Social Media

Jabber and Decentralization

Originally published at Many-to-Many and now archived at the Wayback Machine

One of the most pivotal weblog essays I’ve read was Jonathon Delacour’s Alibis and Consistent Lies. In it he wrote:

That’s it: where my own interests lie. In other words, hardly anything to do with telling the literal truth; and everything to do with fashioning an authentic persona from bits of alibis and consistent lies.


The uproar that resulted is still being felt today — that a weblogger would mix fiction in with fact in their weblog writing is something that had not been contemplated before, at least within Jonathon’s circle, and many people were disturbed or even downright angry. Yet, weblogging is a form of writing, and most forms of writing, even the autobiographical has some element of fiction — even if it’s only the fiction of our perceptions and faulty memories.

Another aspect of weblogging that Jonathon’s essay demonstrated, indirectly and more importantly, is that there is an element of acceptable behavior within most weblogging circles. To violate the unwritten rules and expectations can generate censure, though not necessarily censorship. It’s not a question of saying forbidden speech, as much as it is of writing against the grain. It is writing that leads to disapproval in those we admire, respect, and like, and these are very powerful forces for conformity. Yes, conformity. There is nothing more limiting than a friend. Having experienced this writing against the grain a time or two myself, I can describe it as trying to walk through waist-high mud: doable if one is determined, but difficult and not something one does for fun. This same experience isn’t limited to weblogging — you can see the evidence of it in discussion groups such as Slashdot or Metafilter, and interest groups such as those in Usenet or Yahoo Groups. There is accepted behavior even in disagreement. There are accepted rules by which one lives, or writes to be more accurate. To go against these is to bring down the wrath of the other participants. If you’re lucky, you’ll be politely or not so politely ignored. If you’re not lucky, you’ll be thankful to escape with just being embarrassed. You could also be banned or ejected from the community as a disturbing influence, a troublemaker. Of course, this type of community behavior isn’t new — try going to a proper English tea party and letting loose with a loud fart to see social ostracism at its finest. But we want so much more from our digital interactions. We talk first and foremost about the openness of the medium — how anyone can join, and all contributions are welcome. In reality, though, we’re finding that in some circumstances we have to provide some form of moderation, or the interaction degenerates into a lovely form of chaos. Did I just say a lovely form of chaos? My pardon! Must have been a slip. Moderation has its place, but extreme form of this behavior is what I call “the tyranny of the commons”: behavior within a community is so constrained that even the slightest deviation is punished; the unwritten rules of group behavior are so concrete and rigid that the community takes on aspects of a wild dog pack, with interaction dictated to by an alpha male who maintains rigid control at all times. I have found that there is something about the faceless nature of the Internet that can encourage this type of behavior from people who would never think to act this way in person. Though I realize that condemning warbloggers is becoming rather old-fashioned and quaint among weblogging circles, it’s in them that we see some of the more obvious forms of tyranny of the commons practiced. For instance one of the more virulent warblogs Little Green Footballs maintains only the thinnest veneer of objectivity over what is an almost xenophobic outlook of persecution and isolationism; an outlook protected by a group of avid and devoted readers one could only describe as a pack behavior at its most extreme. LGF is a most unusual leader of a pack, though. Rather than eating first, it drags the bloody carcass of its next victim into the midst of its followers and then sits back watching while the other animals attack until not even the original bones of truth are left. All the while LGF sits, hyena smile on face, living off the bile of the attack while claiming its paws are blood-free. Where something like LGF is dangerous isn’t in the words spoken in the posts but in the devotion of its readers. When Anil Dash criticized MSNBC’s inclusion of Little Green Footballs in its lineup of weblogs, the LGF war machine went into action with letter writing campaign to MSNBC, and a barrage of harassment against Dash. From what I remember of the event, the ensuing carnage was not pretty. What it lacked in community spirit, it made up in by being a disturbing reminder of what mob behavior can accomplish. Where’s the witch? Someone get the stake and the gas. Who brought marshmallows? We could say that something like LGF provides a service — a place for people to vent their anger and fear rather than in the street or worse, the voting booth. However, rather than siphon off the negative energy, LGF creates a feedback loop and cycles it back in, and it grows and grows, getting uglier each iteration. Of course, not all examples of tyranny of the commons is evidenced by negative behavior. In fact, the most insidious examples of commons tyranny is the group think that surrounds many of our technologies, and even ourselves. When journalists condemn webloggers, even in a mild way, we react as if the people have insulted our favorite child — calling it a bucktoothed ugly little snit. The most infamous case of this was an article written by John Dvorak of PC Magazine ages ago that dismissed weblogging as unworthy, dull, and mainly related to cats (the infamous cats of weblogging). The result was a universal loathing against Dvorak in weblogging that if one could have harnessed the energy, would have lit up Cleveland. But the times, they are a changing. I thought it was extremely humorous to see John Dvorak guest blogging at Boing Boing, giving as his reason for coming over to the dark side:

