Tragedy of the Commons: the new Gawker/Jezebel commenting system

Originally the grazing land in the middle of a town or village was free for all to use.  Then it got corded off, for the use of the few not the many.  Public space became private.

Jezebel and the other Gawker blogs were never technically a public space.  They’ve always belonged to Nick Denon.  Despite that, people created their own community there, apart from Gawker’s goals, a place of communication and connection.  It was, as some might say, a safe space policed by community norms and connections, cherished by its members.

That all changed recently with new policies on commenting.  From rewarding controversial comments to allowing anonymous burner accounts, Denton changed the entire norms of the community.  In essence, it was a digital tragedy of the commons.

Not surprisingly, this was devastating to many of the members.  No longer was it a place to connect and have what felt like intimate conversations.  Denton had said

The real tragedy: the triumph of mediocrity. People with time on their hands drown out more valuable contributors. We’ve all designed discussion systems with the most avid commenters in mind. We’ve given them stars and moderating powers and allowed them to develop cliques and a sense of ownership that shades into entitlement.

But is controversy or ostensible quality really more profitable than community loyalty?  Than strong and intimate relationships?  (Thinking on the billions spent to build brand loyalty, I would think not).

One thing I wanted to pull from this is that, although the internet feels like public space, it is almost all owned by someone else.  Everything we use from Gmail to Facebook isn’t ours and isn’t a non-profit.  Someone is making money or trying to on our intimacy, from puppy pictures to our bank information to gossip about that girl we know from college.  This isn’t to paint all internet companies as evil or a giant conspiracy, merely to note how invisible that ownership is when it comes to online spaces.

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