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Why Discordia?
Why Discordia?

Welcome to Discordia, a critical and innovative weblog working at the intersection of art, activism and emerging networked technologies.

Discordia is an experiment in social filtering, collaborative moderation and different styles of communication. In order to try out how software structures influence discussion, Discordia is a weblog - also known as a blog.

What is a blog? Attempts to define a blog, or weblog, are currently proliferating all over the Internet. Most of the blogs are run by individuals that comment on content they find somewhere on the Web. What interests us in particular is the community aspect to open publishing (similar to the activist site Indymedia) combined with community moderating (similar to the programming community site, Slashdot). We think that the social weblog format, including its collaborative rating system, has the potential to promote more open discussions and a more fruitful exchange of ideas.

Weblogs have become immensely popular over the last three or so years. An example outside of the tech field could be the successful Indymedia software Active, launched in 1999, which has been modified worldwide, tailored to the specific needs of local Indymedia groups. However, Indymedia has recently restricted its open publishing policy due to spam and an overkill of sexist and rightwing postings. The Active software is no longer updated and is being replaced by a variety of new software platforms.

Although there has been growing criticism of the current blog wave, due to instances of plagiarism and because of the redundancy that can arise through the mutual linking of popular blog sites, the Discordia founders think a different approach is possible. Whereas personal blogs favor an essay-style type of writing, where new stories appear regularly, but little or no input is invited from readers, and community blogs are more interesting for the criticism and analysis that takes place in the comments, than for new or otherwise unavailable content, Discordia presupposes an informed and interested user base with access to myriad information, but offers a structure for turning this information into insights.

Discordia is based on a customized version of the Scoop weblog software that provides a multi-layered discussion interface, similar to the Slashdot and Indymedia websites. The aim of Discordia is to develop a community based on open editing and open publishing principles in which users can both publish their own contributions and comment on postings of other users. A listing of other sites that use Scoop is here; many of these sites also are based on user contributed articles.

For years we have seen a growing discontent with the way in which (majordomo and mailman) Internet mailing lists operate. There seems to be no way out of the dilemma between open and closed lists. Open lists tend to become noisy and irrelevant for those who prefer less traffic and more content. Moderated lists on the other hand show a tendency to become quasi-editorial magazines, thereby losing the "informality" of email exchanges of ideas and material. The discussion about open or closed lists is exhausting itself and is showing signs of repetition and regression. "Collaborative text filtering" on lists is losing its social aspect, since the sheer volume of information posted on any given topic makes it increasingly difficult to sift through it to find what is actually valuable, useful, open to further development.

We think it is time for the new media arts/tactical media scenes to have their own weblog and build up multiple threads and debates, in a way that is not possible within the linear electronic mailing list structure.

Existing initiatives in critical Internet culture and new media have not (yet) adopted open conferencing "weblog" systems. The question why this is the case is perhaps not such a useful one. Instead the Discordia initiators got together, via email, and decided to start a first round of consultation. After a period of fierce debating, writing code, designing and testing the site, it is now time that we launch the project and invite everyone to contribute, comment and rate other people's postings.

It is not our intention to compete with initiatives such as rhizome, nettime or spectre. Email will remain the Great Denominator. The project will explicitly not question the "supremacy" of email and instead focus on new users who are not-or no longer-participating in existing lists. Discordia aims to open a yet to be discovered new layer of online communication. Our motivation is to resolve a rather long and exhausting debate over the merits of email and list culture and move on in a positive manner. We want to see if we can find a technical and social solution for the increasingly complex global communication patterns in the field of new media culture.

Over the past year a group of programmers, artists and editors (see below) have put together the Discordia prototype. Please browse through the site and feel free to post, comment and filter as you like, and help build a new model for informed communication.

Discordant developers:

Amy Alexander (San Diego)
Geert Lovink (Brisbane)
Saul Albert (London)
Peter Traub (San Francisco)
Trebor Scholz (Brooklyn)
Pip Shea (Melbourne)
Aileen Derieg (Linz)

(April 2003)

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