Posted by: jinniver | April 17, 2008

Created? Or evolved?

The question of creationism versus evolution is a heated one.  On one side, you have those who point to the Creator, and claim that His creation sprung full-blown and perfect from His thoughts.  The implication of that perfection is that changes are not only unnecessary, but downright blasphemous to suggest.  Questioning the Creator is completely verboten.

On the other side, you have those who believe it is impossible for any creation to be perfect from the start.  Evolution is not only a natural state, it is a desirable state.  What does not evolve eventually becomes obsolete and will naturally be removed from the cycle of life.  Some even go so far as to say that they should be involved in the evolution, because allowing it to happen on its own will result in chaos, not perfection.

Wait–who’s talking about religion?  I’m talking internet forums.

I’m watching this process play out on two of the internet forums I frequent: Knitter’s Review Forum and Ravelry.  On KR, the site has outgrown its original skin.  It’s become somewhat unwieldy and hard to maneuver; those who have been there for awhile know where everything is, but newcomers are often lost.  Sometimes it’s quite slow, especially for those on dial-up.  And it’s fairly basic, lacking a lot of the nice-to-have features that other forums boast.

So, Clara of KR put out a call for input.  Naturally, there are those who don’t really see the need for change, or at least not for any significant change.  A little cleaning up around the edges would be ok, but to them, KR is perfect the way it is.  Others have said that whatever Clara, the creator, wants is fine with them.  Still others have chimed in with lengthy lists of requests, resulting in occasionally lively but rarely contentious debate.

The debate Casey on Ravelry initiated has been decidedly more lively…and more contentious.  But hey, we Ravelers can be a contentious bunch sometimes.  There are those who say, “Casey, do whatever you want.”  One person even went so far as to ask those of us asking for changes who we think we are–how dare we question the creator?  (Apparently, she missed the first post where Casey asked for that input.)  Others don’t want to see any change, or only minor cosmetic ones.  Finally, there are those eager to see the forums evolve, sometimes drastically.

I am a firm believer in the Darwinism of internet forums:  evolve or die.  In fact, it is that evolution that keeps the forums fresh and interesting.  Who wants to visit a site that is exactly the same day after day–the same staid conversations repeated ad infinium?  But I believe in controlled evolution, because who is going to gain anything visiting a site that has become a Hydra, where one dying thread spawns two more, and the newcomer can’t find anything of interest?

A great example is The Thread That Ate Ravelry.  Someone posted a question about Mystical Creation Yarns, the online story of a New Mexico yarn dyer (summary:  used to be a great store, has gone to heck in a handbasket, there are horror stories of products not received/wrong products received/felted or bleeding yarn received/no refunds received, the owner has possibly faked her own death, an FBI investigation has been opened, don’t buy from them or any new incarnation, but also don’t fear buying from New Mexico dyers because there’s lots of good, ethical ones!).  Over 8000 posts later, along with discussing MCY to the ground, we have discussed growing roses, various books, people names, place names, other threads, and Alan Rickman.  People were getting sucked in in increasing numbers and the thread was gaining a reputation even outside Ravelry.  And there were times the thread was getting heated, especially regarding some of the off-topic posts.

So Casey took the thread out of the Yarns forum (a general purpose forum that everyone is “subscribed” to) and turned it into a group (Mysterious Circumstances, Yo).  The result?  The MCY thread is no longer in the face of those not interested or who want to avoid it at all costs.  Those of us in the new group now have the space to start new, often off-topic threads so we can continue having conversations with the people we have gotten to know and enjoy.  And here’s a surprising (to me, at least) side effect of the change:  the posts have slowed down.  Although there are now several different topics in that group, all of them active, the sum of posts still rarely even begins to approach the explosions that would frequently occur in the original post.  Yet while the quantity is down, the quality has improved.  For one, the change has reminded some people to self-censure a little more; for another, there is more (appropriate) space for creativity.  Someone has started a contest for some MCY sock yarn (from back when the store was putting out quality product) to be awarded to the best haiku about the whole MCY mess.  I learned that it is dangerous to my laptop–not to mention my clothing, the furniture, and my immediate surroundings–to drink and read that topic simultaneously.

Change really is inevitable.  No one is going to be able to create the perfect internet forum that’s all things to all people right off the bat (and if they could, it would probably creep me out too much to even visit).  More importantly, no one is going to be able to create the perfect internet forum that’s all things to all people ever.  There’s always someone who’s going to want something that someone else hates (like avatars on KR).  There’s always someone who’s going to have a different vision of what a forum should offer than someone else (like what the “Big 6” forums on Ravelry should be). 

Even in the forums themselves, there are going to be disagreements…and yes, there will be arguments and there will be nastiness.  Guess what, people?  We’re all human.  The advice to reread what you wrote before hitting the “Submit” button is great, but sometimes that’s not going to happen.  And many of these forums are international, which means that sometimes inadvertent offense is given–heck, that happens across regional boundaries just between two Americans (yes, I use American.  It’s the United States of America, and the common term for the citizens thereof is American.  That’s not intended to be a slight of any other resident of North or South America.  Get over yourself and move on.  See what I mean?).

And in my eyes, that occasional friction is a vital part of a good forum.  No, I’m not saying that KR or Ravelry would be better if everyone posted the first thing that came to mind without any mental filter, and did as much swearing, belittling, and name-calling as possible.  What I am saying is that in any natural interaction between a large group of people, there must be a free flow of thoughts and ideas–and opinions–in order to reach our highest potential of creativity.  Negative does not equal bad, if done in a positive way and for a positive reason.

Internet forums must evolve–as long as their creators aren’t reaching for the unattainable perfection.  And the users of internet forums must likewise evolve:  thicker skins, less hair-trigger emotions, greater understanding…and a willingness to share thoughts and ideas, and endure the occasional growing pains.

No one said evolution was easy.


Responses

  1. I liked your post about the growth of the internet and how people post. A good discusssion will include a difference of opinion. Why people get so hot about a good debate on knitting, yarn or whatever, is beyond me.

    I grew up in Saratoga, one of the small towns near the Winchester Mystery House. Our neighbors used to live next door to it and tell stories about visiting it (breaking and entering actually) when they were teenagers – before it was open to the public. Do you live in the San Jose area?

    Best- Hester from Atlanta

  2. Amazingly thoughtful post. My personal problem with KR is the fact that it feels like some highschool clique sometimes, because the same 10 people are talking to the same 10 people over and over. Also, the forums run slooowly. I’ve racked up over 3,000 posts on Ravelry, and very few on KR.

    And, let’s be frank, some of the subforums need to be scrapped. Like, uh, the forum for a conference in…2003! Like, they couldn’t get rid of it in 5 years?

    The KR forums may be cozy, but they’re also outdated and quickly becoming irrelevant to many people. The yarn reviews and stuff are awesome, but Clara needs to get someone to run those forums for her, so someone with a real passion for forums and discussion can help charge things up.

  3. I know what you’re saying about KR. It does feel like there are a lot of inside jokes and conversations, but I think that’s bound to happen–at least to me, since I’m relatively new. I do think the forums could stand to be a lot more dynamic, above and beyond the outdated and much too specialized forums. But I think that’s what Clara’s got in mind with the upcoming update…at least I hope so!


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