Lee (striver) wrote in blog_sociology,
Next month will mark six years since I created this community. At that time I was talking about this subject a lot in my personal LJ and the posts were getting a lot of interest. I wanted to move the discussion out of my personal journal so I looked around for forums on this issue. I found nothing either within LJ or anywhere else on the web. Seeing a need, I filled it by creating blog_sociology and began posting my thoughts here.

Within a very short time the membership shot up to 1500, we had controversies and there were spin off groups who started their own versions. People began discussing research projects involving the issues here. This was all brand new stuff to discuss. It was the hot topic of the day. Within a month after I started this there were four more LJ communities created on the subject.

At that time, one hot topic was the emergence of pro-anorexia communities. Six years later a book has been published examining this issue in depth - The Medicalization of Cyberspace. This community was the catalyst but the discussion has expanded to eclipse this modest forum. It now permeates mainstream media.

While I have diverse interests including a background in crisis and suicide intervention as well as extensive studies in the mechanics and effects of neurochemistry on behavior, one of my main interests in starting this community was the management and building of such communities. Most online communities are started and run by people who have zero knowledge or experience in people management or community building. They manage mostly by kneejerk and often make a mess of it.

However, there are clear things you can do to create an environment that nurtures and encourages useful discussion. In fact there are now companies that professionally manage online communities. I have watched the growth of this with interest over the 20+ years I have been building and managing online communities.

I know there are other community managers and owners in this group. What do you think of the growth of online communities, big and small, as an industry? What issues do you think are most important in community management. What methods work best in growing a community membership? It seems as though FaceBook is dominating this media at the moment. What are they doing right and what is everyone else doing wrong?
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  • 17 comments

frecklestars

December 29 2008, 23:29:06 UTC 5 years ago

That sounds like an actual intelligent discussion of the pro-ana movement; thanks for posting. I'm surprised; usually it's a kneejerk "I'm supposed to be an unbiased researcher but this just has to be bad..."

striver

December 30 2008, 01:03:20 UTC 5 years ago

Yes, one of the toughest parts of crisis intervention is redirecting such kneejerk reactions. This is especially true, as I was recently discussing with some of my LJ friends, in rape cases where male friends and relatives start making loud plans to go beat the ___ out of the rapist. This is NOT in the best interests of the 'victim' at all. But it is hard to redirect this energy without appearing to be defending the rapist.

I recall much the same dilemma in the earlier discussions of pro-anorexia groups here, trying to inject into the discussion the possibility that they might have a positive effect.

hirez

December 29 2008, 23:33:15 UTC 5 years ago

Moderators, moderators, moderators, moderators.
[/Steve Ballmer]

Smallish groups, relatively tightly coupled, run by someone with good people skills. And disemvowelling.

FaceAche is something else. It appears to be grown-up Pokemon for people without the facility with the language to run a(n) LJ or a proper adult's mouthing-off weblog.

Personally, I fail to see the point of Twitter/Brightkite. I mean, I had a brief bash at the latter, but I came away with the idea that if I want to see some friends, I can contact them by existing means and see them in the pub.

It's strange that so much of this malarkey utterly fails to fit in with my alleged lifestyle, since I'm a tolerably hardcore geek and have run my social life electronically since, um, the late 80s.

Presumably it's for normal people.

striver

December 30 2008, 02:13:17 UTC 5 years ago

Well, yes, moderation...but there is a lot of bad moderation that causes more problems than it solves. For example the process of disemvowelling puts the moderator in open conflict with members of the community. This ALWAYS has a bad end result. In every professional community moderation situation I have been in this has been one of the top rules. Don't take it public if that can be avoided. Doing so generally starts a public debate over the rules of the community and how they are enforced. If something must be public it should be done with complete, professional respect.

As stated in the Wiki article on this practice 'A subsequent unsigned case study on online crisis communication asserted that "removing the vowels from participants’ comments only increased the gulf between the editors and the community" during the controversy. ' They also point out that this is exactly what happened to the person who came up with this idea in the forum they implemented it in.

