Balkanize, Rinse, Repeat ad infinitum

by Jay Cuthrell
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After listening to a podcast rant on the topic of the blog / web / Internet with terms like signal, noise, and other histrionics typically reserved for the stage I felt that familiar urge to capture some quick thoughts.

Those on the podcast are not terribly youthful and could easily classify as sages, elders, or at worst — subject matter experts.  They are certainly not in a position to say they have not seen this before.  We all have seen this before as we emerge from our first collective social experience tied to a place, grouping, or special interest.

Scenario:  This place was really cool before [insert influx type] showed up and ruined it.

Such wonder from these parties on the podcast made me wonder if such an animal (research paper) exists with a title such as:

Abstract: A historical treatment of emerging or vanguard users on a platform and the inflection when mass markets are able to access that same platform is presented and applied against the backdrop of 20 years of Internet technology paradigm shift.

Personally, I immediately think of things like Usenet.  I think of FTP sites.  I think of the pre-WWW days and the ways email has been altered over the course of the past ~20 years.  But mostly, I think that the same record is playing softly as an mp3 and that there are still those clutching for life to their wax, 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, compact discs, mini discs, and other associated media formats gone by.  As the holidays approach, is it any wonder the ubiquitous drum set under the tree has modernized as well?

It’s a sure bet that just as I considered K-Tel one of the ways to tell that a given media would be going by the wayside.  “K-tel presents” was the harbinger of doom to tapes at least.  What we see is the collection of a moment in time that makes sense for then and afterward it might be so much historic kitsch.

Consider this: Do you really care about the ruminations on some random Internet company from a year ago that went out of business?  Does it matter?  Did it at the time?  Does it now?  Will it in the future?  Is link rot really so bad?

We’re not always presiding at the creation of art and human artifacts to be that must be preserved for all time.  Indeed, the waste basket of collected wisdom of crowds dumped into a web sizzle bulletin board might not formulate world peace, nirvana, and the next big thing.  Let’s agree to let things go away that go away and let the passions of those that wish to preserve take the collector or archivist activity to a logical conclusion.

Or, put simply, do you really want to hear all the fumblings of guitar lessons 20 years before the guitar god penned and played live before the audience?  Really?

Coming back to this notion of the formats and precursors that pave the way is a legitmate history to account for but saving it all for posterity might not be.  I have to wonder how Blue-Ray and microformat blog will alter what we think of the DVD and the blog in another 10 years.   As I reflect on that podcast, it does seem that the masses are becoming ever enabled to comment and create and those wax clutching bloggers are noticing.

Home recording was revolutionary.  As a song I heard recently puts it, there is something magical to a time where sitting in front of the stereo waiting for the FM station to cut to the track pushed up the adrenaline just as you release the pause button on the deck.   Nowadays, with blog heavy lifting technology moved to easier to disseminate methods and means — everyone, and I mean everyone, can play in these reindeer games.

It just seems that trolls can take their FM vignettes on cassette tape and blare them through a 400W stereo replete with sub woofers and the boom boxes of these modern times.  Yes, the troll for attention.  The troll for look at me.  The troll for our times that endures.

As to ruining things, the troll emergence is going to be a part of any open system style platform. It’s a tax paid of sorts. The difference is how the troll element is managed as noise or where it is allowed to surface. Generally, “don’t feed the trolls” would still apply.

Or, Balkanize, Rinse, Repeat ad infinitum.

Moderating is something of an art form.  For as effective as filtering might be on a personal and subscription level, it is still the spam and SEO black hat result set you run into on otherwise benign queries.  SEO and the gaming of the machine for search ranking is passive aggressive trolling.  You want higher?  You put in the work to inject yourself at the top or into the conversation.

The trolling most people seem to center on is the troll that seeks to engage or pick fights.  Sure.  That kind of troll activity is there and it will always be there.

My concern is with the trolling that comes from wider audience participation that degenerates into ruining the party for everyone.  My concern is not so much with the troll per se but the other members of the audience.  It might sound odd but, if everyone ignored it the troll wouldn’t go away but the troll would become noise that can be ignored.  Ignored might be the filter.  Ignored might just be conditioning to not notice as much.  Ignored might be innovation of the next revolution in services delivered from the Internet.

If and when the trolls come — and they always will — the nimble designs of tomorrow need to always facilitate the VIP room, the ability to screen at the door, the ability to bring exclusivity to the place others converge.  Moderation in all things might become part of the formula but not in the Nietzsche way.

Imagine a place that was cool.  Why is it was?  Why isn’t it now?  Did you grow out of it or did it truly meet ruin at the hands of others that fundamentally changed everything you valued?

In the end, the trolls will only show up when there is an audience for them to interrupt or seeking to interact.  Drama oriented TV shows with manufactured fights, bleeped dialog, and outrageous actions involving chairs flying through the air have enjoyed high ratings for many years.  What makes the Internet so special as to mystically avoid this?  Just as you can change channels — you can click elsewhere.  Just as you can turn off the TV, you can go hide in a cave perhaps.

As for the trolls, why not let them be?  Imagine invisible people wearing brightly colored LED blinking jackets carrying boom boxes blaring music and screaming at the tops of their lungs.  Now imagine that same cool place and the ability to opt-in to seeing those that would have ruined it.

Squelch the surroundings so that only the things you care about are there in front of you. Squelch will make sure the cool is preserved until you grow weary of it, or the cool grows weary of you.

I’ve turned off my TV.  It’s just too cool for me these days.  I’ll be on the Internet for a little while longer.  I think.


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