Diversity and infrastructure.

Thanks everyone for the kind words about my post on diversity.

@jgmac1106 brings up a great point - it’s all well and good to acknowledge M.B’s challenges with diversity, but what can we do next, practically?

An example, and an exegesis.

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Example.

The owner of Pinboard restructured his service to accommodate the needs of a subculture – namely, fan-fiction writers. Here’s his blog post about it. (I think he also posted a presentation online, but I can’t find the weblink currently.)

This looks like a success story to me. The fanfic subculture has very specific priorities and desires, and Maciej adjusted Pinboard’s infrastructure to accommodate their needs without compromising the needs of the other users. Tools were designed to foster diversity without compromising the vision and integrity of the service.

I think there are parallels between Maciej’s handling of an exodus from del.icio.us, and Manton’s handling of an exodus from Twitter.

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Exegesis.

I think Micro.blog should give thought to how the tools we use to engage on M.B are going to foster the kind of culture we want. This is because the structure and function of tools influence the way we perceive and engage with the world.

This thought has been shaped by reading From the Garden to the City by John Dyer and The Shallows by Nick Carr and a lot of blog posts to this effect, having some understanding of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” (yet to read Amusing Ourselves to Death though), and my observations of the world at large.

An example: People who say that “guns don’t kill, people kill” fail to understand that a gun is a tool whose purpose is to wound and hurt from a distance. You can kill a person with a shovel too, but the shovel’s original purpose is to dig holes and move things around. Yes, the person holds the final responsibility, but holding a shovel in your hand puts you into a different frame of mind than holding a gun in your hand.

I’ve held both before. I was thinking quite different thoughts in both cases.

Digital tools do the same thing to our minds. Everyone knows about the smartphone.

I think if M.B wants to be a warm, thoughtful, small-villages-and-houses community (and it is, which is wonderful!), the people who build its infrastructure would do well to consider what kind of end state of being – culture – might arise from this infrastructure.

I think this is hard to do. It requires extrapolation and reflection, and of course we can’t control what the future holds, nor people’s behaviour. Technology can mitigate but can’t wholly eradicate the evil in a person’s heart. I still believe an individual holds the final responsibility for their behaviour and engagement on M.B, but like guns and shovels, the tools we use to engage with the M.B community puts us into a certain frame of mind.

I thought about the discussions about tagmojis and followers when I wrote that paragraph above.

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I also think about tools because scalability is already an issue, and its effects are seen in this perceived lack of diversity.

I admire what Manton and Jean are doing with community management, but there will come a point where the community will become too large to rely on a couple of people to manage. Furthermore, diversity means not aligning with the current ‘status quo’/majority culture. As ecumenical as Manton and Jean may be, they are still embedded in their own cultural milieu (I mean, the Micro.blog landing page has a certain “look”), and the way they do community management is going to reflect that. This is all well and good for a small community, but it puts a limit on how much diversity can flourish.

(Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a narrow demographic. Narrow can mean a lot of things, including focused and specific and particular. Is that what M.B wants to be?)

Currently we all want a warm, thoughtful, small-villages-and-houses vibe. Community management can foster some of that, but it has its limits for scaling and for diversity. So the digital infrastructure will have to do some heavy lifting and management of the boundaries at “we are X” and “not-X”. So how can the infrastructure be the boundary keeper that fosters the formation of small villages and houses – a farming community, a kampong village, a cluster of adobe huts, 12 units on a strata plan, isolated shacks in a forest linked by footpaths, a monastery, a Roman villa, large feudal estates with serfs? One may be uncomfortable with the presence of a feudal estate or a monastery, next to their shack in a forest. But aren’t they also small villages? Beyond that, do we agree that we don’t want a noisy metropolis around?

We cannot wholly prevent the metropolis from growing up around us. But I think we can design tools that, structurally, encourage small communities and discourage big urbanization.

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I’m just one voice. I don’t work in IT, I’m not a developer. I just watch the world and think a lot about stuff, and try to do my part to make M.B pleasant for myself and others. I’m not the last word on anything, and I will be appalled if I was read as gospel just because I identify as a minority. This is meant to foster more thinking.

velivolans; flying with sails and gale-force wings @vega