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Accidental Online Communities

By dcgrigsby in Culture
Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 06:42:08 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

Webloggers and diarists are using Instant Message visitor alerts to build accidental online communities.

I'm obsessive compulsive. I'm a new weblogger. I'm an obsessive compulsive new weblogger. I check the page counters on my blog constantly to see if anyone's visited. I run my own page counters up. One day, while lying in bed obsessing about why I can't fall asleep I have an idea: I could write a script that sends me an Instant Message whenever someone visits my site. That way I could have the instant gratification of knowing that someone visited my site.

So I created Instant Gratification about four months ago. Instant Gratification is a free, totally non-commercial service that sends website owners an IM whenever someone visits their page. In the four months since then it's become sorta popular, with about a million messages sent so far.

On a whim I added a feature to allow the people visiting your site to optionally identify themselves with their name, email, AIM username or blog address. This has had a neat and unexpected result:

Whenever someone visiting my site provides their Blog address I tend to visit it in real-time while they're visiting my site. The act of them surfing actually causes people to read their site, which they see in the form of an IM traffic alert. It's an odd, almost Pavlovian stimulus-response kinda thing. Very often I'll IM the person too. There must be 20 blogs that I regularly read because their authors happened upon my site.

It turns out that this is happening all over blogspace. People are forging these real-time communities, totally by accident. This seems to have a much stronger pull than blogrolling (lists of blogs that you frequent listed on your own blog), because it's very personal and immediate. An actual person is reading your diary at this instant. You, compelled to find out more about this visitor, run off and check their blog. They get a little IM pat on the back that makes them feel good. It is, I suppose, similar to blog comments, but again the real-time element seems to push it more.

I found this little zeitgeist glimpse into the net interesting.


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Accidental Online Communities | 71 comments (57 topical, 14 editorial, 1 hidden)
Should I be nasty? (2.23 / 21) (#5)
by TheModerate on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 02:11:38 PM EST

Blogosphere or blogspace, I forget. Compulsive, impulsive, does it matter?

Are you burning with desire to express yourself? Is it the fire inside or a self-pleasing that motivates you? Why do you write? Why should you write?

Personally, I sometimes write to be understood. To express myself, but I'm a little embarrassed that I usually have nothing to express. So I rant and rave, trying to press someone else's buttons. Sometimes I just want people to tell me how brilliant I am. So for the most part, I stay quiet—because I know I have nothing to say.

These accidental web communities are all going to be of the same nature: ego-stroking. Look! Someone's reading what I've wrote! Does he think I'm brilliant or insane? I need to know now! Lets IM each other and become friends. Hey, buddy. I'll stroke you if you'll stroke me. We'll pretend each other are brilliant.

But thats not wise. For some, its best to become less self-depreciating, more impulsive and willing to be let out and risk yourself. For others, humility needs to be learned. You risk yourself too often and gain too little. You live in a world alone, contained in your own bubble—ready and willing to pop.

Look, the point isn't to judge. It sounds like a judgement, but I don't know you. I know myself best if at all—I'm projecting. I often make the mistake that what I hate in myself I believe the whole world is infected with. But I understand how useful these kinds of self-criticisms are.

You say you feel good when people stroke your blog. Why? If you wrote a gem, wouldn't you want to keep it to yourself? If you wrote a crapper, wouldn't you want the world to smell? The point isn't to deprive yourself of this pleasure, but to control it. Conserve yourself. Become wealthy. Then maybe you'll have something beneficial to share.

"What a man has in himself is, then, the chief element in his happiness." -- Schopenhauer

That's pretty pointless criticism (2.66 / 9) (#7)
by pyramid termite on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 04:04:17 PM EST

Hey, buddy. I'll stroke you if you'll stroke me. We'll pretend each other are brilliant.

Like Picasso, Stein, Hemingway, etc? Like Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, the Eagles etc. etc. etc. etc. Like Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs?

What you're describing goes on all the time at every level, from rank amateur, to journeyman professional, to living legend. Sometimes they're just kidding themselves. Sometimes they're not.

There probably is a group of bloggers somewhere who will be known as brilliant. And many of them will probably all know each other. It's nothing new and you won't be able to negate their worth by claiming that they just suck up to each other.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
but the vast majority of them.... (none / 1) (#34)
by collideiscope on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 12:40:45 PM EST

...will dissapear into mediocre obscurity, just as the vast majority of those who submit manuscripts to the major publishing houses do.

