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    • This thread is a continuation of some of the ideas from this conversation.

      I've been fortunate enough in my life to have spoken to a number of audiences both online and off, and as any speaker or moderator knows, the size of the audience drastically affects the quality of the conversation. Consider a micro-gathering of intimate friends: the conversation allows for a fairly equal distribution of participation, and important ideas or feelings are able to be easily expressed and pondered.

      As the size of that audience grows, that ability becomes less and less. In a moderated group of 20, several speakers will begin to gain undue control of the conversation, while more passive participants begin to fade into the background. When the group becomes hundreds to thousands, even the ability to be noticed and called upon to speak at all diminishes to the point of non-existence. When it comes to conversation, fewer participants leads to greater quality. Not quality of ideas, mind you, but quality of conversation, the exchange of ideas.

      Due to the increasing difficulty to be even noticed as the group grows, natural expression of ideas begins to take a back seat to attempts to be noticed at all. Viral trends such as planking, ghost riding, the Harlem Shake, etc., aren't actually individual expressions of an idea, they're simply a cry to be noticed. "I exist too!"

      In social conversation platforms, the best conversations always exist in the early arc of their lifespan before mass adoption occurs. When there are only a handful of participants (a la Google+ circa 2011), it's easy to gain visibility and engage with people who are otherwise outside of your social circles. However, as the crowd begins to swell, the inherent noise of network notifications begins to drown out all but a few preferred voices, often centered around the echo chamber of those whose ideas you identify most with, or those already in your social circles.

      An interesting example of that is the list of folks on the Google+ Early Influencers Panel. It's an insular group that certainly achieved a high follow count, but aside from @Scobleizer , @treyratcliff , @thomashawk , and @Daria , I didn't follow any of them, and I don't see many of the people with whom I engaged regularly, who also had sizable followings: @derekross , Michael Interbartolo, David Kutcher, etc. Granted, many of those folks aren't here (yet?), but to me, the folks with tens of thousands of followers facilitated greater conversations than the folks with millions. Trey's posts would get thousands of reactions, but his postings were fairly hit and run: post a photo, respond to a couple of comments, mute the thread. And at the end of the day, who is really an influencer? Is it the person who amasses tons of followers, or is it the person responsible for the ready exchange of ideas, who is actually changing minds or educating?

      (And for the record, this is not a callout thread, and I'm not saying you're doing social wrong, just noting my experiences as one of your followers).

      One of my favorite things about Google Groups, and then Reddit, was that in their earliest incarnations, they were responsible for some of the most engaging and educational conversations I've ever been a part of. They had a substantive impact on my worldview and beliefs, and that was in part due to the fact that all participants in the conversation were de facto peers, and had the same ability as anyone else to be heard without resorting to attention seeking behavior.

      This platform feels like it has the potential to foster similar conversations, but I'm curious how it stands up to the test of growth's impact on conversational quality. Panels, for instance, enforce a certain expectation of quality due to their participants, but exclude participation to those not hand picked to be a part of the panel. Those of us not in the panel are not part of the conversation. We're merely audience. And by virtue of that fact, even if we're smiling (picture for reference), we are not part of the conversation.

      Many, many pundits have waxed poetic about the death of dialog in the social media era. I wonder if we can focus on quality in the hopes of resurrecting it, and if so, what tools/culture can a platform bring to the table to drive conversational quality?

      Suggested reading: Robert Pirsig - The Metaphysics of Quality

    • I too have watched forums that seemed so great in the past vanish after the problems you describe set in.

      On one hand, it's scary to think all our hard work at Cake could go up in flames for all the same reasons. On the other, it's thrilling to think about the upside if we make real progress with the problem.

      In my opinion, you nailed several premises, the first being it's about the number of people participating. Our hope is if we do the topics right, small groups of people will gather around specific topics like Australian Crested Pigeons.

      The trouble is, what happens when you get a topic with mass interest? I personally feel some form of curation will make or break those conversations. Do you like what The New York Times is doing with comments?

    • I think curation or moderation is key to maintaining a quality conversation. I've participated both in unmoderated forums and highly moderated forums, and the best conversations occur in forums where you can't just spam "PENIS" to the comments a thousand times.

    • Thanks for the shout out ;)

      You bring up the crux of the issue: to use social media for mass amplification ...or to use it for engaging conversation?

      It's something that everyone participating in social media (beyond sharing cat pictures for their close friends and family) need to consider. Why are they there? Why are they investing their time (the most valuable resource) in using a platform?

      Each person's motivations affect the value that they derive, but also the value that their connections might derive from them.

    • Hey, glad to see you're here! I wasn't sure how many in my network joined up after my and Robert's post about it.

