Monthly Archives: March 2013

Comments Suck, Communities Rule

The Meghan Daum opinion piece in the LA Times last week — Online’s ‘nasty effect’ — got the internal debate going again at TI World Headquarters. Newser’s headline covering this piece was: Science Proves It: Online Comments Suck, which is clearly how some people feel about their encounters with the angry-nonsense troll-threads hanging off the bottom of YouTube videos.

But the study that sources Daum’s piece really only says that commenters have their opinion of the parent article clearly impacted by the other comments in the thread. If the commenters are negative, they are much more likely to give negative feedback.

That’s news?

I think comments are awesome, and far from sucking, they provide some of the coolest content on the planet. Slashdot and Stack Overflow have some essential content for technical types. The famous ‘Askers vs. Guessers’ meme was born out of a comment thread. Some of the strongest ideas on the AVC blog come from the comments, where some seriously interesting people hang out.

That’s the key. A conversation that includes interesting people. And in my experience that happens mainly in a community.

I think you can tell you’re in a community when you see a few things. A community is:

  1. Intentional — somebody has a vision for the kind of conversation that can take place.
  2. Moderated — some communities have a clear leader, some delegate moderation to a couple people, some have fancy voting mechanisms to float the best content to the top.
  3. Connected — a community takes time to develop, has a bunch of interconnections between the commenters, and even a bit of a pecking order emerges where commenters are clearly domain experts and they clash or collaborate with other experts.
  4. Persistent — the best communities are around for a long long time. Think The WELL. These things are essential way for people to connect and are a major part of people’s lives.

So when you’re on CBS News reading about diletante diplomat Dennis Rodman at the Vatican promoting an Irish gambling site (no, not the one that died yesterday..) I think it’s pretty obvious that the inevitable 3rd-grade flame war about race and religion that erupts in the unattended “commenting area” below the article has practically nothing to do with conversation or community.

It does have a lot to do with CBS News providing a pretty disgusting venue for hate-porn. And yes, whatever you want to call that mob non-community, it sucks.

Intrade Shut Down


Arguably the kingdaddy of online non-sports betting and darling of the crowd-wisdom crowd closed its doors yesterday.

This is the third blow in the last couple years, the first being the Mt. Everest death of John Delaney in May 2011.Then last year the US government (the commodities trade commission) forced InTrade to drop its US user base, which pretty much killed site traffic — from 287k/mo in November to “too low to count” last month . Now funny book-keeping?

When I tell the b3tz story I often get comparisons to InTrade so we’ve tracked them pretty closely for the last few years. They were an obvious proof for the large demand for non-sports predictions, although that proof is a bit murky — in my view their product was aimed at sports bettors and finance traders, a demographic with a highly developed competitive sensibility (in Bartle terms — Killers), so I question the breadth of their userbase somewhat. But betting on the next Pope and the Oscar winners has very broad appeal and they certainly took a running start at monetizing that impulse.

But what I thought they did especially well was how they used the internet to intentionally blur the semantic and jurisdictional lines protecting the two big-money global “prediction markets” — finance and sports gaming. Those are arguably the biggest businesses in the world right now and two collections of people who can develop a professional interest in your kneecaps pretty quickly. I had thought that InTrade had figured out how to “manage the situation”. Apparently not.

The Wisdom of Strange Sofas

Amanda Palmer has been making the rounds this week on the interwebs. She’s a semi-famous punk musician who has made some interesting comments on the future of music. If you haven’t seen her yet, check it out.

I really really like her energy and clarity. In fact I think I cried a bit the first time I watched this talk. I really connected with the way she processed the “is this fair” and “get a job” voices — I struggle constantly with getting over myself and being real and I liked her framing of asking as an art form.

I also liked her counter-intuitive conclusion for the music industry: the question isn’t how to get people to pay for music, but how to get people to want to pay for music. I think we can all agree that large scale collections of connected people clearly have different interaction models and I consider Ms. Palmer’s future of music to be important work in helping to figure out that new social terrain.

All that said, I find radical transparency and soul-baring to have their own complicated social inequities (um, not everyone can crowdsurf at the same time..). Punk rock and couch-surfing have a gimmicky charm, and like some of the other experiments in the new connected social spaces — crowdfunding, wikipedia, crowdsourcing, and other crowd-wisdoms — they seem more like new inputs than full-fledged answers.

So I say god bless Louis CK, and Mrs. Neil Gaiman — I will follow their experiments closely. While they provide a cool counterpoint to the world of “get a job” I guess sometimes I want to sleep in my own bed and hang out with actual friends.


Hello World

OK, back to daily blogging.

In the last couple months I’ve started feeling the need for a place on the intertubes where I can collect my thoughts, especially my thoughts on a collection of pompous large things like language and people and networks — and how those things relate to the practical problem of making games, like my project b3tz.

So far Facebook has failed me as place to think or even really have a conversation. I may be stubborn and stupid but the people who appear to be winning at Facebook seem to be my smart and broadly-engaged friends.

Twitter. I think I get it, and I’ll keep taking runs at it, but I haven’t landed a rhythm there. The people who seem to be nourished by Twitter appear to resonate with its essential broadcast nature.

I take various stabs at Digg and Delicious and Tumblr and Instagram and Youtube and Google+ and Flickr and dozens of other conectifiers but I haven’t gotten much to stick yet.

Here’s my theory:  Being useful online is all about contributing and connecting as a self-reinforcing cycle, and I think my best shot at contributing is probably in a topically focused, daily, longer-than-twitter, word-based format.

So let’s see how it goes.