Monday, January 19, 2009

Internet communities, ITM communities, and "the village"

Taking off from a response to a private query over at, here's my response for why I opt out of certain online fora:

It's both personal and philosophical.

I've been on the 'Net since around 1992, been a member of Irtrad-L (a more consistently more knowledgeable community) since around 1996, on thesession since around 2000. Though I've always tried to make actual, accurate, high-content contributions to these sites (search the archives under coyotebanjo), in my time on thesession, I have observed several problems:

1) the tune database, while a commendable attempt, is indexed by titles, not by actual musical content. This leads to massive mis-identifications--though I would still say that the people who contribute mostly to the tunes-comments section are the most knowledgeable people involved. Moreover, a lot of the transcriptions are inaccurate, or bootlegged from other inaccurate sources. Alan Ng's is a much better resource.

2) because thesession has the very large (if inaccurate) database, and sees a lot of traffic, it is very often one of the first locations that people new to the music find on the web. There is nothing wrong with that, of course--but it does mean that there is a high incidence of people either reading without much prior knowledge, and of people posting without much actual expertise

3) As with many internet communities of high longevity, there is a tendency for the pool of frequent posters to decrease, and for the number of posts by that small group to become higher, and for the conversation to veer into seriously off-topic areas. There is nothing wrong with that, of course--but it means the ratio of data to noise decreases, and that it's thus of less interest or use to me.

4) There are people who have been on thesession for a very long time who have acted like real assholes, in the public forum, but who have been indulged because they are frequent posters. At the same time, there are people who've chosen to work out their own emotional issues by picking fights, or taking offence, as a result of reading words on screens. Both groups seem to me to contribute to noise, not data.

5) The moderator runs the site and his on-/off-topic policies in a specific way, and I find his rationales for these decisions unsound. He is also highly unreceptive to discussion of these policies. Interestingly, I have never had an argument about it with him--but my observation of his response to others' questioning him has lowered my opinion of his philosophical choices.

6) Finally, and really the summary is this: it's mostly a site for a relatively small number of people to spend a lot of time posting misinformation, condescension, or egoism to people, new to the music, who aren't yet equipped to tell the wheat from the chaff.

Better sites/resources:

Irtrad-L: still the best, serious-business discussion resource for those who actually know what they are talking about. The expertise of players represented on this site is much higher. hugely valuable, rigorously reliable, organized around better, more logical, and more suitable database parameters. The expertise of the players who run this site is much higher. the best online "magazine" on folk musics. It buries fRoots, much less *any* print source. Enormously erudite, comprehensive, thoughtful, responsive, rigorous, run by musicians.

JC's tune finder: For those who use notation to learn the music (I don't), a hugely effective and comprehensive abc search engine. very valuable, venerable, and credible lyrics-oriented database and online community. Excellent search engine, very knowledgeable people, very helpful community.

I realize this is more of an answer than you no doubt bargained for, but it's a query I get every so often and I thought I'd articulate my reasons. And, there are certain people still on thesession whose contributions, community-feeling, and generosity are still very real and very commendable. It's just that, due to the problems I've articulated, there are a lot fewer of those certain people than there were. I am one of them.

And, if Danny the Flute from London ever encounters me in real life, he's going to have to provide a real-life response to some of the online insults over the years. I look forward to that meeting.

Thanks for asking.

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