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This post is an experiment in a sort of “distributed writers’ discussion community” concept that green_knight has proposed. The basic idea (interpreted through my understanding) is to try to develop a system … a set of habits … a process for using LJ (and, potentially, other similar media) to create the sort of ongoing communal discussion on common topics of interest that many of us fondly (if not always accurately) remember usenet being in The Olden Days. In brief, the idea is for the discussion to take place either in individual journals, or in a purpose-created lj community, or in both, with a system of cross-posted pointers to alert people to a relevant post. Said cross-posted pointers would be placed in the individual posters’ journals, in the community, in comments on discussion threads in other journals, with the idea being to funnel readers through to the discussion in a single click. Another part of the concept would be to encourage evolving discussions to be re-posted as new threads on a relatively short cycle time (to avoid the awkwardness involved in LJ’s short attention span).

This is, perhaps, more introduction than an experimental post ought to include, but the concept will need some initial explanation to make sense. So this post will “live” on my journal, with the preceding information cross-posted in rasfc followed by a link to the post in my journal. Another, briefer, pointer will be posted in the discussion on green_knight’s journal that proposed the idea. And now, on to the post itself.

Many online communities “just grow” and either evolve into something useful or comfortable by chance, or wither and die either for lack of a critical mass or because they duplicated functions that the participants already had elsewhere. If a new purpose-created community is going to get a good start, it can help to start with some explicit ideas of what people want to get out of it: what sorts of discussions and interactions are likely to lead them to participate regularly and what sorts of discussions and interactions are likely to attract new, contributing members to the community. So that’s the topic for my experimental post here: what do people look for in an online writers’ community that will make it a worthwhile and productive experience?

I know that for me the most important function of the community is to give me … well, a community. A group of people who are doing similar things and sharing similar experiences and who don’t need to be brought up to speed when I have a technical question or a bit of news or insight to share. I’m looking for a relaxed but professional atmosphere (“professional” both in the sense of writing for a market and in the sense of taking the process seriously) where ideas and experiences are shared without people feeling the need to second-guess what’s “safe” to post. My own personal working style doesn’t tend to include looking for input on the actual text of in-process writing projects. (I’m one of those people who can either tell the story or write the story but not usually both.) But I’m very interested in sharing methodology, research resources, and other process-related topics.

I know there are a lot of other things people look for in a community – how about it?

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( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
ursule
Dec. 25th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)
I am confused, because I feel like lj already functions this way for me. Right now my friendslist skews more SCA than writerly, and I wouldn't mind skewing it back again, but that just takes friending congenial people-- I'm not sure what a formal community would add?
hrj
Dec. 26th, 2008 12:45 am (UTC)
One of the differences in dynamic is that LJ spaces are "owned" -- the conversations go on in people's metaphoric living rooms. Or to use a different image: I've always felt like Usenet was the main programming at the sf con while LJ was private room parties. (I have an extended examination of the metaphor elsewhere.) The social signals can be very confused when you aren't sure how "open" a conversation is (assuming an unlocked post), or when you've gotten there via a friend of a friend of a friend.

Part of the idea here is to develop an overt "public discussion space" focused on a relatively specific activity/topic, but manifesting across individual journals. Something slightly different from an ad hoc multi-node network of friends who happen to be interested in similar topics, but a network of specific posts of interest to a self-identified community who may not have the time or interest to "friend" everyone participating in the discussion.
ursule
Dec. 26th, 2008 01:03 am (UTC)
My greatest difficulty in sf fan circles, online & off, is that I think like a critic, rather than a fan, which is a source of infinite faux pas . . .

So, it sounds like you want a version of flycon2009 that isn't bound to a specific weekend? (Do you know sartorias? It seems like you might.)
(no subject) - hrj - Dec. 26th, 2008 04:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 26th, 2008 08:02 am (UTC) - Expand
green_knight
Dec. 26th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
Some of us are missing the good discussions. You see the ones that are on your friendslist, but you don't always know where people are talking about interesting stuff. And yes, this is very much an effort to tap into the existing awesomeness that is livejournal. The community would be a way for people to find the kinds of posts they are looking for more easily, and to get around the 'disappearing down the friendslist' problem.

We're used to threads that sometimes run for months. Having discussions die down after a few days is frustrating, because we still have things to say ;-)
dendrophilous
Dec. 26th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
One issue I have with trying to follow good writing discussion on LJ is that journals almost always reflect all of a person's life. So you get people like the hypothetical Jane Doe, who writes really interesting essays about writing every two weeks, and also has three posts a day about rebuilding car engines, politics, and the weather in her city.

