"Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.
Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now. It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing. But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting. (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)"
I once heard that you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time around and the older I get the more true that rings. I try to be _really_ particular with the communities I join and I have _no qualm_ removing either people from my communities or myself from theirs if I don't feel like we're helping each other; or more specifically if _I don't feel_ that _I am growing_ in the way _I want to grow_.
We should be kind to each other, for sure, regardless of what _Group_ we're in. Everyone should have equal access to their needs and desires. But. I am not _obligated to allow you to influence me_.
I’m strongly in favor of gatekeeping. I know that’s a bad word to some but that’s how you retain focus and purpose. It used to be the “normies” that you’d shield your group from, now it’s the “normies”, griefers, and the perma-offended.
I see this cited all the time like the bible. Keep in mind, the internet and the earth by and large is itself a community, and its not moderated nor defended except in places like north korea or china.
Besides those places that are "defending themselves" the community is very healthy.
My take is, if a community is constrained by quality (eg moderation, self-selecting invite-only etc) then the only way it grows is by lowering the threshold. Inevitably that means lower quality content.
To some extent, more people can make up for it. Eg if I go from 10 excellent artists to 1000 good ones, chances are that the top 10% artwork created actually gets better.
But eventually if you grow by lowering quality, then, well, quality drops.
I suppose for very small societies, they may be limited by discoverability/cliquiness and not quality, so their growth doesn’t mesh with quality and so they could also get better with size.
Note, “quality” doesn’t have to mean good/bad but also just “property”. When Facebook started, it was for kids from elite schools. It then gradually diluted that by lowering that particular bar. Then it was for kids from all schools. Then young people. Then their parents too. Clearly, it’s far from dying in absolute terms, but it’s certainly no longer what it initially was. To many initial users, it’s as good as dead though.
There's another side effect: Whenever a site or community grows, it becomes a more and more attractive target for bad actors. The site finds a way to separate signal from noise, this attracts an audience, and that attracts bad actors who learn to mimic the signal in order to access the audience for their own gain. Unless the site finds a way to expand whatever it did in the first place to isolate signal from noise, to also isolate signal from mimicry, then the site will go into quality decline.
We've seen it on Amazon with fake reviews and a flood of cheap crap, we've seen it on Facebook with clickbait, bots and manufactured outrage being counted as "engagement", we've seen it on Etsy with cheap crap passed off as homemade crafts, we saw it with StackOverflow-copying SEO-spam on Google, and just blogspam and SEO-spam in general. Whenever there's a commonly-relied-upon signal, there's someone trying to mimic it, thus lowering the value of the signal.
> Whenever there's a commonly-relied-upon signal, there's someone trying to mimic it, thus lowering the value of the signal.
Goodhart's law: When a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a reliable measure.
The other day someone was lamenting the disappearance of the downvote indicator from YouTube videos, which makes it impossible to use an up/down ratio as heuristic for quality. Sometimes the measure is so good that it's the custodians of the community themselves that become bad actors.
Quality overall dropped somewhat over they years (my subjective impression) but they grew by expanding to many different niches. They also skillfully connected them, so that each one feels like a tight community, yet easy to join.
I think HN fits this to an extent by weighting voting power according to account age and other factors, which would dramatically slow the speed with which an explosion of new users would change what is seen on the homepage. User comment quality remains a hard problem to solve though.
I find myself continually amazed at how HN continues to be one of the more overall generally "sane" discussion forums in existence. Still by far just about my favorite source of interesting links and equally interesting discussions about those links. "Kudos", "props", and "mad respect" at all those folks who help it stay that way.
The OP seemed to be speaking more broadly about any community being able to grow without ruin, and there are plenty of examples of communities that grew and improved in quality for arbitrary amounts of time. When we talk about online, fast growth, low-indoctrination, easy-to-join communities (i.e. they grow from without vs. within,) those are prone to the eternal September effect and to losing/changing identity. There are all sorts of circumstances that can effect a groups growth dynamic, like how hierarchical it is, how communications are prioritized and presented, etc.
I think fast growth and low barrier to entry are a recipe for becoming a microcosm of general human behavior/cooperation issues, but that there are mitigating factors that may allow it to work better or worse.
When people join a community, they don't just adopt the values of the community, but they also come with pre-existing values. As a community grows, it will adapt to the people who are joining it, and this may alienate the early-adopters who joined for a different reason than the people joining during the exponential or diminishing returns phases of logistic growth. This doesn't mean the community is "ruined" but from the perspective of early adopters, they might describe it that way.
This can be seen readily in the history of Islam and Christianity. As those faith communities grew, they became very different from what their early adopters experienced, because they absorbed traditions and social structures of the people joining them.
I agree with the first paragraph but using totalitarian systems as an example is a bad choice. This is about the most extreme manifestation of communities that one can think of, most of the people did not even join voluntarily but were forced into it. Most of the change likewise happened through infighting and violent schisms. And you have to consider that there is very little to in many cases no information about what these communities were like apart from their own narration, which is guaranteed to have been rewritten to fit the dogma of the time. There are very few independent accounts, if there were they didn't survive because these groups tended to destroy everything that wasn't their own.
Keep in mind the early "faith" communities were nothing like more liberal religious groups today. In Islam radical groups are more close to the original warlord days of Muhammad. Thinks something like ISIS, that's what it was originally like.
Some (few) humans are just bad. They either are intentionally destructive, or can’t into a healthy discussion, which includes ignoring bad actors. The key feature that HN community has managed to retain somehow, as far as I see, is its ability to avoid being provoked too much. Old school mailing lists I was subscribed to sometimes had people who were apparently mentally ill, and still no ban was required to deal with their messages. You see it, you move on.
Screwed communities are screwed not by few bad actors (which live everywhere), but by the attention that users gift to them for free. By normal people you live or work with. Forum literacy is the key, and it’s not built into everyone by default.
Imagine a forum for doctors to discuss new treatments and everyone can join in, soon it'd be r/AskDoc and of almost no value to actual doctors
It wouldn’t, if every doctor there knows that they have to react with “Sorry, this forum is not for this kind of advice. But you can try these reputable sites: … to ask this question”. And similarly to attempts of other users to answer right there. Or, if not sure, to just stay silent.
Iow, community gets ruined when it effectively stops being a community and turns into a no-one-concerned bazaar.
we used to have a phrase to remind each other not to give attention to the bad actors: “don’t feed the trolls” (doesn’t capture 100% of attention sinks, but it’s catchy, and a certain percentage of people understood that the phrase could apply more broadly). it occurred to me that i haven’t heard this phrase in several years now.
That is very strange. I also have not heard it for a long time. Though it seems like trolling used to be a niche activity in which someone would say or do something specifically just to attempt to harm anyone who came across it.
But it feels like half of the news cycle has that kind of attack now, a large part of the politicians make those kinds of intentionally bad faith arguments, they've become accustomed to telling stories with the specific intention of getting people angry, I guess it gets votes. It seems like trolling was just too effective politically, you and your friends can laugh at your little sticker at the gas pump while imagining all those libs that are gonna be seething when they see what amounts to your intentionally crafted commentary, made to enrage not engage, that you place in a public service so that you have a high chance of at least making someone angry.
I think we all know who might've done the most towards normalizing such juvenile behavior. I hope we can win our civility back.
Once given a name (a sort of attention) they became a subculture. It would happen without the term anyway, but I feel it played a role. Instead of knowing/explaining how to deal with it, innocent citizens began to just call each other trolls for various reasons, and the original “don’t feed” part was lost.
Definitely seen it in the specific subreddits for tools, services and products. You’ll subscribe because there’s a community of your peers, you found them! They’re all doing cool things with the thing you’re using
Then 2 years later the subreddit is basically just another support channel for the most boring entry level questions imaginable on loop
Bonus points if the moderators decide to allow image posts and memes (eg if it was just text before) or some other massive change that resonates only with the newer folks and everyone else leaves.
Now the repeating loop of basic questions are answered by people who themselves came for assistance, who repeat whatever they’ve already read, with no proof or knowledge if it actually works
The example I’m thinking of is /r/Twitch in this case. Had a moment of thinking I’d be a streamer superstar, happens to us all right? Was being told* how to build my audience by people who themselves had no audience. Boshed a quick script together and found the average contributing user had less than 10 concurrent viewers when they go live. Useful.
