Pointer to blogpost:
One of Clay Shirky’s consistently brilliant musings on the social context within which software is created, consumed, subsumed, and doomed.
I’m curious why he chose to treat flaming as an evil that we need to prevent, dampen, neutralize, or punish in online forums (mailing lists, blogs, wikis, etc.). It seems to me that flaming is one of the indicators that a forum is still alive, kicking, and stirring up something of interest. Something that might make me want to revisit and participate in the forum.
The death of online forums isn’t flaming—it’s emptiness, pointlessness, and boredom. Most forums go through a predictable lifecycle, from fresh frenzied startup activity, drifting and shifting of subject matter in keeping with participant interest, through churn and attrition of membership, through lagging participation, and finally to stasis, decay, and death. Maybe Shirky should recognize that few interest-centric social groupings—such as mailing lists—are permanent and sustainable. Maybe we shouldn’t try to engineer them for permanence, beyond their natural life expectancy.
Can Shirky suggest any technological fix to keep forums consistently fresh and interesting, month after month, year after year? I doubt it. Forum participants must somehow hit on a magic formula that rewards repeated visits.
Each of us who maintains a blog—a private forum with public access—wrestles with that problem continually. How can I keep posting, and keep posting interesting stuff, stuff that’s interesting to me and possibly to a hardcore of folks who reward me with their attention, and, possibly, feedback and friendship and flames. Yes, flames. Screaming and cursing at me tells me I’ve struck a nerve, and that you care enough to let me know. Flames are destructive only if the flamed parties are thereby disinclined to post further.
If my goal is to put my ideas out there, then flames will almost inevitably follow, because others might find my boldness offputting. When you’re a pundit (and that in fact is what bloggers are), boldness is an essential component of your value proposition. Nobody wants to read wishy-washy punditry.
Bold pundits attract bold antagonists. I was taught that in j-school, by a colleague named Anne St. Germaine (Anne: you out there?), who was herself on the receiving end of a flame (actually, it was a physical rock directed at a window of her apartment) in response to an opinion she had published.
And I've experienced a less violent but nonetheless steady stream of flames over the years for things I've published in Network World, Burton Group, my blog, etc. The most noteworthy was a phone call from someone who, incidentally, invented the blog medium, who took particular exception to one of my published statements about something else that he regarded himself as the undisputed paramount inventor of.
He used an obscenity to characterize my work. Which made him memorable.