There goes the neighborhood
: Glenn Reynolds worries (catching this bother bug from Nick Denton) that communities are bound to deteriorate. First: Slashdot sinks into a sewer of snarking. Next, he frets: Weblogs?
No. Relax, gentlemen. Have faith in your neighbors. Civilization is safe.
How can I be so confident? Lots of reasons:
First: Slashdot is different because it is an anarchy where the nattering nabobs of negativism (no apologies to Spiro Agnew) can take over if given a chance. It’s simple sociology: The shouting snipers get the attention… until and unless somebody else — or the community as a whole — shouts them down or shuns them. The same thing happens in a focus group. Hell, the same thing happens in a church. (I could argue that this also happens in politics, where one side is more negative and louder than the other and thus gets more attention… but I won’t do that, because I don’t want this to descend into a political slapfest once I say which side I think is the loud one.)
Second (listen up, libertarians): This is why we need the rule of law and government to enforce it. On my day-job sites, as I have bragged here often, we have incredibly active forums getting millions of page views and countless thousands of posts each day. A few teen twits, bozos, and jerks do spray-paint on the walls in there. But we rely on the community to send us alerts and then I, the mayor of this town, send in our forum police to clean up the no-no posts (and there aren’t many of them). With a little tender loving care, these communities continue to grow and prosper. Communities need governance. Slashdot has none (except the governance of the mob or its attempt at a meritocracy of sorts); that could be its downfall, yes. But I still believe that the community as a whole will rise up and save itself if it deserves to live. My last church recovered from its suicidal infighting (after I left… gee, I wonder whether that had anything to do with it). New York was saved. (Detroit wasn’t.) If Slashdot goes overboard, the members will either rescue it or abandon it and it will get the fate it deserves.
Third, weblogs are different because they are not, purely, a community. They are media, produced by people who publish and care for — and control — each element. Together, they act like a community in some ways because they all talk to each other (like this). But you should really look at the world of weblogs as a newsstand on which you can pick and choose; you don’t have to open up and read and buy what you don’t want, what you disagree with, what you think is inferior. And if enough people ignore an inferior product, it will either fade away or just keep shouting in the forest where no one will hear the trees that rattle as a result. As Glenn points out, here it’s not so easy for bozos to “inflict speech on other members of the community.” That is why weblogs are such an advancement on this new thing, online content: because their creators care for them, because quality rises, because civilization rules.
I’ve been after Denton and Spiers to take advantage of more interactivity at Gawker; I am sure that its community of sophisticated readers will contribute great tips and insights that will make their jobs easier and their site even better. They need not fear marauding hordes of Huns or Slashdot (or Metafilter) snarkers; those folks will not feel comfortable in the Upper East Side that is Gawker; they will leave (or Nick and Elizabeth can shut them up because they control the site; it is not an anarchy, it is not even a democracy, it is a media property and the publisher-king rules). Similarly, I wish that Reynolds would turn on comments on Instapundit. I understand his fears, especially considering the traffic and the subject matter and the scary email I’m sure he receives. But I’m sure a few volunteers could help police it and the contribution would be worth that price. I get a few twits in my comments but, all in all, the contribution far outweighs the carping.
You see, I am just a populist to the marrow: I believe in the aggregate wisdom of the community. If I didn’t, I couldn’t like this thing we call democracy, could I?
: Update: Ken Layne in the comments makes typically wise and witty remarks and on further thought, I agree with him and I back off my nudging of Reynolds on turning on comments; the volume alone militates against it. My sites pay people to police; he’s not-for-profit. Still, the moral of the story about the inherent strengh of community stands.