Flutterby™! : online communication

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online communication

2006-02-23 21:47:34.528272+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

Dang it, there's a pair of journal entries talking about the sociology of online games that I want to point you towards, but they're behind a password, and you'd need to read other stuff to get the context, and... well... Hopefully I'll be forgiven for a couple of excerpts, 'cause rather than give them the full-fledged response they deserve I'm going to slap something up here. The first one talks about the lack of conversation in online worlds, saying that

I want to go online and talk to people that I don't have a venue to connect with in the real world.

I realize that in this age it's kind of silly to be talking about getting into online computing, but twenty years ago that's why most of us who were seeking out online communication were there. The BBS allowed us to get beyond the few kids at our own schools who maybe shared some technical interests. Piracy parties were at least as much about extending the limited communications available in the days of 300 baud modems and "mass storage" meaning two floppy drives as they were about exchanging software.

But twenty years later, life has changed, interconnected computers are ubiquitous in a way that only the most optimistic of us imagined way back then, and I think many of us have made a critcial mistake: We associated the message with the medium.

But really, the BBS and the Internet over a decade ago was as much filtering mechanism as it was a medium. Connecting to a BBS required a certain level of geekiness, seeing the beauty of Gopher[Wiki], Usenet[Wiki] or a MUD[Wiki] took an ability to abstract that meant that we found other people like ourselves there; only people who thought like us got there.

Similarly with weblogs in the late '90s: Nowadays every teenager has a Livejournal and I only smile wistfully a little when Jay lumps Flutterby in with himself in the "Z-list", but when Ev was a Johnny-come-lately and I was one of the A-listers urging Diane to get off her butt and come to dinner, webloggers in general were cool because there was a certain something that caused us all to overcome the difficulty of the medium in order to talk with each other.

(Aside: I remember a conversation with Cam where one of us said "there's this guy in Florida who keeps sending me all of these great links, and I keep telling him to set up a weblog..." and the other said "you mean Jay?")

So where does that leave us now? Well, I gave up on games half a decade ago. I mean, they're fun to play and all, but the ability to fire up a computer to play a game isn't a reasonable filtering mechanism, at least not for the people I want to talk to. I mean, sure, I could imagine such a game, I suppose, but I've got so many fun projects on my desk that I can't imagine mousing in front of a screen every day and... well... if I'm looking for better ways to connect with people, it's going to be through extending media like Flutterby, building constructs like that in which we can connect with others of like minds, not by creating artificial worlds which take me further away from living in the physical.

There's more in those two entries which, alas, I can't link, but I'll have to address the second point, on text versus speech as a communication media, in another post.

[ related topics: Cameron Barrett Interactive Drama Games Weblogs Net Culture ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-23 23:26:12.146193+00 by: Diane Reese

Part of what made Game NeverEnding (GNE) so fantastic was precisely the chat, the community aspect, the talking-to-and-collaborating-with-others that the erudite player-set engaged in togther, which was so integral to its ill-fated and pointless existence. I went there multiple times each day just to "be with" my buddies. Three years after its early demise (so hard to believe it was alive for less than six months!), prototype players are still talking with each other in the best ways they can find (mostly through flickr, which Ludicorp (now owned by Yahoo!, sigh... no hope for GNE having a future) created as an offshoot of what it learned from GNE). It was one of the most effective ways of creating a community that I've ever experienced. I yearn to hold my GNE buddies virtually again (as embarrassing as it sounds to admit that).

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 00:05:40.362932+00 by: Mars Saxman [edit history]

This has been in the air lately. "Only people who thought like us got there," indeed. In my youthful naiveté I mistook the "internet culture" for a consequence of the network medium rather than a creation of the specific set of people who had, or wanted, network access. I do miss that; I no longer feel the aching sense of loss that hit me six or seven years ago, when I realized that the old order was gone, but it is still hard to find concentrations of people with interests and inclinations similar to mine.

It is strange to have all my younger siblings on the 'net now, with email addresses and myspace profiles and xanga blogs and whatnot. When I was first playing around with BBSes and such, the online world was a separate social space, completely unrelated to the non-technical real world. To my younger siblings, however, computers are just another way to talk to their friends; there appears to be no social separation. They don't meet new people "on the internet;" the idea sounds a little quaint.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 01:01:23.427039+00 by: meuon [edit history]

I dream of lunches,
where tables chia,
breakfasts and brunches,
with spikey haired chilluns,

Dicussions of movies,
of politics, and sex,
world monetary groovies,
and Quakers perplexed.

Ideas flowed free,
rants flew, flames burned.
Some seeded some trees.
Many heads were turned.

A nude pic held high.
How dithered? What pixel?
Others saw tits, and cried!
As a group, we were mixed.

The heart left town,
to make children smile,
although we all stay in touch
every once in a while.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 15:20:59.215988+00 by: ebradway

Just this week, I broke down and setup a Flickr account and even sprung for the $25 "pro" upgrade. Over the years, I've had my images in various different web-based photogalleries, usually hosted on my own server. Once I lost my cheap co-lo and disk space became an issue, I stopped posting images altogether except for the occasional something uploaded to Flutterby.

