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What makes Kuro5hin a community?

By jordanb in Meta
Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 01:30:05 PM EST
Tags: Kuro5hin.org (all tags)

According to the mission statement, Kuro5hin is a "community of people who like to think". A recent assignment has caused me to find myself wondering what it means to be an online community.

Kuro5hin is an amazingly diverse group. Just about every significant political group, religion, developed nation, major city, ethnicity, and method of thought is represented. Kuro5hin is a place where liberals and conservatives, capitalists and socialists, geeks and technophobes, and many other bi-polar groups come to communicate and debate. I find it simply astounding that such a community should exist, especially considering the fact that the overriding theme in the Merriam-Webster's definition of community is that of having something in "common".

So what is it that makes Kuro5hin a community? What is the thing that we all have in common? Is it that we all are attracted by the logo, that Rusty is a friendly guy, or that we all really like to talk about September 11 all the time?

By the way, when I was given this assignment, and I chose to examine Kuro5hin, I fell in love with the idea of a community analyzing itself. My goal for this story is to generate some good community introspection. The assignment is to write a paper about an online community, and I'd like to use this discussion. If you want to make a comment, but do not wish for me to quote you, say so in your post. I'll post the completed paper probably as a comment here sometime after Monday.


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What makes Kuro5hin a community? | 39 comments (29 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why k5 is a community (4.57 / 7) (#1)
by spiralx on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 08:18:40 AM EST

Well, the most obvious reason is the diary section. It means that you actually get to read about people's lives - they become something more than just a username and a set of opinions, they become people who you can react to as you would other people you meet. And even moreso, you can respond to people's diaries, which adds a whole new level of interaction - it's not just reacting to what people have to say about things, it's interacting with them.

Why else? Well, the fact that compared to say /. there isn't really any "offtopic" means that a huge variety of things can be talked about, so again you build up a more complete picture of other posters - again you feel as if you know people. The diversity of posters here is also good, as it means that people have things to talk about, and certainly I find it interesting to read about things I wouldn't otherwise come into contact with.

But mainly I think it's the diary section. In any site larger than a few hundred users, just having regular articles means that you tend to get to the point where you stop knowing everyone that posts, and lose the community spirit. By making diaries such a prominent part of k5 it means that they have become an integral part of k5 - how many people just read the diaries and not the rest of the site? Again, compare this with /. which now has journals and the ability to comment on them, but because there's no easy way to access them, there's very little community built around them.

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey

"Moderate Submissions" (4.33 / 3) (#2)
by localroger on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 08:36:17 AM EST

K5 is an experiment in pure democracy. Even when I am disappointed in something here, the way it happens is instructive. It is difficult to impossible for a person or clique to exert the kind of control over K5's content that moderators do in other forums. Kudos to Rusty for creating such an interesting site, and not steamrolling it with his own personality as has happened at some other sites.

I can haz blog!

Pure democracy? (2.75 / 4) (#4)
by juahonen on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 09:06:09 AM EST

What democratic is in moderation where only the fastest can have a say about a submission? Moderation is not a democratic vote as it would be in a democracy. It's not free journalism either, as democracies have free journalism. Was it so, all silly submissions would make it to the front page. It is a consultation from people that happen to be available and willing to participate.

What you mistakingly took as democracy is in fact equality.

[ Parent ]
I don't get your point (3.60 / 5) (#6)
by localroger on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 09:40:58 AM EST

What democratic is in moderation where only the fastest can have a say about a submission?

A submission can arrive in the queue at any time. You can be online at any time. If you are online and you so choose, you can vote on the submission. If 80 more people vote up rather than down, the submission leaves the queue and is posted.

Nobody is "special." Everyone gets one vote. What's not democratic about that?

Was it so, all silly submissions would make it to the front page.

Silly submissions do make it to the front page. There is no enforcement of topicality, other than the users' willingness to vote stories up or down. Users can and do vote anything up if it interests them, tickles their funny bones, or whatever. That is the essence of democracy.

What you mistakingly took as democracy is in fact equality.

Equality is a necessary precondition for democracy. That exists here, moreso than in the real world. The voting on things in order to determine what happens within the community (in this case, which stories are posted) is democracy. That exists here too.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Once again... (3.00 / 5) (#10)
by UncleMikey on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:40:00 AM EST

There's no such thing as 'free journalism'. There's freedom of the press, which means only that people who own presses are free to print what they want on them, not that people who write stories are entitled to have them published.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]
Faceless, colorless, odorless (4.75 / 4) (#3)
by imrdkl on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 09:04:10 AM EST

The diversity you speak of may, or may not, be so. My opinion is that there exist certain traits and opinions which are shared or preferred by the vast majority, making your astonishment perhaps somewhat overblown.

