Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Politics of Online 'Community'

Those who've read some of my more acerbic or opinionated posts probably won't be surprised to hear that in the last couple of weeks I've managed to win myself 'black marks' or 'infractions' on the only two forums I tend to hang out on. What IS surprising is that these 'infractions' - the online equivalent of a school prefect giving you detention - were earnt simply for trying to provide information, in the form of web site links, to fellow forum members who were asking questions. Unfortunately, it seems to me, we live in a world where ego's have run amok and 'community' sites are less about providing a social networking service to people, and ALL about empire building and point scoring.

I'm not going to name the first site that gave me a black mark, because I really don't want to give them any publicity. Let's just say that the 'organisation' that runs this DVD site has the word 'Poisonous' in its title, which seems to me to be entirely appropriate.

One thing I don't like about the forums is that their T&C state that a company called MovieTyme cannot be linked to, or even mentioned on the forums. Regular readers will know that I had a nightmare trying to get hold of the XBox 360 HD-DVD player from any UK supplier, despite pre-ordering one months in advance. Many others were in the same boat, and frequently questions like 'Where can I get the add-on in time for Christmas?' or 'Where can I get imported HD-DVDs from?' came up. If anybody every mentioned MovieTyme up came the school prefect, now called a moderator, to deliver a stern warning, and a black mark that says 'If you do that again you'll be banned'. When asked directly about a supplier for the HD-DVD add-on I foolishly said that I'd got mine from 'the company that we're not allowed to name'. Apparently this was enough for a black mark warning.

Why couldn't this company be named? It seems that Movietyme used to sponsor the site by paying for advertising links (of which there are many on the site) but then finished their agreement and, according to the moderator who black-marked me, 'set up in competition' so mention of them is banned. If you look at Movietyme you'll be hard-pressed to find any forums - they're an online store, pure and simple - but what do I know of what constitutes setting yourself up 'in competition' with a site that promotes itself as being about and for 'community'?!

When I foolishly said this seemed rather juvenile I was told I was out of order, that this was an agreement MovieTyme were happy with and had even encouraged (as if!) ... and earnt myself another black mark. My own fault of course - you should NEVER hint to the school prefects you think they're acting like big babies - see the recent skirmishes between Peter Jackson and Bob Shaye over The Hobbit movie for a good example of what can erupt as a result!

The forums in question are chock-full of easy platitudes about 'community' but one wonders what communty really means when simply trying to answer a direct question results in threats of being banished. Needless to say, I am not the sort of guy who puts up with little Hitlers and their power trips, and I left the place, probably just in time to avoid being kicked out for thinking 'freedom of speech' (if it doesn't resort to personal abuse) was what 'community' was all about. I won't be returning, despite continual claims to be about being in existence to 'help the community', and if that means I've cut my nose off to spite my face, so be it!

The second set of forums where I earnt a black mark was over at AV Forums. The folks there produce an excellent set of podcasts covering the audio visual industry, the DVD/high def industry, and games and movies in general. They have no problems with MovieTyme being mentioned, and indeed it's thanks to them that I managed to find that company and many excellent HD-DVD and DVD review sites. The information about various audio visual bits and pieces that can be found there is second to none, and the UK slant makes it essential to any gadget obsessives like myself.

My mistake at AV Forums was that I had a signature that contained links to my DVD and HD-DVD review blogs. AV Forums run their own DVD Review site (AVPLay) which 'we have spent thousands on' and apparently links to my pesonal bit of hyper-space were in violation of the T&C that say links to 'rival' sites may not be posted. Given that I'd found most of my favourite DVD/HD-DVD review sites (all sites seemingly run as commercial concerns, all carrying advertising) via links in their forums I found this 'infraction' warning rather odd. In the end I decided I should just feel flattered that they saw my silly little whitterings in cyber-space as a rival, where much bigger, better sites aren't!

So I haven't had a hissy fit and left AVForums in protest, the way I have with the DVD forums mentioned above. The people at AVForums are, for the most part, extremely friendly and the site provides a service second to none, albeit one that's spread across so many different areas one wonders what subject area wouldn't be perceived as a 'rival'. And I can understand that if you've spent several thousand pounds building up your audience and advertising, some Johnny-come-lately grabbing your audience at no cost could rankle. So if those are the rules, I'll follow them and just be glad I've got somewhere I can hang out if I'm careful about what I do and say.

But really, let's not pretend that what's being provided here is 'community'. It's business, and seemingly business that can't tolerate competition, no matter how small and insignificant, pure and simple.

Which is kind of depressing for those of us who like the original idea of the Internet being about community and communication that's free of any restrictions arising from petty jealousy, paranoia, or an inability to cope with anything perceived as 'competition' no matter how small it might be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you about the "little Hitlers".
With many members comes more moderation and that then brings a bigger sense of "responsibility" and "reward" for those that seek the numbers and titles beside their usernames.
I too have experienced some of the Hitlers on AVForums , and TBH it really defines the word "Nanny state"