I don't think the OP was trying to negate anyone's worth. He seemed to be just making a comment on the nature of the Internet, which is to allow people a perfect opportunity to idealize and/or demonize others, and/or project. There is also an addictive quality to Internet communication like weblogging. What the article author is describing seems needlessly circular and narcissistic to me: like a snake swallowing it's own tail.

Hope is a disease. Get infected.
[ Parent ]

I'm brilliant and know no one (none / 1) (#41)
by YelM3 on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 08:44:04 PM EST

and no one knows me.

[ Parent ]
so am I truly brilliant? (none / 1) (#42)
by YelM3 on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 08:44:22 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Kundera... (none / 2) (#22)
by gzt on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 10:31:05 PM EST

...Immortality, I think, he wrote about the perverse desire to write. Think you'd dig.

[ Parent ]
Kundera (none / 1) (#66)
by JayGarner on Thu Dec 11, 2003 at 11:25:26 PM EST

Didn't he also go off there on the absurdity of there being more people who want to write than people who want to read what the first set of people wrote? He saw the blogs coming.

[ Parent ]
yes. (none / 1) (#33)
by collideiscope on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 12:34:03 PM EST

This is precisely the problem I have with blogs of all kinds. Thank you for articulating it so well.

Hope is a disease. Get infected.
[ Parent ]
-1, uses obscure pseudo-intellectual word (1.06 / 15) (#8)
by fae on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 04:58:26 PM EST

What the hell is 'zeitgeist'?

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
zeitgeist (2.57 / 7) (#9)
by Redemption042 on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 05:52:51 PM EST

Is the spirit of an age.

Nothing wrong with the word, there's something wrong with you.

And I'm not a humanities person.

[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 1) (#15)
by fae on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 07:07:10 PM EST

The author seems to be using it as an adjective though. "little zeitgeist look"

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
[ Parent ]
err glimpse, not look (nt) (none / 1) (#17)
by fae on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 07:16:40 PM EST

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
[ Parent ]
true (none / 1) (#25)
by Redemption042 on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 01:39:27 AM EST

True, the usage of the word in this context is a bit ... strained.  

But it is a valid word.  I wouldn't describe the word as one ofte nused by psuedo-intellectuals.

[ Parent ]

"nused", on the other hand.. (n/t) (2.00 / 4) (#47)
by Protagonist on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 10:58:15 AM EST

Hahah! Your ferris-wheel attack is as pathetic and ineffective as your system of government!
[ Parent ]
Look it up and educate yourself (none / 1) (#18)
by GreyGhost on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 08:09:39 PM EST

[ Parent ]
You're assuming (none / 2) (#31)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 10:34:52 AM EST

That fae, doubtless a proud product of the US public school system, knows how to use a dictionary or even realizes that there are cultures and languages other than "homeboy".

"Leftists believe they are the creators of a new world. They see themselves as godlike. That's why they are so rude and so dangerous" - D
[ Parent ]

M. D. Zeitgeist. Supersoldier/Death God. (none / 3) (#30)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 10:33:30 AM EST

He's an anime-antihero.

"Leftists believe they are the creators of a new world. They see themselves as godlike. That's why they are so rude and so dangerous" - D
[ Parent ]

that's cool, but I'm not a hentai. (nt) (none / 1) (#50)
by fae on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 01:11:27 PM EST

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
[ Parent ]
whats a hentai? (none / 1) (#54)
by auraslip on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 05:48:27 PM EST

[ Parent ]
it's a japanese term i heard once (none / 3) (#55)
by fae on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 09:15:15 PM EST

I think it means 'someone who likes anime'.

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
[ Parent ]
Not exactly (none / 0) (#70)
by Siddhi on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 10:51:38 PM EST

Hentai is anime porn

[ Parent ]
Thank you... (1.25 / 4) (#14)
by CanSpice on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 06:49:54 PM EST

...for reminding me to check the stats on my website/blog. After three days of declining traffic I'm curious to see if it's picked up again.

i have a problem with the word "blog" (2.15 / 13) (#23)
by circletimessquare on Fri Dec 05, 2003 at 10:35:50 PM EST

the word "blog" sounds so internet-cutesy

why chop off the w and the e from the word weblog?

why not just the w?

then we have "eblog"

there, "eblog" is much less internet-cutesy sounding


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

why not just... (none / 3) (#27)
by voltron on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 03:44:59 AM EST


i got a book comin' out.