It appears that the web has a reached a certain maturity. Now, anyone can create a flickr album (or a blogger blog) and publish their imagery with features that I only dreamed of back in the days of PHP3 and Gallery. But at the same time, the content quality has dropped significantly.

I thought about creating a Blogger blog as well but realized: who the hell is actually going to read my endless rambling thoughts? Better to stick to what I find signficant enough to add to Flutterby and maintain that community.

And as far as finding spaces like BBSes (ca. 1985) or The WELL (ca. 1990), I'm finding the best analogue in coffee shops and other real-life social gatherings. I think, as I've matured, I've learned to appreciate a little more, the contrast between myself and others and don't feel I have to seek out my clones. I think I see the same in the people I meet as well. The cliques that forced, especially us "nerds" and "geeks" into the Dungeon (here lies Dragons), pretty much dissolve over time.

Another boon I've found is that I frequently end up rubbing shoulders with someone who leads to projects more fruitful in both money and meaning.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 16:47:11.713774+00 by: baylink

Mars. Haven't run into you in a while.

Which illustrates Dan's point rather well. I first tripped over the Saxman back on Metafilter when it was still cool. I can't keep up with it anymore, and that's part of the problem as well.

It is all about filtering, which is sort of the opposite of disintermediation, which is ostensibly why the Internet is so cool. Luckily, Flutterby is obscure enough that the community is a couple dozen posters, which is small enough to keep up with. My Metafilter userid is 706; what are they up to now? 20k?

Wikipedia avoids this somewhat because the articles inspire 'vertical' crowds, and there's a 'horizontal' crowd of people who just groove on the idea, but you're not confronted with the latter (>1k editors) initially, cause you probably got there from someone's reference to a single page, made a couple edits, and got hooked.

But yes, in both networking and ham radio (which attracts the same sort of geeks), the IRL networking and what I like to call geographic locality of reference has declined markedly over the last 10 years.

And yeah, it's no fun.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 16:47:38.477312+00 by: baylink

PS: Dan: you typoed my second reference there; no www's

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 21:46:21.131236+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

Hmmm... back in my BBS days I was primarily interested in finding things - files, services, etc. - rather than other people. The few efforts I made at socializing were primarily with others in my geographical area. And that propensity remains with me today.

I never got that heavily into online game play. I'm trying to change that, but I struggle against the natural... instinct?/expectation? of my gaming friends to want to play on public servers. I've never played on a public server. It doesn't interest me in the least. I want to play games with my [existing] friends. I don't want to simultaneously juggle the task of trying to meet/socialize with others and play the game. In fact, my use of the 'net closely resembles how Mars describes his younger siblings.

Perhaps I'm not old enough yet (35), but I'm still looking for that clique that I never got to be part of - others who are enough like me to really feel like I belong. I've met one or two here and there, but they're often very busy with other things - and other social circles - so I've never felt that group dynamic. By the time I figured this out, and started trying to do something about it, though the bar had already been lowered. Couple that with what I said in the paragraphs above and I'm not searching for those bygone days Dan speaks of, but rather trying to find something similar in meatspace[Wiki].

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 22:04:10.871194+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

I'm a big fan of technology, but this is one of the things that I think has actually had a de-stabalizing affect on our social structure. Our social circles get wider and wider while we pay less and less attention to our geographically local communities. (I'm speaking in a general societal sense here - Flutterbarians are obviously an exception ;-)

Violence toward others, for example, becomes easier - more palatable - when those "others" are strangers. Increasingly, we become physically surrounded by strangers as we turn our attentions to more long-distance relationships.

We've lost the concept of Village. Some have tried to replace it with this idea of a Global Village[Wiki], but I honestly don't believe that the concept scales well enough to make that work. Human beings are pack animals, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, a pack-based community facilitates some negative behaviors, perceptions and attitudes, but I think those can certainly be managed and modified. The answer, IMO, is not to completely distort the concept of The Pack.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-24 23:50:54.262309+00 by: topspin [edit history]

As the net's evolved into a popular cultural force, we've found overselves having conversations with folks we'd avoid in the restaurant instead of folks we'd felt we wanted to have lunch with..... and what's worse, they show up regularly for conversations. That's the downside.

The upside is we can interact, particularly with "strangers", and contribute meaningfully to a conversation even when we feel chronically "left out" or "undervalued." That was the original lure of the BBS/net: OMG, there ARE people like me out there. Yes, but there are STILL lots more people not like me out there, but I'll be damned.... they're talking to me.

Taking basic conversations behind passwords DOES filter out "people not like me" and decrease the S/N ratio, but I feel in the long run it tends to dilute rather than concentrate the overall conversation. Some conversations are better with a specific audience, but for general discussion I feel it's important to avoid the "clique effect" and the monolithic thinking that develops from there.

I've a personal interest in seeing myself through different eyes via conversation. Seeing myself continually reflected in the same people's eyes creates what I recognize as hell.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-02-28 03:51:51.526248+00 by: baylink

I was going to comment, further up-thread, that the @-button doesn't do much good anymore. But perhaps it still does: now it doesn't filter in people who have an email address... it filters in *people who know what an @-button is*. :-)