Depending on how well I know Jane otherwise and how well she writes about things other than writing, I might not want to scroll through all those posts waiting for the good stuff.

(Or people like me - I hardly ever post about writing anymore, but I do want to talk about it.)
hrj
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
Bingo! For example, my LJ is primarily intended for nattering about everyday life to my family and friends. But occasionally I post more contemplative things that a wider readership might be interested in. I've found the same thing when stumbling onto an interesting post via friend-of-a-friend links ... only to find on further follow-up that the poster and I intersect only on that one specific topic.
(no subject) - pariyal - Dec. 26th, 2008 07:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Dec. 26th, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pariyal - Dec. 28th, 2008 07:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Dec. 28th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Dec. 27th, 2008 11:03 am (UTC) - Expand
zeborahnz
Dec. 26th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
It's easier for me to start my thoughts off in what I've liked best about rasfc, so:

I have fond memories of long in-depth discussions about things like mode, and point of view and other broad topics. Being able to get into the nuts and bolts of things and stretch one's mind.

Plot-noodling.

I'm ambivalent about crit threads - they're most useful to the writer when they stay focused on topic, but most interesting to others when they turn into something more general. A distributed LJ format would change all the dynamics of this, I think.

Community, most definitely, and IDIC: a mixture of people at various stages of the process. Hmm, this is one thing we might need to think about - how will we a) be a group rather than a network; b) attract the attention of newcomers; and c) make them feel like they belong? An LJ community I think answers the first question. And 'social networking' (our various existing friends, and then their friends, and so forth) probably answers the second. But the third is key - from the start we'll need to 'look outward', to get actively involved with those who are trying to get involved with us. Should we think about actively plugging the community / inviting specific people we think would be interested/ing?

Cats and chocolate - by which I mean 'community' again - that there's some social stuff holding us together so that even if/when the professional stuff slows down we're still there for when it comes around again. (This is possibly where the crit group that birdsedge and I were involved in fell down (albeit after a meritorious 8 years!): it was all work and no play, so when we started getting busy we just drifted apart.)

Memes are useful for community-building, come to think of it: on rasfc, for example, threads about first lines, last lines, what your character would do in a shopping mall. In LJ other formats would work better but the idea is the same. Could also be useful as a promotional tool. :-)

Hmm. I've run out of thoughts so I'll stop here for a bit and post a link from my own LJ.
hrj
Dec. 26th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC)
I think "community" is what a lot of us from rasfc are longing to regain, but in the mirror image of "all work and no play", I suspect the project will work best if organized around "work". That's what will keep pumping fresh idea-blood into it.

I was once a participant in a relatively long-running online community that was, in essence, "all play and no work". It emerged around what was originally a joke usenet group and developed into what we came to think of as our local neighborhood coffee shop (or bar). Eventually it petered out -- probably in part simply with the decline of usenet, but also in large part because we ran out of new things to say.
(no subject) - mariedeblois - Dec. 26th, 2008 03:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hrj - Dec. 26th, 2008 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
green_knight
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
I think the crit threads were useful because they allowed people to get the kind of personal, targetted advice that writing books will never be able to deliver - several experienced folks exchanging opinions on ever-changing topics. I've always felt that the occasional crit was a welcome injection of discussion material, and I've had fantastic feedback on mine. In many ways, that kind of crit has been more helpful to me than having chapters put through recog - because it allowed me to pick out the passages I had most trouble with, got an in-depth critique of just those, and then could go away and see how much I'd actually learnt by trying to apply the knowledge gained to the rest of the chapter. I'd much rather someone spent an hour involved in discussions of a five-hundred word piece than an hour skimming over 10K. I think the five-hundred-word rule is a useful one - it's long enough to give you an idea of the problem, and nobody minds a few words more, but nobody needs to see 3K to find problems.
dendrophilous
Dec. 26th, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC)
Should we think about actively plugging the community / inviting specific people we think would be interested/ing?

This is a very important question. There are a bunch of people on my friends list (and possibly in the real-life writing group that I run) who might be interested, and who have no connection with rasfc. I would like to invite them.

I don't want it to have a culture of exclusivity, though.

At any rate I think we probably want to have a solid idea of what the community is for and where it will be before we open all the doors.
(no subject) - zeborahnz - Dec. 27th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 27th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heleninwales - Dec. 27th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zeborahnz - Dec. 27th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
heleninwales
Dec. 27th, 2008 11:16 am (UTC)
I was offline yesterday visiting family, but I think you've summed it up very well.

