Social Media

Social software: Mr. Rogers’ Evil Twin

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

We’ve had problems this week trying to manage Renaissance Web discussions at Yahoo Groups. It would sometimes take hours for a reply to post, which tends to short circuit a lively discussion.

Roger Benningfield set up a JournURL Renaissance Web community and I’ve been playing around with it this morning. One very impressive community discussion forum! What I particularly like is how one can attach URLs, keywords, and annotation to each discussion item, making them more accessible with intelligent searching.

Roger has also incorporated one very interesting feature: Hot Issues. With this, if a discussion thread gets too heated, moderators can snip the thread and move it to Hot Issues for continuation. According to Roger:


I don’t believe in fighting flames with deletion, moderation, or
banning. If you’ve got a capable forum app, you don’t need that kind
of thing. My approach is to watch a discussion, and when it gets
heated, snip off the relevant thread and move it to a “Hot Issues”
section where it can proceed unabated. Arguments may get silly at
times, but trying to actively stifle them just keeps things
simmering forever. I’m a “get it out and over with” person.

So much of social software comes off sounding and acting like a badly wired Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. “Good behavior” is positively reinforced, while “bad behavior” is ignored or shunted aside, out of the light, like an unmade bed or a stack of dirty clothes. However, instead of promoting open discussion, this just results in more of the bland harmonization that is starting to typify so much of our online interactions.

Social software should adapt to all human behaviors — the good and the bad. Sometimes people get angry, and sometimes the greatest creativity can begin with this anger.

True, most likely anger just leads to more anger, and amazing feats of pettiness, but social software needs to provide the means of dealing with anger, and other so-called ‘bad’ human traits. It needs to conform to human behavior, not force artificial constraints on people’s behavior in order to conform to the software.

If a discussion gets heated, move it to a separate area, but don’t shut it down. That way, the people in the disagreement can continue, happily, angrily, and others don’t have to watch, or read.

(But what do you want to bet, others do watch, and do read. We love nothing more than to gawk at a car wreck in the making.)

I think Roger’s software is one of the most ‘socially aware’ examples of social software I’ve seen, and not because it uses lightspeed technology, or AI, or even RDF (horrors!). It’s because he’s done something I’ve seen few other social software people do — look and listen to the people who are going to use it.

Social software enthusiasts could learn from this, rather than persisting in creating a digital version of the New Age feel good self-centered hockiness that infested so much of the last few decades.

Not that I have strong opinions one way or another on this.

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