I suppose you’re wondering exactly how I got here. The answer is simple: only a fool would refuse the opportunity to guest blog on what is probably the most entertaining blog being published today.

Of course, an upcoming book called ONLINE! might also have something to do with it, too. See! Now there I reacted like a typical weblogger, suspicious of all professional journalist actions. When the new Creative Commons licenses were released, there was a subtle pressure to get on the bandwagon, cheer the home team, jump on board with these and any person who questioned the potential problems associated with them was frowned upon as a child not playing well with the other children. Yet there were and still are a lot of unanswered legal questions associated with the licenses — questions should be asked, concerns raised. This very site, Corante, was at one point chastised for its CC license use. It was also chastised for having weblogs but not having RSS feeds — something that’s just not done in well-behaved, polite weblogging circles. Fie. Tsk. Even within our circles, especially within our circles or virtual neighborhoods as we call them, we reward those who fit, and punish those who don’t, and the coin of the realm is recognition. I remember stumbling across a weblog entry once, long ago, that hadn’t been maintained in several months. The last entry said something like, “Why do I continue writing this? None of you cares. None of you gives a shit.” I wish I had copied down the exact words because they were genuine words of pain, the realization that one doesn’t matter and that no one was listening, and it troubled me a great deal. I’ve never forgotten that entry. If there was any one thing that has led me to fight against elitism in online interactions, and the absolute necessity of maintaining open doors, it was that one weblog and its last entry. Long gone now, as with the weblogger who wrote the words. The tyranny of the commons isn’t restricted to just weblogs. You can see group enforced behaviors in discussion groups such as Slashdot, with its system that rewards points based on the cleverness of the reply. Of course, cleverness wins over courtesy in Slashdot, so one could say that the site maintains a wall against chaos by giving into the chaos. Even a relatively open discussion group/pseudo weblog such as MetaFilter has acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, which tend to get ignored on hotter topics. It’s an abject lesson in diminishing returns — the longer the comment thread, the greater the degree of degeneration. At some point, the thread become just so much dirt kicking and shoulder shoving. Sometimes the words are uttered with wit, sometimes the words are uttered by the witless. Still, the most beautiful online moment I’ve witnessed was a MetaFilter posting. When my friend Chris had a close friend, Rick, killed in the terrorist attack in Bali, in the MetaFilter posting related to this there were several entries with just one character — a single period:


Within online discussion groups, this period stands for a moment of silence and to see one after another, interspersed with condolences, and poetry, and genuine expressions of concern — it still brings tears to my eye, and I’m not a sentimental person. It is works such as this that give me hope, that helps me realize that though there is a tyranny of the commons, there’s also a compassion of the commons. And maybe if we’re lucky, the compassion will eventually triumph over the tyranny. Or not. I want to thank the members of Many-to-Many for having me here. When Clay wrote me and asked me to guest blog, I joked and asked if he was still sick from the flu; after all, I have been a fairly vocal detractor of his social software writing in the past. However, Clay is a gentlemen who respects the necessity of giving voice to those who disagree, as much, and perhaps more, than to those who agree. Yours in celebration of diversity and disagreement, Shelley aka Burningbird


Let the sentiment drip

Joeseph Duemer published a wonderful poem online and then later added a perfect annotation:

The lines above attempt to camouflage their sentimentality with words like slurp & gulp & drool, but it is the barest trick. Better to just let the sentimentality be itself or keep quiet, no?

