What Does a Very Large-Scale Conversation Look Like?






  • Introduction
    The new electronic spaces that I am interested in have the following characteristics in common:

    • They are large. Many server sites now support interchanges between hundreds and thousands of people. Usenet newsgroups and large listservs are the most common such sites. I call these usually text-based, usually asynchronous interchanges very large-scale conversations.

    • They are network-based. More specifically, they support network-based communities. The boundaries of these spaces and the communities they support are not geographic boundaries. Communities of artists, writers, and scientists are examples of pre-Internet, network-based communities (communities based upon a social network and some shared interests or needs). Network-based communities are of a different kind than geographically based communities like neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Network-based communities (for example, the scientific community) have continued to grow with the help of new network technologies, but contemporary technologies have also engendered a variety of new communities (for example, the open source community).

    • They are public. As more and more people gain access to the Internet from their homes or schools rather than from their workplaces, the Internet increasingly becomes a space for public discussion and exchange. Very large-scale conversations are a common event within the confines of large industry (for example, the huge number of communications among thousands of people required to design and build an airplane or coordinate production of a film). However, these have a distinctly different character than the very large-scale conversations in which people are participating as individuals rather than as employees. The Internet is engendering the production of new public spaces that may offer the means to reinvigorate public discourse.


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