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Instead of being in continuous flow, the members interact with the community through atomic transactions. For instance, a page fetch is a transaction. A wiki is an example. So is something like AdvoGato or SlashDot or KuroShin. InternetRelayChat (IRC) is not.

One could actually argue that IRC is because you can only send one line at a time, but it's not the same because there is a continuous state of "logged in" as well as a reasonable continous flow of actions.

I think since computers are by definition discrete systems, all communication through them will be quantized. However, just like the real universe, the divisions between quanta may be so beneath our threshold of observation, that we perceive a continuum (e.g. air). On the other hand, the divisions may be so large that we can perceive obvious and clear differences (we can distinguish objects like chair and table). The real differentiator is the limit of human cognition. -- SunirShah


I wonder if it is harder, easier or equally as hard to build a community that is transaction-based compared to one that is more fluid. -- SunirShah


I'm not sure how it fits your "transaction" model, but I've been interested in differences between "conversational" and "essay/lecture"-based online forums.

In "conversational" forums like IRC and MUDs, one may try to explain a complex idea or opinion, but one is limited to short fragments on each submission. In most forums I've seen, the conversation usually wanders from the initial intent of the starting speaker. Other people often reply to peripheral ideas or aspects of the conversation, and pretty soon the original idea may be forgotten. Conversational forums are usually impermanent (although they can be recorded).

In "essay/lecture" forums (UseNet, SlashDot, etc.) each submission can contain more complex ideas, with all the supporting material that the contributor cares to include. Contributions are kept for days, weeks, or indefinitely depending on the forum.

I'm not sure the forum completely determines the style of interactions. For instance, a group of people gathered in a (physical) room can converse with each other, or listen quietly to a lecture by one of the people. UseNet newsgroups vary in their style--some of them tend toward long essays, while others contain very frequent and brief posts. On wikis, ThreadMode interactions can be very conversational. (I once commented that "Niki" (an experimental wiki in 1999) seemed like "IRC in slow motion", as it had *many* short "social" comments.) --CliffordAdams

Yes, wikis usually form a nice balance because the comments are encouraged to be short and concise yet dense, probably mostly due to WardCunningham's personal style. On the other hand, ZWiki can get really random. And Wiki:BridgesWiki is another story. Even on MeatballWiki, we use smilies a lot more often than you would see on WikiWiki. Ward routinely deletes them, so people don't generally use them. -- SunirShah

Clifford writes, "I'm not sure the forum completely determines the style of interactions. [...] people gathered in a (physical) room can converse [...] or listen quietly to a lecture"
They can, but in the former case they probably sit around a table, while in the latter they sit in rows, all facing in the same direction. Did you try to facilitate a discussion in a lecture-oriented room? A quite body bending exercise. That reminds me of discussions in wikis: it can be done but it's hard to keep track sometimes. -- DavidSchmitt


Let's also talk about state. I believe Wiki was intended for stateless users, with self-contained pages that are meant to be read in their entirity. Whereas thread mode, diff mode etc presume the user is stateful; the user only reads the changes because they have remembered the page's past state.

Reading a Wiki can be kinda stateless, but if I ask a question or make a point, I feel I ought to stick around to see the responses. -- DaveHarris

Well, first, initial intent poses no strict constraints on the actual outcome (just guidelines). Anyway, you remember what it was like on here when I was just writing definitions? Stateless indeed. Very boring, no community spirit. I think wikis are interesting because they exist both in time and out of time. -- SunirShah

Do you think it impossible to get the interest without making it stateful? -- DaveHarris

Maybe. There is an understanding in the web design community that to generate hits one must continuously vary the site. People will come to see what's new. However, there is a complete failure to understand that broad and deep content is also a draw. I give you dictionary.com as a prime example of how unchanging content is useful. MSDN is another good example.

Wikis are good because they have both RecentChanges and the WikiNow.

That being said, I wonder if a community can be built without state. Groups of people may come together to solve a problem, but communities are built by the narrative threads that stitch them together. Since the beginnings of community, there have always been chroniclers, historians and communal story. I think you can define a particular community by the stories it tells itself.

Stories are inheritantly stateful. Well, they are state; things remembered. Moreover, stories that span generations need to remember time past.

So, if you had hundreds of contentful pages interlinked, would you generate interest? Definitely, but probably only short term interest. Will people stick around and add more and more content? I doubt it. There would be no social support to encourage the efforts because there would be no society as there would be no stories.

Indeed, I think people will naturally find a way to build stories and community. Consider that it takes a communal, narrative effort on WikiWiki to tell people not to write communally nor narratively. Try and convince me that's healthy! Ha! -- SunirShah

I suppose a stateless view is, in a sense, superficial: it means you can understand it without understanding its history. Thus you can continually vary the site and yet keep the site stateless, provided each snapshot makes sense alone. I think it may be possible for a site to tell stories to itself yet still be stateless.

Presumably being "superficial" makes it easier for casual users to browse and get value from the site. On the other hand, RecentChangesJunkies find it easier if future changes are delivered incrementally, taking advantage of what they have already invested in learning current/past states. I think the drive towards things like thread mode comes from laziness rather than a sense that narrative is healthy.

Early Meatball was dull because there was no surprise, controversy or conflict. I think we can have conflict without history-dependance.

Nowadays on Meatball everyone signs their names. It is very ego-full. We can have conflict without ego, but maybe it loses some of its flavour. It only matters when there are real people for it to matter to. (Perhaps. I'm not sure if this is really necessary or desirable.)

What brings people back to a changing site more: wanting to know what's new, or wanting to know what will happen next? With a good story, it's the latter. Reading todays episode fills one with a desire to read tomorrows. Readers have a stake in the site. Writers have a bigger stake because they want to know what effect their words will produce. We need statelessness to bring new people in quickly and statefullness to keep existing users involved. -- DaveHarris

Maybe that means we shouldn't write any more insightful pages like PhonyFlood and CulturalDimensions, but instead focus on writing more inciteful pages like LoginsAreEvil and UserNameDiscussion. -- SunirShah


And Wiki doesn't make that easy on us, does it? I'd rather like to have something on RecentChanges that would track what pages I had modified, and tell me when someone else modified them (say, flag it if I had made one of the last 5 changes? Or n changes, with n as something I configure?)

WikiPedia provides a "watchlist", a sort of filtered RecentChanges that lists only the pages that you've selected, and there's an option to automatically watch every page you edit. (See WikiPedia:Watchlist_help) Personally I've found this a godsend for a wiki that's as overcrowded and wide-subject-area as WikiPedia is; with thousands of edits per day filtering is the only practical way to keep up. (See also RecentRelatedChanges) It may be less relevant on cozier wikis where you can pull up RecentChanges once a week and actually see everything that's changed since your last visit... Watched pages don't currently drop off automatically, but you can explicitly stop watching them if you decide you don't care about them anymore. -- BrionVibber

I think email notification would be a bit too heavy, but something on a central page that would alert me to (possible) responses would be nice. -- ErikDeBill

I wonder what effect that would have on the "single community viewpoint" of RecentChangesJunkies. Is that a myth? If it were true, would PersonalChanges? have any effect? Would it matter if it did? WebLogs in general provide both a common area and a system to track replies to your posts. In fact, this is very important on KuroShin as it is more a discussion site than a news site. -- SunirShah

I think the "single community viewpoint" is not a myth for smaller wikis, but it is not scalable either; RatingGroups are the way to go. A similar idea that would be useful is to do this in the context of ThreadingForWiki. In an actual threaded discussion one could be directed to a page only if someone had replied or modified what you said (not that this is a new idea, many std discussion boards do this). -- BayleShanks


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