13 votes

Complete consumption of content on various online forums

A common topic I've seen so far on Tildes is what exactly differentiates it from other online communities. This doesn't just encompass vision and meta-rules, but also the current state of the forum, and it's userbase. I wanted to propose a possible metric for gauging the quality of a forum, and would love to hear feedback on it. The metric is as follows: when all the content on the platform is no longer realistically consumable by any given member of the community.

I feel like Tildes is still currently at this state, but is somewhat quickly getting to the point where it's unrealistic for any one user to absorb all the content on the site. Once this tipping point arrives, the community has to change. The choice will be between whether one should start consuming all the content on specific sub-forums, like ~talk or ~comp, and ignoring the discussions and other subforums one cares less about, or accept that one will only ever see what is popular overall within the site.

I feel like this falls into 3 main categories: Community, growth, and that "magic" feeling of nascent internet communities.

I think it's important to define what I mean by "information" or "content". Information is meant in the more information theoretic context - it's a more abstract representation of content. It's context specific information that can be manifested as an image, a post, a comment, or even a set of rules. Information is, broadly, what makes up the discussion. If anyone has read Information: A history, a theory, a flood, I mean information in the same way it is defined and used in that book.

  1. Community:

When every user is able to see what every other use posts, everyone involved has a singular point of view into the content of that community. It's never sharded or split - the information is distributed evenly, and everyone has close to 100% of it. Everyone might not agree or interpret content in the same way, but the very fact that everyone is seeing the same content, and the information is presented identically, makes it so that there is a very dense set of common ground. It's nearly impossible to "miss" big events - these being singular, really well written comment chains, unique posts, or thought provoking ideas. The sense of community is there because no one is excluded due to sheer amount of information - if someone puts in the effort to see everything, and it's still possible to see everything, they're almost automatically a part of that community.

Once a forum becomes so large that any one person can no longer realistically consume all the content it starts straying towards the lowest common denominator. These are posts that share common ground with everyone, which unfortunately means that you lose that unique community. Most people one site will no longer have seen every single post. You no longer run into posts or comments that are as thought provoking, simply because there is so much content only that which appeals to everyone will make it to the top.

  1. Growth:

This ties in closely with what I mentioned above - the growth is what spurs those changes. Once you no longer have that feeling of community, you interact with it differently. You no longer can rely on the same people seeing your content, and the content itself starts decreasing in quality. This isn't due to "dumb" people joining - it's due to the sheer amount of "Information" being generated. The idea of Eternal September is tangential to this - you're not just losing out on community due to a lot of new users, it's also a loss of community due to sheer amount of information.

  1. Magic internet moments:

I don't have a good definition of this but I think most people will know what I mean. Every popular online community has these moments - they're the random acts of pizza, randomly encountering someone else from the same site in real life, crazy coincidences, etc. These are often what kick start the crazy growth in the previous post - they're just really cool events that happen because of the internet, and specifically happen on that site. The new reddit book We are the nerds goes over a ton of these in the early days of reddit, and how they propelled it to what it is today.

I wanted to ask the current Tildes community what they thought about this, whether they had any major disagreements, and if anything can be done to remedy this./

This is something I've been grappling with for a while. For context I'm a long time mod on reddit, primarily of r/IAmA, r/damnthatsinteresting, and r/churning. I've helped grow and curate these communities over time, and each is drastically different. The most relevant here is probably r/churning, though.

It used to be that there was a core set of users that contributed all the content. They were known by name, everyone that visited knew who they were, and they built up the hobby to what it is today. All the things that I mentioned above started happening there - the content started skewing towards the trivial questions, new members weren't properly acclimated, and the sheer amount of information caused the mods at the time to implement fairly drastic rules to combat these issues. Once you could no longer realistically consume all the content the community aspect sort of fell apart, and it became more akin to a Q&A subreddit, with new users asking the same questions.

Do you believe there is something unique/special about those "early" users, and what changes have you noticed historically once that "content" tipping point arrives?

4 comments

  1. Whom (edited ) Link
    You're right at identifying the moment everyone can no longer read everything as the time everything changes, I think. That loss of identity and watering down of the site that happens after that...

    You're right at identifying the moment everyone can no longer read everything as the time everything changes, I think. That loss of identity and watering down of the site that happens after that point and even more after the point where the site culture is no longer something new users have to understand and work within is one of the most important issues Tildes has to face.