* Indirectly. I’m aware of the irony/hypocrisy that I was also looking for said basic questions - I was searching for answers not asking :P
You get that in any subreddit that's named too generically, because that's where newcomers to the subject will go by default. If you're just started programming and you're learning Python, you're probably going to r/python to ask any questions you might have. If you just bought your first bicycle you're going to r/bicycle. So you end up with basic questions and people showing off their first 10 mile trip. Trying to fight it is futile, the only solution is to let the beginners have the most obvious community name, and let the more advanced users have their own with some name you won't stumble upon with only basic knowledge. I learned long ago that trying to point new users to specific newbie groups doesn't work, you'll come off as cranky and bitter, and eventually the majority of users are siding with the newcomers because thats how they identify as well.
At time of writing, five other comments in this thread link to Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia is an example of a large community that has not become ruined, through social and technical counter measures. There may well be people who think that it "is not what it once was" and that's probably true for Wikipedia and for many communities, but that's different from the changes being ruinous.
> Wikipedia is an example of a large community that has not become ruined
there's an awful amount of moderation in wikipedia though. With enough moderation, you can control the community. And tbh, wikipedia has two disjointed groups - the editors and the viewers. The editors are moderated heavily, but not the viewers, since they are not contributing. Therefore, even if the viewers are large, they don't contribute to the editor's community.
At the page level, Wikipedia is a great example of this phenomenon. Mathematics and engineering pages are usually well-written and informative. Pages for popular political topics are routinely locked and vandalized, and the content eventually reflects the same worldview you see in forums with low barriers to entry.
On an average wikipedia page (or even topic), you will only encounter a small number of participants at a time. A lot of the time you can forget that the rest of the community even exists. You're likely to be fine even if you Ignore All the Rules . As long as you mean well, good-faith interactions between individuals (if any!) will typically set you right. This is where Wikipedia is strong.
On highly popular pages, the number of participants can rise well above the actual empirical value of Dunbar's number for that page. At that point it becomes very hard to maintain order, and things can get very bureaucratic over even a single punctuation mark. This is where Wikipedia is weak.
The underlying causes of the problem are both mathematical and human. While the mathematical causes are reasonably well understood by experts, I think the book Sapiens covers the human factors quite well.
A tidbit from the book is that humans works well in a tribe size of ~150 and anything larger requires a cohesive belief system that ties tribes together. According to the author, examples of such belief systems are religions and corporations. The author goes much deeper and no part of the book was boring. I highly recommend reading the book, it's a much more distilled version of the comment section.
Idk - dota is still incredibly toxic regardless of it being WC3 era when it was just a custom map or now where it’s a full fledged game with huge competitions.
So, I think communities that start toxic at least won’t ever have this issue! ;)
This reminds me of a short talk/interview by Robert Putnam about immigration and the challenges of it. https://youtu.be/grAAOjdvcrI It’s good and I think covers some of the more holistic ways to view these issues. As communities grow and people immigrate - they bring their own culture and part of growing a community means accepting them and accepting their ways to some extent. Later - all of these things that weren’t there are now part of the community identity. So, yeah, identities change over time as you adopt more people and varied outlooks.
In some sense - this means that communities on the internet probably start to look somewhat homogenous as they grow but that’s probably more of a reflection of humanity than a reflection of anything else. If you want to retain the character of your community - it often means not accepting new members or growing at all. It’s a tricky issue if you really value certain aspects of communities. Moderation and purpose might help steer the community - but it might mean limiting your access and growth and then enforcing some forms of discrimination.
I've seen dozens of examples of this, but I'm still hesitant to brand this to be causality. There seems to be some degree of correlation though.
Smaller communities tend to be more familiar - people recognize each others names, and people have each other's backs, when someone is trolling or something. When things grow beyond a certain size - maybe related to Dunbar's number - the group dynamics change.
In some cases this can lead to the community to loosing coherence or even becoming toxic - but I don't think that's inevitable. I believe it IS possible to grow a community to a larger size and have it stay nice. I think though, that in order to keep a community nice when growing beyond a certain point, some effort is required - effort which wasn't necessary while the group was smaller and kinda self-organized.
Also, growing slowly rather than quickly might help - as newcomers have some time to acclimatize and internalize those unspoken social rules that govern a group's dynamic - and will be able to pass on the knowledge to those coming after. People who join a group will eventually adapt to the group - but that process needs a bit of time.
But when growth is too fast, a newcomer might have more interactions with other newcomers rather than long-standing community members, and thus will adapt to something quite different.
> Smaller communities tend to be more familiar - people recognize each others names
It feels like there's a certain number (maybe Dunbar's like you said) at which people stop seeing a community as a group of disparate individuals and start seeing it as some sort of a collective hivemind.
You see this regularly with comments like "HN/subreddit/etc is so hypocritical. One day they're in favor of X, the next day they're against it", in which the poster seems to fail to realize that in a community of tens of thousands of people, chances are it's entirely disjoint subsets of the group taking those positions.
I don't see that kind of thing as often in smaller message boards. When you recognize everybody's name (or at least their avatar), it's a lot clearer that it's just Bob and Alice who support X and Eve and Mallory who don't.
It seems natural that such a failure to see the individuals that make up a group would lead to a decline in civility.
Specifically with respect to forums, I'm going to repost something I wrote before:
Metcalfe's Law says that the value of a network is proportional to the number of nodes (or people) in the network. That is, V = k * n^2, for some constant k.
But we now know that there's more to the story. That valuable network attracts users, but it also attracts abusers - spammers, propagandists, trolls. They don't add to the value of the network; they detract from it.
Here's where the handwaving starts. It is my perception that the proportion of abusers rises as the size of the network rises. That means that the total number of abusers rises faster than the number of users - perhaps as the square of the number of users.
Worse, those abusers do more damage than their numbers would indicate. It's not just that you have messages that should be ignored. It's also that you have to increase the level of mistrust for every message. I'm going to guess that the abusers do damage about in proportion to the square of their number (which is itself in proportion to the square of the number of users).
That leaves us with V = k * n^2 - c * n^4, to account for the damage from abuse.
It follows that one essential of larger networks is keeping c as low as possible. Otherwise abuse destroys a network.
Also note that, for any given k and c, there is a number of users beyond which the value of the network is negative.
I feel users don't have to be nefarious to have negative effect on the network. Example, you and your 4 friends in middle school are hanging out and having fun. One of your friends mom shows up and sit next to you guys. Suddenly you can't talk about 80% of the stuff you'd in absence of her, even though the mom isn't spamming or trolling. But yes as network grows it attracts marketers and spammers. But also kind of audiences matter too. A large network of only consisting hardware enthusiast is really useful. But a large network of general population would affect what posts make it to front page, how they get reported, and how slowly they get answered as they will drown against cat photos, political rage, and personal success stories. Even people with all specialized skills and relevant interest won't get to see those niche posts.
On reddit there is concept of subreddits. But regardless you are more likely to be distracted with other subreddits then interact with niche you are an expert in. why more coding questions are asked on stackoverflow than r/webdev
I used to think this was inevitable, but as I've aged I have come to view the process differently.
When you join that group, you change the group. So it's a small shift whenever somebody joins. And even without a change in group membership, people change and their interests and time commitments change.
There have been many online groups that I have been a part of, that have not grown, and still gotten worse. Usually because somebody I liked became less active.
So the constant is really change. And most of us don't like change much. Sometimes change is better, that's why we stuck with the group when we joined it.
There's a pretty interesting phenomena in life that rates of loneliness tend to be vastly higher in urban areas than in rural.  It makes absolutely no sense on the surface. How can a town of 1000 people have a lower rate of loneliness than a city that has several orders of magnitude more people per area?
You're definitely right that as new members join a group, the mean interests of that group change. But you can't discount the average weakening of social ties. When there are 5 people in a group everybody is going to know each other extremely well. When there are 50,000 you'll have no clue who the vast majority are and respond accordingly. When you get into the millions everybody else may as well be a one-off chatbot. Unless you purposefully create a group within the group (which is really just starting the whole process over again), your odds of seeing the same individual twice approach zero.
Personally, I think it's true. For the simple fact that the vast majority of people are pretty boring to other people for one reason or another. And that the common person feels compelled to help or advise, for no ill purpose, despite often being unequipped to do so.