What I used to like about rasfc in its heyday was that mix of pros and new writers and everyone in between. Though obviously people tend to look to the pros and more experienced writers for advice, sometimes a beginner would have an interesting insight or ask a really useful question.

What we had, to use the technical term, was a Community of Practice. Lave and Wenger postulated that learning isn't something you do in isolation, learning complex things can also be seen as social participation via the process of "legitimate peripheral participation".

This is what I felt was lost when the membership of rasfc ossified and one of the things I'm looking for is a group where the discussion makes me think about writing and through that thinking process, develop my writing skills.
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 28th, 2008 11:16 am (UTC) - Expand
green_knight
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:51 am (UTC)
Have pondered 'what I want' some more...

I think my main desire is high level discussions. I love hanging out with people who 'get it,' who don't need every joke explained twice, who will pun (and gleefully point out typos) - and who have A Clue about writing. That doesn't mean published, or x years of experience, but it does mean roughly on the same wavelength with regards to comittment and willingness to work at their writing. I want to talk to people who don't feel repressed by evil publishers and agents who don't understand them - we all grumble from time to time, but publishing professionals are not the enemy, and 50K of first draft is not 'a novel.' And while I try to have an open mind and I want to learn about many skills and experiences, I don't want to have to defend why I believe that exploiting others makes me uneasy rather than happy I've saved some money.
hrj
Dec. 26th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of that is what I was trying to get at by using the word "professional" -- i.e., people attuned to the profession of writing, even if they aren't currently making a living at it. I've accepted that I'm unlikely ever to make the choice to be a full-time professional writer (even if I had the opportunity) because I'm too addicted to my current salary. (Or at least, I'm unlikely to make that choice for as long as I have a salaried job at my current salary.) But my writing goals are aligned with that attitude.
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 27th, 2008 10:26 am (UTC) - Expand
dendrophilous
Dec. 26th, 2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
Like everyone else I would like long in-depth discussions about craft.

I would *not* like a culture of teacher-student; that is, while I'd like to see people at various stages of their careers participating, I don't want lots of posts by published writers telling the unpublished how they do things, even if they're not prescriptive at all. I want to keep it a space where everyone feels free to participate and start threads.

I want a group where everyone believes (or at least follows, for the good of the group) the "there are nine and sixty ways..." lines.

I would like crit threads to be allowed, but I wouldn't like them to be the majority of posts. The 500-word limit is a good one, imo.

I think the group should probably be moderated to keep out spam and to stop any arguments before they get out of hand, but I don't want the moderator to forbid anyone from joining or to prevent excess crit threads or whatever.
brownnicky
Dec. 26th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
I just don't know. I find LJ quite clunky and I like the drive by quality of usenet. One of the reason rasfc has ceased to be fun is that there are no new people. I already know how the regulars work and how they think. I can usually guess who is going to object to any given remark. I don't think LJ can solve that problem and if its even a little bit more effort than rasfc I know I will not bother with it because I'm busy , lazy and a technophobe.
green_knight
Dec. 26th, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
We were talking at length about the usenet problem. The dilemma is that we can't change the nature of usenet - maybe there will be a technology that makes usenet more attractive again in the future, or certain people will lose interest and just Go Away - but until then, we're missing writing discussions, so the idea was to find ways of making LJ work.
(no subject) - brownnicky - Dec. 26th, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zeborahnz - Dec. 27th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hrj - Dec. 27th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 27th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
dendrophilous
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
Well, you're already on LJ, so if we set up an LJ community you wouldn't have to try anything new.

One reason I see for leaving usenet is precisely that there are no new people. I think it'd be easier to attract people to some sort of web-based community than to try to explain usenet to someone. Having to look up settings for their ISP (if it even carries newsgroups anymore) and download new software is a big barrier.
(no subject) - brownnicky - Dec. 26th, 2008 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
pariyal
Dec. 28th, 2008 07:51 am (UTC)
I have the same feeling but that's because I'm busy, lazy and a technophile!
nycshelly
Dec. 26th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
I'm not all that active a rasfc poster, but I do read the threads that interest me, and I like this idea. However, it's a bit confusing, too. The idea is to post twice? On the community and in our own LJ? The discussions will occur on our LJs? Or in the community or both?

I do like the idea of cross-posting as a way to keep my posts in one place, but I like the idea of discussions in a community because that's more likely to bring more people into the discussion. I know when I'm busy I get lazy about clicking over from one journal to another or clicking a link unless it's very enticing to do so.

