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Global Awareness May Change The Way You Communicate on the Web

In an interesting twist in forum demeanor, Topic.net’s Blog write about “What Do You Do With Your Online Community When Things Get Hot?” which I found very interesting.

The Washington Post recently closed down a message forum after getting 700 heated posts in response to a story about the Abramoff scandal. Last June, the LA Times’ short-lived Wikitorial experiment shut after quickly succumbing to vandalism.

Two months ago we launched a community participation system on Topix. In the past week we’ve received over 14,000 comments posted to our Denmark forums. There is a lot of heat in these forums. Lots of strong language, and many offensive posts. However there are also many genuine conversations occurring.

Should the response to fighting breaking out be to shut down a media system where it is being discussed?

The post continues about how much “public scandal or social unrest” we are exposed to in our daily lives through the media, and how we don’t always turn that off when it offends us. Negative comments, arguments, and nasty breaks out wherever humans congregate. This is just part of the human experience. We don’t like it. We wish it would go away, but go against our point of view and watch how fast we can strike back. Yet, when it appears on the Internet in discussion groups, there are some who will fan the flames, but more who want to put it out NOW. So how do you handle it?

They asked themselves where these people were coming from. The answer surprised them. They found that the people participating in their forum were coming from all over the planet. The assumption that the company is based in an English-speaking country, so only English speakers in that country are participating is one that smacks more than just forums. It also strikes blogs. To sum it up beautifully, Topix said, “We were stunned at the geographical breadth of participation.”

Remember, you are on the World Wide Web – emphasis on the world wide part. The Internet is not a little country-specific or government-specific tiny neighborhood. It is truly a global village.

Topix decided to make this information available to their forum members by including the location of the poster in the notes. They said the impact was immediate.

The social architecture of a discussion system can play a huge role in the quality of the discourse. Since adding the user’s location to each post, we’ve noticed a marked lift in the overall tone of the conversations. To be sure, there is still a lot of heat, but it seems like naming the town that someone is posting from has helped humanize some threads. It’s not just a flamewar with faceless forum handles, there’s a real person on the other end of the keyboard, they actually live somewhere.

That’s right. At the other end of the monitor, and keyboard, right now, reading this post, is a “real person”. One with feelings, opinions, and probably an attitude.

I found it fascinating that people started changing their tune when a simple location was added to the impersonal post information. Knowing someone was from Tehran, Texas, or Timbukto seemed to make a difference. Maybe people had visited these places, or fantasized about visiting them, and made a personal connection with the anonmyous participant. Maybe Tehran, Texas, or Timbukto is home and they’ve just encountered a neighbor while sending their post around the world via the Internet. Maybe knowing someone is in Tehran, Texas, or Timbukto, a person familiar with current events and the news knows that life isn’t easy for people living in Tehran, Texas, or Timbukto.

I’ve talked a lot about helping your readers get to know you, and this might be one of the ways to blog anonmyous while personalizing the experience. You can be a “web database expert blogging from San Diego, California” or “opinionated bastard from Edmondton, Alberta, Canada” and still be secretive about who you are.

For over ten years I’ve included my location in my email signature. Because I travel so much, living on the road, few people can keep up with where I am at the moment, including myself. It also had another impact. I’d include not only where I was but where I was going next, and people would respond back with offers of friends and family in the area eager to provide company or even a place to stay. We have met wonderful people this way, and had a much better experience in our travels.

Geographical location plays a huge role in helping people identify with each other. Temporarily living in the blatantly bigoted southern United States, I wonder what people think about the people they communicate with on the net when they know where they live? Does knowing geographical information change your opinion or influence your response? Do you think “Of course she’d think that way, she’s from California”? Do you include your geographical location on your blog? Is it important to you or to your readers to know where you live? Does it matter to you?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen

4 Comments

  1. Posted April 14, 2006 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Am not sure whether I should be posting this here but I really need help! I’ve been trying to login to my WordPress a/c and it just wont let me in! I am logging in after almost 2 weeks but I am sure I put in the correct password. Then I tried the ‘lost password’ thing and it says either my username or email id dont exist! Well then I put in all the passwords and email ids I use and none of them are acceptable to WordPress! Dont know what to do, please help!

  2. Posted April 14, 2006 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Not the right place, but here are some options.

    1. Check spelling and capitalization of the user name and password. It matters.
    2. Reapply for a new site with WordPress.com. After a certain time, if a blog has not been claimed it will close.
    3. Make this request for help on the WordPress.com Support Forum and someone will gladly assist you.

    Good luck.

  3. Posted April 15, 2006 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    “Temporarily living in the blatantly bigoted southern United States”

    I’m rather surprised at this characterization of the South from you: isn’t bigotry practically a universal? Yes, the South has a very public history of bigotry, but in my experience living in many different states a few different countries, there’s bigotry everywhere. Sometimes its racial, sometimes religious, sometimes political–but the South is hardly the only “blatantly bigoted” section of the U.S.

  4. Posted April 15, 2006 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there is bigotry everywhere, but in the southern United States, as I have learned very well lately, the bigotry is blatant and public. In other places it is something that is there but left in the dark corners hidden by shadows and only bought out in the light once in a while, and usually associated with crime. It’s very strange to live in a place where people have normal everyday conversations that include name calling such as black, white, Mexican, Hispanic, rich, poor, or from a specific neighborhood (using vile slang, of course) as part of their dialog. Where I grew up, if you even had to classify someone or a group of people, you would refer to them as “them” or “one of those people”. If questioned about what that meant, the response would be “oh, you know what I mean”. I might not but eventually you learned. That’s not blatant bigotry. The former is. I didn’t say that one was better than the other, it is just a description, one I’ve heard a lot recently as I’ve explored the Gulf Coast more and more. And “they” are proud of being blatant about their bigotry. To quote one person, “It’s much better to be openly bigoted. Keeps the hate out where everyone can see it.” Strange thinking for me, so I’m still learning about how to see this kind of thought process from the other side.

    Still, the point of the unscientific results in their forum of expanding people’s minds to think about the lives behind the words on the screen, and seeing the change in attitudes and responses, this is amazing. We all have so much to learn from each other, even with twisted thinking (at least to me), which expands the way we think about ourselves as well as the world around us. Any time you can see the person behind the words on the screen, I think that’s exciting stuff.

    Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?


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