[ Parent ]

blog (none / 1) (#49)
by shokk on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 11:35:00 AM EST

Because "weblog" looks like "we blog". Sorry, but "eblog" is 1995 Internet cutesy. Might as well say "iblog" for the 1999 Internet cutesy effect. What next, "b2blog" or "p2blog"?
"Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart, he dreams himself your master."
[ Parent ]
Beware the trademark police! (none / 1) (#60)
by 87C751 on Mon Dec 08, 2003 at 03:47:22 PM EST

Hasn't Apple trademarked "i*"?

My ranting place.
[ Parent ]

develop a sense of sarcasm please (nt) (none / 0) (#63)
by circletimessquare on Wed Dec 10, 2003 at 07:23:09 PM EST

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
word (none / 2) (#53)
by supahmowza on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 05:09:50 PM EST

I've always hated the word blog. In fact, I don't really like blogs all that much either. Cause honestly, I don't find the details of someone's day and their crush of the week and who they're fighting with at work all that interesting. I just feel if you really wanna read someone's diary, steal it from them, ya know. Anyway, thank you for finally articulating why "blog" sucks as a word. P.S. I don't like ROFL either. Obviously, you're not rolling or on the floor, liar.

Drugs are the solution to all life's problems
Well, drugs and handguns
[ Parent ]
Uhm (2.66 / 15) (#24)
by strlen on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 12:13:26 AM EST

Has the idea of running "tail -f /var/www/logs/access_log" on the webserver occured to you? Same effect, and no need for the immense overhead (especially with heavy traffic sites) of AIM. Not to mention the system will be severely crippled by rate-limiting in no time.

That, and I have a tendency to desire for access to nuclear weaponry, whenever I hear "blogspace", "blogosphere" and "blogrolling" mentioned: is it just me, or is the vast majority of blogging, about the fact of blogging itself? Meta-wankery at the worst.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.

Personally, I'm amused that (2.71 / 7) (#28)
by qpt on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 05:13:52 AM EST

Your thoughts leapt first to weapons and then to masturbation upon the mention of a topic that really has nothing to do with either. Had you kept writing, alcohol and maybe anime would've been next, no doubt.

Shucks, what am I gonna do with you dorks?

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.
[ Parent ]

well... (none / 2) (#35)
by dcgrigsby on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 12:50:36 PM EST

People who host their blogs through blogspot or most of the other popular blog hosters dont get access to the log files, so that wouldn't work for them.

As for rate limiting: I have multiple bots.  Each blog gets assigned to a bot, the bot then sends the message.  I have written the code to respect the TOC protocol's warnings about rates.  I've sent almost million IMs so far and it works.

[ Parent ]

Thank you! (1.25 / 12) (#26)
by sellison on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 02:39:35 AM EST

This will be a very useful tool in spreading the Word of Christ!

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God."- George H.W. Bush
The Word. (none / 1) (#39)
by Ogygus on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 05:30:59 PM EST

What word would that be?

The mice will see you now.
[ Parent ]
"Dumb" (1.75 / 3) (#45)
by LittleZephyr on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 09:05:34 AM EST

(\♥/) What if instead of posting that comment,
(0.-) you had actually taken a knife and stabbed
("_") me in the eye? You murderer. ~ Rusty

[ Parent ]
No Really! (none / 1) (#48)
by Ogygus on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 11:32:53 AM EST

I was hoping for a response.

The mice will see you now.
[ Parent ]
Fish? (none / 1) (#58)
by monkeymind on Mon Dec 08, 2003 at 05:18:25 AM EST

I believe in Karma. That means I can do bad things to people and assume the deserve it.
[ Parent ]

Not sure. (none / 1) (#62)
by Ranieri on Wed Dec 10, 2003 at 08:45:25 AM EST

I think it's an imperfect translation from the greek "logos", that has a much broader meaning than our measly "word". But I'm sure there are people here that can help out with the details.
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!
[ Parent ]
interesting (none / 2) (#29)
by mariahkillschickens on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 10:05:42 AM EST

it's like blog-based chatting. or maybe it IS blog-based chatting...
"In the end, it's all dirt."
yeah (2.33 / 9) (#37)
by ph317 on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 03:59:08 PM EST

Over the years I've become more and more of the opinion that unless it's real obvious (like, everyone that knows you would say "he belongs in a nuthouse" and mean it, or you're already in one), that most people's psychological problems just aren't real.  People intentionally or accidentally invent them.  Sure, probably over half the population has little neuroses, but not real psychological problems.  People just like to think that they do, because it's a good excuse for their behavior (to themselves more than to others), and it gets attention to say it.