At any rate, I'd like to see this go forward. With threaded comments, LJ can be an awesome tool.
dendrophilous
Dec. 27th, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
I think the idea is to post only once. Either on the community, or in your journal, with a link to the community.
(no subject) - nycshelly - Dec. 27th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
hrj
Dec. 27th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
My understanding is that the idea is to have multiple options: either start the discussion on your own journal with a pointer on the community (and/or at the take-off point in someone else's discussion), or start the discussion on the community (again, with the option of having pointers to it from a previous take-off point, and, if you want, from your own journal). My own thought (which doesn't mean that everyone else would agree) is that flexibility would be a feature, not a bug.

I will say that my initial experience in posting the original item in this thread brings up a few logistical issues. In order for a "pointer" link to link to the specific posting itself, and not simply to the front page of my journal, I had to create the journal posting first and then copy over the specific post url into the href code in the "pointer posts". It would have been much simpler to say "in my journal", but then late-comers to the link would have to wade through my non-writing posts to figure out which one I was pointing to. Setting up the post-specific link is only a little effort, but it is an extra effort.

The big advantage that experimenting in an LJ environment has is the potential for continually bringing in fresh blood via ever-expanding friends-linkages. Each participant who posts a discussion or pointer in their own journal "advertises" the community to all their readers. I know that I've listened in on some great writing-related LJ discussions pointed to via mutual friends. The difference is that I didn't feel comfortable jumping in to the discussion in those cases.
(no subject) - nycshelly - Dec. 27th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 27th, 2008 10:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pariyal - Dec. 28th, 2008 07:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 28th, 2008 11:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pariyal - Dec. 28th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Dec. 28th, 2008 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hrj - Dec. 28th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Dec. 28th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hrj - Dec. 28th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dendrophilous - Dec. 28th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
birdsedge
Dec. 29th, 2008 09:26 am (UTC)
I would find it deeply confusing to have posts split between individual LJs and I would be very disinclined to go to someone's journal if that persn was not already on my flist. Having all writing related posts on the same LJ community might work.
(no subject) - pariyal - Jan. 5th, 2009 08:48 am (UTC) - Expand
dendrophilous
Dec. 28th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
A tangent on group formats
I've posted
a sort of tangent to this discussion about various formats we could consider. I think an LJ community is the best of (some rather mediocre) options, but I didn't want us to glom onto it without a bit more thought since there is some concern about whether it would be a hassle.

My post is public.
birdsedge
Dec. 29th, 2008 09:24 am (UTC)
Sorry, I've had family visiting. Two have gone home, two are still here so my posting is going to be sporadic until the new year.

What I look for in rasfc is not only in-depth discussions about writing in general, but also the way the massed brains of rasfc will combine to solve problems (or at least clarify problems so you can solve your own). One of the groups on LJ that helps with writerly research is the little_details group and to a certain extent there might be some overlap between them and a new LJ community (or a revived rasfc LJ group, whichever) - though little_details is not SF specific.

I do look for a mix of writing skills and I'm always happy to see pro-writers in there, too.

I'm a bit like Nicky, though. I think usenet still works for a lot of things. It's openness is both its joy and its curse. You don't get the Patricias without the Tinas.

Obviously there might be the problem that the people who bug us on rasfc will follow us to LJ. (We are possibly all bugged by somebody different, so what happens when green_knight invites someone I hate and I invite someone helen_in_wales hates?
green_knight
Dec. 29th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
I think it will be easier not to interact with people you dislike on LJ, and I am severely hoping that obnoxious behaviour will be curbed.

I'm with heleninwales (mostly over on dendrophilous) on the 'let's start with a concept and see how it goes.'

And I don't think most of us are bugged by people as much as by discussion styles - which happen to mostly overlap, but JC did not use to irritate me half as much as he does these days (part of the irritation is, admittedly, that he seems not to have grown as a writer at all and argues on the same level he did ten years ago, while everybody else has moved on. BS, on the other hand, can be irritating and obnoxious at times, but they are few and far between, and I like his contributions on the most. And I know that _I_ can be irritating and obnoxious at times, though I'm working hard not to be, so I'm willing to forgive that. I think it will work if the community has a strong ethic of keeping on track and asking people to take non-relevant discussions to their own journals.

In the 'take it to rasfm' we have a strong precedent, and it works reasonably well - not wonderfully, but it does - if you want to talk about something that isn't relevant to the group, you get asked to take it elsewhere. In extremis, on LJ moderators have the option to ban someone, but I don't think it will get that far.

And like on usenet, if we link to other people's discussions, we will have no control over them at all - but we *do* control whether we withdraw from them. I think it will be easier to withdraw from 'xx's journal' than from 'rasfc' - and yet lots of people are doing just that, myself included.
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