Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Online communites, culture, and joining in…

I posted this this morning to a newsgroup that I read, but as I look over it, I realize that it’s applicable to all online communities, really, and thought it might be something worth putting here too. I’ve been a member of (and a builder of) many online communities in the 15 years that I’ve been on the Net, and these are some things that came out of my observations from those experiences.

Newsgroups are more than just asyncronous message boards. They become, ultimately, communities. And like all communities, they develop cultures.

Social newsgroups especially do this, but newsgroups that are primarily for information swapping do it as well. comp.lang.perl has a very distinct culture, as an example.

The other thing that communities do is develop a shared history. People who have lived in and been active in the community share experiences with one another, and this builds bonds between them.

And sure, this *can* be intimidating to the New Kid In Town. Here’s a group of people who have laughed together, cried together, shared each others pain, rejoiced in each others small daily triumphs. That creates a group of people who are, in many ways, fiercely loyal to one another. In the best of worlds, it becomes a kind of family. A noisy, sometimes disfunctional family that squabbles amongst itself as often as not. But a family, none the less.

You can’t just come and take what you need from here. You can’t demand to be a part of this. There’s a contract, unspoken, yet as binding as any blood oath. There’s a price for sharing this warmth.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t become a part of this community. Come, learn its ways, observe the paths we walk. See the simple love that grows between people just because they choose to share a piece of their life with others. You can be a part of this. It’s a simple choice. A choice, right now, between fear and love.

Come and join it. Give a bit of yourself to the group, unselfishly, unafraid. What you give to the group will be returned to you, and more.

It’s your choice.

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15 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, exactly. I’d far rather have a newsgroup that’s worth the price of admission, than have a newsgroup where newbies can walk in free and with no expectations as to their own behavior. I’ve seen what happens to the latter groups… and I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening in the only newsgroup I ever read anymore.

    BTW, hi. 🙂

  2. I was sort of discussing this idea with my classes today. I see online communities as rooms where there’s always a conversation going on. When you enter, you have to listen for a while to get the gist of what’s being discussed and how everyone goes about doing that, but once you’re comfy, you can just jump on in.

    Of course, you can jump on in right when you enter. But generally I find that’s when toes get stepped on.

  3. I don’t think anyone’s saying “newbies keep out.”

    Rather, they’re saying that there’s no “fit in free” pass to any community, on line or off.

    Newcomers bear some responsibility for learning -- and respecting -- the traditions and folkways of the communities they wish to join, rather than demanding that those communities change to suit them.

  4. What she said.

    Hypothetical scenario: there’s a long-running dinner/socialization party. Folks wander in and out, mingle, occasionally argue -- and when they argue, sometimes they get loud, angry, and rude, sometimes with vigorous handwaving. Some new folks have come in, but aren’t talking or socializing; they’re hanging around the edges, watching. As one such argument is going on, somebody at one of the tables points to the people lingering on the walls, and says “Hey, we should keep it down, or we might scare some of them away.”

    The point is -- the arguments and handwaving, and yes, even the rude potshots, are part of the social structure of the group. Changing the group to remove those elements would make it worthless for many people currently involved, including me.

    I was new there once, too. While I usually leap into such situations feet first and hit the ground running, in this case, I actually lurked for a while -- several days, at least -- because I was somewhat intimidated by all these smart, sharp people. But ultimately, I wanted to interact with them more than I was afraid of them; and so I took a deep breath, and dove in. I made mistakes, and was gently corrected; and because I didn’t try to convince everybody that they were wrong and I was right, I wasn’t snarled at. Sometimes I felt left out, or excluded; but I noticed that other people felt that way too, sometimes, and more importantly, I built relationships with a few people there, which helped me to feel more a part of things.

    Newcomers aren’t “tested” -- but they are expected not to come into the group and immediately take on the role of “Monkey in the punchbowl,” or they will be treated as a monkey in the punchbowl. Most newbies are accepted right off, actually. But yes, it is something of an “elite” group -- if by “elite” you mean that generally, folks who try to tell the group what they think, or come in declaring that they’re right and everybody else is wrong, will usually be snarled at and eventually go away. There are several exceptions even to that guideline (*cough*Tal*cough*).

    • I want a monkey in a punchbowl.