What is evident is that we exchange ideas, opinions, and share our skillz with one another without any knowledge of the physical characteristics of the other. I suggest that that leads to the possibility, though not always the result, of increased tolerance. It also makes the process of "getting to know you" more challenging, and time-consuming.

Naturally, the openness and liberty to share and interact are important, as others have already said. The design of k5 reminds me a bit of a mezzanine or union hall, in that regard; albeit a mezzanine where everyone walks around blindfolded and babbling, hoping for a response and a bit of mutual understanding, if not absolute agreement.

K5 is not a community (3.50 / 6) (#8)
by Wondertoad on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:19:51 AM EST

If any of the community members were to die - the very worst thing that could happen to them - would you know? Would you even care?

The other day a "community member" announced that he was having obsessive suicidal thoughts and was met with some support, but also a lot of lengthy flames. What kind of community flames someone who's suicidal? One longstanding K5er said he wasn't man enough to do it. What kind of community brings about that kind of talk?

I guess I'm annoyed because back in the day, when all we had were BBSes, we had REAL community. I've tried to replicate that in the Cellar. It's kind of hard to claim community when a site grows large. Sometimes a handful of dedicated users is what you really want.

I tend to agree (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by UncleMikey on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:44:02 AM EST

K5 is not quite a 'community'. It may have been in its early, smaller days -- I wasn't here, so I don't know. The best analogy I've found for K5 (and one of the reasons I still like K5, despite the fact that it's not a true, BBS-like community) is that it's a pamphelteer's printing press. The fact that people get to reply doesn't really hurt the analogy -- in the heyday of pampleteering, short replies would often appear as letters in newspapers, while longer replies would just be printed as more pamphlets!

I've been meaning to do a writeup on the analogy of the old tradition of the pamplet as compared with K5, but haven't gotten 'round to it.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

...and one of these days... (2.00 / 2) (#12)
by UncleMikey on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:46:51 AM EST

...I'll learn to spell-check before hitting 'post'. In the above comment, s/pamplet/pamphlet/g
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.00 / 3) (#15)
by jordanb on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:49:39 AM EST

The other day a "community member" announced that he was having obsessive suicidal thoughts and was met with some support, but also a lot of lengthy flames. What kind of community flames someone who's suicidal?

Could you provide a link for this? I couldn't find it.
Jordan Bettis
[ Parent ]

Here (4.00 / 3) (#16)
by Wondertoad on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 12:07:22 PM EST


[ Parent ]
U.S.A (1.50 / 6) (#18)
by truth versus death on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 12:12:21 PM EST

What kind of community flames someone who's suicidal?

The American community.

"any erection implies consent"-fae
[ Trim your Bush ]
[ Parent ]
Actually.. (3.66 / 3) (#22)
by Jel on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 02:53:46 PM EST

Actually, flaming someone contemplating suicide might be one of best ways to snap 'em out of it online.

It is well known that similar techniques are very effective in real life. That scene in lethal weapon where the cop says "let's jump together! On three!! " isn't as crazy as it first sounds.

Oh, and the definition of community doesn't require people to be supportive anyway, afaik.

...lend your voices only to sounds of freedom. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from. Fill your lives with love and bravery, and we shall lead a life uncommon
- Jewel, Life Uncommon
[ Parent ]
Well, I don't know, but it seems.... (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by johnnyc on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 11:42:01 AM EST

...like k5 is a kind of community. Got this definition from "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)"

"2. A body of people having common rights, privileges, or interests, or living in the same place under the same laws and regulations; as, a community of monks. Hence a number of animals living in a common home or with some apparent association of interests."

The first part of this definition accurately describes k5, though there's no question that it is not a community in the traditional sense since "living in the same place" implies a physical space, and we do not live in a physical space when at k5. But I think many of us would regard the time we spend at k5 as the time we spend "living" at k5.

The nature of communities have changed in the past 100 years. As a citizen of the world, I exist in many communities, and choose which communities I identify with. With the advent of the Internet, communities have evolved (or devolved, as the case may be) to exist independantly of one physical space. I'm not one to refer to the Internet as a community (I used to hear stuff like the "online community), but rather a medium for communities.

Of course, the lack of physical contact means there is an entire dimension missing from these online communities, which is why some people can be insensitive to the plight of others. Would they be as insensitive if the community were in a physical realm?