The word 'problem' (none / 2) (#59)
by curunir on Mon Dec 08, 2003 at 12:56:01 PM EST

Doesn't apply to the description Obsessive-Compulsive. It becomes a problem when it's described as Obsessive-Compulsive disorder.

While I definitely agree with you that a very small percentage of the population absolutely needs psychological help, a cursory understanding of how your individual psyche functions is a good thing. The parent poster probably doesn't need to see a therapist, but by identifying his OC nature, he can probably use his conscious mind to figure out when his subconscious is compulsively dwelling on something and possibly modify his behavior accordingly.

For another example, I'm slightly manic-depressive. Not nearly enough that I would need to be medicated, but I'd probably be diagnosed as having slight Bipolar II. By identifying this characteristic in myself, I can observe when I'm having slight depressive periods and guard against things I would be more prone to doing during those periods. If I start getting really upset with someone, I can now step back and ask myself if I'm really upset with them or if there is some mood I have that is contributing to my feelings.

The study of psychology is often framed as studying common problems with people's psyches. I like to look at it as the study of common processes. All those processes are normal, they just cause different behavioral patterns. To look at it as if you're either normal or somehow broken just doesn't seem right.

[ Parent ]
Online accidental communities. . . (2.10 / 10) (#38)
by Pop Top on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 04:31:05 PM EST

Discuss your latest auto wreck.

Neat. (none / 2) (#40)
by YelM3 on Sat Dec 06, 2003 at 08:40:22 PM EST

I want a version that checks the access logs and then portscans the visitor IP to see if they're running an IM client, then allows you to send them a message whether or not they asked you to. Muahaa. Seriously, though, this is kinda cool. Personally I don't have a "blog" because, well, I have something of a life offline and have no time. If I did though I would think this is cool. Kind of the natural extension of posting your email address to your website. Which reminds me, this will be a great way to harvest IM names for spamming once it gets popular.

Whatever happened to .... (none / 2) (#43)
by Blarney on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 01:36:01 AM EST

Remember Third Voice? A system where people could chat and leave messages keyed to individual web sites, which would appear as overlays to the website to Third Voice users. I recall that there was some sort of lawsuit - that web content creators felt this to be vandalism and inappropriate - but I don't think that it went all the way through. Anyone know what happened to it?

Your system seems much like Third Voice, although voluntary on the part of the site creators.

annotation engines (none / 1) (#51)
by Voronich on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 02:49:44 PM EST

There were a bunch of these.  uTok was another one.  They were wonderful, a bit susceptible to trolls but it was worth it.  Most popular web pages had a built-in discussion board.

They all seemed to go away at the same time, which is a damn shame.  I think there's a mozilla side-bar add in and a corresponding annotation engine, but if I remember correctly it was a bit kludgey.

Anyone know of any more of these?

[ Parent ]

crit.org (none / 1) (#57)
by wurp on Mon Dec 08, 2003 at 12:17:48 AM EST

I thought crit.org was the first of these.  Unfortunately, it was only ever in a testing stage (although it seemed to work fine) and it has now gone the way of the dodo.
Buy my stuff
[ Parent ]
I propose a subtitle... (1.37 / 8) (#46)
by CodeWright on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 09:33:11 AM EST

..."Wankers of the world unite!"

"Jumpin Jesus H. Christ riding a segway with a little fruity 1 pint bucket of Ben and Jerry's rainbow fairy-berry crunch in his hand." --
I had one such experience (none / 2) (#52)
by xicubed on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 03:22:40 PM EST

I posted a comment on someone's blog including a link to a posting of mine. They must be notified when someone posts a comment because minutes later I get the IM that someone is reading that post, in Instant Gratification you click on the url and it uses a service to resolve the ip to a name. It resolved to the domain of the person whos blog I'd commented on. After a bit I went back to his comment thread and he'd posted a comment on my comment.

