In his blog, Tactical Transparency and Fighting Fair, John Havens wrote about “trolls” posting inflamatory messages on the Internet. While I agree it is a problem, it seems futile to complain about it. There aren’t many sites that require users to prove their identity before they post. Even here at FastCompany.com, which is attempting to be more serious, members don’t necessarily sign-up with their real names.
It has been joked that the Web exists to trade porn and get into flame-wars on message boards. While that bit of humor still thrives, one can’t argue that the Internet has grown far beyond that — especially in these years of social networking. It seems to me this has created two nets. The first net is the older one of news and e-commerce sites with message boards of anonymous users sometimes degenerating into insult matches. On these sites, a person’s existence is little more than a clever a username. Hence, their time on the site has less importance and comes down to engaging in conversations that unerringly flirt with the use of obscenities.
But there is a second net. There are newer sites, many social networks or featuring networking functionality, where a user’s membership has some importance. People may use their real name. They use the site for serious or important reasons. They trade business contacts, ideas, media, or something else of value. This could be Facebook, Flickr, or many others. A person’s existence on the site is more than a witty username. It is an extension of themself. In such cases, people tend to act more like how they would act in person. They may get into arguments, but there is a greater chance of it being a serious debate than a drag out fight which proves Godwin’s Law.
The web would be a better place if Web 1.0 sites became more serious about their membership and adopted Web 2.0 practices. The growth of OpenID could help with this. Until then, we all have to deal with trolls, flamers, spammers, and a variety of online jerks. Remember, user participation in a site is optional. One can always withhold one’s patronage if a discussion becomes a mess.
And now I am off to argue which Indiana Jones film is the best.