We are cosmopolitan and sophisticated, wearing black silk rather than chiffon and ruffles. We scorn the sentimental. We kick the red velvet box and shred the silk flower, sneer with disdain at words of love, and turn off the radio when we hear the refrain, “You done me wrong and now my heart is broken.”

But you know, sometimes it’s okay to just let the sentiment drip.


Weblogging Writing

Write Redirect

Nicholas, aka Aquarion is another weblogger going on leave in order to spend time on other things. He writes:

I’ve spent three and a half years this week doing this weblog. That’s two and a half years of diarizing my life, and a year of “Weblogging” propery, discussing stuff with people far better at this than I am. Since I started Weblogging “properly” last year, I’ve written nothing. That is, I have fifteen fragments of four stories, two of which could be novel-length, and I wrote most of those while I was ABEND in Febuary. The Theory runs thusly: If I stop weblogging for a while – and I don’t know what the definition of a while is yet – I might get some writing done, and since writing is the thing that I think I’m good at – far more than any of the stuff I blathered on about for months on here – I have decided that it’s worth the experiment and the number of complaints I’ve had that the site is down.

I hear these words most deeply. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to write just for the sheer joy of writing, myself. But I kick at the screen when another voice goes quiet.

Just Shelley

The Odds

He was born with the odds against him and the miracle of his birth was accompanied by the miracle of his life. Arms too short and body so weak, they said he would never make it through high school, but he did. And like a weakling at the beach, he kicked sand into the face of his own mortality.

Must not run hard, they would say, and he’d grab tennis racquet, holding it close to his chest because he could hold it no other way and he ran and he hit and he lived. Every time the odds would try to hold him back, he’d look right through them and just continue on.

He’d sneak out at night to join his friends, getting into the mild trouble all teens get into, drinking a bit too much, partying a little too hard. His parents were aghast and scolded him and said to stay away from his Bad Friends. But they weren’t bad — they just saw within him the spirit, the normalness of him.

He grew from a frail kid into an adult, spending too many days looking at white walls. Getting too many cards along the way. Against the odds, in spite of the odds, he thrived. “How are you feeling?”, you’d ask and he’d say, “Heck with that, let’s go ride a horse.”

I remember once when he helped us move, watching him haul boxes into a moving truck, shoving them in so hard I thought something would break and I’d say “Take it easy”, and he just laughed.

The spirit, even the strong spirit can’t work around a leaky heart and he had surgery yet again. And once more, he beat the odds, turning around at the door when he walked out, saluting the hospital good-bye.

But then, a few weeks later, he went for a walk and when he returned he said he felt tired. Wanted a nap. When he didn’t show for dinner, they went to check and found he had died in his sleep.

He was 48, and the odds had finally caught up.

Photography Places

Katy Trail Biker Salute

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Yesterday afternoon I walked my next section of the Katy Trail, starting at Matson. The day was warm, somewhat humid but manageable with clouds threatening at times to rain.

The drive out was not uneventful. I’m beginning to think that all drivers have so many close calls they must experience in their life, and since I started driving much later, I’m getting them all now. Either that or I like to drive too fast.


Anyway, I was driving along I64 heading to Highway 94 following a pickup truck hauling some kind of trailer full of stuff when all of a sudden the top of the trailer blew off and it started losing its load directly in the road in front of me. There was what looked like large sheets of Masonite, big tree branches, aluminum siding and all sorts of not car friendly objects. Luckily I was far enough back from the trailer not to get hit directly from the stuff, but I was close enough to watch the Masonite hit the road and break apart into big pieces.

