I'm struggling with a community development phenomenon that's been going on for a while around me, particularly in tech-centered Slack groups.
Something about the affordances of Slack combined with the tendencies folks to like to organize things, but aren't thinking about social schemas ends up making it arranged topically.
There's a problem here: relationships span topics. There's clusters of interest broader than that, and even then, it puts relationships secondary to topic.
It means that there's no channel for someone new to pop in and post social relationship building things.
An example right now is https://stillnotanonymous.tumblr.com/post/187393952051/types-of-people-film-genres-film-noir-wears-a — to which I want to post somewhere and say "oh my god, so called out by this, I am totally science fiction"; but in the two communities I'm closest to, that means it's appropriate in a closed group of friends channel or #scifi or ... where? Five hundred channels, none appropriate to post in.
That's something that Mastodon excels at to a degree — except that you post it to your followers and your second-degree connections. Relationship building is tied to viral mechanisms. It's outward-facing, and to get the feedback loop that turns it into community, you have to luck into being boosted a group with enough cohesion to connect back.
If that doesn't happen, we're left with watching for boosts and hoping our words were "valuable enough" to an anonymous public.
In a social Slack, this goes a very different way, an anxiety-provoking mess. Someone asks "Where should I post this?":
But that's not actually the question being asked. What's being asked is "Where will this be received well?" not "where is this on topic?". And "this" isn't actually the post, it's themselves. Where will _they_ be received well?
The end result is that everyone is anxious and everything feels like a clique.
I don't actually think it's a clique phenomenon. It's not a preference for existing relationships over new ones with new members, it's not exclusivity. It's a problem of social affordances, and actually harming the _ability to form new relationships_ because there is no space that is appropriate for the social grooming and alignment of self with a group. Topics are too narrow. General chat is too broad unless the whole Slack is narrowly focused and yet active enough to have community.
"If you market to everyone, you market to nobody" is one of those phrases that seems to adapt well to all sorts of social situations. I think the underlying phenomenon is that marketing is poking at a social behavior here.
We have to build systems that let us understand group structure and for groups to have space for figuring our our alignment with them. Almost no social software does this, and after the onslaught of spam and then default of hostility on the internet, I suspect none does.
In the early days of the Internet, insularity and homogeneity aside, the wide open access to things by default meant that we had the liminal social spaces more easily.
You can walk up to a crowd, unknown to them, and scope them out. They'd probably be quite public, you would be quite anonymous, and you could start participating pseudonymously, if not outright anonymously. You can see how a group reacts to you, you can adjust yourself and join, be accepted, and only then reveal who you are.
How do we build social spaces that leave more room for get-to-know-you? How can we reduce the prejudgement that comes from presenting a globally consistent face to the world, like individualistic social media does? How can we let people interactively vet the groups they're joining before they commit? What affordances do we need to understand community from the point of view of a new member?
And how do we expose our community values — the real ones, not formally decided official ones — to new and existing members?
You might notice in all of this that there is a tension between safety and functioning as a community. A functioning community means space for vulnerability. This intersects poorly with global hostility, but also with the things we do to avoid this hostility.
These are such devilish problems. I don't have answers yet.
@aredridel these topics came up a lot in this book I just finished, emergent strategy.
The author didn't purpose solutions as much as ideas, but those ideas focused on centering communities on their actual values, and working to build deep trust in relationships (and trusting those that are trusted by those you trust) rather than many shallow relationships.
It seems like it ultimately depends on your goals, though. Or rather that the methods will vary by group and values.
@ajroach42 Yeah, to some degree. But I think that affordances need to be found so that social software can actually do this at all.
@aredridel ah! I had assumed you were speaking about in person organizing not social software.
My thoughts on software aren't fully formed yet. It's something I think about often, but the answers aren't easy to find.
@ajroach42 yeah, it's different. Though at the same time, software sets some in person expectations, and most groups are at least partly online.
@aredridel all of these problems you describe weren’t really issues before fb etc, when i was on many different social email lists. those lists quickly withered within a few years of fb being open to the general public.
@rabcyr yup. I have theories as to why. None are facebook itself, but facebook is a symptom.
Endless september. Scaling past what can be moderated by hand. Spam and increasing bandwidth. Less homogenous groups having access to the internet.
@rabcyr that said, facebook sure took everyone's traffic
@aredridel it also sounds like your social slack groups are organized like technical discussion groups, with separate channels for any topic? with email lists i could ignore threads i didn’t care about, but everything was said in the same place. you just put a reasonable subject on the email and send it.
@rabcyr how much ongoing relationship came out of that? Friendships, shared identity, marriages, etc?
@aredridel well, i met my now spouse on an email list
Irc for me :)
@aredridel 👍 This whole thread
@aredridel I think Mastodon makes it harder for groups to exist in some ways. If my tl looks nothing like the tl of someone else on my instance, then we get a completely different experience despite being neighbors.
Also, one thing Mastodon does is raise the bar to interaction. If I wanna say something, I feel like I have to _have_ something, a shitpost or a good link. There are few places on the internet where i can just say “what’s up” and start a conversation with some people.
The social network of the future: No ads, no corporate surveillance, ethical design, and decentralization! Own your data with Mastodon!