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cachet of obscurity
elitism isn't for everyone...
by travis v broughton

The nerve of some people -- thinking that they can just throw up a page on the web, call it a "community", and generate some sort of a cult following. How dare they!

I've been around the Internet since 1990 or so; I remember the World-Wide-Web back when it was called "gopher." I had one of the first content-free HTML pages on the internet -- some friends of mine and I scanned the take-out menu of a local Chinese restaurant and put it on our 386 running Linux and NCSA's httpd.

We had just found something new and were trying to find some application for it.

The WWW has grown exponentially and people are still trying to figure out what to do with it. I now have virtually no net.presence of my own, but I lurk on various sites enough to have developed a curiosity about what makes some sites unique and what makes some sites more successful than others.

I am more of a reader than a writer.

On the Internet, as with newspapers and books, I tend to read people rather than topics. That is, I find an author that I dig and I become attached to his or her writing. Mark Helprin's novels, Paul Tatara's movie reviews, Maureen Dowd's political musings, and Carl Haissen's editorials on Florida are among my favorites. To some extent, that was what drew me to Suck when it started as an indie "e-zine" -- a recurring group of authors poking fun at anything and everything. Suck eventually got popular, and when it did it began to live up to its name. These and many other online publications have the same shortcoming: they are non-interactive. The reader may read, but not react; there is no forum for debate on the published work.

Don't get me wrong -- I love reading the NY Times editorials; I just wish I could see other fans' reactions to the pieces published on their web site. The problem, of course, is that there are zillions of NY Times subscribers online and inviting feedback to be posted on NYTimes.com would be like leaving 50 cans of spraypaint in a subway station.

Interactivity just doesn't seem to scale well. Take slashdot.org for example: /. used to have great discussion threads back in the "good old days" when it still had a readership in the hundreds. Now it has become bloated -- the interface has to use AI to moderate out posts about Natalie Portman and other such things. It's still a useful source for geek news, but I rarely bother reading any of the discussion about the topics posted there.

I miss that experience.

Intrepid Media is an interesting experiment in online publishing. It's not about any one topic or field (although there is generally a theme), nor does it contain much that I would consider news. I like to think of it as an interactive Op/Ed page, except that everyone who contributes can think of a witty title and tagline instead of "Dear Editor." There are regular columnists and there are guest articles, just like the Op/Ed page in my local newspaper.

The wonderful thing is that no one picks which letters get published -- they all do, as do all the responses.

The challenge will be to scale this without losing quality -- Intrepid Media has now passed the 100-member mark. Will it be able to handle a thousand reader/contributors? Probably. A million? Maybe, but only if we're all well-behaved. The interface will have to change, though, and we will find ourselves kicking and screaming down the road to censorship or some other form of moderation. Having to sign in before posting helps maintain order, but internet identities can be fabricated by any 12 year old with a PC.

Despite Joe & Co's pleadings for all of us to go tell our friends about Intrepid, I almost want to beg you to be responsible -- to tell only friends you would trust with a sharpie marker if you were wearing a cast.

On a recent article about the SAG strike, it took less than a day for the number of words in the discussion column to exceed the number of words in the article; Gwen's 1000-word posting about the debates generated ~2000 words in response.

This is partially due to increased participation on the site, but it's also because people are venturing out into more interesting topics. The site is handling the load, and so far its interface is managing to deal with the discussion. Unfortunately the very content that makes this site worth visiting every day could become Intrepid's Achilles heel.

A belated birthday wish to Joe, Jael, and everyone else: may you keep your baby healthy and well-behaved without sheltering it from the world.


more about travis v broughton


jeffrey walker
11.17.00 @ 6:34p

I've never thought about that. This place could get out of control if people keep showing up. Sort of like when kids you don't know crash your party.

hide mom's good china

jack bradley
11.18.00 @ 8:28p

Oddly enough (or maybe not) something similiar in reverse had crossed my mind recently. In the course of promoting myself...er, um...I mean, promoting Intrepid Media, I've had several friends who have suddenly "come out of the closet" with their writing. Two friends, in particular, whom I didn't even know did any writing, not only contributed but were picked for feature articles. I say full steam ahead, and damn the torpedos (or something.) I like where this is going, and I'm telling everybody.

Well, except for that creepy guy that hangs out down in the parking lot of the Intrepid building.

jael mchenry
11.20.00 @ 9:20a

While I do think there's a danger if we grow too much, I've found the internet a far friendlier place than it was a few years ago. Most of the newsgroups I knew were 90% flaming back then. Much more civilized now. Or maybe I've just stopped venturing to the wilder parts of town? I think one of the things that keeps 12-year-olds from fabricating identities to hang out with is that our topics are probably not all that interesting to 12-year-olds. Intergenerational cachet is not part of the aim.

I'd never thought of us as an Op-Ed page where all the letters get published -- but it's a great analogy.

jael mchenry
11.20.00 @ 4:32p

And jack, I think the creepy guy hanging out in front of the building is our security guard. What's his name, joe? Milton? Melvin?

michael driscoll
11.29.00 @ 1:55p

OK, I'm over the "I was there before the Internet was cool" claim. Being a part of something near its inception doesn't create an expert...just another techie with nothing to do on the weekends. No hard feelings, just my $0.02.

joe procopio
11.29.00 @ 2:37p

Nice, Michael. Real nice.

michael driscoll
11.29.00 @ 2:43p

Aww...MOM! Do I have to play nice ALL OF THE TIME? :+)

michael driscoll
11.29.00 @ 2:45p

Maybe I should have mentiond I'm an FSU fan (a team that romps! and contrary to Travis' fav team) as the basis for my 1st discussion point? Nah, go ahead and think I'm just mean. Suits me.

jael mchenry
11.29.00 @ 4:43p

The fact that michael just referred to joe as "mom" only re-raises the yet-unresolved issue of whether joe and i are, in fact, the same person.

Cue spooky music.

roger striffler
11.30.00 @ 4:35p

I have to agree with Jael's earlier point...One of the things I like about Intrepid (and there are many) is that it's not for everyone. Unlike a lot of the more technical sights, you're not going to impress anyone here by trying to sound like an expert, and generally our topics tend to be very subjective.

Besides, I think the razor sharp wit of some of our staff and contributors scares a lot of people into submission.

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