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?