Blue Hampshire, a political community I gave years of my life to, is in a death spiral. The front page is a ghost town.
It’s so depressing, I won’t even link to it. It’s so depressing, that I haven’t been able to talk about it until now. It actually hurts that much.
This is a site that at the point I left it had 5,000 members, 10,000 posts, and 100,000 comments. And at the point co-founders Laura Clawson and Dean Barker left it circa 2011(?), it had even more than that.
And what comments! Because I say that *I* put sweat into it, or Laura and Dean did, but it was the community on that site that really shone. Someone would put up a simple post, and the comments would capture history, process, policy, backstory — whatever. Check out these comments on a randomly selected post from 2007.
The post concerns an event where the local paleoconservative paper endorsed John McCain for their Democratic candidate, as a way to slight a strong field of Democrats in 2008.
What happens next is amazing, but it was the sort of thing that happened all the time on Blue Hampshire. Sure, people gripe, but they do so while giving out hidden pieces of history and background that just didn’t exist anywhere else on the web. They relate personal conversations with previous candidates, document the history the paper has of name-calling and concern-trolling.
Honest to God, this is one article, selected at random from December 2007 (admittedly, one of our top months). In December 2007, our members produced 426 articles like this. Not comments, mind you. Articles. And on so many of those articles, the comments read just like this — or better.
That’s the power of the stream, the conversational, news-peg driven way to run a community. Reddit, Daily Kos, TreeHugger, what have you.
But it’s also the tragedy of the stream, not only because sites die, but because this information doesn’t exist in any form of much use to an outsider. We’re left with the 10,000 page transcript of dead conversations that contain incredible information ungrokable to most people not there.
And honestly, this is not just a problem that affects sites in the death spiral or sites that were run as communities rather than individual blogs. The group of bloggers formerly known as the edupunks have been carrying on conversations about online learning for a decade now. There’s amazing stuff in there, such as this recent how-to post from Alan Levine, or this post on Networked Study from Jim. But when I teach students this stuff or send links to faculty I’m struck by how surprisingly difficult it is for a new person to jump into that stream and make sense of it. You’re either in the stream or out of it, toe-dipping is not allowed.
And so I’m conflicted. One of the big lessons of the past 10 years is how powerful this stream mode of doing things is. It elicits facts, know-how, and insights that would otherwise remain unstated.
But the same community that produces those effects can often lock out outsiders, and leaves behind indecipherable artifacts.
Does anyone else feel this? That the conversational mode while powerful is also lossy over time?
I’m not saying that the stream is bad, mind you — heck, it’s been my way of thinking about every problem since 2006. I’m pushing this thought out to all you via the stream. But working in wiki lately, I’ve started to wonder if we’ve lost a certain balance, and if we pay for that in ways hidden to us. Pay for our lack of recursion through these articles, pay for not doing the work to make all entry points feel scaffolded. If that’s true, then — well, almost EVERYTHING is stream now. So that could be a problem.