Let's start with this: Everyone reading this is here of their own free will.
None of us are getting paid to be here (notable exception being rusty). We're all here because we want to be here, because we get something out of being here, because we find this place useful or interesting. I, for one, find the place very interesting. All the trolling aside, there is not one single place on the web where there is anything remotely like the level of novelty k5 has to offer.
Pretty much everyone who contributes here is an interesting character. Some of us are interesting because we are doing interesting things with our lives and have a compelling story to tell. Some of us are interesting because we have fascinating pathologies and find ever more intriguing ways to Fail at Life. The Bee Guy is only one of a long list of people who fit in the former group; we can pass over in silence names from the latter (I'm sure some names are popping into your heads even now).
Yes, localroger, even you are an interesting character, although not at all for the reasons you think.
Moreover, k5 is easily the most innovative and novel places that exist on the internet. No question. If I had to list the 100 most intriguing things I've ever seen on the internet, I have no doubt that 50 of them were here, and I don't even think I'd be exaggerating if I said 75 of them were here. Cool shit happens here, and that's why we stay.
I simply cannot stress enough how remarkable our online community is in this regard. If you doubt it for a second, read through the comments of a Slashdot story, and reflect upon how much insipid cheerleading and mindless drivel gets pumped out into every one of these threads. The perfect example: whenever a story including the word "correlation" appears, the first person to post "Correlation is not causation" gets 5'd. Every. Time1. And Slashdot is one of the better places: if you want your brain to hurt, read a Fark or a Digg thread, or (holy Christ) a Youtube thread.
What one sees over and over in large online communities is that people who want to express themselves, but have nothing to say, just crapflood everything. Now, the Shirky essay points out that this is a signature problem of large social groups and that the way to correct for this is that there needs to be a barrier to entry. And Shirky is correct. Basically, it has nothing to do with intention or desire, it's simply that most people are themselves boring and don't want to see anything new --- they are perfectly happy to join an online community where everything thinks as they do, bleat the same points at each other, and then think that they had a conversation.
Localroger makes a point of reminding us that Daily Kos has way more visitors, and makes way more money, than k5 does. Of course it does; it's popular for exactly the same reason Lindsay Lohan is popular. It's completely and utterly vapid.
So, you might ask: what is it that makes k5 so interesting? What is that high barrier to entry which keeps out the mindless? And my answer is simple: the trolling.
Bear with me for a second here. As Shirky points out, the problem with any online forum is the fact that it's so egalitarian, people give each other so much respect, it's open to all. And therein lies the rub: people with really stupid shit to say get treated with about as much respect as people with something interesting to say. People who drone on about trivialities not only get as much face time as people who make concise and insightful arguments, they get more, because they're droning. And, worse, people who take themselves too seriously, and who have cultivated a writing style which makes them seem like a thoughtful expert to most people on first glance, generate sycophantic followers.
That doesn't happen here. Anyone who takes themselves too seriously gets taken down a peg by droves of critics. The vapid is mercilessly mocked; the pontificators get dick jokes and suicide advice. This does two things:
- the "snowflakes" get run the fuck off and we don't have to hear the excruciatingly painful missives about "how they feel" about the war in Iraq, and the self-important bloviators get exactly the lack of respect they deserve.
- it allows us to really feel each other out, to see what the other people are really like. Anyone who has ever played a team sport knows this instinctively, but let me spell it out for the others: hazing is the best way for a group of people to get to know each other and to cohere --- you learn a lot about someone in how they react to a joke about their mother. You learn how seriously they take themselves, and how they see their relationship within the group. The shotgun mouthwash jokes allow us to have that shared experience and to build that community.
Is k5 a failure? Not at all. If you're reading this, it's because you're here, and if you're here, it's either because you have something interesting to say, or want to read something novel. And it is that way because we chased off all the chaff.
1 - example thanks to Vampire ZAMAZ