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March 30, 2004

Snarkiness on parade

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Liz has a great post on mamamusings,Confessions of a Backchannel Queen about a back- backchannel. Our story in brief -- during a social software conference yesterday, The Usual Suspects convened on an irc backchannel. At one point, T.U.S. began criticizing one of the presentations as being pitched at novices, which got us an online shushing by one of the organizers. Liz, rather than meekly staying shushed, then started a back-backchannel, a second irc channel for the snarkiness, which included about a third of the original irc channel but none of the organizers.
But when the snarkiness left the original backchannel, there were some interesting side effects. First, the original channel nearly died. The level and quality of content dropped off significantly as the most high-energy participants shifted their action to the new channel. Second, the level of “bad behavior” in the new channel escalated dramatically. By drawing attention to it, and pushing it out of the mainstream environment, it was focused and amplified. That’s not necessarily a good thing. There were times when went a little over the top, to the point were people were noticing the ripples of laughter at times when laughter seemed inappropriate.
Read the whole thing. There was an interesting observation during a presentation yesterday about the tension between informality and inclusiveness in online tools. New tools like email and IM get dragged into organizations by the employees, who start by using personal email or IM for business, and prizing it for its informality. Over time, the tool becomes both inclusive and vital, becoming a core function, and the appearance of business expectations undermine the informality. That is happening now with the backchannel -- if a few connection junkies are creating a backchannel, you can ignore it, but if the backchannel includes half the room, the tension between the informality and control breaks out in the open. And so we draw behind a semi-permeable membrane, the pattern of the era.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Shelley on March 30, 2004 1:59 PM writes...

Question, Clay: Do you approve of the concept of backchannel snarkiness? I got the impression from both you and Liz that you disapprove of snarkiness in general, and now you're talking about not indulging in it, but doing so with invite only backchannel IRC dialogs.

Did I read this wrong?

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2. Kevin Schofield on April 2, 2004 12:42 AM writes...

I'm not sure it's informality vs. formality/control. I shushed because I thought it was rude. The IRC backchannel, as you said, contained a large fraction of the people in the room. Formal or informal, it was a public social space, and in social spaces there are social conventions. I thought it was inappropriate to be rude.

Now perhaps there's a case to be made that social conventions are a form of institutional control.

Also, I wonder how much of this was because I was perceived as one of the organizers? It's strange, because I wasn't thinking of myself as an authority figure when I was on the IRC channel. If I was just an attendee, I think I would still have said the same thing.

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3. Rod on May 4, 2004 10:02 AM writes...

No joy without alloy...

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