health of the Internet

How to Build Healthy Geeky Communities

Buttonholes being sewed with silk to an orange woolen vest lined with black linen
Despite the current situation, one creative project from last fall is finally moving forward! Vest in orange fulled cloth, interlined with linen canvas, lined with black linen, buttonholes in silk thread

Geeky communities attract people who milk them for money, sex, and throngs of adoring flatterers. In the Anglo world I can trace this from New York science-fiction fandom in the 1940s through some of the groups I knew face-to-face in Canada to the Southern California tech world (and the closely related SoCal kink and porn worlds) in the 2010s. There are theories why this happens such as Michael Suileabhain-Wilson’s “Geek Social Fallacies” (2003). But today I would like you to read an essay on how to build a community of plumbers working side by side not rock stars and groupies, a community that the parasites bounce off like a mosquito landing on a buckskin jacket.

No More Rock Stars (2016) by Valerie Aurora, Mary Gardiner, and Leigh Honeywell
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Squatters not Owners on the Web

A tabby cat squatted on its hind legs underneath a chair on a concrete sidewalk
I don’t know whether this chatton parisien is a squatter or an owner, but it seems content which is maybe wiser than writing a long post like this!

Many of the problems with Internet communities today stem from the fact that they are in places which don’t belong to the members. Youtube and twitter are nothing without their users, but Youtube and twitter are free to reject someone or change their standards of what is acceptable at any time, and users have no grounds to challenge them. Years of work can be deleted or hidden in a moment if the owner sees fit, and standards of behaviour designed to keep billions of people clicking are never going to be the ones which a small group of nerdy people chose for themselves. Moreover, its not in the interest of these companies to let users export their work in a convenient format.

Alexiares suggests that a good first step would be moving to services hosted by the post office or the public library. The public post has its problems, like the times it was used to block the spread of birth control information and equipment, but libraries and the post office at least have a tradition of offering service and privacy to everyone on equal terms, and are at least based in the same country with the same laws as their users. I don’t think that Germans and Americans will ever agree on what is protected free speech, or people in Ontario and people in Fars will agree on who can bare which bits. So decentralizing onto services like mastodon could help.

When I think back, though, it seems to me that this is a much older problem than centralized social media. In the 2000s, communities sprang up in places like the comments sections of blogs or the off-topic section of forums. Often, the owners of those sites are not happy about this at all, because moderation is work and organizing moderators is work and they have plenty of underpaid work of their own to do (the Tayler family of webcartoonists shut down comments on their main site for this reason). Other times, they create a monthly thread or a members-only subforum to let their readers get it out of their system. But they have do do something because people often use an online space designed for one activity for another.

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Cross-Post: Reddit Breaks Without Javascript

Seems functional at first, but none of the links work and that big sidebar at the left won’t go away! reddit in late April 2018 without scripts.

Sometime in mid-April 2018, Reddit joined the crowd of sites which don’t work without Javascript. Its pages do not appear blank, but none of the links work, and the start of each line in the main part of the page is covered by an almost completely empty column at the left which cannot be removed.

A number of blog hosts have joined this trend recently. Here is Confessions of a Community College Dean at https://suburbdad.blogspot.co.at/

Confessions of a Community College Dean without scripts, Note how the body text overlaps the sidebar rather than wrapping at the end of the column. Long paragraphs extend outside the browser window entirely so that only the first 100 or so characters are visible.

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