Probably the most effective method of nurturing the flow of open discussion in forums is clamping down tightly on ad hominem attacks such as name calling like "FaceAche". As laid out in the rules on the info page of this community this is not allowed. There are quite a few people in this community who also use FaceBook. Please treat them with respect, thank you.

siderea

December 30 2008, 05:10:04 UTC 5 years ago

What do you think of the growth of online communities, big and small, as an industry?

Rather more than can fit in this comment. ;)

What issues do you think are most important in community management.

Boundaries -- from soft boundaries like the establishment and management of social norms to hard boundaries such as LJ's privacy filters and membership moderation. And any other sort of boundaries one can come up with.

Boundaries are an important issue because they are what makes groups into communities. Communities are a lot like cells. Without a cell membrane, it's just a soup of sea water and some lipids that never develops a sustainable complexity. It's that thin, permeable boundary which allows interesting complexity to emerge, which makes the whole more than the sum of its parts, and allows it to thrive in an ongoing way.

And taking the metaphor further, having too permeable, or insufficiently permeable, boundaries will kill the thing, too. As will having too flexible or too rigid ones. So getting the boundaries "right" -- for whatever one's purpose or idea of "right" is -- is crucial to getting the group to "work".

What makes this a particularly crucial issue is that most people are really, really bad about thinking about such boundaries and their effects on group. There's a lot of tendency to extremely emotional, knee-jerk reactions to the very ideas of boundaries (rules, norms, conformity, moderation, etc.). Lots of people don't want to think about what the social norms of their local group/community are having as an effect on that group.

So I have a question for you. If you've been doing this 20+ years, you and I have been doing this about the same length of time. One of the strong impressions that I have now is that trolling is a much, much worse problem today than it was in, say, 1990. Not that there were fewer trolls per capita, but they were far less able to be as destructively distruptive. I remember very different internet social norms back before the WWW, which seemed to do a very good job at containing the inevitable trolls' attempts to disrupt forums. Do you remember anything like this, yourself, or is it just my feverish imagination?

striver

December 30 2008, 06:04:00 UTC 5 years ago

Thanks, siderea...a very thought provoking response.

boundaries and permeability. Good way of laying it out. Boundaries need to be flexible, which often means fast but thoughtful judgment as apposed to solid rules.

Yes...the effect of social norms of the group on the group is critical. If people see a lot of slamming and personal attacks you won't get many candid, personal posts and comments. No one feels comfortable opening up in that kind of environment. So boundaries there actually increase the freedom of speech for the community as a whole.

At the same time, how those boundaries are applied also strongly effects the norms. People are far more likely to emulated the behavior of the perceived leaders of a community than to follow any written rules. If the moderators treat even trolls with open disrespect that will influence how members of the community respond to each other. I tend to impose stricter rules on myself than on the community because that will have a greater effect on the community as a whole than any rule I could impose upon them.

As to trolling getting worse. That is something I am going to have to really think about. I have had the opportunity at times to moderate communities where I had actually written the software so I had full control of the security. It seemed as the community grew the attacks grew more frequent and more bold...but with no greater intelligence or planning behind them. I even had an Italian hacker group come in and say "nice web site, let's take over". They were gone within seconds and never got back it.

I often thought to myself at the time that I KNEW there were people out there who were smart enough to walk right through any security I put in place and I was always afraid one would come in and do some serious damage. It never happened. None of them seemed to have any real computer knowledge. At the time I had my email openly posted on every page of the site and I was getting up to 300 virus emails a week...with no virus scanner. Not one ever got past me.

But I am even less confident today because this has all gotten so complex both in the programming and the international motives for hacking. In 3D grids like 3rd Rock, OpenLife, OSGrid and Second Life they call trolls "griefers"...people who cause grief. Most of them are fairly easy to handle just as they are here. However there have been a few that really caused serious havoc for a while.