When you create a niche community, for that moment in time people are interesting to each other in the sense of having something in common, exciting even. As less serious folks inevitably filter in by word of mouth, linking, or curiosity, the SNR drops pretty considerably.
At one point in life I was a truck enthusiast and mechanical expert and joined a pretty nice community around it. It didn't take long for the laypeople to join, start sharing typical urban myths and terrible advice, and getting -upvoted- for doing so by other newcomers. It went from a community of highly technical folks to a community of commons, and lost all interest.
I'm no different. This was a Silicon Valley, startup, VC based forum initially. I found the community really interesting and loved the topics discussed. But I'm just some weirdo in the desert mainly sharing anecdotes anymore. That's not to say I exist to annoy anyone, but I could see some of the original folks being annoyed by people like me.
> It didn't take long for the laypeople to join, start sharing typical urban myths and terrible advice, and getting -upvoted- for doing so by other newcomers
I can relate so much to this. The Facebook groups for my hobby are filled with beginner questions followed by terribly wrong advices given by other beginners who have no idea what they are talking about. It's extremely frustrating to read, but I put most of the blame on the platform and not the users.
>...and that the common person feels compelled to help or advise, for no ill purpose, despite often being unequipped to do so.
I've had to step back a little from Reddit because of this, I seldom post because I feel there are much better answers coming from other people, I consider the thread a sacred space, but it's clear other people can be reckless and by extension my time and energy is wasted.
Silly of me to think following Elon on twitter would bring out a certain caliber of responses about manufacturing and tech as a whole. The guaranteed disappointment each time has me spending only 3 minutes a day there. Twitter is a bad case for equal access for all, at least for now.
it's not just the community, it's also you. easily observable if you acquire a new hobby and join the respective subreddits. at first everything is new and exciting, hard to understand, foreign lingo and full of cryptic references. you'll learn a ton of new things in a very short amount of time and soon start understand some of the lingo and those cryptic references, probably inside jokes, memes, abbreviations, known brands or names of people of note.
after a while you'll find yourself in a position where you can answer questions of other newcomers - you've seen the same question several times and maybe asked it yourself at the beginning.
you might become a productive member of that group, but at some point you'll see all too many patterns: the same questions asked, the same mistakes made, the same fallacies argued, the same arguments given for the hundredth time. interesting content gets rare - because the content you found exciting at the beginning now bores you to death. the jokes you found so funny when you heard them the first time get stale, the same meme is reposted again and again, the mysterious, edgy user going against the conventional wisdom turned out to be a troll. all the while a new user joins and experiences all the same excitement you did when you were new to the topic.
Money usually optimises for advertising, advertising optimises for reach, and reach is the opposite of exclusivity or refinement.
There's some benefit to some selective markets, especially if they tend to focus money more than brains --- this is the notion behind virtually all luxury or high-end products, and was a role served by magazine publishers in the last quarter or so of the 20th century: a clear indicator of market segmentation and focus, combining both the magazine's own audience bias as well as geographic (and hence, socioeconomic) market differentiation. That's now largely moved to online and mobile.
I see this over and over again. I think people see the money and the monetization inevitably degrades the quality.
I'm attempting a web 1.0 business experiment with a website targeted towards finding unique stuff in the city I live in. I've decided, as a philosophy, that there will be no comment section with people bickering to moderate, no email signup, no real database, no login, no data collection on my users (besides whatever google analytics tracks) - but I personally don't want to handle your data. I guess this is all to say, I'm going to see if I can avoid falling down this rabbit hole as the community grows - can I avoid ruining the website? I guess I'll see.
I think if you do it right you can monetize tastefully, but that formula is still a work in progress. I just have a sense its possible. I think most people just chase the money into oblivion trying to scale into huge companies mostly for ego? However, it's entirely possible to create little lifestyle businesses on the internet that bring in a decent salary, but don't scale to tens/hundreds of millions of dollars. I think it would be fun to see the web return to a less chaotic place.
I think the web is less chaotic now. I was extremely chaotic early on, and it was great and terrible. You had niches for everything, style was all over the place, people made things efficient in interesting ways and, of course, there were scams and spam and trash and bling.
Now the web most people 'see' is fairly standardised and curated. I mean, try searching for a good forum on a specific topic now; you get wordpress/medium blogs or a link to Discord/Twitter/FB. A lot of the unique and niche 'group interests' are now within the walled gardens of Facebook (+Instagram) and Twitter or Discord, which are basically not searchable from a general search engine query. Or they're in Reddit, the uber-forum that's at least still searchable. I think that's a problem.
I think there's a subtle issue here you've almost hit by 'people just chase the money into oblivion,' and I think it's this: they don't quite understand or appreciate the value their 'product' creates and the audience it is for. So they chase 'monetisation' as its own reward - ads, dark patterns, trying to reach an ever 'broader audience.' Which becomes much easier to compete against and they lost not just customer base but loyalty and recognition.
The Present Web is Marketer / SEO / Advertiser Chaotic.
There was a high diversity of original content, much of it neither monetised nor monetisable, in the early days. It wasn't necessarily high quality, but it was different.
Today, you can find (if you look for it) quality material, but it's drowned in absolute oceans and galaxies of crap. In the relatively early days of television, Marvin Kitman observed "On the TV screen pure drivel tends to drive off ordinary drivel." The Internet does this on steroids. It's a fundamental characteristic of mass media.
I think their explanation has more to do with physical constraints (like energy) than social structures:
"Previous studies show that city metrics having to do with growth, productivity and overall energy consumption scale superlinearly, attributing this to the social nature of cities. Superlinear scaling results in crises called ‘singularities’, where population and energy demand tend to infinity in a finite amount of time, which must be avoided by ever more frequent ‘resets’ or innovations that postpone the system's collapse. Here, we place the emergence of cities and planetary civilizations in the context of major evolutionary transitions. With this perspective, we hypothesize that once a planetary civilization transitions into a state that can be described as one virtually connected global city, it will face an ‘asymptotic burnout’, an ultimate crisis where the singularity-interval time scale becomes smaller than the time scale of innovation. If a civilization develops the capability to understand its own trajectory, it will have a window of time to affect a fundamental change to prioritize long-term homeostasis and well-being over unyielding growth—a consciously induced trajectory change or ‘homeostatic awakening’. We propose a new resolution to the Fermi paradox: civilizations either collapse from burnout or redirect themselves to prioritizing homeostasis, a state where cosmic expansion is no longer a goal, making them difficult to detect remotely."
It’s tragedy of the commons. The smaller the group the more likely members are to care for one another and the community. The bigger it gets, the less likely a new member is to behave with the culture of the community without moderation, the more the average behavior goes down. It helps if you have an on boarding process that educates on the culture and norms or attaches new members to existing so they can be introduced into the culture instead of just thrown into it.
I remember when r/programming and r/machinelearning about 5-6 years ago regularly blew my mind with intelligent discussions but now many of the submissions in both subreddits are just ... not that interesting. The surge of users resulted in the eventual displacement of the original community.
I have only seen this effect with artistic products and true communities(As in, places where you know most of the people, and your relationships with others there are at least as important as the official goal of the group).
Technology does not have that effect, because machines aren't people. There's essentially nothing about Linux that I don't like way better now than when I started.
Lightweight tech may lose it's lightweight status, but it still runs extremely fast because of the optimization that "bloatware" usually has.
If people think it's gone downhill, then it was probably always as much of an artistic work as a technical one.
Hacker News isn't a specific tech project, and is closer to a real community, so in this case I would expect that it would go directly toiletwards if it got big.
I think the main factors are content overload and a small group of users that quickly ruin anything.
That group often isn't there at the beginning, because they don't start stuff(Making an effort is uncool), but they do like to show up and shitpost.
It doesn't take many people who really don't care, to turn a place into 4chan. Moderation can't even fix it, you just get kidz bop 4chan lite.
I'd argue that technology does have this effect as well, though it manifests differently.
Machines aren't people ... but people buy machines, or the services based off of them. And as these get increasingly complex, and the market grows, that market becomes less specifically skilled and discerning, more easily swayed by bogosity. Audiophile equipment and wine markets exhibit many of these characteristics, and are well-known case studies. Bicycles are another example. With digital computers specifically, Moore's Law helps offset some of the worst abuses, but the intrusion of mass-market crap still occurs, ironically all the more in more competitive and larger markets.