I think the author's question is a good one, even if we aren't sure that k5 is a community. By asking the question, we can discuss the nature of online communities versus communities that exist in a physical space. I think that whether or not a community is physical or virtual, you still find conflict, disagreement, and insensitivity between members. People are still people, whether online or in the physical word

[ Parent ]
Death and the community (5.00 / 3) (#34)
by pietra on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 05:04:43 PM EST

I grew up in a small town in southern California. It wasn't quite small enough that every single person knew everyone else, but I knew everyone in my high school's graduating class, and in many cases, could tell you when they had spit milk out of their respective noses in elementary school. I had a close friend whose older brother was a grade-A scumbag. Their father owned the local Ford dealership, so they were pretty well off by our community's standards, and this guy put serious effort into maintaining his image as a rich, spoiled party boy. He blew off college, work, or any pretense of bettering himself upon graduation. He seemed to assume that the mantle of Ford Dealer would just automatically descend to him one day, and everything would be dandy until then. When a distant cousin of mine was about 17, he knocked her up in a one-night stand, and then flatly refused to have anything to do with her. He didn't just deny that the baby was his, or that he might hold some responsibility--he stopped acknowledging that she was alive, despite clear and definite evidence in the form of paternity tests and child support orders. About six years ago, he got monumentally hammered, and wrapped one of his dad's showroom Mustangs around an oak tree. He died instantly. While I feel a great deal of sympathy for my friend (though he was an absolute asshole, he was her older brother), I have not been able to come up with the slightest speck of sorrow regarding his death. A community is not necessarily the warm and fuzzy gatherings of homogenous, supportive people, which seems to be the way a lot of people here define it. Ideally, they should be. However, they never really are.

[ Parent ]
Well said! (none / 0) (#37)
by Kalani on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 07:12:59 AM EST

It's more about spatial proximity than philosophical proximity I guess.

I lived in SoCal too (Newport Beach specifically). Unfortunately there are a lot of rich stuck up assholes down there, but it's an incredibly beautiful area.

"I [think] that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement; in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the checker board."
--Richard Feynman
[ Parent ]
Lazy ? + Scalability of the community (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by vefoxus on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:03:54 AM EST

I fell in love with the idea of a community analyzing itself
Well, is that not quite a lazy way to fill in an assignement ? I have to analyze an online community: can you please analyze yourselves ?? That must be the teacher speaking in me ;-). Anyway giving only 2 days to do this seems a bit rushed to me. Especially considering that it will not necessary be accepted...
Or maybe you are doing this assignement like a psy, asking us for an introspection... Sorry, I forgot to lie back before typing this ;-)

I think what unites us is the fact that we are (more or less) geeks (common background), and that we like to think about what happens in our world and want to express it (common intellect). "Technology and Culture" sums it up very well. We are some kind of would-be digital citizens.
However it is still a very artificial community, since we cannot live only by our actions within this community.

What worries me with such a community is its scalability, since we only "live" here as long as we interact. It is -today- still possible to read most of which is published, including diaries (which some people see as the real interaction on k5).
But what will happen when there are many more people on k5 ? Will we still interact ? Or will that be a purely statistical interaction, only by ratings ? Or will a few people raise from the community (by their average ratings or something like this) to be online opinion leaders ?
That's one long-term issue in k5 (and any online community in general), just as extending the ancient democratic cities to democratic nations proved to be difficult and long: 2000 years- will any online community survive long enough to achieve some kind of democracy ?

Not lazy, it's a research paper (4.50 / 2) (#14)
by jordanb on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:44:04 AM EST

Well, is that not quite a lazy way to fill in an assignement ? I have to analyze an online community: can you please analyze yourselves ?? That must be the teacher speaking in me ;-). Anyway giving only 2 days to do this seems a bit rushed to me. Especially considering that it will not necessary be accepted... Or maybe you are doing this assignement like a psy, asking us for an introspection... Sorry, I forgot to lie back before typing this ;-)

Actually, this is a research assignment, the point of which is to find other people who say stuff to support your argument. The paper is "better" if I never make a single assertion myself but cite other people making the assertion for me. As far as the two days is conserned, my professor specified that the community site had to be about a minority, I had to get permission to use Kuro5hin, which I did not until Friday. This is only a 3-5 page paper so we're not given alot of time to begin with.

Finally, the success of the paper does not depend on this discussion. I have other sources from which to draw. I just expect this story to generate the most interesting cite-fodder.

What worries me with such a community is the scalability, since we only "live" here as long as we interact.

That's a valid theory, if poeple do not know everyone else in the community, is it still a community? I think alot of fractering may be in part due to the diversity of opinion. I just need someone else to say that ;-).
Jordan Bettis
[ Parent ]

Town (2.83 / 6) (#17)
by Woundweavr on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 12:09:10 PM EST

IMO k5 is a community at least as most towns. People know other members but not everyone. There are differing opinions and beliefs. Some are discussed rationally, some are not. There are some near universal assumptions and a few who disagree. Some common conditions exist. At k5 its the ability to surf the net and the desire to express opinion. In a town it could be weather conditions and perhaps ethnicity, class or occupation. Finally, in the town everyone lives in a geographical area. In k5, everyone visits a website. The analogy is not perfect, but it seems to fit fairly well.

