David Hudson on Fri, 7 Mar 97 14:44 MET

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Re: nettime: Flash!! WIRED is Looking for an Ideology!!

At 9:48 PM 3/6/97, McKenzie Wark wrote:
>So nettime posts are turning up on the well -- how curious. Perhaps
>someone should repost stuff from the well that discusses stuff
>from nettime, back on nettime. Then we can have a lively discussion of the
>well's 'you own your own words' policy...

Frankly, this has been bothering me, too, ever since I started poking
around in the Well just a few months ago. Not terribly, but a bit. It's an
interesting situation. And one not to be taken too seriously, either, but I
think we can have some fun with it.

First, you've got the ambiguous natures of both nettime and the Well, both
of which seem to be in flux at the moment. Taking nettime first, Pit and
Geert have already been addressing these issues recently. Personally, my
vote is for keeping messages like this one off nettime proper and opening
up nettime-talk as a second mailing list. Mark Tribe saw this necessity
early on over at Rhizome, and it's been working very well, I think.

So if nettime proper remains a "mailing list as a form of publishing",
forwarding such posts is different from forwarding personal, talky
messages. Which makes the previous postings on the Well pretty harmless. I
can't think of any I've seen on the Well that didn't have a title and an
author, i.e., weren't presented as an article. Still.

Next is this idea of "community" which seems to be getting fuzzier by the
hour. Geert's Push piece was also forwarded to another European list, and
what was very interesting in this instance was the way it was introduced.
That is, nettime itself was introduced as a collective group of people
looking critically for ways to view technology that were neither gung-ho
nor neo-luddite.

The creepy feeling running up the back of my neck had something to do with
my hunch that the guy was absolutely right. There is such a group, "nettime
subscribers", and yes, I'd guess that despite the vast differences of
opinion on just about everything, most of us suspect that the "digital
revolution" may not be all it's cracked up to be, but at the same time,
we're intrigued by the possibilities. But -- not to step on anyone's toes,
"community" may be taking it a bit far.

Which leads us to the Well, famous for starting out as a pretty successful
attempt at very self-consciously -being- (not creating) a community online.
But that was a long, long time ago.

Since then, several things have happened that make the idea of the Well as
a community kinda shaky. The population has grown to around 10,000 (if the
newspapers have that number right, I have no idea). Most significantly:
WellEngaged, which allows you to access and participate in the conferences
via the Web. What's happened is that the Well is less of a community than
an open mic in a crowded auditorium.

I suspect that the evolution of the Well has progressed so subtly that many
there don't really grasp how public their comments are. They're still
looking at their online home through the same window (picospan) they've
looked through for years and aren't aware of the bird's-eye view via
Netscape, the same window many perceive as a window to the world. When
posts to a conference appear as a Web page, framed like any other (CNN,
whatever), it radically alters your perception of the privacy of the place.

The lines between a jovial chat among community members and outright
publishing are being blurred. Two quick examples: What attracts me to
Electric Minds is that the group who created it looked the current
situation straight in the face and said, ok, let's try it. Put all our
cards on the table. When you talk here, you're talking out loud. But
conversation is still possible, and as with an open panel or a conference
in the original sense of the word, the conversation may very well be

Second example: A very quiet arts list I subscribe to has just been
approached by a company, InRetrospect, I think it is, that wants to archive
all the messages on the list and then sell ads on the archive's page. In
return, the list gets a free archive. Big whoop. So far, it looks like the
list will reject the offer.

All over, the doors are being blown open. (In another corner, look at the
current TotalNews vs. CNN/Time/etc controversy.) YOYOW, or "you own your
own words", still holds, but it's getting more difficult to keep watch over
where they're going.

Back to nettime and the Well. One pro of the posts is that some terrific
conversation has been sparked over there. Its corresponding con is that the
author may have had no idea, and it might have been polite at least to let
him or her know. At the same time, if you view such a post as just passing
an interesting item among friends, you may have lost touch with what "among
friends" has become in the case of the Well.

The lowpoint in all this was a while back when the unwritten but understood
set of standards of nettime and the Well clashed, in my opinion. On
nettime, everyone pretty much takes it as a given that participants'
command of the English language varies considerably. We don't read with a
red pencil in hand when we open a nettime message.

Quite the opposite is true on the Well, where many there are writers,
journalists, even copy editors (!). When an interview is transcribed by
someone for whom English is a second (or maybe third or fourth) language,
then posted on nettime, most readers pretty much take it as a given that
the ideas are far more interesting than the grammar or spelling.

Not so on the Well, evidently. Kinda silly, and a little sad, you might
say, but actually, language games are part of the fun over there. You post
with a goof, you will hear about it for next 5, 10 or 20 posts, but it's
all in fun (usually).

It's a minor thing, but maybe indicative of a few more major things -- and
maybe not.

Finally, the posting is being done for the most part by a pretty damn
brilliant guy whose fame (let's be honest) takes some of the bite out of
the violation (if you'd go that far). I think McKenzie Wark is onto
something. As penance, let's have him donate an exclusive piece for the
nettime list [g!!!].


David Hudson                    REWIRED <www.rewired.com>
dwh@berlin.snafu.de             Journal of a Strained Net


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