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[- discussion about Discordia
By joerabie, Section editors' corner
Posted on Sun Apr 4th, 2004 at 09:22:30 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
Discordia has been very quiet recently, and I wonder why it has such difficulty gaining and keeping momentum as a place of community. Discordia has been likened to a discussion forum, which I find apt, and to a blog, which I find unadapted.

What are the ingredients for turning austere Discordia into a community with swing?

Here are some ideas to start a discussion...


[ --------------------------------------------- ]

The problem with discussion forums as places of community is that they are incredibly difficult to maintain. Those that succeed appear to be those which are extremely focused on some clearly defined objective, often where professional needs are doubled by some sort of passional interest or possession, like Palm handhelds or Macs. Discussion forums tend to vacillate between true debate and degeneration into a chatlike exchange of inanities (I'm generalising, of course). People tend to prefer discussion via mailing list, where each new contribution pops into your inbox, and "reply" is just a click away. Mailing lists are messy and unaesthetic, compared to polished discussion interfaces like Discordia. Yet even the most esteemed and longstanding forums, like the Well, operate around a reduced number (a few hundred?) of permanent, dedicated posters.

Blogs allow people to invent their own narrative, their own mise en scène. As a means of self-expression, they are incredibly liberating. As a one (wo)man show, they do not depend on community in order to exist. Not in strict terms, and it is therein that the frustration of blogs lie - those that do not pick up a community of readers must become very frustrating for their writers, who have to choose between sticking to their engagement to keep it going, and just giving it up. While some blogs have become purveyors of opinion or trend setters, the vast majority toil on in anonymity. There is something valiant yet autistic about the blogger multitudes telling their own stories, trying to chip a world in.

The amount of bloggers out there in the ether, filling up endless pages of offerings to google, boggles the mind. Imagine the amount of work that the archeologists of the future are going to have devote to reading it all, so as to understand our narcissistic epoch. Out of care for the future, the best thing to do might be to avoid writing! which is impossible, since one is here to express oneself, so one should be charitable by doing that sparingly.

A new genre which seems to be generating traffic is Fan Fiction. The principle is to take a recognised literary "brand" - Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings - and invent one's own story within their context. My daughter has been doing this for a while, and her circle includes school friends and far flung others on the web. A real community dynamic comes into being, that has no difficulty sustaining itself.


The strange thing about web communications is that they have brought people back to communication via the written word, a century after the advent of the telephone. Reading itself has been transformed: the child reading a book by flashlight under her blanket has replaced both with the unearthly laptop glow, laying the entire world at her lap.

All these different genres of internet communication expose different issues concerning the natures of discourse:

- How does one represent oneself through one's style and choice of content? There is a dichotomy between the personal and the impersonal. The former implies "dilettante", the latter "professional". Discordia, as an intellectual meeting place is of course of the latter. One is not going to ridicule oneself by writing in a self-conscious manner. Yet this use of detachment in presenting ideas creates a coldness that is not apt to break the ice at parties. And a community is a party, of sorts.

- Blogs, on the other hand, can go to the other extreme. Thus writing a "secret diary" in blog form is an artifice in a medium which like none other before has the potential for global disclosure. This imposture is fallout from the global Star System on television, via the rise of the "reality" show, with its theatralisation of personal relations through the exposure of peoples' most intimate secrets, or the manufacturing of personal relations in programs like "Big Brother". Even though the plebeian protagonists for such shows are disposable, people queue in line to suffer humiliation for the reward of existing, fleetingly, in the public's eye.

- The web has created a whole new fabric for generating relationships. People participate in Forums, Mailing Lists, Blogs, for just that. It is a lot more subtle than Online Dating, and it is a lot less single-minded, yet when one is looking for one's intellectual equal in a likeminded Forum, one has nevertheless not abandoned one's need for care, the acknowledgement of one's worth by one's peers, intimacy, warmth, fellowship, laughter.


Discordia must integrate these things in order to get back onto the path of creating community. The Forum discussion structure, which incites one to be objective and avoid too avid an expression of warmth ultimately chases people away. The Blog structure, with its concentration on the first person, is too introvert. What is needed is an adoption of a narrative form that engages the reader, makes them want to come back, while at the same time one finds a balance between being detached without being impersonal.

Blogs do allow comments. But most blogs tend to be autonomous, do not interact with other blogs. Perhaps the way for Discordia is to get closer to the Blog form, by abandoning discussions that peter out after five or ten comments, and going towards ongoing conversations, kindled and nurtured by the Editors (and others). We could provide ongoing commentary, in Blog style, of our ongoing works, engagements, preoccupations. We could ignite discussions within the thread of our conversations, which could jump from my thread, for example, to Aileen's, and then to Trevor's. The novelty of Discordia would be the dynamic community of intertwining Blogs, the invention of a new type of online relationship. Call it ePanionship, if you like.

[ --------------------------------------------- ]

discussion about Discordia | 8 comments
[new] Finding a balance (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#3)
by Aileen on Mon Apr 19th, 2004 at 06:13:58 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

What makes a conversation interesting? How are online relationships established?

In the process of looking at different ways to organize working together online for a specific project, I started realizing a special quality of personal emails or exchanges limited to a small group: trying to filter out theoretical discussions that could be more generally interesting from personal comments, initially I was a bit startled to realize just how personal some of my comments were in this exchange. Sitting at the computer late at night by myself, writing emails often feels like talking to myself or just thinking with my fingers. On the other hand, though, reading through past exchanges, I also realized how a sense of trust has grown out of these exchanges and why that matters - which I just realized that I have already tried to describe on Discordia before .

Personal comments that may be appropriate in a private exchange at a particular time (e.g. a delay explained by a child having a crisis, a need for more careful proofreading because of eyes tired from crying, all the many good or at least understandable reasons why authors can't finish their texts by the agreed deadline) may look very out of place at a later time or in an unexpected place (like printed out along with the more pertinent points for a meeting). Although personal blogs may provide a platform for personal thoughts, a platform like Discordia is intended to be a public forum for certain topics, so that even I tend to be more cautious about what I post.

But where is the middle ground between trivial personal remarks and academic discussions that can be found already on a host of mailing lists and online publications? How can a "community" be formed without a sense of trust that comes from knowing one another, when any anonymous stranger can be reading along for any reason or just by chance?

[new] aggregate this (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by ryangriffis on Mon Apr 5th, 2004 at 07:01:57 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
(User Info)

good comments joe, as usual.
i'm finding that my use of a subscription via an aggregator app makes me want to participate more, much like your observations of email lists. i'm not sure what this means... but i'm interested in the conversation.
i've been doing some reading on blogs for a writing project, and there's something to the notion of localization that seems crucial, i.e. how can a community be localized in a non-geographic sense.

discussion about Discordia | 8 comments

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