There is one pattern that we must learn to identify and guard against, and it goes like this:
- A small group of smart and progressive types set out to create something brilliant. They build a system that produces excellence, as long as the original concepts continue to be endorsed and nurtured by those who participate.
- The experiment is a success, and the community grows exponentially. Others see the genius in the system and they both emulate it as well as show up to participate. This is mostly a good thing, because people who show up at this stage are like-minded and simply add numbers to something that’s good.
- Fast forward. Now, it becomes obvious to the rest of the world that this system 1) makes it easy to influence the system, and 2) pays off well when you’re a member.
- The late comers proceed to poison the ecosystem by injecting low-quality and/or dissimilar content into the stream. Much of this is now coming from those who don’t know about or embrace the original ideas that went into the creation of the community; they are there for the benefits alone.
- Many of the smarter, more progressive types will pick up and look for/create another community where they don’t have to be constantly assailed by low quality. They leave in massive numbers, heading for somewhere more like what they helped build.
See: Digg, Reddit, Hacker News, and the United States.
This failure occurs for two primary reasons:
- Creative people are often progressive compared to the general population, and as such they tend to resist classifying people and behaviors in ways that could be offensive. Because of these liberal tendencies hey resist the idea of setting a standard for quality, or even of explicitly identifying the things that make their system great for fear that it may imply someone else’s things are less great.
- Having failed to properly identify what makes them special and successful, they are therefore unable to guard those attributes from erosion. So when x, y, or z takes place that seems to be a quality issue, they are unable to discern whether it goes against their core identity or whether it’s just another example of diverse input.
The result is always the same: If there is no standard, the community will suffer. The same traits that made the community great in the first place (progressive thought) is what prevents them from enforcing behavior that will maintain that community. In sum, we’re fated to continue this cycle of creating great new things only to dilute them into banality.
The United States is now full of people who haven’t read a book since high school, think Jesus is coming back soon, don’t believe in evolution, and don’t know the name of their congressional representatives. And Hacker News is becoming more like Reddit every day.
Hopefully we’ll figure out this simple concept one day: 1) take note of what made something successful, 2) don’t be afraid to refer to those attributes as an identity, and to defend them.
[ Aug 19, 2010 ]