But with machines, it's offset by network effects and economies of scale, and the fact that the cheaper way is usually better by pretty much any technical metric(See: Quartz vs Mechanical).
You also get a demand that things become easy and reliable. Niche audiences are much more tolerant. They will fix things themselves and not complain, or even remember, because tinkering is so normal to them.
When the mass market comes they expect absolutely zero friction.
True audiophile equipment might have some problematic effect, but for even the high end consumer level, class-D basically obsoletes everything else, from tiny phone speakers to multi kilowatt rock concert gear.
Even large appliances, one of the only things that seem to have gotten less reliable, might be a win. Newer stuff is lighter and uses less energy, and costs less, so the money spent and environmental footprint probably isn't as bad as they say for most people.
Clothes seem to be very slightly less durable, and have microplastic issues, but a pair of shorts from Target can still last a decade or even more if you know any repair, and it's not like cotton is ecologically perfect either.
Food is really commonly cited, but I suspect it is easier than any time in the past to eat well. Whole grains weren't a mainstream thing until recently. Plant protein wasn't a thing. There was a long era of things like partially hydrogenated oils, and before that, there was just straight up contamination as an everyday concern.
For example, you can't generally scale-up a machine by just multiplying all of its dimensions by, say, 2, and expect it to still work the same way. Ditto for organizations.
Scalability would generally be a problem even if you could ensure that the sorts of people involved wouldn't change. But, if you're considering a scenario where the the types of folks involved also change, then that'd probably tend to amplify the effect.
That said, systems can often be scaled-up with due consideration to how they work and ensuring that the fundamentals are kept.
If you have a stable community, there is a certain distribution of participants from recently-joined to oldtimers. The bulk will have experience with the community's unwritten rules due to experience; new folks constitute a tiny minority and and "infraction" of theirs can be gently corrected.
This no longer works when suddenly scaling up participants. Behaviour by inexperienced members goes uncorrected and drowns out the original behavior. Aspects that were frowned upon can become the new standard.
In short, the atmosphere changes - and no one genuinely controls the change's direction.
What is "ruined" for you, might be just right for others. People's perceptions of value and usefulness vary.
E.g. I work for a huge corporation and am very happy, but it started small. I am working at a "ruined" workplace? Perhaps if you personally value a small start up you'd consider it so, but I value the stability of an established company that I can rely on getting my salary from.
"Communities" don't actually exist beyond the beliefs of their current membership. Its like a philosophical discussion of mind-body dualism. Arguably, for example, Twitter quite literally has no soul, its belief system is merely the sum of its current participants. The concept of twitter having a soul is perfectly analogous to the concept of a human being having a soul in the biblical sense.
A small group can have values divergent from the mainstream. By definition if a group scales up to mainstream, the group's values at mainstream scale will be mainstream because its members ARE the mainstream, or optionally some kind of cabal will have to spend infinitely increasing effort on mass censorship and intense propaganda (see contemporary issues in legacy social media).
Now if your entire economic system depends on growth for the sake of growth, all small groups will eventually tend toward mainstream beliefs or they will shut down.
Not all orgs are "successful" like the "forum for doctors" example. The OP considers "Dr Phil" and "Dr Oz" but WRT influence almost no doctors out there are Dr Phil or Dr Oz and most people are not fans of their TV shows. Consider dying legacy media like newspapers and TV and "Hollywood" in general. Fewer people pay attention to their antics every year. Eventually those orgs WILL collapse and disappear, like newspapers have been slowly doing, but for now, a lot of money can be made off really bad, non-influential movies, for example. Shrinking organizations can aggressively gatekeep their belief systems until the org shuts down completely. For example, you can make a lot of money off publishing a book almost no one reads, but don't confuse that pile of money with influence.
Ironically the people gatekeeping an organization via censorship, propaganda, etc, truly THINK they are saving the org by being devout believers in the Current Thing, but they're actually destroying the org. If you have no traction, the harder you push the further you get away from the mainstream, no matter how much those whom are pushing would like to think they're moving the mainstream.
My hunch is that it's not so much about size, but the rate of growth. What large communities I've seen that have managed to maintain their identity have either been so esoteric as to not have a lot of growth (their numbers having accumulated over a large amount of time), or some aggressively maintained expectation that newcomers should lurk before they post.
I do think it makes some sense, if you have a sufficient influx of new members, a large proportion of those you interact with will be strangers, and that's fundamentally different from a group where most people you interact with are familiar faces.
I think a lot of countries that went through eras of ethnic strife or balkanization have positive associations with bigness. Yugoslavia being a prominent example. The US itself may be a pretty good example of a place that benefits from its bigness, openness and ease of movement and sheer scale. A lot of large scale industry which underpins much of the modern world is really located in places that have the capacity and population to pursue big projects.
Within online communities that are dying there is often new life injected if they consolidate. I think the success of Linux is largely owed to big organizations that made it commercially viable. In decentralized form in something like Debian, which aims to reach as broad a base as possible, or corporate in the form of Redhat, but in each case with a growing population, real resources and unified goals.
A company like Amazon during the pandemic is I think also a good example. The logistics that their size enables and the ability to absorb sudden shocks just does not exist at any small company, and it was the big companies that kept the lights on and the goods going around. I was strongly persuaded by Tyler Cowen's book on the topic a few years ago.
That sound like eternal September to me . I don't think its necessary a case of the thing getting ruined, but rather that it evolves and no longer matches the what the original gang pictures in their head.
A bit like you can't infuse startup vibes into a big company no matter how many foosball tables you add.
Humans don't know how to scale, and parasitic extraction forces are always looking for a new host body, but the core problem IMO is that there is no shared and agreed upon "point", "vision", "ideal", "value", regarding the "purpose" of any "community" (whether that is a forum or a company or a product or ...), so no one can tell what's actually good about it, ensure that newcomers perpetuate and/or magnify that, and recognize when we're drifting off course.
It's a qualitative difference, but unless one can articulate and recognize and enforce and etc the core quality/qualities, it breaks down over time. People who don't understand or care why a thing was "good" are simply not going to perpetuate or magnify that "goodness" over time.
And, of course, even the "core who were there when it mattered" are highly unlikely to agree on what made it worthwhile. Ask me why "Metallica before they sold out" is better than "Metallica after they sold out", and you'll almost certainly get a different answer from 100 other people who feel that very same way. Etc.
Thank you for posting this question! I've just recently been thinking about this effect in terms of how computer games were degraded as a medium by an outgroup who has no interest in games and wants to push its own agenda. What is more scary though is to observe the same process in scientific communities today, which I think may have long lasting negative consequences for all of us tomorrow and the days after that.
It depends how you define community. If the game's growth discourages the people you actually play with from playing, then sure, it kills your community. If your neighborhood becomes too expensive to live in, your community will be crushed. Pretty much anything involving scaling a factory of any kind will necessarily favour broad applicability, but whether that means your community within that stops being fun depends largely on what those changes are and over how long of a timespan they occur. In WoW, people like to cling to the classic version of the game that they played when they were a kid and have since changed. Those changes were obviously good in a lot of ways, but also negative in others. Those people could argue that changes since then killed their community, but really what happened is that tradition is inherently stagnating in some ways.
The hilarious corporate mantra of buying out a startup and keeping it a "startup with much better funding that runs independently but within the company" is a joke tho seriously
I think it is more insidious than that. Take for example Subnautica - an awesome indie game unlike many others, not without its issues but well loved and made with care. After the initial project success, the team started (and eventually released) another project - Subnautica: Below Zero.
However, in the middle of development it started to have issues namely around the decisions to add personality to the player character, character's gender and additional plot lines based on this, characters received voice overs, then it was redone, then plot was changed, people left, etc. The original game had no "main character" per se while Below Zero did and my general impression on reading all the drama was that the game was no longer influenced by people harboring love for the craft and those who genuinely wanted to play it but rather "others" whose interest was using this medium as yet another proxy to push their agenda.
Back in the days me and my friends used the term "normies" but I don't think this term would precisely describe what's happening. There are many people one would describe more or less "normal" who are kind, respectful, and don't degrade the quality of communities they are part of.
