We Can’t Have Nice Things

A new commenter came by and commented on an old post I had about the weirdness of IMDB movie ratings, which is a topic I’ve mentioned not too long ago. When I first logged on to IMDB, the top-rated movie was The Godfather, and it had a 7.8.

I had always thought the main distortion on IMDB was simple inflation. “Oh, Godfather is a 7.8, eh? Well, then, Glitter must be at least an 8! And Godfather should be a 1!” And this leads to a vicious cycle, where people aren’t ranking movies according to their own preferences, but against others’.

And it made me think of Susan Boyle, who got a record breaking number of views on YouTube, and the article I was reading talked about how “Evolution of Dance” was suspected of being the most viewed video, but that fans of various musical groups set up tricks to increase the view count for their favorite acts.

Then I thought over Wikipedia, which has limited utility from all the bias. Then Althouse comment threads–and Althouse has among the best commenters–which people go in with the sole purpose to create noise. Twitter has a pretty good system for reducing noise, but you can still get lots of spam.

And I think to myself: This is why we can’t have nice things.

Seriously, all the social web things are cool. The open-ness of them, the facilitating of mashups and unexpected uses. But the difficult balance to strike is allowing contributions and also disallowing them.

Twitter works because following is easy but not automatic. Unfollowing is only slightly harder, which is to say, not hard at all. But Twitter lacks continuity and intimacy. (That may be an artifact of Twitter versus a necessary result of the following process.) It’s also a chaotic stream that is only manageable because you can limit it.

I was struck by that old meme of the mom pulling out hair because the kids knocked over her expensive vase by playing ball in the house where she laments, “We can’t have nice things.” The social web often reminds me of that. That and the sort of nouveaux “tragedy of the commons”, which isn’t about consuming resources, but controlling the ones that command attention.

I think something like Twitter could be evolved with multiple streams and nesting, possibly around little nodes, which could be links to blogs, or could be long “tweets”. But these would exist in the common space, perhaps with separate streams for different responders, even. Something less monolithic than Twitter.

I don’t know. I suspect we’re not done with the whole social web thing. But the real trick is trying to figure out how to have nice things.

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