      Our private community on G+ was a good example of high quality conversation with a low number of participants, and one of the first place I saw any real honesty from marketers.

    • Anyone here has an insider's opinion/experience from The WELL? I have only anecdotal reports but was always curious about the platform and the atmosphere and culture it reportedly provided (provides?)

    • That was Salon's conversation platform, if my muddled aged memory serves me correctly. Heavily moderated, and also a source of fantastic high quality conversation.

    • This post itself (and the one that preceded it) are good examples of my point; I'm more inclined to spend time writing a thoughtful post when I know that the principals of a platform are listening.

      Zuckerberg will never see a single one of my posts. But @Chris , @yaypie , @Vilen will, and that adds value to the weight of the quality of the conversation.

    • All I've ever heard about The Well is it's legendary. It's still around, costs $150/year to be a member. The fact that it was started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant must have been part of the draw.

    • Yeah that's about the gist of my knowledge. The only actual member of The WELL that I have exchanged a couple emails with (and that was long ago) is Bruce Sterling (who very occasionally publishes at Medium btw, or at least used to). Besides the legendary community status, which always intrigued me, there's also the fact that it is not *only* the forum, but also a kind of personal electronic home for members. That also resonates with me since I have been running small shared community services for friends and relatives for soon 30 years now, and can tell that having a cozy corner of your own in the big wide 'Net is definitely warming, not entirely unlike a real cabin in the woods :)

    • This conversation has made me think of the debates that I used to have in college, and how the 15 person classes in Philosophy of Art differed from the 40 person class on Modern Art History.

      Perhaps it's me, but I seem to always seek out a type that is willing to put out ideas publicly, discuss them, debate them, and want to keep doing that. For me that's always been where the value began, which then grew into thought-based relationships built on respect. That in turn has grown into genuine friendships, mentors, and yes, even clients.

      But it all began with seeking people willing to advance ideas and engage in debate.

    • That is exactly what we hope Cake will be able to foster.

      I'm noticing as we moderate that we have some biases—of course—one being against low-effort, substance-free posts that come off as more like noise. Another is the inability to engage in debate that includes respecting other points of view. It's going to be quite an interesting challenge to see how we scale that.

    • A long time ago slashdot had a pretty decent moderation scheme that, coupled with filters (editable by the user) enabled a reading experience that did a decent job of promoting articles and comments on them. It wasn't foolproof, but was the best I've seen to date.

    • I think that fundamentally means you, and the rest of your board, have to make some hard choices up front.

      Am I allowed to say shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits? George Carlin's ghost is watching closely for your answer.

      Am I allowed to post nudity? What if it's artistic? What if it's self posted OC?

      Many of these other networks didn't ask the hard questions until they had to, and then often overreacted badly. I think these things have to have planned out in advance.

    • Am I allowed to say shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits? George Carlin's ghost is watching closely for your answer.

      You forgot fart, turd, and twat. 😉

      I think the answer to all of your questions is "it depends". Intent and context matter more than any individual word. The sentence "Fuck, you're a funny motherfucker" has positive intent. The sentence "Fuck you, motherfucker" has negative intent. They both contain the same number of fucks.

      This more or less applies to images as well. Nudity can be artistic or even newsworthy, but it can also be pornographic or obscene. Likewise violence.

      There are plenty of places online where people can find porn or needlessly violent imagery, so Cake isn't the place for those things. And there are also plenty of places online where people can be horrible to each other, so Cake isn't the place for that either.

      We want Cake to be a place where people treat each other with respect and talk about things of substance. We don't want to be heavy-handed or moralistic. There will be a lot of judgement calls, and sometimes we'll get it wrong. But in general if something is respectful and has substance, then it's probably okay. Probably. In general.

    • There comes a point for every reader where "dialog" crosses over into "proselytizing". Every topic, every writer in any sort of an online presence has to accept that as part of the cost of engaging in dialog.

      Concur, more of that 'human problem' you mentioned.

    • If you speak of substance, the "it depends" response needs to be read as "it depends if it still conveys substance."

      Substance is conveyed in mindfully presented thought or artistic expression. It would include friendly gestures in a conversation but exclude flung expressions that border ad hominems or display intellectual laziness.

    • I joined the WELL fifteen years ago after reading an amazing profile on Stewart Brand in Fortune magazine.

      Fun Fact: Instead of buying a bike lock for his expensive touring bicycle, Brand coated the frame with dirt to make it less desirable to thieves.

      I didn’t stay long on the site: it was a very small community and I couldn’t get interested in many of the conversations. Mastodon has that feel at first with all the tech talk, but the introductions hashtag allows you to find like-minded souls quickly as does the interest-focused instances.

    You've been invited!