The core & the periphery
January 14, 2024 2:29 AM   Subscribe

The movement is almost entirely caused by a reaction to the deteriorating conditions experienced in core web spaces and services, particularly on social media networks (the combination of social media with social networks). This reaction can be conscious or unconscious, with most individuals being semi-conscious of it. Efforts from peripheral inhabitants to convince core inhabitants to move to the periphery are almost entirely spontaneous and disorganized. The intention is short-sighted, missing any long-term strategy for sustainability or retention of new people within the peripheral web. While there are many social and mental benefits to migration, deeper societal issues are never addressed and are often reproduced in the absence of a sustainable organized effort. from The Yesterweb
posted by chavenet (8 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I haven’t read the whole thing, but it seems like they tried to engineer the optimal discussion space, but it failed because it was too much effort to maintain:

The main activity driving the qualitative development of our community space was the resolution of conflict. The main destructive force causing the deterioration of our community space was the avoidance of conflict. By conflict we specifically mean everything that is ultimately derived from intense differences in desires, beliefs, or perspectives. This can be overt, like criticisms, disagreements, or direct statements of opinion, or it can be covert, like pettiness, pedantry, using coded language, passive-aggression, interrogation, harassment, bullying, doxxing, canceling, or snitching.

All conflict is resolved patiently and on a case-by-case basis, and is the main responsibility of community work that was carried out by the organizers and sometimes the moderators. Conflict that is avoided or remains unresolved tends to silently grow over time until it reappears with greater intensity. The main reason for the ultimate failure of these community spaces can be reductively described as an inundation of unresolved conflicts far greater than the staff was able to handle.

posted by snofoam at 3:25 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Just from the start, without a way of confidently banning bots and paid Russian disruptors, it's folly to assume good faith argument on social media.
posted by rikschell at 3:57 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

There sure are a lot of words there but I didn't see any indication that they reviewed any of the prior art of the space in which they were attempting to operate.

Granted that Metafilter, Advogato, and the Debian Project are not the specific thing that they are trying to build, some study of the histories of those projects and communication with people involved would probably be useful in attempting to build an online space for productive conversation.
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 10:04 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I didn't see any indication that they reviewed any of the prior art of the space in which they were attempting to operate

It's unclear to me what they knew about that prior art. Part of existing and communicating on the periphery is that it's harder to find and settle into peripheral internet spaces, especially if you don't already have a connection from an existing social network or the lived experience to know how to find and expect old forum structures.

Other initiatives attempting to build platforms I would have noted include Dreamwidth (still up), Pillowfort (still up) and Imzy (dead). I'm idly curious to know how they would position Tumblr and other, mmm, remnant-central places like Neopets in their phenomenology.

I also find it fascinating that they position Cloudflare and WordPress as intermediate between their definition of the periphery and the central, while unambiguously positing Neocities in the periphery. I am not sure I would refer to static hosting platforms like those as communities at all. Certainly there are communities that use them, like blogging communities some of which host on WordPress, and communities that are wholly hosted through these services such as many PHPBB structured fora. But those spaces also host plenty of content that isn't community oriented insofar as fostering local discussion isn't the goal.

Just in general I'm not entirely certain that these folks have conceptualized a distinction between platform and community. They are, however, correct about growth. You always, always want your community growth to be relatively slow to give you room to figure out new things and structures as you size up; I think this is something Pillowfort has had some real success with.
posted by sciatrix at 10:52 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I clicked on the "Summary" link, and found 15,000 words there. Even so, I think anybody interested in building community online should read this. Many of the problems encountered will sound familiar.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:03 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Since I am in the process of helping to set up an online community, I'd be interested to know about the "prior art" mentioned by @Rev. Irreverent Revenant and sciatrix?
posted by domdib at 5:14 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

The Debian Project is an online community that produces the Debian System, a collection of software (aka a "linux distro", though Debian distributes other-than-linux kernels also). It's been going on since 1994 or so, and has been extensively studied.
Benjamin "Mako" Hill has written extensively in this space, not just about Debian but about Wikipedia and other "peer production" spaces.
The Project's governance and communications are done almost entirely by public email lists hosted by the project itself. These lists' archives are available for perusal, so we can examine the arguments made at the time for / against decisions that the project has taken.

I'm the wrong person to ask about Metafilter's governance and history, but I consider it a "successful" online community in that it has lasted a long time and folk here seem to like it.

Advogato was a metafilter-ish website for computery folks back in the day, I cited it above because it had a reputation/moderation system based on "trust" between users. I've read at least one scholarly paper about it. It is of interest to me because of the book I'm working on. Unless you have a particular interest in this type of system, or are curious about what it means to trust a machine, this may not constitute "prior art" to you.

A lot depends on the sort of online community you intend to build. Is it a peer-production system, like Debian? Is it a group blog, an online presence for an IRL community, or something else? Different communities will have different needs, and different versions of "prior art" will be relevant.

I'm happy to discuss this further via memail to avoid derailing this thread.
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 1:15 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

I'm less concerned with derailing in the absence of another conversation that folks might want to have. I will note that all three of my site examples are platforms rather than communities per se: that is, they're hosting sites that attempt(ed) to create a sustainably funded way to foster and serve community creation in a way that makes moderation and harassment avoidance possible. I'll list them in chronological order.

phpbb forums are the living extant version of bbscode forums. I... don't actually think I can throw a quick summary of that history out off the dome, but that should be well documented elsewhere. Those evolved from mailing lists and Usenet in the 90s and 00s, I think.

Dreamwidth ( is perhaps the lesser known child of Livejournal's Strikethrough scandal, which spurred a lot of controversy through the media fandom users who made up a huge proportion of Livejournal's English user base at that time. (The more well known child of that incident is the Archive of Our Own.) It started as a fork of Livejournal's code base and uses a paid account model to fund its servers. Importantly, it is both text based and allows the same granular privacy settings that Livejournal did, making it an appealing platform for blogging and communities. Unfortunately for it, it hit its functional stride right as users in that giant meta-community swarm were also decamping to Tumblr. It does not pay moderators but leaves that responsibility up to individual communities, and has survived this long by catering to and supporting its long term user base. Because Dreamwidth was once much larger and more active, serving a larger user pool, I characterize it as a "legacy platform" based on that history.

Imzy was a platform kicked off in 2016 aiming to do two things: a) enable people to engage with one another in terms of text and self moderation tools, and b) not retain the reputation of Reddit as a cesspit of racism, sexism, etc. It aimed to monetize micro transactions between users as a funding model, which immediately ran into the issue that not many users of this sort of platform send micro transactions. It was announced as dead by spring 2017.

Pillowfort ( was founded 2017 in an attempt to do fairly similar things to Imzy but with, as I recall, a user funded model and deliberately throttled user growth through staggered signups. It seems to be doing all right and I often see it recommended in the wake of various other social media collapses or user loss points.
posted by sciatrix at 6:43 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

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