On community

An off-hand comment in Zephyr about whether Usenet is dead, plus being in just the right mood this evening, prompted me to finally put this up on the web.

This is a post that I made to the largely dead net.subculture.usenet about a year and a half ago, another one of those posts that get stuck in my head and that I stay up well after midnight writing. I'm not really sure what to say about it, other than it's the best I will probably ever do at capturing what I feel about Usenet now. If anything, the feeling has gotten stronger over the past year and a half.

There's still a lot of emotion here.

On community

Posted: 2006-09-20 00:42 — Why no comments?

russ,

i got your essay on usenet from jo walton who got it from chris davis...thank you for writing it.

don't know if you remember me or not, but i was/am kitten in alt.callahans.

*HUG*

kitten

Posted by barbara 'kitten' trumpinski-roberts at 2006-09-21 06:06

I'm another person who heard about your post from old usenet friends. I enjoyed reading it immensely.

I don't think usenet is dead either, and I do think you've expressed thoughts very similiar to mine about LiveJournal and its proclivity to kill long conversations due to its structure and basic philosophical difference from usenet.

I'm from the old soc.singles/soc.singles.moderated community and we still meet physically with each other because the community we formed in usenet was so strong. And it's important to all of us that we started in usenet, yet we feel and discuss the changes often.

I'm glad you've shared your thoughts.

Posted by Lorre at 2006-09-21 08:05

A post on my friends-friends list on LJ (where I'm user cahwyguy) led me here. I too miss the old days. I was a regular participant on a number of groups: soc.culture.jewish, misc.kids, misc.transport.road (where I still show up), ca.highways, la.eats. I'm still a moderator for soc.culture.jewish.parenting, but we rarely get a post anymore -- it is all spam.

I've pretty much moved to LJ, but agree with you that the nature of the space is different. There are sometimes long coversations, but much more rarely.

I do miss the old gettogethers we used to have. I remember misc.kids picnics (I still have the T-shirt), and the photo album we made. That community, I think, doesn't exist anymore. I have, however, met in person a bunch of LJ folk who have provent to be neat people.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Daniel
Moderator: soc.culture.jewish.parenting
Maintainer: soc.culture.jewish FAQ/Reading List
Moderator: Liberal Judaism Mailing List (mail.liberal-judaism)

Posted by Daniel Faigin at 2006-09-21 13:41

Thank you, everyone, for the messages (and yes, I do remember kitten, although I was never a regular in alt.callahans). It does my heart good to know that the message strikes a chord, and (as people have commented here and elsewhere), there definitely are communities still on Usenet. I've just had a hard time finding ones where I fit, although I'm soon going to have more time to look around.

Posted by eagle at 2006-09-21 14:47

Thank you. You helped me by writing and posting that. I met my husband through Usenet, and many of the people I respect the most in the world through soc.singles/soc.singles.moderated I also remember reading you and others on nanam back in the day. Whew bubba.

Thank you for writing this and posting it, and for all the work you've done to make Usenet what it is and was.

Peace,
Kristen

Posted by Kristen at 2006-09-21 20:58

In the interest of tying threads of the discussion to this post, here is a pointer to my LJ post about it.

The journal is firecat.livejournal.com and the post is 435644. Append html to the end. (Or you can post the URL directly if you want.)

(eagle's edit: Here's the journal link.)

Posted by Stef at 2006-09-21 22:38

I think that LiveJournal and the like cater to a frankly absurd idea of community: one based on self-promotion, networking, cleverness and low attention spans. Nothing really of substance, nothing condusive to real conversation or friendship.

I think some of my closest friends were the ones I've met on Usenet (and RACC in particular, which was the only group that's really held my attention). Certainly they're the people I have the greatest amount of respect for.

Posted by Tom Russell at 2006-09-23 00:08

It isn't all like that. There are real communities on LJ that aren't based around ooo, shiny and people grandstanding. It can be a bit hard to find them, and there certainly is a lot of drama, but they're definitely there.

I'm not sure that LJ caters to that problem so much as just uncovers that a lot of people do view community in that way or, at the least, have a hard time forming a deeper community through a text medium (and LJ, even with pictures and the like, is still mostly a text medium). It takes a lot of practice to put enough depth into writing to form those connections purely via the written word, I think. (Although it comes more naturally to some than others.)

Posted by eagle at 2006-09-23 12:35

Very good points; I guess my initial exposure to the entire blogging phenomenon kinda turned me off from taking the time to locate people and communities that are comprised of intelligent and gracious individuals. Most of what I've encountered are ranting teenagers who write huge sprawling blocks of self-pitying/angry text, text that is not capitalized, full of irritating abbreviations (really, is "you" that much more difficult to type than "u"), and punctuated sporadically at best.