So here comes the question - who are those people who destroy communities and what we can do to stop them at scale?
Oh, that's a matter of scope creep and bad actors. I have people in my real life community who suck the life out pf any interaction with them. Always going on about victomhood or gender or whatever, when really everything is getting along in a healthy way without them. The only way to stop this is to avoid giving them an audience, and to vote literally and figuratively with whatever you have. Don't buy the game and voice your reason. Or try the game and see if you still like it. A lot of the time it is easy to be annoyed that intruders are taking over, but some of that comes down to pre-existing bias. Most of the people who hate gays for example haven't really met any.
But ya, vote with what you can vote with. Start your own company that you control etc..
I think the determining factor is what the community's ultimate goal is. I would say that scale improves communities where cohesion or 'quality' can be relaxed in favour of expanding the base of people helping in that goal.
An example that comes to mind is the physics community. I hear a lot of criticisms in recent times about physics around the shortcomings of string theory, particle physics, and even some criticism towards newer areas like quantum computing and topological materials. In this instance, criticism actually improves the community because it necessitates the community to review and defend its beliefs. For most physicists, the rigor and empiricism of the community is extremely desirable, and so the extra conflict is accepted.
In short, I am sort of asking you to be more precise. What does it mean, to you, for a community to 'decline'?
Well, yes, and the answer is in your own question.
Here's the thing: there are certain characteristics that are necessary for something to go from Zero to critical mass; then - if that "something" crosses cha chasm, it becomes popular.
Now, the people who are instrumental in taking that "something" from Zero to critical mass are the early adopters (aka the weirdos, the foolish, the hungry) while the later-stage adopters are the boring "average" people, and - of course - spammer and influencers-wanna-bes.
Therefore communities later-stage are qite different environments than early-stage.
You can see that when working in start-ups (garage days vs post IPO days), you can see in using disruptive products, and, very publicly, in Reddit's subs too.
The good old days are indeed the good old days.
A few related resources:
* Crossing the Chasm
* The Innovator's Dilemma
* How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
In addition to the average people, sucessful communities attract sociopaths that gradually take over "management roles" from the community founders. Sociopath is a strong word. See  for how this fits in this context.
Communities grow over time. Yes, there is an eternal September effect where popular communities attract newbs that don't yet understand or respect the culture and communication etiquette. But this has become a two-way street in recent years with the platforms themselves adding likes and upvotes, incentivizing people to communicate primarily to get likes and 'engagement'. You can see what that's done to the level of discourse on Twitter and Reddit.
But over time, you yourself do not stay the same person, interested in the same things. And if your personal commitment to the community fades, I'd wager that you yourself will begin to find reasons to leave. And a strong reason could simply be telling yourself "It sucks now, it used to be good".
I'd wager that those communities that so called "get ruined" didn't grow as their size grew. What I mean is that the rules, norms and the culture that allowed X number of people to thrive in a niche, most often does not translate to much larger Y size. If a community decides to allow growth, it must also be flexible to adapt to that growth. And let's be crystal clear on one thing: communities grow because they want to grow. There exist sites online that have very strict sign-up policies that ensures they are kept small and/or limited to a certain type of users. Some even show long questionnaire on their sign-up forms and you have to wait for sometime to contribute and have to stay active to keep your membership, etc.
There's a similar essay that describes how scenes (e.g., art, music, literary, ...) develop.
First you've got the creators themselves.
Then the early / appreciative fans.
Then come the hangers-on. Not there for the creation so much as the crowd.
It goes downhill from there: grifters, frauds, pickpockets, exploiters, etc.
Eventually, the creators get bored, or tired, or can't afford the now-gentrified prices / location, and move on. The remenants of the scene itself can persist for decades --- the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco is one example, and downtowns throughout the world are littered with the dried husks of former literary circles and the like, hoping to catch a stale whiff of the fragrance that once blossomed there.
I wish I could find the essay, it described the dynamic really well. I'd seen it online ~5--10 years ago, believe it was making the rounds at the time.
I believe that if a community grows big enough it gets ruined, but “enough” may be bigger than you think.
> Have you ever seen an example where anything became better than before when it grew big.
Yes, many times.
When your community is too small it’s boring, there isn’t enough user-generated content. As the community grows bigger users produce more content. Popularity encourages creative people to join and existing members to put more effort into their work (motivated by a larger audience and more competition), creating better content.
I think Geometry Dash and Trackmania are examples of communities which seem to be doing better than ever despite growing a lot the past couple years.
The issue is, when a community grows it creates disagreement: some users like different content than other users, users start to fight over which rules / goals / overall direction the community should go. Usually the overall community ends up in the middle ground, where everyone is only partially satisfied.
Case in point: Hacker News with informative / political articles. Some people only like learning, some people like tech drama and even general politics. The result is half informative, half opinionated pieces on the front page.
But it helps when the community focuses on a niche topic, and sticks to that topic even if it grows. Because that means everyone just talks about the niche, and people who aren’t and don’t get interested in it won’t join. It also helps when said topic is non-controversial and non-political, so there’s not much to disagree on and get mad about.
Trackmania’s community is still close because it is a very specific game: racing on a custom track to get the best time possible. There’s not really much else to do in Trackmania, so if you don’t like making custom tracks, trying to get the best time on one of them, or watching people do those things, you won’t like Trackmania. It’s also clearly not provocative.
Hacker News is kind of a niche because it focuses on tech from the perspective of professional software engineers. Nowadays Hacker News does get controversial, but I know it has systems and moderators in place to limit flame wars and politics as much as possible.
Large subreddits, Discord communities, Facebook groups don’t really feel like “communities” because the users’ interests are too diverse: many of the posts are uninteresting to many of the users, because it’s hard to imagine a post which can interest a majority of the users at once. They also get a lot of drama because people post about politics and those posts get encouraged and upvoted and reposted.
As a community grows in size, necessarily the dynamic changes. A company where everyone knows every other individual and what they're working on will necessarily have different dynamics than a thousand-person company.
Whether this counts as being "ruined" will certainly depend. Having worked both at early stage startups and large tech companies, there are definitely trade-offs that come with size, and I can imagine some being attracted to one environment and not the other, but I think a lot of that is a matter of taste.
An ancient Italian proverb state "poca brigata, viata beata" (small brigades makes wonderful life's), more prosaically in societies of any sizes we have various kind of individuals, most are "good" some are not. As the society grow the slice of "bad" Citizens cohort can grow enough to unite against the others.
That's happen with organized crimes as well as élites (witch tend to evolve toward dictatorship witch actually is organized crime), meanwhile "interprocess communications" start to exhibit more and more issues, hyper-subdivision of labors, made possible by the bigger size, remove large slices of generic knowledge so makes people fragile, for instance just look at those who live "in nature", they mostly know what to do if a tree fell on the road during winter, how to fix some plumbing, change a tire etc, nothing special, just generic knowledge. Those in big cities tend to know far less, so you can tell them that a broken plumbing joints means a 300€ complex work or that there is or not an immediate emergency of some agricultural productions etc. On scale that means it's easier to make people believe what some PR what they believe AND peoples are far less "adults" because not having a large slice of generic knowledge they can't much stand on their own feet depending more and more on third parties who tend economically to concentrate in oligopolies.
So yes, there are size limits, I can't really tell where is the threshold but there are different many thresholds...
I don't think this necessarily true. A community still seems like it can stay somewhat decent in terms of quality if the the guidelines are clear, they're enforced equally, useless content isn't tolerated at all, etc. Seen a few forums do quite well in that sense, and quite a few fandom/hobby specific wikis do well too.
But the odds are severely against it. Usually the rules aren't enforced enough, or equally, either because of an obsession with metrics over community quality (read, every corporate owned community ever) or because it's simply too difficult to do. And once low quality content (and the people who post it) gain a foothold there, it's probably game over. See every webmaster forum in existence. Or almost every subreddit about the same too. Things like DigitalPoint, Web Hosting Talk, etc are garbage now, since spam and fluff posts were basically left to run rampant, driving away those who'd post thoughtful, interesting discussions.
So technically no, there are communities that stayed good with more people. But usually yes.
I think it is inevitable that a big community is ruined eventually, yes.
I have a rule that I think applies to groups - if a group is going to be effective, it has to come together with a very clear goal. Once that goal is achieved, the group disbands - it is over. If you keep to that rule - disband once you achieve success or failure on your very narrow goal - groups can be effective.
