Random IM musings...

Ian Andrew Bell fork@ianbell.com
Sat, 25 Aug 2001 15:23:30 -0700

This is also completely true of what happened in the move from the world of
Bulletin Board Systems to the Internet.  Fundamentally, as the community
grows bigger, interactivity and accountability (this is most important)
shrivels, because the social construct breaks down.

If I make an ass of myself in a newsgroup I am one among millions, and I can
"community hop" until I find one that matches my level of asinine behaviour
or change my identity.

Throughout my teens and during University, I can recall spending one or two
nights a week with people I knew through the BBS community, so there was
real accountability there, and there was a social construct.

I spent a healthy part of my academic career studying how communities could
evolve over the internet and I'm sad to say that, for the most part, time
has proven my theses incorrect.  The WELL is an anomaly, not the norm, and
even the WELL was built around a social construct:  Howard knew John, and so

When a BBS was 16 lines I could reasonably maintain an artificial social
construct.. When it grew to millions of connected users I lost interest.

In other words I think that the two fundamental factors that serve as
barriers are remoteness (the inability to physically connect two people) and
scale (the sheer weight of numbers).

Still, "communities" do exist -- but they're much much smaller than I
believed they would be.  CLANs in Online Gaming are a good example.

FoRK is not a virtual community, though, because it's built from the social
construct of Rohit's life.  We are all his friends, or friends of friends,

For the most part, I now believe that the vast majority of people
communicating over the internet do so in anonymous isolation.  Even the
interventions of an eMail or an IM or an ICW screen pop from a friend from
the "outside world" are fleeting and inevitably go offline.

My humble conclusion is that the internet is not, by and large, a useful
mechanism for community building -- rather it is an excellent tool for the
nurturing of an offline construct.


On 8/24/01 8:26 PM, "Adam L. Beberg" <beberg@mithral.com> wrote:

> So I was chatting with my roomie today about how my "buddy lists" on the
> many systems I frequent have shrunk over the years, as systems have changed
> and dumbed down.
> And I ponder the following...
> IM systems are inherantly less of a social system then the old BBS/MUDD/IRC.
> By social I mean putting people in the same "space" that wouldn't be
> otherwise.
> The old:
> --------
> The "archaic" systems, where you were basicly in a big chat room with
> everyone on the system, when you looked at your "buddy list" it was everyone
> on the system. Some systems supported a friends list where you could put
> maybe 10 of your best friends on a list to be highlighted, but you still got
> the whole list. If someone misbehaived, the admin punished or booted them
> off, so the system stayed friendly.
> vs.
> The New:
> --------
> Here is how I see people using IM - they add their friends and family and
> classmates to their buddy lists, and talk to them online. The search
> features basicly allow people to seek out people just like themselves. The
> only social thing is the chat room, where females are quickly driven off by
> straight men, and straight men are quickly driven off by the gay men - it's
> damn hostile within milliseconds. There is no "punishment"  mechanism (or
> admin). Since social situations are nonlinear, it's preaty much guaranteed
> to remain this way, anyone decent being driven off in a hurry.
> So basicly the new has enhanced the ability to talk to people I already
> know, and completely destroyed any social mechanisms. Has anyone else
> noticed this?