But it is really hard to judge if it is actually worse in proportion to the technology. It is really the same issue. Most of them are just trying to get a rise out of someone. I would be very interested in hearing what experiences you have had that led to this question.

siderea

December 30 2008, 06:34:00 UTC 5 years ago

Actually I think we're talking about two different phenomena. I wasn't thinking so much about trolling getting worse, as I was about communities losing the ability to deal with it. But what you say about crackers and vandals -- which I would differentiate from mere trolls -- is interesting. The rise of spam, and the connection with organized crime, has given a motivation to cracking behaviors that just wasn't there 20 years ago. Spam -- and associated behaviors like googlebombing and propagating zombie botnet trojans -- are rampant because there's a financial reward for it. Used to be that there was no particular reason to crack any one user's machine, unless you had reason to believe there was valuable confidential info on it; certainly, cracking random machines one-by-one didn't have the return on investment to make it worth while. That's changed, and with it, industrialized, commodified security compromises have come into their own. They're not even bothering to steal things -- just advertise their blackmarket websites or run a spambot. So we get things like automated comment spam on LJ. back, 20 years ago, most compromises were simple vandalism; there was a great article about the psychology of virus writers in Omni magazine, in the mid-80s. It was about, as you say, greifing. Not about commerce, like today. So, yeah, those sorts of things are worse than they were, cause there's a lot of money in it now.

I was thinking about how back in the day, responses to trolling -- attempts to plunge a forum into flaming one another by asking an "innocuous" question or other social stunt -- were much fiercer, and, honestly, much more effective. Back then, it was socially acceptable to flame a troll, and this actually worked great, contrary to received wisdom; the troll wanted other people to argue amongst themselves, not to get flamed himself. But it's no longer socially acceptable in most forums to flame someone, leaving them with no form of social defense, only legalistic (rules enforcement such as banning) and mechanical (putting sommone on moderation, e.g.) ones.

Actually, come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I saw "flame" used as a verb. This seems indicative of.... something.

striver

December 30 2008, 07:14:30 UTC 5 years ago

Yeah...I think many people have become more savvy, in general about this sort of thing.

I was a lead moderator on a major online service when they first rolled their live chat out of beta. This was just before the Internet went public. Some of the trolls there were just plain nasty. They would pop into a chat room and say something so nasty it was sure to offend someone. I remember one in particular who favored explicit references to sexual acts with Christ on the cross.

Howard Stern was in that mess as well and he was having a great time trolling but that is what he does for a living. He would talk about it on his radio program. Then there was the war between the Christians and, I think it was a Wiccan group. They would go into each other's chat rooms and harass the heck out of each other. Nowdays it's the furries and such but the treatment is the same. The furries and Nekos are all over in the 3D grids and they get a lot of that kind of thing there too. Not to mention the vampires.

Some was tamer, like kids going into the over 40 lounge and boldly blaming that generation for everything from sunspots to hangnails. They would get the whole room worked up before anyone realized they were being had.

I'm not sure it has eased at all. Perhaps just shifted to different places. There is a LOT of it in SL, There are more savvy people around but there is also a lot of naivety still. There are people who hang around welcome areas in SL just looking to get people riled up and they often succeed.

Could it be the 'web' is maturing and the younger crowd has moved on to web 2.0?

7ofclubs

December 30 2008, 17:15:23 UTC 5 years ago

Having dabbled in a few networking sites (LJ being one, obviously), I had caught the FaceBook craze and I never thought I would.

The reason I think it "works"? Because you have to use your real name (well, you're supposed to). That is the very thing that kept me OUT of there for a long time, as I am accustomed to using aliases as most of us do, going back to Usenet days. But, I sucked in my breath, put fairly tight security on my FB page, and joined a few months ago...and it's been amazing.

The fact that I'm out there under my real name (and photo) has meant some people from WAY back in my past have found me, and we've struck up communication. And, believe me, I have already done the "look up everyone you can think of in public records sites" MANY times, over a period of years. I have a whole folder just of "people-finding" bookmarks, including alumni directories, property records, phone records, and even voter registration records. It's all out there, and I take advantage of it since one of the things I do, and do well, is working with nonprofits to update their mailing lists.