What actually happens, is that some individuals in a group find they have alignments within the group. They then seek to convert the group to their interests. That might be fully or partially successful, but hierarchies start to form, there are overt and covert discussions. At this point, there is an attempt to subvert the 'group will' as it were, for the benefit of the individuals now running or attempting to run it.
The background issue to this, is that individuals who are not fully individuated seek completion by membership to 'something bigger' - a group of some sort. Then, the desire to belong is weaponised against their individual will - the dynamic is that an individual's power is harnessed by another. Those doing the harnessing are satisfied by the harnessing, but the majority are unsatisfied.
The answer then - for the individual at least - is to be very clear why they are joining a group, why they will leave, what is acceptable or not.
The only way I managed to grow communities without diluting the existing culture is to artificially slow the growth and to encourage existing users to become "power users"/"mentors". This is hard to do since it's tempting to open the valves and let all the new users flood at once. Sometimes you allow a bulk of users and go past the threshold, which destroys part of the existing culture. It's very hard to balance it.
Social interaction doesn't scale. I don't think it can.
When a community is small, you can moderate it effectively with only a small amount of effort. Back in the early 00s, I moderated a couple of development forums on an amateur console development site. I would hop on for an hour or two, read some posts, reply to some, and that was mostly it. Moderation was mostly saying, "Hey Bob, cool it. We all know your feelings on tabs vs spaces, but that's not a topic we discuss here and it's irrelevant to Frank's post."
And we all knew Frank, and we all knew Bob. And we all knew me.
Eventually, if you get big enough, there are people posting all the time. No single person can monitor the board all the time. You'd need a group. You need time. And for people with things to do, they have better things to do than to remind people of the rules yet again.
So what happens in really large discussion forums, those with the most time begin to make the de facto rules. And those are exactly the people you don't want making the rules. Because those with the most spare time on their hands aren't going to be experts. They're not going to be skilled. The only skill they'll have is the ability to spend time on a forum.
This is a great thread with many insights about group dynamics.
One analogy/model I like is the gravitational effect of groups. This
doesn't say much about their quality, but affects size.
People talk about the "value" of a network, but it can also be seen as
power. A large network exerts a power, not only on those inside it,
but also on those outside.
"Gravitational" large groups suck-in individuals, and other smaller
groups, in a runaway agglomerative process, like stars. Once
commercialised this happens by acquisitions and mergers.
Groups start out with control over their boundaries and size. You can
take or leave them. Past some point they lose that. Other groups die
because of them, and we get a "Monopoly" problem.
Facebook and Google were both harmless until it got to where you
constantly heard about them from everyone you met. Then comes
pressure from others to join. Eventually the cool, or individually
empowering thing to do is to not be in that group. That can induce
loyal stalwarts to leave too.
To press the "star lifecycle" analogy (perhaps too far), I think the
jury is out on the end-life. Some may become Red Giants, just growing,
diffusing into space but growing cold. To me, Google has become that,
"ubiquitous yet amorphous" offering an extremely low value prospect
but permeating too much. Some, perhaps like Twitter, will go White
Dwarf, pulling-in to a smaller, super intense thing that goes bang!
Although it has millions of participants, people outside it's small
gravitational range are barely aware it exists.
Human interactions are different from particles. The most successful lobby groups are not the largest or most ubiquitous, but those that have a clear common interest and manage to balance size with willingness to expand resources for the group's goals.
The current world deadlift record is over 500 kg . However, for mere mortals, guidelines recommend not lifting more than 25 kg unaided. If you want to lift more, it would be wise to get a friend or colleague to help, or to use tools, or to apply powered machines.
Similarly, in exceptional circumstances, a person can retain something like up to 150 relationships unaided . In practice in day-to-day where people are members of multiple organizations and social circles, don't expect someone to maintain anywhere near that amount of relationships within your community. If you want them to interact with more people, they will need help of friends, organization, tools, and/or powered communications equipment.
If you allow a community to grow unchecked, unmanaged, unplanned; then yes, your community will likely collapse under its own weight.
However, with a good study of modern equipment and organization methods, and a lot of work and dedication it is possible to grow a community to almost any arbitrary size.
But if you grow a community, you need to add more organisation and mechanisms to keep it working; as a result the nature of the community will almost inevitably change to some degree. Keeping a community quite as fresh and wonderful as when it started is most definitely an art form that -to my knowledge- no one has quite yet mastered.
> Is it true that any community that grows big enough, gets ruined?
Well, you know what they say - nothing lasts forever. But, glibness aside:
I think the answer is yes, ultimately. But I don't think that it is bigness per se that dooms a community. This depends on how you define community, of course - is "all of Facebook" a community? Does everybody have to know each other for it to be a community? In my opinion, no; what defines a community is what it unites around - what it believes to be worth defending, specifically.
So the real killers are whatever influences force the community to sacrifice exclusionary principles - the places where the members of the community will draw a line and fight for a side, so to speak. A growth imperative is such an influence, since less exclusion = bigger TAM, hypothetically, and as other commenters have pointed out, people change the communities they join.
Interestingly, I don't think monetization as such kills a community; after all, there are plenty of communities that rally around monetization in itself as something valuable and worth defending, and many others might tolerate it as one of the exclusionary principles that keeps out the trolls.
Part of the challenge here is that “community” is a term with extremely broad usage. People speak of a “community” when it’s “people in a place” or “people with some common identity aspects” or “people who all are interested in some topic” or ‘people who have “joined” a group online.’
My perspective is that there’s an aspect of community that sometimes exists in the above situations but often does not, one where by considering others to be in your community, you have some sense of who they are, feel some kind of common purpose, and ideally care about them to some extent. As humans, we simply don’t have this feeling for more than a Dunbar-ish number of people.
And so, we “join communities” but the actuality is that things like norms and belonging that comes from interaction with those norms and having interchange with some emotional impact are not relevant when it’s called a “community” but doesn’t reflect any of our human processes for belonging and cohesion.
I think community is being conflated with enterprise, in your examples. Appealing to larger audiences is of course different than filling a small niche. Communities proper aren't necessarily navigated at the helm to draw in more people, though some do (particularly if they aren't strictly communities).
Easy anecdote: internet forums. Many have since shriveled away. I can recall some from the past that were clearly at their most vibrant when the membership was high and new people were constantly joining. This all changed since the broader shift over to large social media sites. In most cases a group of cliquey seniors remain with low engagement.
One thing I noticed as these places shrink is that the conspiracy nut voices who spam the place get louder. Their activity level stays more or less the same. Once everyone else leaves it's just unbearable.
Can we say a country is a community? Then many such communities are working really well today still. The biggest problem when a community grows is the partitioning of this community, a successful big community is the one which found a way to union many smaller communities around one idea and make the whole system work together. Your examples are touching only commercial businesses for some reason. Community there is just a hoax to _engage_ you, utilising your prime urges to connect and communicate with people. Commercial business only goal is to get more coverage and cash flow really, so they choose growth strategies to get their service more drug-alike but they can't (and probably don't want to) build a great community pursuing these.
I'd say no, but usually yes. In any competitive environment, usually an entity is incentivized to maximize total value, not value per user.
It matters not that a new user is better than the average existing user. It only matters that they are better than nothing. Good things grow, and they get worse per user over time if they can. The book unsong is an interesting read if you find this concept interesting and you like scifi.
But there may be some interesting counter examples where group ownership is distributed per user, or with equal voting per user. I imagine in such scenarios, it is possible for quality to increase monotonically.
But this would require all existing members to make good decisions about growth - which might not be that easy as it sounds. I wouldn't be able to think of examples off the top of my head... one interesting one to consider might be the group of all humans...
This situation is a manifestation of how anonymous others are treated in society. Until our species, our entire global society, matures to the degree that an "anonymous other" is not automatically treated as one of an ignorable population that can be abused without recourse, such scale situations will continue to exist. I use this reasoning to say "humans do not scale". This issue is present everywhere, any place where the group is large enough to form sub-groups, those outside a sub-group become "others" and are treated as a collective, analyzed as a "dumb crowd", and intellectually discredited because they are close enough to an "anonymous other" the treatments of anonymous others bleeds into even these small collectives. It is a real problem, and is barely identified formally.
