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Sentence First, Verdict After: Quilting Bees and Amazonfail and Censorship

Whew, back from an interesting week; in the first half, Kathryn Greenhill was visiting Equinox and GPLS, which was great fun; Sandy and I sped up to Atlanta late Sunday afternoon. We then zoomed back Wednesday so I could flap my wings and fly to Vancouver to present  (and meet some Evergreeners) at the British Columbia Library Association conference, returning late Saturday night.  My poor old laptop began failing on the latter trip, adding to the “excitement.”

While I was on the road, the Twitterverse got into an uproar over some strange delisting of GLBT titles on Amazon, with much finger-pointing and flinging of scarves and whatnot. This was called AmazonFAIL, for the hashtag that was appended to a million angry tweets.

The disadvantage of microblogging is the tendency toward microthinking coupled with hairtrigger reactions. I posted twice about Amazonfail; in one tweet I mused, “@RonHogan perhaps pubs are slow to respond to #amazonfail becuz they are gathering info? I like the rogue insider theory.”

But why gather facts? Far more fun for the nattering chorus of the Twitterverse — a quilting bee that can work itself into a buzz in no time — to scream, “Crucify Amazon!”  Did Amazon make mistakes? Undoubtedly. The biggest mistake was not to have a presence on Twitter — an officer for tweeting to monitor and react to the gathering storms. In this, Amazon was tragically unprepared (in a way that Dell, Comcast, Zappos, and other companies are not unprepared).

Note that often it is the unofficial presences — the real people and voices — that are most effective on the social networks — though that itself gets complex, as we see below.

But a week later and the easily-distractable Twitterverse has trotted off in new directions.  To really understand what happened would take more than a few cool-kid tweets. It would take the kind of measured, thoughtful investigation that is increasingly undervalued, even by “information specialists” such as librarians.

Meanwhile, I’m off to Amazon to order vacuum cleaner bags. (Oops! Did I accidentally slip a book in my order?)

You Cannot Crowdsource Individuality

Whenever people romanticize the “hive mind” and social networking, I am reminded of a couple of things.

The first is that there have been any number of times when the majority has been wrong (pace the reelection of George Bush — we’ll give 2000 a pass, since he didn’t win that one, in my opinion).

I also tweeted this week that we do not live in the aggregate, we live in the particular. This was in response to a comment from Clay Shirky about how Wikipedia “works.” Wikipedia “works” the way high school “worked.” In other words, power and popularity will nearly always trump quality and individuality.  Do I use Wikipedia quite a bit? I do. But I also attended high school every day. Some things are unavoidable.

My comment also applies more broadly to what I see as the disturbing crowd-mentality trends of new social networks.

Oh, the social networks. Overall, I hated high school, except for a handful of sui generis outliers who I am now catching up with online and who have had the best revenge — interesting, satisfying lives. Now I seem to be back in high school, only worse. The social networks too often have short memories, trigger reactions, and even more horribly, crowd mores. We’re on our way to the Precious Moments Interweb I have always dreaded… a bland, fast-food “community.”

Beer and Censorship

Then I noticed a couple of posts had come in on my post about the sexism — and more crucially, censorship — of Q.v.:

“I’m sorry you got a bad impression of HBT ( on your visit. It IS a very male-heavy hobby, but I’ve never been treated with anything but welcome and generosity by the members of the board. I guess it helps if you have a ribald sense of humor and can handle a combination of 1)male flattery and 2) tongue-in-cheek sexism.”

This is what we call the big lie. I hung around this board for several weeks before exploring the “premium” membership and posting my critique. I didn’t have a problem with; the forum moderators — call it a “board” if you like it, but it’s a company run for a profit — are the fainting lilies that censored MY posts.

In other words, can dish it out — charging $100 for a private forum with special access to wimmin with big bezooms, yucking it up on the boards — but like most sexists, they can’t take what was really fairly mild criticism (because then it’s just not fun for them any more). And I should give them my money because..?

(Having saved $100, I spent $43 on a membership in the American Homebrewing Association, which among other things advocates for legalizing homebrewing. Libertarians take notice!)

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