      Just sayin’ …

    • In response to the deleted post:

      The newbies in my hypothetical example cannot be greeted until the folks at the tables know that they’re there. On newsgroups, nobody knows you’re lurking until you make yourself known. Once a person takes the initiative to take a step forward, then they are welcomed. Everybody is invited to take a seat. People who come away from the wall shyly for the firsts time are offered a seat, and usually several people will make an effort to keep zir included in the conversation. If that person gets up and walks out, without saying a word… well, there’s not much the folks at the tables can do. If that person sits down and promptly starts insulting everybody at the table… well, yeah, they’re going to get a hard time of it.

  5. … nobody has argued that the community should fossilize into the same state forever. Yes, change happens. I’ve seen it happen on the newsgroup in question. Yes, newbies become regulars -- like me, and , and add our own spices to the flavor of the group.

    What we’re griping about is somebody saying, “This group isn’t friendly enough to new people who might be afraid of coming in. You should do X, Y, and Z to make these hypothetical newbies feel more comfortable.” If we’re going to change, it’ll happen because the people in the group want to change -- not from the urging of somebody who feels uncomfortable of conflict, and drapes it with a semantic flag that basically boils down to “But it’s for the children!

  6. My $.02

    It’s kind of like fandom in general, in that anyone can come, but cannot demand that the whole group change to fit him/her. As an example, there is a fan in NY who shall remain nameless. Heesh got a life partner, and told that life partner how open fandom was to newcomers. The life partner took this to mean that fandom had to accept all its behavior, no matter how rude, hurtful, obnoxious, or clueless. And when it finally was gotten through to said life partner that that wasn’t gonna fly, it got all bent and decided that the fan had been lying to it about fandom.

    Now, in truth, the fan hadn’t been. Fandom as a rule is open to whoever walks in, but being tolerant is not the same as being willing to be trod upon over and over again.

    Unfortunately, this is what happens in some newsgroups, chat rooms, and other online communities. A new person comes in and rather than seeing how they fit into the group and what they can contribute, they try to force others to accept them. Or they try to prove how much they know. These are the types of things that cause flamewars and groups splitting.

    I am in a group I used to love int erms of getting information and support, but it seems to have devolved into two or three arguments that are not even related to the subject at hand. And the arguments have grown into personal attacks on both sides, with huge side orders of sniping from the peanut gallery.

    The problem is not with change — change is, as you state, inevitable; it’s with people trying to force their way in, rahter than joining, contributing, and growing into being part of the community.

  7. I’ve seen a (very) few USEnet groups that (apparently) worked the way you describe, but mostly I’ve seen them fall short. Sometimes miles short. I’ve learned that it’s worth keeping a sharp eye out for the warning signs, and that it’s usually better to walk away early if any of them are evident….

  8. I think there is much truth here

    I think this is true for every kind of community and clique. I have met many people who want to reap the benefits of community without really understanding what it took to build it or what it takes to maintain it.

    • Re: I think there is much truth here

      Indeed — my ramble was mostly focused on newsgroups just becuase of where the thoughts emerged, but it’s really true of any community, online or offline.

  9. Well said.

    It’s the difference between being part of the group and thinking the group is just there to serve you. (Even if you never become a regular, if you behave in ways that are appropriate for the group, you’re part of it in some small way.)

  10. A while back, I did some introspective seminar work. The first thing we saw when we entered the room for the very first time were a pair of statements (later revealed as goals, rather than groundrules):

    1. Participate in your experience.
    2. Experience your participation.

    The way they were explained — and what’s relevant here — is that one can only get something valuable from whatever-it-is that one is doing by being an active part of it. AND, at the same time, the individual needs to be aware of the experience and the reactions, both internal and external, that are occurring, with an eye toward the fact that the group experience is NOT solely for hir benefit and not to be dictated by any one individual. Unless, of course, that last is part of the rules 😉

    Shortened: If one can’t play (a modicum, at least, of ) nice, don’t expect everyone to change for one.

  11. Yes. This. Exactly. Gods, this is so true, I’m tempted to crib off of it for an explanation of why culture matters for people trying to learn indigenous European faiths. Same mechanism, different organization type.

    BTW, check my LJ. There’s a recent post you can see now that will be of interest.

    • Yes. This. Exactly. Gods, this is so true, I’m tempted to crib off of it for an explanation of why culture matters for people trying to learn indigenous European faiths. Same mechanism, different organization type.

      Meant to answer this earlier. Please feel free, if you think it will be of any use. 🙂

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