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Tragedy of the Commons: Twitter vs Online Forums


Riding on board a Virgin America flight, I have CNN on my seat media screen. I’m watching CNN much more than I’m usually able to.

I notice those tweets flashing along the bottom of the screen. Some are good. Many aren’t. They are examples of the tendency for online discussions to devolve into name calling, stereotypes and ad hominem attacks.

They remind of the worst sort of comments found on online message boards. The problem with inline message boards is that there is little control by the individual for what they see. It’s not just political discussions. Marketers pollute LinkedIn message boards with their spammy webinar solicitations.

It’s the tragedy of the commons. A common resource – message boards – is overrun by those not providing quality contributions.

With Twitter’s one-way subscribe model, this particular attack on the commons is limited. Why? It’s easy to unfollow those who post irrelevant or non-productive things.

Want to be a participant beyond the amen chorus and fellow polemicists, or get people to actually care about your webinar? Figure out how to engage in an intelligent discussion.

A benefit of Twitter: managing the tragedy of the commons. It should be noted, however, that enabling discussions among multiple people is quite important. Letting multiple people on a thread while preventing the spammers is the next step in protecting and improving the value of the commons.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

5 Responses to Tragedy of the Commons: Twitter vs Online Forums

  1. I think part of the “tragedy” stems from anonymity. Spammers and haters easily hide behind fake or ambiguous screen names and sites. While there is some value to anonymity on the web, I think we’re seeing that the consequences are — in most cases — too problematic. In-person communications demand some level of responsibility from the participants, requiring them to at least show their faces. Online communications are no different.

    • True. But one thing with Twitter. I don’t need to follow anonymous accounts. If one I do follow starts posting crazy stuff, I’m no longer burdened with it with a simple unfollow.

  2. John Tropea says:

    I too have thought about this exact thing, which brings up the difference between networks and group spaces…

    Usually when a service goes mainstream, the originals leave and go to the next thing, as it’s not what it used to be.

    Now that Twitter is mainstream it doesn’t really compromise quality or my experience as I get to choose the sources in my stream. So my little part is resilient to changes to the whole.

    Keyword streams have their place, but I like that Twitter allows me to follow people. Enterprise 2.0 is so in vogue, that I’m glad I follow what people I trust say and point to rather than a noisy keyword stream. By following my trust circle they have already filtered to the quality.

    • There you go John. You’ve also aptly described a secret of Twitter’s staying power with early adopters. And the fact that people keep coming up with new apps for the service continues their interest. Meanwhile, the rest of us are catching on to its value.

  3. Pingback: Tragedy of the Commons: Twitter vs Online Forums | CloudAve

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