But I do strongly agree that it "takes a lot of practice to put enough depth into writing to form these connections purely via the written word": a cursory glance at my first few years on Usenet reveal a very poor communicator-- and one that had nothing of substance to say, certainly a grandstander.

I should be more patient with others, then, as some (including yourself) were patient and gracious with me. Something I'll have to work on.

I like having a public place like a newsgroup for discourse; like you said, the blogs tend too much to be personal property instead of public space, which is not really as condusive to discussion.

I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that somehow, someday, there will be a huge resurgance of Usenet. I know it's kind of like hoping for peace in the Middle East, but I'm optimistic if nothing else.

Posted by Tom Russell at 2006-09-23 15:56

I've been on usenet since 1982. At the height of my involvement, I
was a usenet admin for a couple of "second tier" sites (sites that
were not officially part of the backbone, but were topologically
connected to two or more backbone sites). I no longer administer any
sites, nor do I contribute to usenet code or even participate in many
of the groups I used to. I still get some mileage out of some groups,
however. I don't think usenet is dead. It's larger, less close-knit,
and has uses that wouldn't have been tolerated in the past (such as
warez). It's also riddled with spam, which lowers its overall
utility, although some groups manage not to be targeted by it.

I've had an LJ account since sometime in 2003. I don't post to it
regularly. I don't think there's been a two week stretch that I've
posted at least once per day to my journal. I don't (currently) feel
the need to publicly air my thoughts; possibly this is because I
haven't attracted a large enough group of people that (regularly)
comment on my thoughts (unlike usenet, where in most groups, there is
enough difference of opinion on subjects to elicit responses). As far
as other people's journals go, I've friended people I know, and some
others I've met through LJ. Like you, I sometimes feel like a
stranger in people's journals who I know. I've even been defriended
(or have not (yet) been friended) by some people I've known for a long
time, even people who would regularly correspond with me via usenet.
That's been kind of disappointing, but I don't think about it much.

In some ways, some of the younger people I see congregating either in
their own journals or in some of the LJ communities remind me of the
way I was with people I knew back then. I occasionally feel a sense
of yearning when I think of what it was like to be younger and be
optimistic about the future. OTOH, I've learned some rather sobering
things from some of the younger folks, who have concerns that I and
others generally did not (or didn't admit publicly).

There definitely was a bond between the participants of many a
newsgroup. I don't know to what extent this exists in the LJ
communities because I've not active enough in them. I've heard of
gettogethers in some communities but have never been to any. Other
people seem to have brought their "communities" with them to their
journals, so they get together at least semi-regularly with said
individuals, perhaps much in the same way that I got together with
other newsgroup participants in the past.

One more thing: I tend to use my journal as a blog at times. When I
post to blogs, I give my journal as my website. However, I've had
very very few people comment on my journal entries. I sometimes
wonder if LJ and some of the other social networking sites are
considered to be somehow less "official" or "professional" than blogs,
and that is why they aren't quoted. I've thought on and off about
creating a blog for more business-oriented topics and leaving the
journal for personal issues. (I actually have one, but I never use
it; it was created as a side effect of creating an account that
enabled me to replied to a blog entry that did not allow nonregistered
user replies.) However, since I paid for a permanent account, I'm
inclined to try to make use of it for as many common purposes as
possible, at least for now. Perhaps when I get around to tagging
entries and convert to a non-default layout my journal will at least
look a bit more professional.

Posted by gregbo at 2006-09-27 14:42

Interesting comments. Thank you very much for writing them!

We seem to have had far different experiences with spam on Usenet, enough so that I find that rather intriguing. You said that it's littered with spam, whereas from my perspective we pretty much won the spam war on Usenet and I almost never see any spam on Usenet these days. Maybe that's the difference between using a filtered and unfiltered server, since my server spam filters do continue to delete a fair amount of junk. One of the things I like about Usenet is that it's almost completely spam-free; LJ beats it there, but a personal journal like this one requires constant ongoing effort to despam.

I'm not sure what to think about where Usenet is going from here. I think I've mostly decided that it's not something about which I'm going to continue to crusade. I will use the groups that I enjoy and continue to maintain a server and work on the software as a hobby when I feel like it (almost all of my work on INN has helped greatly with other projects, so that's a good feeling), and we'll see if Usenet continues to be useful. In the meantime, I've been keeping an eye out for other places communities can form and have been slowly increasing my involvement in blog and LJ-based communities, although it's still nowhere near where my Usenet involvement used to be at.

Posted by eagle at 2006-09-27 15:30

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