In checking my email this morning, i was really disturbed by a message on a mailing list that i lurk. The question was simple:
Is anyone worried about the del.icio.us community being diluted with non-geeky type people?
My first reaction was one of insult. There’s nothing like digital xenophobia to get my goat early in the morning.
First, this is the problem of all online communities. What draws people to them is homophily – birds of a feather stick together. Folks are ecstatic when they walk into a community where everyone’s like them.
In theory, people want to espouse the liberal value of tolerance and love of diversity. In reality, most people are anything but that. Ask the anti-Brazilians on Orkut. We have the language to criticize the neo-Nazis on Friendster, but how different are the anti-nongeeks? We really only know how to talk about racism, sexism and homophobia. You can’t really say “we don’t want any girls here” and get away with it now (although you may think it). [Of course, one contemporary approach is to allow a handful of token women in, but maintain the male dominance…]
Unlike the more politicized phobias, xenophobia and classism often go unchecked. It is even more culturally acceptable to want to maintain a community of others like the original community and to reminisce about when the community was closer, had more in common and when there were less problems.
Of course there are more problems in a heterogeneous community. People don’t speak the same (actual/conceptual) language. Diversity brings divergent opinions, values, ideas. Diversity requires us to broader our perspective, appreciate things where we are not superior and realize that not everyone comes about an issue from our perspective.
With community tools popping up daily, everyone’s talking about how this tool can be used by everyone in the world – won’t it be great? Yet, as soon as multiple communities use the tool in different ways, everyone flips. No one actually knows how to manage diverse communities with different values. Why? It’s a really hard SOCIAL problem that doesn’t have a simple technological solution.
[I’ve got lots more to say on this topic, but until next time…]