Community? Or Commercial Operation?

truthingtotruth

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I tend toward the belief that if my forum is a community and not simply a commercial operation, then human rights enter the picture and the scope of that leads into areas of debate that have ranged over hundreds of years, or longer; and has also cost lives. It leads into whether constitutionalism is viable.
 

Pete

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I sort of agree but at the same time, if you are running a community that you are paying for its existence, it’s already a kingdom and you its king.

You will have certain responsibilities towards your subjects in protecting them from harm, and a moral obligation to enrich them intellectually, spiritually or similar. Beyond that it gets fuzzy.
 

Kaelon

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I sort of agree but at the same time, if you are running a community that you are paying for its existence, it’s already a kingdom and you its king.

You will have certain responsibilities towards your subjects in protecting them from harm, and a moral obligation to enrich them intellectually, spiritually or similar. Beyond that it gets fuzzy.

100% agree with this sentiment.

While you can introduce forum subscriptions / donations and try to democratize the process, the idea that a forum community has inherent communitarian authority is misplaced. Forums are platforms, and platforms are hierarchical with roles and responsibilities that concentrate power in the hands of a few. Even if you try and open this up to deliberation and consensus, the reality is, whoever holds the admin role and their related clique will run the website. And, given the very low costs of starting up a forum, you're looking at a loss of sovereignty when you try to decentralize or democratize administration. Communities inherently splinter, wither, and die.

You have responsibilities to your forum community, and if you fall negligent in those responsibilities, your users will go elsewhere and may create alternative / competing communities. But simply turning the reins of your creation over to them through a constitutional mandate feels, to me, to be an exercise in social science rather than the thing you aimed to do to begin with: create an experience and nurture people to enjoy that experience.
 

Pete

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I think you could go down that road, but I think you need to constitutionalise not only the benefits but also the responsibilities. As in, sharing the costs within the community. Making all moderator decisions the will of the group, with voting. With a minimum vote turnout for each member as part of their responsibilities.

Democratising the process necessitates participation for it to work. It also guarantees the personality types who “just make a decision and move on” will become eternally frustrated, as will those who feel their voice isn’t adequately represented.
 

Kaelon

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Yes, I agree. Honestly, why go through this sort of effort to "constitutionalise" and "democratise" community benefits + responsibilities of forum ownership? It's a lot of engagement work, which invariably will drive the site down to the lowest common denominator. Which, again, isn't why most of us founded our respective communities to begin with.
 

truthingtotruth

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It is very true that there are problems when considering the smaller communities and trying to allow too many fingers into management. I actually started giving the idea of some form of democracies to Net Communities when I realized that someday the Net is going to end up being an independent entity like any nation on the land. No clue what it would be classified as or how that will come about, but it has to happen. It goes back to humans having full control in a democratic manner and not some single group of humans taking control for their own personal whatever --- money, power, whatever.

We are watching just the very beginning of this new human adventure and already in such a short time we see this Internet as being one very powerful entity and ... well, we're just getting started.

I'm actually hoping that I can inspire folks to offer ideas and help us figure out what to do. Yes, a "small" community that an "owner" worked hard to build, that is tough on an idea of a democratic system being used to govern it. Very likely impossible, although I hate that word "impossible".

I have been bouncing an idea around in my head about a sort of federation of communities and then things could open up a bit to some new ideas. That is actually the way I came across TAZ a few years back when one of my colleagues mentioned asking folks on this site for ideas.

Does anyone feel there could be merit in the idea of a federation of communities?
 

truthingtotruth

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Mine is a malbenevolent dictatorship. ;)
Your avatar hints that you are that entity that is 8 light minutes plus 20 light seconds from us here on Earth. If that is true, please maintain your dictator status. We seriously need you or this whole discussion is pointless. Please.
 

Pete

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Do I think such a community is impossible to produce? No. Do I think it impossible to *sustain*? No, but I think it becomes orders of magnitude harder.

Bottom line: any such community requires a place to exist; some space on a server somewhere, and someone has to foot that bill. It doesn’t matter whether it is a shared server or a physical server in someone’s basement, that server requires externalities that have to be provided - power and internet connectivity.

