments or emails to that effect. I doubt seriously that they will be correct -- most likely it will be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. But if by chance they turn out to have a valid point, you may be assured I will take steps to correct myself.

It's been one long damned day and I should be abed.

DavidByron said...

Some people cannot fit into MLW's community, no matter how much I'd like them to; Armando's prior history practically guaranteed daily flame wars. There was simply no way I could continue to follow him around, deleting every single comment that was borderline abusive, to try to "keep the peace." It made things worse.

But if you look at specifically what the proximate cause of the problem was, it was the moderation itself. Just from memory I believe it started when SuperVixen aka HRH attacked Armando. But that was not a big deal, and understandable given the history. She is not a regular at MLW and the majority of people would not have joined in the fight except that Armando was demanding moderation. Now that was understandable too because Armando had promised you to not flame people (more moderation) so he felt complaining was his only recourse. Next thing others started to point out how unfair your order that Armando was untouchable was (eg Curmudgeon I think, others...) and some others attacked HRH because they thought they would be "helping" you to moderate. Then HRH's friends got in on it seeing an injustice against her (injustice = moderation) and others came to Curmudgeon's aid or else to attack him according to their own views on the justice of the remarks leveled at him and the rules concerning Armando.

Then you got into it at first as an individual and then posting long diaries and accepting that the rules couldn't be for Armando only, buit that meant an escalation of moderation so that all flame was technically to be censored. At the same time you got angry with the folks defending HRH and started to act precipitously, threatening and banning them which breeds huge hostility. You did this because you saw them attacking your attempts to moderate in a blatant manner. But if it were not for the rules none of this would ever have started apart from the initial flame by HRH against Armando.

So it went from a snit involving just two people to a shit storm involving I think four different entire boards by the end. Moderation, rules, and the justice or otherwise of their enforcement, together with community loyalty, enalrged the problem.

Even so, large as it was the problem ran it's natural course and by Monday it was more or less over.

Everyone was fucking exhausted emotionally and just from trying to keep up with the number of posts, let alone the content, apart from those who threw up their hands (eg Stu) and concluded even good META is a terrible thing. I assume your own remark about feeling like topping yourself (yesterday) was related to the shit storm? So this was quickly becoming a serious episode lasting about three days.

Now the alternative was to just let HRH attack Armando. And let Armando respond in kind -- which he is certainly capable of and happy to do.

What's the worst they could have done? Derailed that diary?

Maryscott OConnor said...

Um, no, DB. Nothing that happens on a BLOG could ever make me feel like "topping" myself. (never heard that expression before...)

No, the thoughts of suicide were born of other things -- mainly, of course, my own depression, which -- while properly medicated -- still raises its ugly head from time to time and needs slapping down. Aside from my own biochemical imbalances, there are circumstances in my life that contributed to the desire to be "out." For that is, of course, the true nature of suicidal ideation -- wanting "out" -- out of the pain, out of the ceaseless noise in one's head, out of the seemingly unsolvable problems, et cetera.

You have distilled the events surrounding the Armando Experiemtn rather deftly; I don't think I can add any more, nor is there anything so inacurate I feel the need to correct it.

Except -- of course, there is an "Except" -- the one condition under which Armando agreed to post again at MLW was that I agree to moderate -- to disallow abuse leveled at him by peope like hrh. I could think of no other solution than to delete commentsa like hers and, given her refusal to cease posting them, eventually to ban her and anyone else who insisted on continuing to post abusive comments aimed at Armando.

It soon became clear that this was an untenable situation, one I could never hope to continue and, indeed, one I didn't WISH to continue. It went against everything in which I believed, insofar as free speech and censorship, deletion, banning and the like are concerned.

So, there you have it, the whole sordid little tale.

Excellent summary work, DB.

DavidByron said...

Thank you.

I didn't comment about your deal with Armando because I didn't know. But I would guess that part of Armando's motivation to get you to promise to moderate was because he didn't want to mess things up for you. No doubt he envisioned something like whatever goes on at TalkLeft. I hope he comes around to seeing that is not necessary for him at MLW.