What's a community anyway?

Posted by Steve on Fri, 10/03/2008 - 6:08pm

I spent last weekend building a blog for our block. I'll post more about this later, and I'd like to get some opinions about it, especially as regards making it more useful. First, a little personal history.

For as long as I've been into computers I've been into virtual communities, particularly how computers can be leveraged to enhance real lives. I got sucked into Usenet and dial-up BBSes in the early 1980s. I was one of the builders of NYC's first multiuser BBS, the Ailanthus Tree in 1984. In 1985, I ported the A-Tree to MS-DOS and launched Magpie. I ported it to Unix in 1986 and released it Shareware, where it became one of the top three Unix BBSes though the 1990s.

Magpie made a sort of name for itself during the Bosnian crisis with Magpie sysop, Sinisa Novasel, as an information conduit between people suddenly stranded in Zagreb and their expatriated families and the Red Cross. Before the web, Magpie was used in Philadelphia for the first online AIDS information system. It was later adopted by six of the ten largest school systems in the US, including NYC's NYCENET.

My personal web site was launched in 1993. The first thing I did with it is organize NYC Motorcyclists as a cyber club. Then I ran mailing lists for bass players, Triumph and women motorcycle owners, a local sushi club, and several others, most of which are still going strong over a decade later.

My current job is designing and building software to network medically-underserved families with physicians and hospitals for the Children's Health Fund.

Where am I going with this?

This is a long way of saying that I take electronic community building seriously as a Force for Good. So it really torques me when I see relative newbies to this medium piss on that ethic for no other reason than because they can.

The post previous to this one is an announcement for a pet adoptathon being held tomorrow in Bay Ridge. Mary Jo Tobin, who is one of Brooklyn Paper's "100 Unsung Heroes of Brooklyn", has been sponsoring these adoptathons for years. To date, she's adopted out over a thousand homeless animals, including my Newfoundland, Jack. She sent me the flyer and asked me to help circulate it. I was happy to post it on the three sites I run. I also uploaded it to a few other community sites and lists.

This cuts to the heart of what a community site is supposed to do: support the community, especially others who are giving of their time to do admirable work. Many of those animals tomorrow will be on borrowed time. If they're not adopted they'll be taken back to ACC and euthanized tomorrow night. So, yes, I consider this a very worthwhile event to promote, even within the narrower context of a homeowner site. You'd have to be a completely self-involved twit not to think so.

Brownstoner.com apparently doesn't agree. A couple of hours after I posted the same notice on Brownstoner, "Mr Brownstoner" deleted it. Why? Because it hadn't been submitted in advance to be "included in one of the two weekly listings posts run on the home page" (sic).

Never mind that these instructions aren't published anywhere on Brownstoner. So, you know, fuck the animals. Let 'em get the needle.

How well does Brownstoner enforce its strict posting policies? One can usually log into its forum and find two-day old spam promoting everything from Beijing timeshares to sleazy local locksmiths to unlicensed general contractors. And endless, boneheaded economic blustering from self-important misanthropes ("Some day this war is gonna end", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean). And pleas from dainty Slope townhousers for workers to clean their gutters or fix a broken tile.

But saving animals' lives and networking a needy pet under a death sentence with a willing home owner? Not on Mr. Brownstoner's radar.


Steve, I think your right about the amazing way blogs (and other sites) can create and enhance community. It was one of those things that kinda struck me after getting into it. I also think one of the best parts of community is sharing information, weather it be about a cool tool or a local animal shelter. Sharing info is a big part of why I love reading other peoples blogs! But if someone (Mr. Brownstoner) is only interested in making money it shows in the kind of content he promotes. And that'll probably come back to bit him in the long run.

Posted by Steve on
I think when you publish a mission statement that says:

Brownstoner.com is a site about Brooklyn real estate and renovation, and all the tangential topics that impact life inside and outside the home in Brooklyn.

then you've gotta live up to it. Maybe Mr. Brownstoner thinks that pets have less of a bearing on life inside and outside Brooklyn homes than ads for overpriced architectural junk and flea markets. I guarantee that there are more dog owners reading his site than people buying salvaged doors.

Mary Jo Tobin is a Brooklyn real estate person herself. She was the owner of Tobin-Katzos Realty in Bay Ridge so it's evident that even some real estate professionals think that these adoptions are an important element of Brooklyn life.

Posted by Steve on

Incidentally, Mary Jo adopted out 46 animals today, including all the "red zone" dogs and cats. That's 46 animals who found homes, and a dozen who will be alive tomorrow, because of this event.

She sent the Northshore truck back empty.