Lets say for the sake of argument that even power is not an issue, it’s hooked up to solar energy or some other source that is net-zero cost to run, is isolated from everything else and requires no maintenance. (None if these exist but the key point is that for the sake of debate we’re removing this from the equation.)

Then there is the cost of internet provision, assuming we want to expose this to the wider internet. That is a direct and unavoidable cost someone has to physically pay, and the reality is that no matter how generous-spirited folks are, this is an imbalance between parties. Even if the cost is somehow equally borne by all community members, there is the matter of the physicality of the thing, it’s going to come in through the wall, into a property that someone owns. And that party has power over the rest, if only in a “do it the way I say or I unplug it” fashion.

The old adage still applies: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. As a result, you’re back to the “benevolent dictator for life” deal for running such a community because those people are the touch points between the community and the wider world.

Of course, if the community is physically located in one place and the forum serves that community, it is a little easier to make it work as an enclave, but this isn’t really what I think we’re aiming towards.

The crypto folks talk a lot about a fully digital future but honestly, even that still has to run on something physical somewhere and that means someone owns it. It’s difficult to constitutionalise something that is not fully owned and operated.

And all of this assumes good faith in all concerned, it says nothing of greed, pride, jealousy or envy, and the ways these push and pull individuals in a group.
 

truthingtotruth

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That is a fine bit of writing up there and ... well, I am thanking you, Pete. BUT what really jumps out is how in the heck you managed to cover all those important points and at no time in that did you use that awful three-letter word - - - tax. You've got some politician's blood running through your veins, even if that wasn't done by design. In fact, if you dodged that nasty word 'tax' simply by accident, that would be even better. That would mean you are a natural politician. We need a few of those in this affair/discussion. As you well know from your observations of my style I ain't no politician.

As for ownership of that most basic of the needs --- the server --- governments we are familiar with at present on the land own things. Lots of things. Government is no stranger to ownership. They even own land. Ownership in the name of the people in many respects, so it is written, but they still control all that goes on at the surface, and below and above the surface.

Now your brief touching upon that crypto business is one terrible area for me, but I have done enough homework to know that the financial system is one really weird world, BUT they have some serious power. And they have to have that power so as to avoid collapse of the whole system.

Now that lady was all upset about my reference to the word "radical" when I was asking about her services and that is because my most radical thinking is that the Internet government actually becomes the law --- the government of the entire planet, both on the land and here in the Net World. Then you'd be combining all the aspects of government on land with those facilities that could hold the servers and all and the economic structures in place at present would remain.

But that would still require Net Communities and we would still be back to when and in what form a proper governing system would work and/or be needed for some of those communities.

Still amazed that you didn't use that word one time in that post above.
 

Pete

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I'm not really a politician, not my style. The reality is that the tax issue is simply the second iteration or third iteration of what I touched on: even putting aside whether a community can truly operate within the logistics of a common good, there are still going to be costs associated with participation, some very physical, some more intangible. Let's follow that line of thought for a moment.

And since these are necessary mandates for the community to function, are they not inherently a tax, just not codified as such? If everyone is paying a fraction of the costs to support such an endeavour, how is it *not* a tax, except in name? It is a cost borne by the collective for the sustenance of the collective, received presumably centrally and apportioned to those due.

Moreover if we start framing constitutional duties as mandated - participation in voting being the obvious example - failure to do so much have a penalty. Defining that penalty is complicated; would we mark it as a social demerit, some kind of time out from participating in ways the community member would desire until they have satisfied their responsibilities? For more egregious cases, one could easily make an argument of reparations to the community for harm done, depending on the infraction.

This leads us to the nature of some kind of penal code, whether baked into the constitution directly or merely outlined as a requirement therein. Matters such as impersonating others, or speaking inappropriately (for whatever definition you would wish to raise) may have modest punishments; actively harming another, moreso. But sanctions against a community member's ability to remain in the community are limited; timed restrictions on participation only go so far, while on the more distant end of the spectrum we can talk about bans and what pragmatically forms exile or banishment.

Anything in the middle could easily be represented with some redistribution of wealth as an exercise, a fine as a disincentive to disobey, and such wealth used in reparation - or to fund the social and practical costs of enforcing the social justice requirements. There are those who would reframe this in very much a 'cost of doing business' sense if it so suited, and could even be looked upon as a mere tax in that regard.