Apple, the community has gotten better as it's gotten bigger.
But generally speaking it's hard for a community to get better as it grows. As the community grows it begins to split because there are so many needs to satisfy so an overall feeling of dissatisfaction dominates and people become unhappy with what the community has become. We see it all the time. In extreme examples members are willing to destroy the community with out knowing how to make it better. They are just upset that what they have is not what they want. In a way they unite on the idea that they are dissatisfied. It's extremely hard to satisfy everyone all the time. And as a community grows that becomes even harder.
One way to keep unity is to have a set core of believes and unite around them by making sure everyone adheres to them. So the community focuses on the believes rather than the reduction of satisfaction.
What about thinking about this in terms of phase transition and emergence?
Just like water remains liquid above 0 degrees and below 100, but turns into steam at 100 or above -- let's imagine there's some threshold of (say) community size where the old structure fails and a new structure emerges.
The only example I can think of right now is Reddit with the various subreddits. The ones that are more topic-focused, below a certain number of users -- these tend to be informative, interesting and civilized. The ones with millions of users, or ones that are quite generic -- they seem to be reliable cesspools of poor manners and mundane content.
So perhaps some properties of communities are emergent, and their manifestation depends on the scale of a community?
Perhaps it's worth thinking about why we want communities to grow big at all. I think things go wrong when two different sets of incentives are muddled. The first are those that lead to a great community. The second are those that lead to a successful business built on providing a platform for a community. The business wants the community to grow because larger communities mean more revenue. But larger doesn't mean better from the community's perspective; it often means completely changing the community's character. There are probably tens of thousands of small self-organized, self-policing communities on the web that are doing fine because they don't have the business incentive to scale.
For many people, growth of "their" community provides much-desired social validation. Whatever modern terms you might use to describe this ("money", "success", "popularity", "coolness", etc.), it seems to be a far-older human need. One often tied to the need for security - so trying to dismiss it, or deal with it ever-so-rationally, is generally a mistake.
Part of a part of one of the cases you have there is to do with barrier to entry.
If a community has no barrier to entry, it can be vandalized for free.
The barrier could be the understanding it takes to navigate, a literal price, or knowledge of its existence.
Smaller communities speak in ways and on topics that outsiders don't understand, and so outsiders are deterred. As the community becomes larger, it becomes more general, and so outsiders have an easier time integrating. When a community takes a price, vandalism has a cost, which is often not worth paying. (it could be something as trivial as be in a place at a time, or buy roller blades).
Plus, there's definitely a tipping point beyond which it'll spiral outwards.
While I've only encountered his ideas in secondary sources, my understanding is that part of Max Weber's work was interested in how organizations form around a mission or a set of values, how bureaucracies emerge and how they change the mission or values of the organization.
I think the main idea was that you start with a mission, add people, add organization to coordinate the efforts, and pretty soon you have specialized roles and people's individual objectives become disembodied from the organization's original mission. This can have the cumulative effect of changing an organization's priorities and values over time.
I think communities should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
A larger community does typically have more potential to shift in itself. Whether this is "good" or "bad" lies in the eyes of the beholder.
I think, however, that people that are insistent on keeping a community locked-down and small and who self-appoint as gatekeepers are often more destructive to a community than actual outsiders. They're usually fragile people who require a sense of value and elitism/superiority to feel good about themselves, and they exist everywhere.
I think this is a really good video. It might not apply to everything you are thinking about, and is mainly centered around the fighting game community. But I think it can say a lot about the behaviors that we all do to try and keep a community - and how limiting who is considered a part of it is a vital part in a community. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8055HIDm1A
Depends on what your metric is. Large communities can be very useful for video games, because the matchmaking pool becomes larger, which means faster and more skill-accurate matches.
I play Starcraft 2, and while the pool for players in 1v1 and 2v2 is still fine, 4v4 has few enough players to where it can be a pain to match up with another team. Just takes a really long time, and you sometimes get repeats even if they're much better or worse than you, etc.
Generally yes, for a few reasons related to the pursuit of growth itself:
* Growth is always a core pursuit, and what is required for growth is not always to the benefit of the core audience/user/customer
* With growth, more humans get involved. Harder to manage many people and keep everyone on the same page, so systems and processes are developed to standardize and remove human error and reduce costs. A lot of babies go out with the bathwater in the process, and it's tough to avoid.
* The bigger the org gets, the more it has to hire just to fill positions instead of hiring people who are truly the right fit. This has a compounding negative effect and further spreads decay.
I think there's a sweet spot in size that varies for every org, but it's hard to know what that is: there are problems at every stage of company growth and tomorrow always seems like it's going to be better than today. In the early days it is. Eventually, without warning, it isn't.
The mean is attracted to quality, but doesn't 'get it', and drags it down. So you end up with regression to the mean. It happens to everything 'cool' everywhere, all the time.
When a community is young and niche, it only attracts those who seek it. These seekers get it, but they have that 'je ne sais quois' that is often envied by people whose motives have no resemblance to the theirs. Once the second wave hits, it is downhill from there.
There are other significant negatives to HN, too. You have to have the "right" political opinions if you want to avoid massive downvotes, for example. Oh, and don't bother to criticize capitalism one tiny little bit, either.
I like it. It's the only social media where people are actually upvoted for being right. Despite the community growing there's still an emphasis on quality here. If you get downvoted for your political opinion, it's probably because you're just venting a baseless opinion, or you're ranting off-topic. Show me a well reasoned on topic political comment you made that got downvoted and I'll eat my words.
I don't think you generally need much reasoning to argue that people should obey laws and that laws should be enforced. The only surface area I see for disagreement here at all, much less downvoting, is whether one thinks a legally mandated quarantine is a good law at all. My second comment even got flagged for stating that a single person evading a legally-mandated COVID quarantine could do an exponential amount of damage.
If that's not sufficient proof, like I said, I can provide more. I actually abandoned another account here because the downvotes and rate limiting of my account got too annoying to deal with. I can't prove for certain that many of them were downvoted for politically-motivated reasons, but there are many for which I can't see any other likely reason.
I think you got brigaded by the liberty police on that one. But that's deep in a comment tree with a bunch of low effort single line comments. I disregard votes on those anyway because they rarely get more than one upvote.
Second one I agree with you, people are downvoting you because it's conflicting with their beliefs, and since you're not contributing anything particularly insightful you don't get any upvotes to balance that. Also it's such a small thread I don't think you got many downvotes at all.
Third one, I think you're just wrong. You've got an understanding of the word coercion that's not in line with what the majority believes that word entails.
That said, in all three cases I agree with you, but I also don't think your comments are valuable enough to warrant a positive comment score.
I'm here for about 1-2 years now and I don't really get the feeling of HN being a small community.
The UI really makes it feel comfortable spending time here, because it's not overloaded. Maybe that's why it doesn't feel that big (and chaotic) here. I'd love to see actual data of usage though. That'd be interesting.
It used to be small more than 5 years ago, but big posts now can get more than a thousand comments. That was unheard of back in the day. Dang even has to ask people to log out during those times to help prevent the load. That said, HN has always had an extremely fast turnover on the front page, and the content is roughly the same as ever.
There also used to be more old experts here than now. It used to be that you could come on here and expect to find someone who worked in some legendary tech position, a genuinely famous or legendary programmer. I don't see that kind of thing much now
One of the forgotten aspects of this is how a growing community fights the normal distribution of people's ability.
If I am a small company, it is relatively easy to employ, say, 2 very talented engineers/marketers/sales people.
As the org grows, it becomes harder to recruit the best, we have to accept slightly less than the best if we want to increase headcount. As we grow, we push our talent pool to the average and even possibly below that. Everyone who is not "the best" is, at best, a distraction or deadweight but at worst is causing negative productivity/creating tech debt/making the system less efficient.
Once you add that to the inefficiency of bureaucracy at size, it is a recipe for a lack of performance. Not necessarily rubbish but certainly not as high performing as it felt like in the beginning.
Some thoughtful comments in this thread so I would like to add something pithy and under-appreciated: once you reach a certain number of users, content moderation is the only thing that matters; everything else is ui chrome.
I should expect it. It’s not really a “community” any more past a certain point, and more like a telecom system; communities may exist within it but it’s not a community.