Anyway, I never imagined the people who'd "come calling" once I was out there on Facebook. True, many of my "Friends" are people I loosely interacted with a few years ago, and after the initial "Friending", I have scarcely communicated with them again. But, there they are, if I need to. The "status check" that is the most recognizable feature of FB serves a very surprisingly useful purpose simply by keeping people "on your radar" without any need for direct, nonpassive communication. Seeing that someone "is dealing with his mother in the hospital" keeps me in the loop without having to actually get a call or email from someone whose inner circle, or even secondary circle, of friends does not include me, yet I might have been friends with 5 years ago in a theatre production, or whatever. If I were to run into him, at least I'd be aware that he's been going through something without the whole "So, how are you, what's going on with you?" Other sites, including LJ, of course, can give much MORE detail on a person's goings-on, but it takes a lot more effort from the "circle of friends" to read whole, detailed entries, and this effort serves to keep most of our Friends-lists fairly short--short enough that we aren't overwhelmed every day when we log on, with pages and pages of entries. On FB, you just get a "news feed" with status updates and other (usually) brief mentions of people, and you can 'keep up' with more people that way.

But, I still think the "real name" feature is FB's biggest punch, and again, remember that this very trait is what kept me off of there for a long time.

striver

December 30 2008, 19:51:36 UTC 5 years ago

Very insightful. Many of the complaints I have read about LJ center around the friends list and its lack of functionality. There are filters, but they are not easy to use and certainly don't have the control you speak of in face book. And real names certainly would make a difference.

As a point of interest, before stepping back in as moderator of this community I contacted the former moderators for their thoughts. They are now more involved in FaceBook as there seems to have been a large migration of the more serious academics to that site from LJ.

But a question. You are still here so LJ must be filling some need for you. What does it have that facebook doesn't?

7ofclubs

December 30 2008, 21:51:19 UTC 5 years ago Edited:  December 30 2008, 21:52:12 UTC

You are still here so LJ must be filling some need for you. What does it have that facebook doesn't?

Well, mostly, my "community" is still here, a group that originated with a bunch of us from one particular Usenet group that was becoming overrun with spam and trolls. Some migrated here, and we liked the filter feature. However, my biggest reason for continuning to read LJ is that people can write LONGER entries, which sometimes I DO want to read or write. Not so easy on Facebook.

Many of the complaints I have read about LJ center around the friends list and its lack of functionality. There are filters, but they are not easy to use and certainly don't have the control you speak of in face book.

Hmmm, I'd say the opposite--in FB, it's a lot harder to filter to specific Friend subgroups. You can do that with photo albums, and maybe with some "applications" (which I HATE, and are a real annoyance of FB), but I don't know of a way to tailor a *specific* post to a *specific* group. Thus, I am much more "casual" on FB and don't, for example, post anything that might be politically volatile, whereas here on LJ, I can create friends groups who are generally in at least partial agreement about some issue or another and not have people "taking sides" in the comments. It was awkward to post about the November election in FB because I know I have some on my F-list who felt differently than I did about the election, so I posted only fairly neutral comments about it.

In LJ, OTOH, I can "let loose". But also, you can write LONG entries on LJ, which isn't so practical on FB.

Nevertheless, I find myself posting here less and less, and just reading and commenting.

striver

December 30 2008, 22:28:16 UTC 5 years ago

very insightful. I have, at times, made a filter with just a single person in LJ and carried on a completely private conversation with them in my journal. That is indeed a very powerful tool.

It seems facebook is better for contacting and staying in contact with both business and personal contacts, but on a more superficial level that is actually much closer to our real world persona.

I have always been interested in the idea that things often get far more real here because people feel the freedom to express what they really think, good or bad. They say things in LJ that they would never say in real world conversations. In a sense this makes the internet more of a 'real world' and the real world more of a presentation of what the world expects us to be.

7ofclubs

December 31 2008, 04:39:07 UTC 5 years ago Edited:  December 31 2008, 04:42:24 UTC

I'm flattered that someone as intelligent as you respond to two posts of mine in a row with "very insightful" ;-)

And yes, I, too, have made filters of NEARLY just one person--and wish others would do the same thing, instead of lazily posting "PING [username]--please email me!" on their public list when it is addressed to just one person. I once asked someone on my F-list who had a tendency to post recipes several times a week if she might consider making a filter for recipes, only to get a terse "You'll have to unfriend me, then--I can't possibly be bothered to make separate filters for every interest category I post about" (silly me, I thought that was the POINT of filters...). I have another friend who has several "All but [username]" filters--sometimes if something is one person's Hot Button issue, it's nice to be able to talk about it with everyone else without Himself or Herself causing a spectacle amid the discussion. (I often wonder if she has an "all but 7ofclubs" filter and if so, what topics she screens me out of!)