Bringing it back to more practical matters, you're right about ownership, especially of land - though infrastructure is another, and the owners will want their payment, and if they see the land and infrastructure put to good use, they might decide to try to obtain a larger amount of payment, whether through simple price rises or something more sinister.

As for the crypto folks, you're completely right that the banking system will not be made fools of. That's essentially the golden rule - those who have the gold make the rules. And crypto is certainly disruptive in that regard, but some of the more esoteric thoughts coming from the camp do genuinely want to explore the possibilities of a truly decentralised setup (not that what they have is nearly as decentralised as claimed), where trust is not enforced through nebulous and ill-understood systems (think credit scores) but by something evidential.

I think we have some way to go before we can truly talk about a fully digital world, where we hook up our minds (and our souls?) to a machine and live our lives fully in the machine. I think that's going to be a very interesting time socially and politically; we're just societally catching up to the idea that physiology and psychology don't necessarily align in terms of what gender is and what identity means. We're barely able to comprehend what it means to be human, and push our own physical boundaries, and suddenly we'd be talking about transhumanism and what it means.

Realistically I see the stepping stone being by way of cybernetics, only instead of people getting replacement parts out of physical necessity, we'll see people getting upgrades. And there will be all manner of opposition, from all sides of the political spectrum, those angry or confused about 'shedding what God gave you', those who see it as a means of government control (whatever noise level reached with 'the covid vaccine plus 5G is all about the nanobots' will be ambient background by comparison). I have little doubt we'll see protest marches against bionic upgrades; segregation based on 'fully human' vs 'upgraded'. At some point there will be partial brain replacements done in tech; it'll eventually become doable to transfer an entire human personality into a computer, at which point the debate shifts from 'upgraded human' to 'fully transhuman'.

I don't know what *that* means for communities, but I do know that division is easier than coming together.

To the point about internet law becoming the law, I really don't think it'll come to that. I think we'll enter a world where governments are merely divisions of multi-national companies. We already have companies whose annual income dwarfs the entire economic output of entire countries. We also already have corporatocracy in all but name in some parts of the world: the amount of lobbying done by certain industries effectively makes them the lawmakers in some quarters, the politicians bought and paid for.

But to round it all out and take this full circle... the hardest part to all of this isn't the constitutionalising of it, it isn't the buy-in to the concept or distributing responsibilities or any of that. The problem is getting enough people who want to work together with a common aim, and a sincere belief in it powerful enough not to be disruptive to it. Such a community needs to have a thread of pure benevolence running through it, that everyone there genuinely and sincerely puts the common good about their own welfare, needs and wants, trusting the collective to sustain the collective.

The terrifying thing, possibly most terrifying of all, is that this is pure and simply the core tenets of socialism. And that is a surprisingly dirty word in a surprising number of places to a very surprising number of people. It explicitly eschews the 'rugged individualism' concept, especially 'the American dream' that anyone can succeed if only they work hard enough; because it expressly requires the group to function as a group, each playing their part, everyone receiving according to their needs, and none asserting any unfairness in a system designed to reward everyone just as it is designed to be powered by everyone.

In short, it needs to somehow counter the original sins: it requires the group to cast aside lust, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth, wrath, and greed. It requires everyone to desire to excel, to grow, while giving more than is needed, and taking no more than is deserved and needed.

It's possible to do but it's *hard work*.
 

truthingtotruth

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Thank you, Pete, for taking the time to make the contributions you've made thus far. Absolutely excellent! Please, folks, help Pete by contributing your thoughts. He's at the helm now. I'll just stay in the engine room.
 

Kaelon

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In short, it needs to somehow counter the original sins: it requires the group to cast aside lust, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth, wrath, and greed. It requires everyone to desire to excel, to grow, while giving more than is needed, and taking no more than is deserved and needed.

It's possible to do but it's *hard work*.

Despite our disagreements elsewhere about the future of forums as a mainstream communication and collaboration platform, I find myself in violent agreement with you on this entire topic above. I just want to echo my appreciation for your contribution to this thread, and re-iterate some points of my agreement.