    I think the Tildes goals go a ways to solve this problem (like the hierarchy allowing for the "real community" to always be deeper in that hierarchy), and I don't think Tildes will ever be anywhere near the size of what Reddit became...the core ideas behind it do not have that same mass appeal. However, we've seen that no matter how far you go to make your site insular, elitist, and offputting to those who do not agree with the principles of the site and its culture, it can be overpowered. God knows I learned this from 4chan. The closest thing to this that can work is strictly limiting who you allow in...which isn't something Tildes is going to do.

    Really, I think what we need to do is go in 1000x harder than Reddit ever did into groups being their own communities with freedom to manage themselves and build tools in ways distinct from the rest of the site. We've seen so many idea dumps (mostly relative to ~music) for different ways to manage things and create tools for different spaces to become the best version of what they could've been on Reddit but never truly became because Reddit stuck to having a uniform experience across the whole website, and is now even pushing away the tools communities used to stand out and improve themselves up to this point. Groups designed around these ideas and for their own sake are the way to go. If groups can be distinct and hold communities rather than just being part of the frontpage pipeline, we can solve the problem you bring up.

    ...not to mention that Tildes will not have the financial incentive to push you around groups to keep consuming content like Reddit does. Reddit desperately wants you to be a "Redditor," not a /r/starcraft user, Tildes doesn't have to push you around like that.

    Just tacking this on: I've been thinking about the way we use the docs right now, with many of us regularly quoting it like scripture. Tildes being highly idealistic and its main draw being these ideals is a point in our favor, though obviously not a reason to think we've got it solved already. Still, engaging Tildes will likely always mean you have some attachment to its goals and ideals...the same cannot be said about Reddit. No one will end up on Tildes just looking for more content to consume.

    9 votes
  2. JakeTheDog Link
    I would argue against the assumption that everyone consumes all of the content and this is significant to Community cohesion or quality. Yes, common ground is necessary to a cohesive community,...

    I would argue against the assumption that everyone consumes all of the content and this is significant to Community cohesion or quality. Yes, common ground is necessary to a cohesive community, but I don't think the content itself is significant. My anecdote here is that, personally, I'm only interested in a few subgroups and I couldn't care less about consuming e.g. ~news on Tildes.

    I think that common values is the most important aspect. Concretely, I have the impression that the common value among Tilderinos here is quality of discussion. I would also make the comparison to the greater academic community I belong to. We (academics) may specialize in and consume content from different fields, but we share the common value of e.g. upholding the scientific method, and we can relate to each other's enthusiastic curiosity. (I think there is some of this in Tildes too.)

    Regarding growth, I therefore disagree that there is a critical limit to cohesion in community based on the volume of content. Instead, I think that we can maintain a large community if we maintain (or enforce) common values. I don't see a problem with having 100x as many users as long as we all uphold a high standard of communication. However, I think that implicitly, we start running out of such "quality" users. It may be elitism, but I certainly don't believe it should be to the exclusions of others - a strong base can serve as a role model for newer or less acquainted users. I think this is why having invites only and controlled early growth is a good idea.

    But hey, maybe this will all go to shit and we just catch the next wave of magic over and over while continuously aging and inevitably dying alone.

    5 votes
  3. jonluca Link
    Apologies if this sounds ramble-y - if anything is unclear or ambiguous I'll gladly clear it up. I just feel like I've been through this same phase on so many online forums that it's almost become...

    Apologies if this sounds ramble-y - if anything is unclear or ambiguous I'll gladly clear it up.

    I just feel like I've been through this same phase on so many online forums that it's almost become formulaic. Reddit as a whole, then subsequently smaller subreddits. Digg. 4chan. Slashdot. I've personally felt this rollercoaster at least 4 times amongst the "big" sites, and a few more times on smaller sites that are now dead.

    Based on what I've read of the community here a lot of people have felt the same way, and I'd love to hear people's thoughts on why this is, or some analysis of the context in which it happens.

    4 votes
  4. DonQuixote Link
    This is a very worthy meta-conversation. And it sounds like Tildes has a lot of previous experience to draw from. As one who got into Reddit only 5 years ago, I'm glad all of you are here.

    This is a very worthy meta-conversation. And it sounds like Tildes has a lot of previous experience to draw from. As one who got into Reddit only 5 years ago, I'm glad all of you are here.

    2 votes