I was talking to someone the other day about the Odessa American’s online discussion forum. You may not have been aware the OA had any forums, and that’s what we were talking about.
“I don’t know why they aren’t more popular,” she said. “The forums are just as easy to find as the photos and blogs, and people use those fairly regularly.” “I don’t know either,” I said, “but I bet if more people starting using the forum, it would be more popular.” And I felt quite proud of my insight until I heard the echo of Yogi Berra in my head.
Of course the beauty of Yogi Berra’s quips is that they have a kernel of truth buried in the absurdity, and however stupidly I said it, I tell you there’s such a kernel in mine.
Momentum is important in a lot of things. Football, locomotives, the first exam in Physics I — but in nothing more than social movements.
“Better to be second out of 10,000 than first out of one.” Better yet to be third out of a million than second of two. Something “everyone is doing” has a much stronger pull than something just a few people are doing, and it seems more sensible. Some fellow running around busting out windows with a lead pipe to grab televisions is a maniac and a thief. But several hundred running around doing the same thing is a riot, and you may very well grab yourself a television while the getting is good.
Being on the side of the majority isn’t always a good idea, but it isn’t so bad an idea to keep this principle in mind because there are many bad ideas, and someone has to test them. Ten thousand years ago, someone got the bright idea to yank those dangly things under a cow, and we have all benefited greatly from it. But you know there was probably some fellow along the way who got the clever idea to do the same to a bull, and once the screaming stopped, no one heard from that fellow again.
We need risk-takers. In this case of our forum, the only risk is to talk and have no one hear you or respond. Not so much of a risk, really. But, you would obviously be more inclined to do it if you had someone else to talk to.
Some of the very largest Internet discussion communities attract people almost by sole virtue of their size. More people join, more people talk and those who are there talk more than would otherwise because there is so much more discussion, ideas, creativity and attention to go around.
The OA’s website will never be so popular as that, but 100 active users can generate all sorts of lively discussion while maintaining good familiarity with one another. A thousand would be a nice microcosm, and 10,000 would be a small city to itself. Unlike most communities, you can actually meet a person in person after you’ve met them on our forum. Many good friends are kept strangers by 10 square miles.
The articles get comments, and they will get comments because people like to comment on things. People write blogs and some people respond to them, but one person is dominating that sort of conversation. With a forum, the situation is more equitable, and anyone can talk about most any subject they like. If more people go, there’ll be more reason to go, and all will enjoy it.
Maybe, after a while, it will be a place no one goes anymore because it’s too crowded.