They say things in LJ that they would never say in real world conversations. In a sense this makes the internet more of a 'real world' and the real world more of a presentation of what the world expects us to be.

Wow, how very astute!

I have always been interested in the idea that things often get far more real here because people feel the freedom to express what they really think, good or bad.

I do in fact think of Livejournal as, in fact, more of a JOURNAL, mostly for out own eyes, not so subject to editing and what-will-they-think-ing.

Thanks for the thread :)

7ofclubs

December 30 2008, 22:00:16 UTC 5 years ago

Oh, and BTW:

The whoe reason I finally broke down and got onto FB was that a performing group I am on the Board of Directors for had a page, and I'm sort of on the "internet marketing" committee. So I figured I needed to join if only to help promote that group. For that sort of purpose, Facebook is MUCH easier than LJ, as you can set up an "event" and then "invite" people to it (where they can respond sort of like evite), but it is not so much "inviting", in truth, as "publicizing". Facebook is the leader of "viral marketing" ideas, and it was given quite a bit of credit for bringing a "new" generation into the election process this past November. Sending e-blasts to FB groups beats knocking on doors, etc.

The "groups" on FB are sillier and less substantial than the communities on LJ (IMO), but that can be fun...I belong to an "alumni" group for my elementary school, for example (and I'm 45)! And it was through a connection in that very group where I met an old neighbor, who put me in touch with another old neighbor from 30 years ago for whom I'd been searching for many years, to no avail.

sealwhiskers

December 30 2008, 18:26:55 UTC 5 years ago

I obviously have a facebook, even though I don't use it much, but I know several well-written people who are active there. Some write less on LJ and other blogs because of it, and some don't. I have many lj friends now, who have friended me on FB, due to us knowing each others full names, since we've been on LJ for so many years, and there is a certain small level of trust by now.
I think..when LJ started, that a lot was still anonymous, and facebook is the reverse, it is not very deep, it's not anonymous at all, but you can limit how much an outsider (or an ex/ex-friend) sees of your profile, you can even limit it into invisibility if you want.
Facebook is more like putting yrself on a shelf for display (a very limited amount of "you", but still), so that old childhood friends and old college mates or other acquaintances you might have lost contact with, can find you easily, or you can find them. After you've found them....well, I guess you can message them with ease, and belong to interest groups and do silly little memes. Those last things I've not partaken much in, since it's not that interesting to me, but many do. It takes less time than blogging or reading blogs, it's easier, and that's why people look down on it a lot. Still FB is a different animal than LJ, and it would be weird if they would compete, the only effect I wouldn't be surprised to see, would be that LJ would lose those people who don't really enjoy to write about stuff in a more thorough manner, we would lose the "this sucks, I ate this and that for breakfast" kind of bloggers, because those clearly would like FB better.

striver

December 30 2008, 20:01:22 UTC 5 years ago

From your description facebook seems almost like presenting the same public image we all tend to present irl. This would make it an excellent for business people and academics to keep in touch on a professional level. But it would cutail many of the more candid, deep thoughts you can find in LJ (yes, they are there hidden among all the teen angst )

I would think that the differences would tend to make facebook more business/academic/family contact and LJ more philosophy/artistic/creative/anarchy. While a lot of it may be dubbed 'teen angst', that angst is often the first efforts of youth to figure out the world around them and as such can be viewed as a budding interest in philosophy even though it is very simplistic to the older crowd.

sealwhiskers

December 30 2008, 20:14:32 UTC 5 years ago

I would think that the differences would tend to make facebook more business/academic/family contact and LJ more philosophy/artistic/creative/anarchy

That's basically how I view them too.


Well, you know my real name, if you ever get a facebook. Or, if you'd want an invite, just let me know... :)