  1. All forums / websites are inherently authoritarian dictatorships.
    Benevolent or otherwise, they require resources to establish and hierarchies to manage and maintain. These hierarchies can be decentralized and shared, but it requires a lot of work to sustain and, ultimately, those websites will evolve into businesses that continue to be vertically managed. There are no truly democratic cooperatives that run companies -- there are, however, oligarchical collaboratives that require a lot of work, ideological alignment, and an ethos to how they are run that often competes to and/or complements the why they exist. But, like you said, they take a lot of work and this effort is often at odds with the purpose of why the enterprise (the website, forum, digital endeavor, etc.) was created to begin with.

  2. All constituencies / communities / customers have to be engaged.
    The expectations that users have when they access a digital enclave is that they are there to make use of these resources for enrichment, entertainment, or economic ends, and they participate and contribute to this experience so long as that core engagement need is met. This looks different for every community, but a self-deluding concept is that communities themselves have agency in the creation of the very thing that brought them there. Yes, their contributions become an invariably an asset to the creation and these constituents / community members / customers have to be properly served and set up for success so that they (a) continue coming back and (b) if a business, continue spending more. But they aren't involved in the creation and curation of the thing that brought them there in the first place; they are there to consume and contribute to it.

  3. Decentralized or consensus-driven collaborative exercises tend to fail.
    Truly great creations have purpose and a unique and value differentiated offering. This requires a vision and a mission that is executed upon across an organization and a hierarchy, as well as a visionary leader to curate and drive this vision through to completion. The adage "the customer is always right" is often misunderstood; websites and products shouldn't become order-takers to give people exactly what they ask for, but instead to listen generously to really understand the underlying needs and wants of users and then, once understood, to deliver those needs and wants in a unique and differentiated way.

    Decentralized communities don't operate in this way; they instead try to please everyone or, even worse, turn over the reins to the masses, where the original vision is dilluted and ultimately becomes non-differentiated and reflects the sameness of general society. Invariably, this leads to a lowest-common-denominator mindset. And, ultimately, this drives users away. People don't join a community that looks just like every community -- unless if that community is ubiquitous. For example, there can only ever be "one" Facebook or "one" Reddit. Creating a clone offering, if it isn't unique and differentiated in a substantial way (the way that Facebook disrupted MySpace, or MySpace disrupted Friendster, and so on and so forth), is destined for failure.
 

Pete

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It should be a commercial entity run for the community benefit.
I’m curious, why should it be a commercial entity? Plenty of forums exist that aren’t commercial entities and exist as social benefits without a direct commercial interest.
 

Pete

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Despite our disagreements elsewhere about the future of forums as a mainstream communication and collaboration platform, I find myself in violent agreement with you on this entire topic above. I just want to echo my appreciation for your contribution to this thread, and re-iterate some points of my agreement.
Its actually fascinating to watch because I think you’ve nailed here some of the reasons at the heart of our other disagreements.

Point 3, the pleasing everyone/community consensus angle is a large part of why the existing forum solutions are struggling to adapt. They’re fighting against a wave of “change is hard” and “every change breaks someone’s workflow”, especially in places where the slow pace/asynchronousity is both desirable and welcomed.

There are reasons for this, whether it’s based on the subject matter, or the demographic of the user base, or something else. I think we all accept a bias in thinking that “the younger generation” of digital natives has grown up with this culture of immediacy in response, and that if they don’t get a response in a timely fashion, they move on.

But to me this reflects heavily in point 2 around what engagement looks like. Whatever the format of a digital community, there is an implicit social contract, in that there is a give and take going on, in the hopes that every member gets something out of the community, for the price of contributing something in. Support forums in their various forms are the most outlier here - they have the highest proportion of “those who just want an answer with no great intent to contribute”, but also a surprising number of “I received help and now I want to pay it forward”. Other communities naturally fall elsewhere on this particular spectrum.

I think this is easier to facilitate if in a synchronous environment - it’s easier to see participation within the community social norms and get the feedback cycle going quicker (to adapt newcomers to the social norms) and encourage that giving ahead of the taking. But for some forums, some types of community you really want to allow or even encourage the lurker behaviour, allowing people to observe the community in its natural state before committing to becoming a member of it. This seems to hold especially true for folks who are perhaps less socially outgoing/more introverted or for whatever reason find It harder to connect with people.

