[iDC] The difference between community and voices

Jean Burgess jean at creativitymachine.net
Thu Oct 1 06:40:43 UTC 2009

I should also note, the unevenness of participation you mention is a
consistent pattern across platforms, including mailing lists, blogs,
YouTube, Flickr, etc.; this is understood as a basic reality for the
developers of such platforms, and at least as far as I know it doesn't
appeared to have changed much, no matter what new thing comes along.

See Yahoo!'s Bradly Horowtiz on this issue a few years back, with handy
"pyramid of participation" graphic:

"1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group)
10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author
content whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress
100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups

In my own work I have tried not to replicate the value judgements implicit
here: where "productivity" is valued over the practices of "mere" audiences.

That said, it is a constant challenge to facilitate active engagement
("voice", if you will) from a broader range of participants with interest in
whatever the focus of the online community happens to be.

Maybe Facebook is the exception to the rule?


Dr. Jean Burgess
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (cci)
Queensland University of Technology


> From: John Hopkins <jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net>
> Organization: neoscenes
> Reply-To: <jhopkins at tech-no-mad.net>
> Date: Wed, 30 Sep 2009 20:08:37 +1000
> To: <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Subject: Re: [iDC] The difference between community and voices
>> Social control is real, that's the problem. It is organized by elites
>> and imposed on the different classes, regional groups, ethnicities etc.
>> There are many forms of it. I am claiming that one of them, which has
> Dearest List
> I am coming to wonder about the presence of powerful authorial voices on
> mailing
> lists, and the radical departure from the traditional set of BIG voices
> pre-internet that The Network promised, a utopia of pluralism.  Has it come to
> pass?  I don't think so.
> As I troll my personal archive of lists (nettime, spectre, 7-11, microsound,
> x-change, etc), I find that all of the lists that I have "participated" in
> have
> numerous subscribers (most list admins will not divulge the actual numbers,
> though I hereby invite Trebor to), along with a very short tail of posters,
> dominated by a very small clump of BIG voices.  Without hard numbers, but
> doing
> a sort on poster names in my 15-year Eudora archive on a number of lists the
> percentages run around 1-2% or less are BIG posters (80%+ of all content),
> with
> another 3-10% taking up the balance and a minor number of single posters.
> These
> numbers are calculated on the total number of all posts, and would therefore
> be
> MUCH more rarified if compared to all readers and subsequently, all
> subscribers.
> What about all those other potential voices out there?
> As I was reading yet another soaring post from Brian, I suddenly got the
> feeling
> I was reading a NYT best-selling novel, a page-turner, compelling, seamless,
> complete in both its content and its style (sometimes self-deprecating,
> sometimes bold, provocative, inviting the reader to question (rhetorically or
> in
> fact) the conclusions), a FORCE to silence competing views if only through the
> eminent readability, completeness, and intellectual coherence and
> seam-less-ness.  You can read nothing else except through the long text,
> consuming in the process, a largish piece of irretrievable life-time.  Time
> subtracted from embodied praxis.  The network labor of paying attention to BIG
> voices. When the reading is done, the time for action is also spent.
> Theory-as-text or text-as-theory soaking up valuable life-time for praxis,
> action.  And because the reading of this cannot simply stop in mid-word,
> mid-phrase, mid-sentence, mid-paragraph, mid-tome, mid-thread, mid-list
> subscription, more and more life gets absorbed in reading.  One long
> socially-constructed text which keeps action limited to eye-and-finger twitch
> for the duration.
> And, by default, then, a dominant, BIG voice talking about action but
> obstructing the actuality.  Is a mailing list a community?
> If community is a situation dominated by a small number of BIG voices and
> minor 
> actions, I guess it is.  Is this a subtle form of social control?  what's the
> difference between that and subtle coercion?  (if I don't read, if I don't
> give 
> attention to the BIG voices, is there a bite-back from the social system? I
> think so.)
> What does the health of "community" mean if community is literally not more
> than
> a handful of BIG voices within the collective? (community in quotes largely
> because of this historically repeated suspicion at the illusions of
> techno-democracy (or just distributed creativity) that was embedded at the
> outset of such online "communities")...
> Wednesday morning non-threaded meditation commentary.
> jh
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