January 6, 2009

Announcing CCLaP's new microblog -- the "CCLAPocracy"

(Every day, I like to post at least a thousand words of original content to the CCLaP website; on the days I don't have a review of a book or movie ready, I thought I would try other material, such as this series of personal essays, looking at a topic in the arts from my life that I think you might find relevant or entertaining too. You can click here for a master list of all personal essays now written, if you're interested.)

I haven't gotten to implement much of the following yet, but the truth is that I mean for this arts center to one day have a strong and thriving community surrounding it; this will of course become a much more important issue in the years ahead, as I start holding more and more physical events here in Chicago and trying to open an actual physical center for the first time, but is something I've wanted to explore even in an online way here since the beginning of CCLaP's formation. But I'm also kind of a cranky cynic about a lot of the current options for online community building, and especially the current standard of threaded forums that I think does nothing but simply encourage the worst behavior of humanity, and that requires massive 24-hour moderation to even have a chance of working well. I didn't want to go to the trouble of setting a system like that up, just to have it fall apart in four months into an endless series of off-topic flame wars between a bunch of semi-anonymous losers; and I also didn't want the oversight of such a system to take over my life either, all in the name of maintaining a community portal that actually worked halfway decently.

Facebook's 'Wall' of friend information

But see, something else has happened recently in my life, that's had a profound effect on how I now look at the subject; after having a bad experience with MySpace a number of years ago and swearing off general-interest social networks, my brother over the holidays convinced me to finally sign up for a Facebook account. (Yes, yes, I finally have a Facebook account, I finally have a Facebook account; are you f-cking happy now, you Twitterific little nerds?) And now that I've been there for a week myself, I suddenly and profoundly now understand why people get so damn addicted to the place, and in this demographic-crossing way that MySpace has never achieved; and that's because of the remarkable "Wall" feature there, of its ultra-ease of use and ultra-smart distribution system for quick and timely information. See, like MySpace and all other social networks, Facebook hinges around the activity of making "friends," and of listing those friends in a way so that others can check them out too. But then on top of the usual profile, and on top of the usual way to leave a short SMS-style message about what you're doing or thinking right that second, accounts there also have a graffiti-style "wall" option, that shows in this flowing, constantly updated kind of way each and every small update that each and every friend in your network has recently posted. So every time someone posts a new photo, you see a thumbnail; every time someone makes a smartass little response to someone else's smartass little personal update, you see that as well. And if you want to make your own little smartass comment back, you don't have to go anywhere new or do anything special; simply type it in the magic little onscreen box right below the latest comment, and have it magically appear on the page in real time, thank you very freaking much AJAX.

It's essentially the same thing fueling the popularity of services like Twitter; an ultra-easy way to not only add small bits of personal information to the cloud-like web of all human information online, but to also gather up these little bits of info from all the people you know, streaming down a centralized page in real time customized for you and you alone, none of it too important on its own which is why it doesn't really matter if there's a whole lot of it. And that way, you get the best bits of a traditional threaded forum conversation -- those first couple of days after an interesting entry is posted, that is, when legitimate fascinating debate is going on about it -- while removing the worst part of traditional community forums, of letting that threaded discussion stick around and stick around, until the entire thing has degenerated into a flame war between whichever two antisocial losers have had the patience to stick it out the longest. Since a microblog is essentially one giant forum, with the pieces of the conversation arriving in a decentralized way, it essentially makes the discussions more libertarian things, or so the argument goes -- that is, they get debated exactly as long as it takes for all legitimately interesting things to be said, eventually getting pushed to the background by this decentralized cloud of commenters, in favor of newer topics they now find of more interest. And since there's no centralized headquarters for any particular topic or discussion, the argument goes, there's no opportunity for two trolls to battle it out there, turning in page after page after unending page of flaming hatred and vitrol, inevitably turning the entire "debate" into something not even related to the original post that started it all. And that way you need less moderation as well, again so the argument goes, because it's a sorta self-policing system in a way; that is, the things that get responded to the most are the things that legitimately deserve the most response, and when the majority of people get tired of a particular subject you'll find that discussion on that subject somehow magically disappears.

The CCLAPocracy: The bottom-up, Twitter-style arts community

So now enter the new tech-industry company ShoutEm.com, which like many other startups these days is basing their business model on the providing of complicated online tech features, in an easier way than normal and with a free option always offered; in their case, they're offering the exact kind of "microblog" I've been talking about, which you can think of in the same exact terms as a Facebook "wall," a Twitter "feed," Dave Winer's concept of a "river of news," etc etc etc. And so I've started one, which I've oh-so-cleverly named the CCLAPocracy, which you can find at cclap.shoutem.com (and are also seeing there in the sidebar to your left, if you're reading today at the front page of the main CCLaP website). It's essentially my first attempt at letting all you CCLaP readers communicate directly with each other, and to do so through the fun and minimalist way you already do through other microblogs; to debate recent reviews I've posted here, for example, to announce upcoming artistic events in the city where you live, to post your own interesting photographs, to post your own interesting links, maybe even just to sometimes post a goofy random thought. Just like these other services, for example, ShoutEm offers a mobile portal; that will let you post real-time cellphone pics from artistic events you happen to be attending, for example, as well as whatever silly drunken fun you and your friends are having while on the go.

Screenshot of microblog

Screenshot of microblog sidebar

I have no real preordained goals for this microblog experiment, to tell you the truth, which actually gets into the much bigger issue of scalability when it comes to online experiments I choose to try; that is, I try anymore not to take on any new online experiment unless it's something that can provide benefits merely from me alone using it, much less anyone else, just in case no one else really does end up using it besides me. I'll be able to use the microblog, for example, for the exact things I just mentioned -- to post additional information and thoughts about recent book reviews, respond to any reader comments, post my own candid photos from around Chicago, announce all the cool artistic live events here in Chicago that I hear of on any given day. As I've learned now this week at Facebook, this kind of stuff can actually be kind of fun when there's almost no effort involved, of watching this small river of inconsequential information come streaming in throughout the day. That's why I'm also trying to make it as easy as possible to simply follow along as well, for the majority of you who won't be participating but might be interested in what's being said; you can always go by the main microblog page whenever you want, or subscribe to the RSS feed it pumps out there, or see the latest updates in text form there in the sidebar of the main website.

As with all experiments tried here, the CCLAPocracy's status is open to change at any time, and I of course won't hesitate to shut it down again if people start flagrantly abusing the system. (Remember, in general just follow the Golden Rule and you'll be fine -- talk about others there only in the way you'd like them to talk about you.) That said, I hope it'll be a legitimately fun new thing for all of CCLaP's talkiest and most social visitors, as well as an efficient new announcement system for all you local arts administrators, publishers, event hosts and the like.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:03 PM, January 6, 2009. Filed under: Arts news | CCLaP news | Chicago news | Design | Literature | Music | Photography | Profiles | Reviews | Second Life |