Tuesday, January 30, 2018

the stream vs the froth

A few years ago I wrote on Facebook. At the time I wrote
But Facebook banks on one brilliant idea, one other sites leverage as well: empowering users to assemble a collated page/wall/feed of content from people the user finds interesting. Sites using this trick -- Tumblr, LiveJournal, Twitter, Instagram and FB all had different hooks (visual collectors, diarists, pithy bon mot makers, snapshotters, and people you know, respectively) and of all of those, FB's "people you know in real life" seems to be the most compelling in a universal kind of way. 
I think that idea still holds up.

Katie, a new cow-orker, is a big fan of Reddit, a site I never got into... I read a tumblr scrape of Showerthoughts but something about Reddit never clicked for me. Maybe I was just frustrated how those discerning souls who do the group moderation system arbitrarily raised one of my posts but then those swine left my other pearls sadly neglected? Or maybe I was nervous by reports of it as an alt-right, 4-chan-lite... or maybe I was just sick of hearing Redditors humblebragging about how frustrating it was to see all the stuff they had seen on Reddit a week or two ago propagate to the hoi polloi on Facebook...

But really, I think the problem is it's just too much! There are so many topics going all over the place, and in a few hours they drop off any channel's page- it triggers my FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) too strongly, and paradoxically it's easier to just leave it alone entirely than risk being reminded of how big the universe is compared to my capacity to pay attention to it. (Twitter was the same way for me 'til I managed to sort my followed folks into lists, and generally I just pay attention to the once called "funny")

If you can think of the collated wall/feed as a stream, Reddit is foam, just a constant froth of new stuff, and the best way to take it in is to sample it as desired, and then leave it alone. It seems a fool's errand to try and keep up with any but the sparsest of channels. I'm not sure which other popular sites work that way, going (topically) wide rather than (chronologically) deep ... Pinterest maybe?

(Again, I'm not judging any kind of inherit worth, just trying to think about how they do what they do...)

Contrast to tumblr, where I find it rather easy to follow a group of people making posting interesting stuff, and I can keep caught up without too much of an investment of time daily. Or twitter, and how outraged its fans get when twitter throws in "In Case You Missed Its" and otherwise dilutes the pure chronological ordering. (I used to hear people clamoring for that on Facebook, but I don't think they realize what a firehose they'd be setting themselves up for.)

I really liked Usenet in the 90s. If you don't know it: it was/is an Internet based message board system, forming when the Internet was mostly academic sites and a few big tech companies. Unlike modern web forums, it was "bring your own interface"- it was kind of a big shared distributed database of messages, and you could use any of a variety of "readers" (generally text-based Terminal things) There were hundreds of "newsgroups", each about a separate topic, and each group would have its own cast of characters and general guidelines for posting, but there was a shared sense of "netiquette" ground rules as well. The level of discourse was pretty high, though pushed down every September with a new batch of college Freshmen, but then AOL opened up a feed and it became "The September That Never Ended"...

Anyway, I could see Reddit having that kind of appeal - one login-shopping for all your topic needs. Its format for conversation is very different though... Usenet tended to be more conversational, like shared email threads, Reddit seems to be more drive-by shoutings. Also, many Reddit channels have a large percentage of outward links, something that really wasn't an option during most of Usenet's heyday.

Anyway, for future reference, here are the channels that Katie recommended:


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