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Serendipitous communities

The New Yorker has a little article about how a message board posting about loneliness on an unrelated message board turned into sizable community thanks to Google’s indexing. I’ve been fascinated with the way communities take on lives of their own in surprising ways on the Internet, and that’s one of the reasons I had been so reluctant to support comments on this site. At some point, if things go well (or poorly, depending on your point of view), the comments sections of weblogs become less about discussing the posts and more about people with a shared interest in the site talking about whatever they want.

The article is about a more extreme case. One person posted about being lonely to a popular message board about video codecs, and thanks to Google’s PageRank algorithm, that post became the top result for “I am lonely.” So lonely people just started showing up and started talking to each other.

Back when I wrote one of my CGI books, I had all of the examples from the book online, mainly so that I could test them and make sure that they worked. One of the examples was a message board application, and in truth, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the world’s worst message board application. I didn’t look at that part of my site for months (maybe years), and one day when I was looking something up for a reader, I noticed that people were posting on the message board. I have no idea how they found it or what they expected, but there were real people posting to a message board that I had assumed nobody knew about, much less actually read. People really do just need somebody to talk to.

4 Comments

  1. You know my personal favourite in the category of “zombie”-threads, pardon me, spontaneous communities is this one:

    http://www.reinvented.net/discuss/508 “What does sic mean?”

    The initial post is talking about sic in the context of UPC, but that doesn’t bother the gazillion of commenters that of course are only interested in sic in the context of copy-editing/writing. And it really is quite entertaining reading through it – a little bit like a story unfolding. And everytime I go back there’s new stuff added.

    I think this one is even more remarkablee in that it shows the power of Google – I mean, if they decided to open up some kind of forum or interaction-site that was directly accessible from search that would in a short amount of time replace a huge chunk of the internet. Of course they won’t do that… /dramatic pause/ or will they? 😉

  2. One of the blogs on my blogroll has found out to his cost the danger of commenting on “Japanese names” as he is still inundated with requests for translations into Japanese in that thread…

  3. Rafe, I don’t know what it is, but each time I click on the link for your current topmost post, I end up getting your feed.

  4. Been thinking about it. It could be that you’ve some rule in your .htaccess file (if you have one) that causes any URL with “rss” in it to be redirected.

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