An obvious factor others have mentioned is you can keep everyone in your head, build some kind of consensus around community standard and a few volunteer moderators can actually monitor it.
But another is stakes. If you ban Trump from Twitter, there’s a tremendous fan base and political effects. We don’t need to discuss it here, the only thing that matters is that it matters. So the stakes are high, and it’s not obvious and non-controversial that Twitter should even try to curate a community.
Conversely, if you get permabanned from Stormfront because you’re too left wing, nobody minds. There are no stakes. Nobody will try to buy Stormfront to stop them from banning progressives.
So it’s very easy and comfortable for small communities to police aggressively.
I've spend hours upon hours with Algolia on several years old HN threads. I don't know how you come to the conclusion that it was better back then. Lots of threads had replies that would get light light grey real fast these days - not because they were controversial, but they just didn't bring any value to the table.
Edit: Something that came to my mind right after hitting 'reply': Maybe the share of technical threads to political/ psychological/ religious/ philosophical/ news/ etc. threads was bigger in comparison... If that's a downgrade for you, then I could understand your position.
Facebook was once Literally Harvard. It's a great many things now, but one thing it is not any more is "Literally Harvard". It's now 3 billion+ people, few of whom attended said institution or anything comperable.
Suppose, as a thought experiment, you could create the ideal, perfect, social network or discussion board. Say, with 40 of the smartest, most creative, quirkiest, considerate people you knew. Hell: the 40 top exemplars of this on the whole planet. It would be a pretty awesome network.
(I know this because I accidentally created something like this, just by creating a small group with smart and interesting people in it. It really was surprisingly good.)
It can only get worse.
Because if you've already got the best, then anyone else you can add will be less smart, less creative, less quirky, less considerate, than who's already in the group.
And at some point you'll notice. Maybe at 50 people, or 500, or 5,000, or 50k, or 500k, or 5m, or ....
For a few reasons.
- Gradation of capabilities. These are ordinalities, not cardinalities.
- Limits to common experience and interest.
- Differences of opinion. Or morals. Or philosophy.
And many new communities don't start out as highly-selective. There's something of a double-downward-wedge at play:
- If a community starts out selective and grows, it can only dilute the original cohort.
- If a community starts out antisocial, even slightly, it has a profound tendency to drive off the more pro-social members with time, what's been called "the evaporative cooling effect", or the Nazi at the Bar problem.
The situation also appears with specific channels or publications. TLC was once the PBS-affiliated, NASA-sponsored The Learning Channel. H.L. Mencken's American Mercury was once a highly respected literary magazine. Both transformed tremendously. You're likely aware of TLC, the Mercury's story is probably less known today:
There are communities that do remain reasonably coherent over time. Most of them are size-constrained, many cycle through members. Universities and colleges are classic examples of these. Most of their members, the undergraduates, remain with the institution for only a few years --- graduating in 4 or 5 typically, though many don't graduate (drop-out rates may approach 50%). Staff and faculty tend to remain longer, and provide institutional memory, though the institutions themselves provide some of that robustness as well.
There's much made of the failure of planned utopian communities, though it seems to me that the archetypal college town often strongly resembles one, and many of these have persisted for a century or more, which is longer than most other planned communes. (There are some exceptions in the latter case.)
Admissions standards, a highly-encouraged stay-a-while-then-move-on dynamic, a clearly articulable goal, viable economic support (in the case of higher-ed, a fair bit of that being direct or indirect governmental aid), and attention to the underlying needs of a community and institution, all seem to help.
As David Weinberger's noted, conversation doesn't scale very well.
And intimacy doesn't scale at all. Yet it seems to be what many social networks are trying to promise. Intimacy is virtually by definition the inverse of scale, and any attempt to try to scale it will end in tears.
Yes, you can share a moment with a stranger. But if both of you move on, then it's just that one moment. And even in live performance, the relationship of audience to performer, no matter how strong, is parasocial, it's not a reciprocal relation (something both fans and stars eventually come to grapple with).
Believe it or not but the ideal "community" size is somewhere around 150 people.
So if you are a city of 100,000. Figuring out how to build neighbourhoods the size of about 150 people with max of 500 is your goal. Or highrises are supposed to be about this size. But fail because a highrise isn't about community at all.
If you're a business with 1000 employees. You probably want 5-6 divisions.
If you're in the military, we're talking about your 'company'. Platoons are often a bit smaller and meant to make the soldiers more tight.
If you're in the vidya games, you want to divide players up so that they are in ~150 people groups.
>On that note, I am glad that HN is still a niche community and hope stays that way, and UI becomes even more crappy so people from other cultures and walks of life don't start joining in.
HN surpassed this long ago. HN is no longer a 'community' and I've seen the influence waves sweep through HN multiple times now.
>There are negatives to this, but not huge because there are other platforms for general population. (Imagine a forum for doctors to discuss new treatments and everyone can join in, soon it'd be r/AskDoc and of almost no value to actual doctors).
What you are literally asking for is an echo chamber. You want to filter out non-doctors. Or in HN's case? Filter out X? That's totally not what you want to do.
My grandpa had a radio and 1 newspaper to keep up to date. He lived in an echo chamber of epic proportions, he had to believe whatever they told him. What social media did is that you can literally go to the source. You can literally see what your politicians are saying without anything in between. We live in the least echo chamber period ever.
Yet echo chambers are such a huge issue today. January 6 insurrection is one of the best examples because it's such a huge factor.
Obama's own words: "Right here, in the United States of America, we just saw a sitting president deny the clear results of an election and help incite a violent insurrection at the nation’s capital."
So in Obama's mind he sees January 6, a group of unarmed hooligans in costumes ransacking some offices for a few hours, as an insurrection. This doesn't meet the definition of insurrection. That would be the dumbest insurrection in the history of insurrections.
Insurrection noun: an organized attempt by a group of people to defeat their government and take control of their country, usually by violence:
"We're going to go unarmed into the capitol building and overthrow the most powerful government in history by ransacking nancy pelosi's office." lol what?
While we may agree on a general principle, the details matter, and these things are complicated.
The exponential growth phase is when that kind of influence is felt greatest, because the early adopters are greatly outnumbered by the influx of new people. We can look to the internet becoming mainstream as an example, as well. Now that growth phase is over, and late adopters have much more pressure to adapt than the other way around.
Immigrants today are also late-comers, not an exponential growth wave expanding the US population to new orders of magnitude. Therefore, the details may turn out very differently. This could have been a valid concern in the 1700s or 1800s, but it's much harder to make that argument now.
Our population is saturated, and we need to understand the dynamics of decline and renewal to discuss the issues you raise.
> Let in people who do not hold values like free speech, capitalism, and limited gov and you change the country.
There are plenty of people who live in the US (Left and Right) that don't really believe in these things.
Free Speech: See Trumpism (Parental Rights in Education (Don't Say Gay Law), Book Banning on the accusations of CRT, etc.), attacks on higher education and expertise. On the Left see Cancel Culture, Tech Deplatforming, ACLU's decline, etc.
Capitalism: The Federal Reserve has been handing out low interest money to corporations and individuals to keep the country afloat since the financial crisis in 2008. Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this. The Fed is just now starting to dial back as of mid 2022 due to high inflation.
Limited Government: Arguments about limited government go all the way to the founding see: Jefferson vs. Hamilton. This is not settled at all.
> Let in people that believe in collectivism and identity politics, and they try to get goodies for their group and the country moves further away from protecting individual rights.
This seems to be an attack on Leftist politics, but the Right is currently engulfed in populist fervor currently under Trumpism and checks all of these items. Individual rights are in steep decline these days and we are happily giving them away on both sides.
Americans do not all agree on these values, so why blame foreigners?
The formation of ghettos, segregation of society either through self-selection or through the willful exclusion of immigrants by the dominant population, will lead to pockets of reinforcement. If you want people to assimilate into our society, we need to accept them with open arms.
I've been to LatAm and you get grouping in certain neighbourhoods. People from certain countries live close to others from that country too --even if just from other LatAM countries, or from Asia, so I don't think it has to do with exclusion.
Social justice warrior (SJW) is a pejorative term and internet meme used for an individual who promotes socially progressive, left-wing and liberal views, including feminism, civil rights, gay and transgender rights, identity politics, political correctness and multiculturalism.