[theforum] A sound of silence

Martin Burns martin at easyweb.co.uk
Sat Nov 22 06:00:51 CST 2008


I don't think your perspective is invalid, but in a couple of ways, it  
bears out your own individual experience, which I'm not convinced is  
universal (and the fact that Adrian disagreed kinda backs that up for  

On 21 Nov 2008, at 16:03, Matt Warden wrote:

>> It seems to me (as more of an outsider) that the 'community' you lost
>> is actually just a group of friends, smart, intelligent, witty people
>> that were part of thelist and part of the evolt.org admin and that
>> have mostly moved on
> I guess I can only suggest you go back and read some of the archives
> from a long time ago.

Actually, that *is* how it felt to me, although the group of friend  
was *very* good at being welcoming and inclusive - "hey, come on in"

I joined because I was asked to - I'd seen the initiative as a result  
of the MJ thing, and certainly thought "Hey, that's interesting" but  
it was through being individually invited that I took the step.

But again, this will be different for other people; there are a whole  
*load* of mechanisms by which people came in.

>>> People join a community because they wish to feel a part of  
>>> something
>>> positive and bigger than themselves.
>> No. That's why they get involved in admin/content of evolt.org, and
>> that's a subsection of the community, not the entire community.  
>> That's
>> not why people read articles or subscribe to thelist.
> Articles and mailing list posts do not make a community.

Until thechat happened, that's *all there was*. It was very work- 
focused, certainly on the public lists, and through the insistence on  
staying on-topic, and paying back off-topicness with <tip>s, it didn't  
have much chance to be more than that.

Of course, the *admin* list was a whole *other* story - that very much  
was a small community of people who became friends. And the point of  
launching thechat (as described by Mr Handelaar when he came up with  
the idea) was to bring that to a much wider group of people.

It's still not going to be everyone, and it's perfectly OK to have  
varying levels of involvement, from 'visits the site once in a blue  
moon' to 'hard-core member'. Thinking that everyone should have to  
feel at the centre of the community is just a wrong expectation.

To give you an example:
There's a pub in Edinburgh, Sandy Bell's, where there's live  
traditional Scottish music. Now I used to be a regular when I lived  
within walking distance. I often played in music sessions there,  
joining other people who hosted the sessions. I never hosted a  
session; I never worked behind the bar. But I felt part of the  
community. I still do, even though I've not been there in some years.  
So when listen to the radio today and hear giants of the Traditional  
Scottish Music[1] scene talk about playing there and picking up  
friends that they now play and record professionally with, I still  
recognise myself as part of that community.

[1] we're talking the equivalents of Jagger, Bowie, Bono and Thom  
Yorke here.

>  If you were hear
> when publishing an article on evolt was actually an impressive thing
> rather than a response to solicitation, then perhaps you would not
> have reacted to my post like you have.

Interestingly, in those days, we published pretty much everything,  
including what would now be simple links on spool.evolt.org; we're a  
lot more choosy these days in wanting substantive articles.

>> We happen to be in an era of web dev where frankly, not
>> much really new and exciting is happening.
> If that were true, I would have left the industry a long time ago.

Aye, but the area of interest now is in the more complex areas where  
our (relatively junior) audience tends not to be involved. In the days  
of browser wars, simply getting a page to render consistently cross- 
browser was an achievement.

> thelist did once have a very specific
> niche and you simply could not find an equivalent.
> It offered very specific value. It does not anymore.

Yes - simple HTML, Perl & ASP mostly. Much (not all!) of which is now  
not a live set of problems. And the more complex areas have grown  
their own specific communities, which is not necessarily A Bad Thing,  
but as we didn't follow, I don't think we should be beating ourselves  
up over thelist's content as much as over the community's focus.

>> What's in it for them? Why on earth would db
>> guru's be interested in answering noobie questions on thelist,
>> repeatedly.
> Again, I don't know how to respond to this. Even today rudy fielded a
> "newbie" database question.

> Your question of "What's in it for them" is precisely what you and  
> everyone else here needs to understand in order to build community.

Yep - another thing that communities offer people: the opportunity to  
feel good about themselves by giving back. Which is fine, but people  
who are happy to be giving nearly all the time but not receiving, are  

> He is not subscribed to thelist, but he
> occasionally checks the archive for SQL and database questions.

Which I did for a long time re CMS.

> Building community is about people, not technology. The
> "roll your own" CMS idea was not about a technology need; it was about
> people and common purpose and the community that is created around
> such a project. You may disagree with the individual idea,

Well yes, as previously mentioned: working on the CMS had a huge  
impact on the people who did so. But that number was, is, and always  
will be, tiny. And it's really easy to leap from "worked for me" to  
"will work for many people".

> but that
> isn't the point. The point is that prior to the last couple of days,
> the entire focus has been on HTML and server configuration and whether
> fonts should be this or that. These are all good discussions and need
> to happen, but they have nothing to do with community.

Actually, that stuff - working on common goals whatever they are - is  
arguing your point pretty much exactly. But it necessarily involves a  
small subsection of the wider community, whether it's custom coding a  
CMS, or building HTML and Server Config, or just talking about design.

It's meta-work, and *all* communities face it. *All* communities face  
the 'get involved' problem, whereby activists are trying to make  
everyone else into clones of themselves who work on the community  
itself - join the committee/come on a march/sell the newspaper/build  
the CMS. But activists are by definition different, and nearly always  
find it difficult to see why non-activists don't really have enough  
time/interest for meta-work, and that that's not necessarily a failing  
or lack of interest in the community itself.

Level of 'Getting involved' is a really bad way to measure the success/ 
vitality of a community, and offering more opportunities to do so only  
has limited use in increasing the success/vitality.

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