Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Usenet, Size and Communities

So in her own journal, cellio posted this link to a rant about Usenet, and its then-imminent demise due to spammage. I started to reply in a comment, but decided it was an interesting enough topic to be worth a top-level posting here.

It's a very interesting rant, and site. Pity that the Usenet II thing didn't take off, but it illustrates a couple of extra dangers of its own. For example, the side-rant against HTML looks both dogmatic and outdated from this late vantage point. (While I still tend to send plaintext email myself, I think that HTML is increasingly well-established as the key format for text transfer, and is going to win at least for the medium term.) And the social mechanisms proposed are fairly heavyweight and centralized, so I suspect they would have encountered their own problems with time.

In general, though, I've found that Usenet as an entity has been superceded by later events. I can sympathize with the rant (having been around r.a.c long enough ago to disagree with him using Chuq as the example of a net.god instead of Moriarty), but I just don't have the time for Usenet any more. And that isn't because of the spam and abuse -- it's just too coarse-grained and unfocused. It's too damned *big*.

I mean, consider the Rialto. Rec.org.sca doesn't really get much spam; when I check in there, the spam level's been low enough that I don't notice it. Most of the postings are more or less on-topic, even. But there are just too damned many of them to keep up with, and there are too many for the whole thing to really feel personal any more. Giving up on the Rialto's been a slow process for me, and not a little painful -- I was one of the people who worked to create the group in the first place. But it has long since stopped being my community.

One thing the rant manages to completely miss is the nature of communities. We had a very interesting panel at Arisia last year, talking about organizations and communities, and the key takeaway from that was the difference between the two. You can have an *organization* of unlimited size, but a *community* is, by the nature of the idea, fairly small. This has some useful correlaries: for example, the SCA is an organization, but the local branches are communities. That alone explains about half of all high-level SCA politics.

Hence, I don't pay much attention to the Rialto any more -- once it grew past the size of being a truly viable community, it wasn't as interesting to me on a day-to-day basis. Heck, I scarcely even follow the Kingdom mailing list any more, for the same reason. I do follow a bunch of more "vertical-market" mailing lists, in part because they are communities. And I pour a lot of time and attention into LJ, because by its nature it tends to foster loose, self-defining communities.

Frankly, that why I find LJ so cool, and tend to bristle when people say that it's just a blog site. The blogging is the least of it, really. The power of LJ is in the friends list, and the way that it encourages these fuzzy communities. That is really cool, and a model for future ideas and experiments...

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