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Sometimes when you look at an online community (or CollaborativeHypermedia) and start to analyze it, you make assertions that are either about the underlying technology or about the content and community that uses it. For instance, it's been said that WikiWikiWeb has high content; but is that a property of the technology or a property of the community of people that participated on it? It must be community, because it's trivial to write bad pages on a Wiki.

In contrast, the claim that "SlashDot moderation doesn't work," cannot easily be attributed to either technology or content/community without the rationale behind the statement. Perhaps the actual system of moderation is malfunctional, giving moderatorship randomly instead of based actual merit. Or maybe the people who moderate the pages are doing a poor job, only moderating up views that are inline with their own, no matter how poorly they are written.

When you dig deeper, you might find a mish mash between the two types of reasoning.

But, is an actual medium just the technology? Is television just the wires and newspaper just paper and ink? Or does the society provide enough context to change everything?

Personally, I think the both have much to do with media. First, each medium must exist technically. Secondly, communication is between people. Different communities have different expectations. A student newspaper is much different than a national newspaper, for instance.

However, it's important to distinguish the cases. While the underlying technology can be cloned on another site, the community cannot. Understanding what makes good technology good and bad technology bad is important. Conversely, it's also important to understand why societies evolve the way they do so one can encourage positive growth whilst avoiding erosion.

So when analyzing an actual community, try to keep in mind the difference between person and tool; and try to keep in mind how they interact. -- SunirShah

reason is a blade that turns in your hand. divisive thought is a tool. you can paint yourself into a corner with a tool. you can come to identify with a tool. is media technology or content? mu. there is no safe harbour from the storm, kittens. i love you all, you weirdos. -- TiggerTenango
It must be community, because it's trivial to write bad pages on a Wiki. -- the interesting question for me, as a technologist, is the extent to which good technology can encourage good communities.

There is a similar debate in programming. I can write FORTRAN in any language, and I like to think that I could produce good code in any language too. It doesn't follow that the language doesn't matter. I know I do better work easier in some languages than others.

Much of this comes down to SapirWhorfHypothesis, which is sometimes over-stated: language influences thought but doesn't dictate it. For example, WardsWiki does not support voting directly; this tends to discourage people from using voting idioms. On the other hand, people can and do use circumlocations for voting if they want to. This is one way in which new words are added to languages, and new features added to programs. It is why Orwell's NewSpeak? doesn't work. People are too inventive; they can think about things they don't have words for.

There is a kind of Turing Completeness lurking here. If the base system has sufficient power, anything can be expressed, and all subsequent development is just adding short-cuts. Wiki is metaphorically Turing Complete because it allows us to type plain text, through which any metaphor or convention can be expressed. -- DaveHarris

Well, to represent all discrete information, in theory all you need is a freestore that can hold quantized information with at least two states per quantum. (er, it's got to be a bitstream of some sort) To represent all types of information is a bit harder, but hardly of great interest.

However, I wonder. Even though you may be capable of using XML to describe an entire movie (provided you had several terabytes of storage), reading the text stream will not give you a sense of what's going on (unless you're a programmer; but let's face it: we're not normal!). You need something to display the information in such a way that people can understand it.

Even XML makes this distinction. XML is only the data container. You still need XSL and a rendering engine to display it.

There's more to your comment than this, of course. Including the idea of technology guiding society. I'll have to think about this more. -- SunirShah

Hey, the Turing Completeness bit was just a loose metaphor. Not important. -- DaveHarris

My professor of software engineering (gack!) stated time and time again that there must always be a free-form text field for random comments on his little diagrams, templates, doodads and whatnots. This was because the base structure was often inadequate to express everything needed. This spoke more to me about the failure of his methodology, but it's also generally true. Imagine a programming language without comments for instance! You need some way to escape the rigidity of formal structure to the fluidity of natural discourse. Theoretical statements about expressability is one thing, of course, but the real "Turingness" of data really comes down to, "Can I express myself naturally?" -- SunirShah

I've come to believe that media, technology and content form a bound symbiotic triad. Without content, there would be no need for technology. Without technology, there would be no way to create content. Without the overarching medium to connect the two of them together, there would be nothing. Without either technology or content, there would be no medium. Perhaps then a medium is both technology and content. -- SunirShah

Media, as we know it, can perhaps be understood through a Kantian analysis. The philosopher Immanuael Kant believed that, prior to perception, the notions of space and time must already be intuited in order for our perceptions to occur. Space and time enframe everything that we perceive. Accordingly, if we think of our perceptions as a signal being beamed to our body, with our body being the receiver, then it is space and time that decode the meaning of the signal. Our perceptions are not wholly content, nor are they wholly bio-technical in origin.

So, too, perhaps media is both technology and content. Content gives a media a perceptable face - what would the internet be if all the technology existed, yet nary a web page or ftp server or gopher index could be found? The content within a medium is the signal. Technology, like space and time, decodes the meaning of the signal. Does the average web surfer derive much benefit from reading through a page of raw hypertext? Not usually. It is technology that brings content into focus. A thought to ponder - In theory, could I create a web page if the internet didn't exist? If it had never existed?

If a medium is going to be viewed as a symbiotic triad, I would not consider the medium itself the third member of the triad, but rather the perceiver, the receptor of the signal which is being decoded by technology. In order for content, even if properly decoded by technology, to have meaning, it must have meaning to someone. If a medium exists in the woods with rich content, but no one is there to explore said content, does it really exist?

This is my first post on this site. Go easy on me...

-- ChrisPeterson

Just a few thoughts. I'm sure that there is a lot of media theory about this, although it may not fit online communities. Maybe the distinction between "media" and "media format" is of interest. Television is a medium, a "late night show" or a "soap" is a media format. The print medium has a lot of formats, like "paperback" or "weekly magazine". An wiki community may be thought of as "media format" within the "web medium" and as a "community format" within the online communities. Maybe this analogy helps to dig deeper. Perhaps even a term "knowledge format" might make sense. The format seems like an unwritten contract between producers and consumers of a medium, which defines expectations and is accompanied by ritual acts of communication. Quality seems to depend on the perspective, there may be technical qualities (print quality), social qualities (moderation, language), content qualities (usefulness, knowledge, entertainment). While any media format may hold any quality, only a certain format will be an optimum match. Obviously the large surface of a newspaper is better suited for dayly news than a paperback. Consider this definition: media is technology used to communicate content within the context of a community. Remove a single of these five elements (technology, communication, content, context, community) and you don't have a medium anymore. -- HelmutLeitner

I see that some people are printing Wiki articles on paper, a very different media. I wonder what the reaction will be? -- DavidCary

The WikiReader?s that Wikipedia publishes (or rather, that others publish using Wikipedia content) have little insert cards that you can mail back to the Foundation if you want to correct an article.


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