Oh, my! Now I'm dizzy... ;-) (none / 0) (#72)
by Greeblie on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 09:25:17 PM EST


TV is a vast and empty wasteland, not unlike New Jersey...
[ Parent ]

There are so many bloggs (none / 3) (#56)
by astroboysoup on Sun Dec 07, 2003 at 09:28:06 PM EST

In creating my own blog i surfed the net for other examples for inspiration and stumbled across hundreds from people in my own area. And soon after contacting them and posting on their sites.. my site was inundated with blog visitors. :) that my gratification.
I'll win the lotto one day...
I like the k5 diary system. (2.80 / 5) (#61)
by waxmop on Tue Dec 09, 2003 at 11:13:20 AM EST

I like it because nobody expects much and the entry costs are very low. If nobody posts any comments in my diary, at least I don't feel like a jackass for wasting cash on a domain name and webhosting fees. Furthermore, the diarist can't censor content, and everybody can post their own diary too to rant and rave all they want.

Blog sites often have a weird cult-of-personality vibe. A lot of bloggers seem to think of themselves as celebrities. Since it's not really easy to troll on somebody's blog (bloggers tend to delete comments they don't like), these bloggers live in their own fantasy world. Criticism is silenced, and fellow bloggers post uninteresting, self-referential messages; ("Do you remember that time we ate tatertots at Denny's? haha!") At their worst, blogs are like watching TV sitcom blooper reels where we're supposed to laugh because Matthew Perry keeps messing up his lines.

I think the trolls here provide some kind of ecological service. Trolls on k5 are like the hyenas on the Serengeti that pick off the weak for the benefit of the herd. Without the trolls, we'd end up with the blogger-equivalent of fat, flightless Dodo birds, only able to survive because no competent predators exist.

Husi has a little counter in your diary that shows how many users have viewed the page. I think that's what a lot of us use the polls for. I like the idea of knowing who reads our diaries, but the commenting system allows readers to self-identify just as well.
We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar

True (none / 0) (#69)
by Phillip Asheo on Mon Dec 15, 2003 at 05:35:51 PM EST

I think the trolls here provide some kind of ecological service. Trolls on k5 are like the hyenas on the Serengeti that pick off the weak for the benefit of the herd. Without the trolls, we'd end up with the blogger-equivalent of fat, flightless Dodo birds, only able to survive because no competent predators exist.

Trolls are performing a valuable public service. Kind of like the IRS, nobody appreciates it, but they would soon notice if it went away...

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

Instant Gratification without AIM (none / 0) (#64)
by karldallas on Thu Dec 11, 2003 at 07:02:54 AM EST

I'm interested in this facility, but I don't use AIM (Hate AOL!). Can it be used with any other IM service?

W/O AIM (none / 0) (#67)
by dcgrigsby on Fri Dec 12, 2003 at 08:37:10 PM EST

Connecting to the various IM networks is the biggest pain in engineering this.  They all have different notions of excessive message volume, require different connection libs, etc.  I've resisted this because it's hard enough to stay online with AIM alone.

Would Trillian or one of the other multi-IM clients do?

Finally, while I don't feel the same way about AIM as you do, it is worth pointing out that if you use Trillian or another multi-IM client you're basically using the AIM infrastructure, which costs them money, without the ads that they use to support it in their client.

[ Parent ]

Email notifications instead... (none / 0) (#65)
by kgish on Thu Dec 11, 2003 at 03:53:47 PM EST

You can do exactly the same thing with a little server-side scripting and by just sending notification emails. This is much less obtrusive than having an IM window popping up every time. Or better yet, just collect the information and email every hour or day. And then again, howabout just sending out a link which fires up a web-enabled interface for displaying the results? Just some suggestions is all.

Meh (none / 0) (#68)
by synik on Sat Dec 13, 2003 at 01:35:28 AM EST

Just tail your apache logs :)

The human race has suffered for centuries and is still suffering from the mental disorder known as religion, and atheism is the only physician that will be able to effect a permanent cure. -- Joseph Lewis
I thougth I was obsessive about my Blog... (none / 0) (#71)
by Greeblie on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 09:23:16 PM EST

But you've just given me a new definition of "obsessive compulsive." Actually, it's a great article. Way to go blogger!


TV is a vast and empty wasteland, not unlike New Jersey...

Accidental Online Communities | 71 comments (57 topical, 14 editorial, 1 hidden)
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