Out of ideas (3.20 / 5) (#20)
by Nickus on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 12:50:14 PM EST

A community that sits down and analyze itself is a community which lack new ideas. There is no reason why we should sit here and talk about ourself and praise ourself.

Due to budget cuts, light at end of tunnel will be out. --Unknown
Sorry Nickus (4.25 / 4) (#25)
by Spendocrat on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 06:23:39 PM EST

You forgot to add a very important qualifier in there...

"A community that sits down and analyzes itself" to the exlusion of all else is a community which lacks new ideas.

I submit that any community that doesn't analyze itself to some degree is pretty broken, and won't last for long. Look at every nation, constant self-analysis, navel gazing, discussion on how things work. Even small towns (at least up here in Manitoba) spend a good deal of time in self-analysis. It might just be idle gossip, or it might be actual debate, but I think it's important.

Why? Because if you can't figure out how something works and if you can't figure out what people are looking for in a community, you're not going to be able to make it better.

[ Parent ]

k5 is more a society than a community (2.00 / 1) (#29)
by nr0mx on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 02:19:25 AM EST

Go here for why.

Interestingly, neither definition contains any mention of the notion of 'responsibility for words and deeds' that is the cornerstone of flesh-and-blood societies/communities, and which is absent online.

Online forums ?

Divulge only as much as you wish to, fake the rest. Remeber, there is zero cost of entering/exiting a forum such as this. You have a 'history' ?, Create a fresh identity. You suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder, that's fine too. You know what to do, right ?.

Oh, and by the way, nobody can hold you to your words ( not yet, anyway ).

O come, all ye Anonymous Heros,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Kuro5hin;

Everybody, but everybody, is an Anonymous Hero.
We, of the 5 Find-Outers.

You see a lot up there but don't be scared
Who needs actions when you got words?

We don't have women (5.00 / 3) (#30)
by Sheepdot on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 02:43:28 AM EST

Unless something happened recently, k5 has a largely male population. We are also computer literate, to say the least. We know English. Most here have probably used Slashdot in the past. Conservatives, especially god-fearing (religious) ones, do not tend to frequent this website. In fact, I venture to guess a majority of K5 members are agnostic or atheist.

About the only thing we have in common otherwise is we like to debate and complain. For me, I can't even get the stuck-up profs on campus to talk politics with me, and they seem to be the ones most opposed to what I have to say, perhaps moreso than people at K5. I go here cause people will click "Reply" while others won't even consider it.

I Am Woman (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by fraise on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 03:04:07 PM EST

*raises hand* Hello :)

(couldn't help it, silliness coupled with chocolate dessert and Bailey's took over.)

[ Parent ]
XX chromosomes (none / 0) (#36)
by pietra on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 06:58:35 PM EST

While I agree that kuro5hin is predominantly male, there is a rather vocal female minority, and it seems to be growing rather rapidly. Communities don't necessarily have to be mixed-gender to qualify as communities, though I do think they tend to be richer for it.

[ Parent ]
I am not a daddy (none / 0) (#39)
by mami on Sun Feb 17, 2002 at 01:34:38 PM EST

Sincerely, Mami.

[ Parent ]
I don't think so... (4.00 / 2) (#31)
by DeadBaby on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 10:58:40 AM EST

K5 is a niche, not a community. I'd say the assumption that K5 is diverse is very inaccurate. Anytime you gather together technical minded people you are going to have a niche of agnosticism, atheism, liberalism, libertarianism mixed with a healthy serving of distrust for mass media.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Community Standards (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by pietra on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 06:55:30 PM EST

I'd define kuro5hin as a community by one major standard: despite the amazing amount of bitching, sniping, flaming, and otherwise immature and antisocial posts, there are also a remarkable number of people willing to offer help when someone asks. I'm quite impressed by the quality of responses to questions about how to be a really kickass UNIX admin or good resources for mathematics books . I've spent quality time around people whose sole response to questions like these was "RTFM" or "Get a book and quit bugging me." The time and energy people put into being helpful here outweighs the dumbass sniping just enough to qualify kuro5hin as an actual if dysfunctional community. People have a lot to share here, and they do so, quite happily.

Everybody needs to talk once in a while (none / 0) (#38)
by mami on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 04:45:06 PM EST

nothing more, nothing less. If you think about it, K5 is like those interesting discussions you can have with a stranger on your transatlantic flights. You know nothing about the stranger and talk about the most challenging stuff. When you land and say: "Have a nice day", you just wonder how you got into talking.

What makes Kuro5hin a community? | 39 comments (29 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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