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People being people, they will want to exert their individuality to the rest of the site. Especially on so called collaborative sites, such as this one, people will have personal opinions or feelings or even quirks they will wish to express or even SoapBox to others on the site that are being suppressed as part of the greater GroupThink, or that are just out of place on the larger site.

In suburbs in many parts of the Western world, especially North America, each house looks identical to each other. Some people can't stand the numbing effect of blending in with everyone else; in fact, studies have shown negative psychological effects of these environments. One way of breaking the monotony, and a way that naturally evolves in maturing suburban neighbourhoods, is through one's own FrontLawn.

Indeed, many people obsess over the care of their front lawns in Canada and the United States. Lawn care is a major industry in North America. On any given Saturday during the summer, you will find the local home maintenance store selling enough fertilizer to feed a third world country, and enough weed killer to give oncologists nightmares.

It goes further than this too. The Christmas lights that one puts up, the lawn ornaments, the garden, the car in the drive way, etc. all signal the type of person behind the walls. Done well, the look will distinguish the owner of the house without being obnoxious.

The same thing can be accomplished online by providing people with their own personal space (a la EnlargeSpace) on which the community rules are much more lax. A smoking lounge, if you will. Note that the rules need not be zero, nor does the space need to be only writable by the so-called owner. For instance, an excellent example of a FrontLawn is a person's namepage on a wiki. Anyone can edit it--and often many others will. It only belongs to you by convention.

Of course, since it is a personal space, certain communal actions are verboten. Wiki:WhyNotRefactorHomePages contains the reaction to the reworking of RichardDrake's homepage by Wiki:AnonymizerDotCom.

A hidden advantage of letting people express themselves is that they become more human, more real. This creates stronger bonds of trust between the members of the community. Also, it's helpful to OpenProcess on an online site to allow others in the community to understand your current state of mind. Perhaps you lashed out in anger because you've been stressed out in real life? These super-contextual clues are traditionally missing online, but a FrontLawn is part of the solution.

SunirShah maintains an OnlineDiary expressly for that reason.

Aside from namepages and online diaries, other common FrontLawns are signatures on weblog comment posts and user bios. Unique though to wikis' namepages is that a namepage serves the dual purpose of being a MessageBox. On certain InstantMessaging clients like MSN Messenger, the user's display name often serves as an alternate CommunicationChannel, typically describing the user's mood in some way.

This can be - and is - also done with some online communities. HTwoGTwo, for instance, allows alteration of display-names in this way. They also act as a kind of InternalAdvertising?, helping to WeaveTheWeb? by drawing attention to common interests without the need to visit the home page of everyone you encounter.

reminded me of this great cbc show Ideas and "Why Americans Love Their Lawns" (need help finding the June 4 1998 show) [via cbc] - MarkDilley

Providing people a separate outlet for their identity alleviates pressure for them to express themselves in inappropriate spaces.

Questions

Would one's FrontLawn (i.e., namepage) be an appropriate place to conduct a semi-private/semi-public conversation with someone on MeatBall? (If not, where should such conversation be held, if at all?) -- JustinKao

Yes, the personal homepage is the suggested place for such conversations. -- HelmutLeitner

Should minor updates to one's namepage be marked as minor edits? -- JustinKao

This depends on the situation. If you think that someone might be interested in the update, don't mark it as "minor". -- HelmutLeitner


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