It’s not often that I disagree with Seth Godin, but today I do.
In his post The New Frontier, he writes:
When Google+ launched, millions of formerly optimistic people became optimistic again. Maybe this was going to be the one, the social network with just the smart people and none of the lame stuff, none of the spam or the pitches or the people we’re trying to avoid. […] So much disappointment and so much bitterness. It’s never as great as you hoped it would be. Ennui and then, eventually, waiting for yet another new frontier.
I don’t buy that. Experience going back as far as USENET in the 1980s tells me that there is constant “prolification treadmill”. Every new community starts out as a pleasantly small group of like-minded people; and then as it becomes popular, it’s progressively taken over by people who want to talk about Star Trek and post pictures of their cats.
This is an irreducible rule of the universe. Every community eventually ends up as a forum for posting pictures of cats. But I am not too bothered about that, because — this is the wonderful thing about the Internet — there’s always somewhere else you can go. It was true of newgroups, it’s true of social networking sites, and it’s true of news aggregators.
Back in the day, Digg was a pretty good place for finding new stuff. When it got overrun, the cool kids moved to Reddit, which for a while was awesome — just packed with fascinating things. Now it’s not unusual for three quarters of the front page to be imgurl pictures, most of them variations on the Scumbag Steve meme, or whatever has come along this week. It’s inhabited mostly by horny, illiterate thirteen-year-olds, and it’s maybe one post in ten now that holds any interest for me.
But I don’t think there’s any need to get all You Kids Get Off My Damn Lawn about this. It’s just the way the world is. The point is that there is always somewhere better to go. Right now, the best place I know is Hacker News. Reddit still has a role to play (hey, sometimes you just want to look at pictures of cats), but Hacker News is where I go when I want to read something interesting.
But I’m pretty sure that will change. Hacker News does an excellent job of policing itself but I will be amazed if in the end it doesn’t fall to the hordes of horny thirteen-year-olds and their cat photos. No problem: just move on. Among all the I Liked Hacker News The Way It Used To Be people, there will be some who set up new communities, and they will be where the good stuff is.
I envisage this as a constantly moving conveyer-belt, making each site bigger, more ignorant and more cat-infested until it collapses under its own crudulence and falls off the end of the belt; but the good news is, new sites are spawning on the leading edge of the conveyer belt — little ones with communities united by common interests.
And this is great, because it means that everyone can find the position along the conveyer belt that suits them bests. The great masses of cat-lovers can happily squat at the far end, absorbing great torrents of cat pictures. Meanwhile the same programmers who used to read about new languages on Reddit yesterday, and read about them on Hacker News today, will be able to read about them somewhere else tomorrow. And no doubt there are plenty of people far more esoteric than I am, who won’t read The Reinvigorated Programmer because they are interested in harder topics than Doctor Who and don’t like the frivolity of random sushi photos. There must be places for them, too.
Everyone gets what they want. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
… and finally
Another irrelevant aside, but I note for my own records as much as anything else that I played and sang four more songs at the Forest Folk Club last Sunday: Crosby, Stills and Nash’s subtle, ambiguous Guinnevere; George Harrison’s classic love song Something; Greg Brown’s prayer-gone-wrong Lord I Have Made You A Place In My Heart; and Whitesnake’s atypically mellow farewell song We Wish You Well. Together with the songs from my previous three outings, they give me a nice little set of a dozen songs. At some point I am going to have to try to write some of my own.