There’s a shift going on in the media, a swinging pendulum action towards new formats, new mediums and new procedures. In many ways, this change toward Say Anything, Publish Cheap behaviour is a good thing – but what is it doing to the community that started out here, back in the day? Are bloggers – those once-prolific mavericks who paved the way for the current layer of professionals – being abandoned because of their own success?
When I started on LiveJournal in 1999 as a lark, blogging was considered a downer idea, even among the group of supergeeks I hung out with at the time.
The entire idea behind the LJ – for me, for us – began as a way to gather up all of the work we were doing in collaborative fiction and drop it semantically into a self-organizing, self-publishing venue. There had already been, for nearly four years, a newsletter going out weekly (or sometimes monthly) with updates, but the sudden power to have everything in one place, not just the stuff that was big enough to make the Alamak News, as it were, was a trip all on its own.
But then blogging caught on. The power base shifted from the small group of very experienced players to everyone who the moderators let join the group. And once that happened, the players in some cases even forwent the group blog and published on their own journals, in some cases very elaborate parallelisms to the major game.
We all thought that was a problem.
Then, it got worse.
The trouble was, originally, that Alamak was very hostile towards role-players acting in public. Being that the site was a dominant online chat at the time, and supported nearly eight hundred people during peak hours (bear in mind this is 1999) many of whom were monetarily supporting the chat through subscription-based, privileged accounts, it was a big deal that this small group of less than fifty people were trying to change the way the chat ran, in certain areas. Those of us with Mod accounts (subscription accounts) in some cases ended up under scrutiny for being players. It was frowned on. We were keeping the lights on, and being discriminated against.
So what happened? A small splinter of the players actually went and began their own chat, called Winds of Change. You’d think this was a good thing, but it wasn’t. The break actually caused a schism between a number of the veteran players, because the rules at WoC were so very communist in the Stalinist sense, that some newer players never had a chance of acceptance. WoC meant no harassment for those of us serious enough to play – but it also killed community growth, because the only way in was referral, and if you didn’t have the chops to be a good player from the get go, you were effectively shunned, or worse, humiliated.
WoC died. It became a nepotistic echo chamber with very little innovation. Add to that issues with the admins, the developers who closed the site down eventually – the whole thing became such a crapshoot that those of us who weren’t invested in it left with little protest. When those who remained until the final days tried to reintegrate themselves, the entire community seemed to jump the shark as a whole.
Some of us still entranced by collaborative fiction have done some things with it. One of my fellow players and I are launching a blog-book in February called The Dowager Shadow. I still roleplay, when I get a chance – I’m hoping to organize a reunion game for the old Alamak crowd sometime this year – but I’m a little distressed by what I see when I go into any of the now many roleplayer-centric chat sites there are on the net. I see a lot of the behavior that caused WoC to fail, only on a much bigger scale; what used to be five uppity vets bashing twenty uppity newbs is now a few dozen uppity vets bashing a few hundred uppity newbs. It’s not just ten to one scale, here either. It’s happening on every site out there. It’s fifty, a hundred, a thousand to one the level and volume of pride, wickedness and cruelty that was present eleven years ago in the original games.
The same thing might happen to personal publishing!
If you watch the trends, the schism began a long time ago, but there’s no cultural commentary on it yet because the culture hasn’t caught up to itself. Speaking in the analogy, the blogging equivalent of WoC doesn’t even exist yet. But the trend is there, the behaviors that those of us who watched saw in the small group of vets is beginning to show up again in the blogging culture.
Make Us Better, We’ll Pay For It!
First, there were the bloggers – the unshaven basement rats, eviscerating people who wronged them in the darkness of their parents’ basements. Then there were the journalists and the analysts, the Clay Shirky’s of the world who saw the trend for what it was and got in on the ground floor. Fast forward a few years, and now we’re seeing tutors, gurus, veterans of all kinds popping up and using whatever tools are at their disposal to help or hinder everyone they can lay their hooks into. Just like what happened with Winds of Change, the business has begun to underscore the culture, and if we’re not careful, the business will eventually tire of us, and move elsewhere. And where will that leave those vets who changed with the winds, who followed the money and did nothing but the new, shiny thing?
Before the Business Leaves You, Leave the Business!
There’s an opportunity for us to learn from past mistakes and adjust the model as we’re going, rather than abandoning the pleasure yacht and moving on to the Titanic. As Liz Strauss recently said in an interview with Mitch Joel for the Six Pixels Podcast, the major difference between hiring a fresh, fast-texting digital native and a dyed in the wool expert isn’t scale of skill, it’s the ability to make decisions because of a habit of success and appropriate self-scrutiny that can’t be bought in college, and must be earned through real world trauma and experience. (I may be paraphrasing you there, Liz, but there we are, that’s what I heard.)
Many of the bloggers I know are intensely dedicated professionals. Not necessarily as bloggers, but I’ve seen an approach to technology and its impacts on our culture that visibly, palpably feels like dyed in the wool decision making experts. So I’ll put it to you this way, any of you who are getting in at the beginning of the business:
Are you going to ride out the storm without preparing for the wind to leave your sails?
Or are we going to effect some change and kill the buzz, replacing it with something appropriate, useful, and over all, enduring?
Photo by tibchris.