“Sh…”, and swerving around the bigger pieces, trying not to run into the semi on the left of me as he was doing some serving on his own and for a minute there was a group of us doing this oddly beautiful dance around the debris and each other but, luckily, no one stomped on their partner “!”

The semi, dragging pieces of Masonite in its wheels, signaled to the truck that it lost its load and just as I was moving up to let him know that he needed to pull over, I saw his emergency lights go on and he started to slow down, move over to the shoulder.


Not long after, when I pulled over on 94 I went about ten miles before I calmed down enough to realize I had turned the wrong direction.

What a drive Highway 94 is south of I-64, with rolling hills and sharpish curves, but in excellent shape. The perfect road for Golden Girl, but I was going quite slowly because the surroundings were that beautiful. It seemed like every corner had a brown state park sign announcing this wildlife refuge, and that park. I kept having to pull over to let other cars pass me as I slowly drove along enjoying the scenery.


The trailhead I picked today started just inland from the Missouri river, winding its way through wine country, past farms and meadow and dense forest. I expected the walk to be pretty, but I didn’t expect it to be breathtaking. I was the only walker because the Katy Trail is more popular with bikers further away from the cities. You can go farther on a bike, but you can’t really appreciate the nuances of the trail except on foot.


The Katy Trail in this location was bordered by limestone cliffs surrounded by dense vegetation. The plants were so close and thick, the depths were dark as night and you couldn’t see through them. Once when I moved close to a large bush to try to peer into the growth, the bush shook with the movement of something in it, most likely scared by my closeness. There really is little harmful life in Missouri, other than the bugs, but it’s unnerving to have this large bush shake violently when you approach it and you can’t see what causes it.


Birdlife. You wouldn’t believe the number of birds flying in and around the plants. And insects of all kinds including beautiful butterflies. The trees overlapped the trail in some parts, and I was reminded of the problems with ticks this state has. But if we deny ourselves the pleasure of life by constantly worrying about what bad thing is going to fall out of the sky and land on us, then we’re missing the point, aren’t we?


One old farm had converted a building into a trailside store for hikers and bikers. It also had a large caged-in area with geese and chickens and roosters, one of which decided to do a little crowing practice in the late afternoon light. I enjoy listening to roosters, but the owner was a bit miffed.

“Emmet, shut up, Emmet!” “Emmet, shut up you crazy bird!”

The place was a marvel of cats running about — big cats — and funky buildings and one silo that was covered in vines. The perfect touch was the Coke machine. A vignette of Americana, and not a bad one at that.


I walked until I reached the Missouri river and explored the shores, watching a couple of artists painting the view, and the ubiquitous fishermen along the shore line. Aside from the roads and the factories, the river is very much as it was from the past.

When I crossed the road to reach the river, a small car was coming along and I stepped to the shoulder, but the driver took the corner short, not seeing me, and brushed past me a foot or two away. Enough to be breezy. I didn’t jump, or yell, just kind of looked at the car as it disappeared in the distance.

Ever have one of those days that you feel like fate has painted a big red bullseye on you? Funny thing is, it’s just this kind of day that you remember later, when you’re feeling philosophical about life — stands out in our minds, except as time goes on, the distance between me and the car will get shorter until someday I’ll be laying on my deathbed, talking to some disinterested young person about the car that ran over my toes.


Altogether my hike was about five miles. The ride home was the best because of the late afternoon green-gold-purple-orange-pink-red color the last light gets here in Missouri. The roads were empty so I let Golden Girl have the ride she wanted, except when I went through Defiance. There I slowed down because the small town was full of Harley’s and other motorcycles — several hundred, with drivers surrounding this small bar with live music blasting out, hoisting beers in salute at the cars driving past.

What a good idea. I turned to the Rock n’ Roll classic hit station and cranked the sound, rolling the windows full down letting the wind whip my hair about, and bringing in the sweet smell of the Missouri green. I waved back at the bikers, as I put the pedal to the metal and headed home.