A few weeks after the US election, when everyone settles down and accepts the result, I'd say. Everyone's just a wee bit over-excited by all the campaign politics. What do you expect, after having politics blasted at us for the entire campaign year? Of course it's pretty much at the top of the collective mind, even if their thoughts turn to more diverse paths than Bush v. Gore.
Besides that, politics is easy to write about, because you don't need to know anything. Compare this to writing a worthwhile article on a technology oriented subject, and you'll see what I mean. Try to go into reasonable depth on a subject like the technology Celera used to sequence the human genome, for instance. (I admit, this example is somewhat out of date, and a more current example would be better.) It's a fairly interesting subject, although I wouldn't dare try to write an article about it, because I don't understand it in adequate depth to make any sort of comment. If I did, it would probably still result in a slightly off-topic discussion about patent law, rather than a discussion about the whole genome shotgun sequencing technique. (although I would agree the genome patent thing is/was worthy of discussion.)
Furthermore, politics doesn't require much in the way of news. People can churn out these political pontifications any time they want to. Actual news requires that:
- Something of note happens
- You find out about it before anybody else reports it.
- You are in a position of knowledge about the news item, and hence can give learned commentary.
The problem is, this is a rare situation for the average geek to be in. We're seldom the first with the news, so we are left with the "commentary" option. Giving learned commentary is a difficult thing indeed. It involves things like learning, research, and thought. Effort both leading up to the article's writing (learning), and during it (research and thought). Sometimes we'd just prefer to sit down and scribble out whatever political ruminations have been on our minds lately. It's ever so much easier on the synapses.
Politics will always elicit a response, as everyone has some sort of opinion. People will always be happy to give their two cents, and contribute to the general political flaming. (I am certainly no exception.) It's fun. It gets your blood up. It's probably good for the constitution.(physiological, not "of the United States") The eager reactions to political articles give the author a warm, fuzzy feeling of having "made waves". Other prospective authors are quick to join in to feel for themselves that same heady joy.
Politics seems important. It has flashy TV coverage. It has flashy TV haircuts. People with deep voices talk about it on the news. Women in suits stand in front of the capitol and report on it, as high winds completely fail to disturb one hair of their rock-solid coiffures. It must be incredibly relevant and interesting. Hence, articles on politics seem relevant and well worth writing and commenting upon.
I recently performed a statistical analysis on data submitted to the "who are you?" story, to determine what percentage of k5's readers had an academic background in political science, economics, sociology, or computer science. (Actual I did no such thing, but I suspect that my conclusions are correct with a margin of error of 5% at the most.) The breakdown went like this:
- Poli. Sci. - less than 1%
- Economics - Less than 1%
- Sociology - Less than 1%
- Comp. Sci. - Greater than 70%
This leads me to the conclusion that few of the people who discuss politics on k5 have any formal education in any field relevant to it. Noting the comparitively mediocre responses that articles on subjects relevant to computer science (or pretty much any science) receive, I surmise that people who work in computing like to discuss things other than computers in their off-time. I will postulate that a web community of Poli. Sci. majors might very well spend all their time in uneducated discussion of computers. (Actually, they'd probably discuss porn all the time, or football.)
Essentially, political discussion on k5 is on the same level as political discussion between your father and grandfather at Christmas dinner, particularly if your grandfather is a gun-toting, war-mongering republican ape, and your father is a bleeding-heart, tree-hugging democrat sissy. That there are people present who don't comprehend this simple fact results in the following two problems:
My advice is to take these as unavoidable side-effects of a boisterous and enthusiastic online community. I suspect the whole online democracy thing is an indirect result of the Slashdot moderation system. Having their moderation points restricted to a meagre five, doled out at seemingly random intervals has bred an inordinate enthusiasm for voting in the more impressionable members of the population. This is why k5 has been so successful -- the ubiquitous voting. This k5 constitution thing is just an attempt to capitalise further on this insane lust for voting.
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