This is also another reason why different speeds and formats of communication really are essential, because different people engage in different ways, and I think the push towards the here and now and “always in the moment” runs the risk of excluding people who would otherwise be good community participants.

What this really tells me is that, as a communication medium, we haven’t collectively figured out all the nuances of how to engage people, and that it’s highly dependent on what we’re doing, what niche we’re in, what its social norms look like and so on.

There are definitely things forums can do to improve this situation and make it easier to bridge the gaps - infinitely better media posting options would go down well for sure. Other types of communities will need other tools - see my various ramblings on the nature of what roleplay forums tend to want to facilitate their engagement. Interestingly they blur the lines by having both synchronous and asynchronous communications under one banner, which is entirely by design. And both are often needed to generate that specific niche’s form of engagenent.

Point 1 is interesting because you’ve come at it from the opposite angle to me, in this debate at least. But that’s the reality - any space has to be subject to some authority figure, someone who is ultimately the arbiter of what is acceptable in the space and perhaps more importantly, what the purpose of the space is. This dovetails nicely with point 3, a collective group deciding on the *values* or *purpose* of a space leave it up to collective interpretation of a vision, if there is even a vision, and this may not be aligned. A single administrator or leadership group on the other hand will likely have a much tighter view on that and may need to impose that vision enthusiastically. It is no surprise that the “benevolent dictator” model turns up so often, not just in what we think of as communities but also in places we *don’t think* of as communities.

You see this an awful lot in open source, where the classically successful projects almost universally have a single admin/leader, or a very small team functioning as keepers of the vision, around which a community can form. The same characteristics tend to apply there too.

Interestingly this also hits at the current problem most forum platforms seem to have. They have a product that is good enough (most of the time) for their intended audience and limited vision for what to do with it, coupled with a desire to appease those for whom change is hard. The result is that the forum industry has not radically moved on in years - even with the things IPS, XF and WBB are doing.

And because these entities have a customer base that has needs that, so far, seem to be met, they’re not going to try to invent the next big thing - just as a successful community isn’t suddenly going to up-end itself trying new collective leadership or structure, because you don’t fix what isn’t broken.
 

Skybound

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The way I view it - a forum is like an electronic pub. It needs to attract it's customers and offer them something that makes them want to stay and chat away with the fellow patrons and return again.

Would a pub owner turn the reigns over to the customers? Unlikely. Will he listen to his customers and adapt where he believes it is in the interest of his patrons - yes.
 

truthingtotruth

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I love that electronic pub idea. Can't say as I've seen that idea before. But when you can serve a beer kind of electronic something - - - well, you'll then be one of the richest humans on Earth. Maybe the richest.

And I really love seeing more ideas flowing from y'all. But I confess that I have some serious studying to do of the newer posts and I also suspect I will now need to be hopping back and forth for references y'all have made so I get it right. All means I have hard work to do.

Thing is I also have to study my post-chemo life and get a better idea of how much longer I've got but yesterday the doc used the vocabulary "aggressive" to describe this relapse and that doesn't seem so cool. Still, initial studying yesterday looks like I can at least count on a couple more years. That's pretty neat.

(What would you name an Electronic Beer?) I remember that Carter fella who got the top job had a brother selling beer. Speaking of government. [Okay, I should be careful and be polite and respectful - - - President Carter, not Carter fella.]
 

truthingtotruth

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truthingtotruth I'm really sorry to hear this. Cancer is no joke. :(
I sincerely appreciate that, but the whole business has been one heck of an educational experience and I want to write about it and I was going to ask if we are allowed to write about that topic here on TAZ someplace. I mean, write about how so stupid I have been on the topic before I actually faced the situation. You see, my ma died of cancer when I was super young. My dad also, but he had a full life, so can't - - - well, different than ma. But I still didn't truly pay attention to the disease until 2017 and those rather nasty words, you got cancer problem.

So, are we allowed to start a thread on this topic on TAZ.

Sorry everyone for going way-way off-topic.
 
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