Monday, September 08, 2003

Groups will eat themselves

In this speech, Clay Shirky shows why groups live and die. It's interesting for those of us who believe groups should be more or less a free-for-all, because he explains why they can't be. I suppose we know that, though.
It's interesting to compare alt.writing with misc.writing. In many ways they are sister groups, which shared and still share members, but in recent times alt.writing has more or less died, and misc.writing has thrived.
One of Shirky's main points is that groups of this type must have members in good standing. This doesn't mean members who everyone likes, or even members who post a lot. It means members who are recognised and (I shudder at how Palmeresque this will come off) are responded to. You can get to be a MIGS in a lot of different ways. You can hang around for a long time, you can post a lot, you can be a persistent and able troll. You can't get the position on your first day. This isn't necessarily a "greybeard" thing, because sometimes the admission to MIGS-hood is rapid, and I don't think it can be said that the clique can keep you from attaining it, but it is a question of being heard. You have to get on the radar (and stay there - lots of drivebys turn up, get their arses well roasted and then disappear).
I think the key to understanding why MW lived and AW died is that the MIGS of AW one by one left and weren't replaced. A couple - me included - stopped being MIGS and became more transient. Most disappeared - to other groups, other things to do, other lives. (Actually, AW was rather like the party in Shirky's piece - all sitting around bored until someone got their coat.) MW has plenty of MIGS, who more or less "out-talk" any drivebys. There is still commercial spam, the odd mad poet, schoolkids showing off, the odd "flonking" type, but nothing sticks.
Of course, you can disappear and come back. It depends how big your splash was. People like Jack Mingo and Deck Deckert are still MIGS in MW, despite their long absence.
One day, I too will walk away from Usenet. It's something I do now because I have time to fill, but there are always other ways to fill time, and one day it won't meet the need it meets now (and even now meets it less and less). I won't be missed, but maybe I'll still be MIGSed (insert your own winky).


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