Focussing discussion: high signal/noise ratio, productive output and positive actions
Minguo.info is not merely a discussion forum. It certainly does not want to limit itself to simply talking. This site is trying to be much more than that. We wish to do whatever we can to enhance the signal/noise ratio, create useful and well-organized content as well as focus as much attention and energy as possible on actionable items.
Everywhere across the Internet, we can find discussion forums on every imaginable topics, discussion groups, mailing list, blogging communities, etc., etc. The written output of such communities is staggering and surpasses daily what one individual could read in one life time! Duplicate content abounds, the signal to noise ration is abysmally low and so is the "written text"/"read text" ratio 1. It is very disheartening to notice that some of the most popular communities on the internet, communities with thousands of active users and countless diaries and comments every day, have very poor signal/noise and action/talk ratios.
More importantly, in a world that is desperately seeking solutions, these Internet communities are bogged down in discussion about problems and solutions, and often argue about what they may be, while a very tiny minority is actually engaged in trying to implement whatever can already be implemented given the means at hand.
Here at minguo, we are certainly not averse to discussion solutions! On the contrary: such discussion are welcome and encouraged. However, we strive to do more than that. First of all, we encourage users to extract the most important information and insights that have appeared within the discussion and place it within an appropriate collectively written wiki page which hopefully will become a reference. Having focussed the attention onto well written wiki articles, we can then aim to go one step further: do what we can, at our humble grassroots level, to promote further the said solutions and enact them. 2
Thus, we hope to enhance minguo.info's signal/noise ratio as well as its action/talk ratio.
The role of discussion
The exchange of information and opinions is an important aspect of our democracies. These exchanges take place in many forms, electronically or not. In our local communities, they take place in town halls, in neighbours' living rooms, in the market, at work and at school. On the Internet, they take place via personal emails, in public forums, personal blogs, or wiki discussion pages, etc.
What really matters in the useful output of such discussions. What is their outcome? What is being produced as a result? What positive change is taking place because of them? What tools are there in these communities, online or not, to channel the energy spent in discussions into such useful output?
It is to be noted that, often, it is more difficult to channel private discussion (e.g. via personal emails) into collective positive output 3. Such discussion often are held using different channels than those generally used by the community: thus there is an additional hurdle to conquer if the participants want the interesting parts of the discussion to be fed to the community's wiki content.
Another problem with private communication: even though the topics discussions may not be personal in nature, it is often delicate to weigh what can be publicly quoted and what cannot 4.
An important intermediate step between mere empty talk and actual positive action for change, is the creation of high quality, quotable content. This is the main purpose of wikis. One can visit wikipedia and read a well crafted, informative article on almost topic of general interest without having to sift through years of community discussions that led to the creation of that article. This is what makes wikipedia a very quotable web site. However, wikipedia has its own policies that are contrary to those that of activist community web sites like minguo.info, so that the latter have their own raison d'être.
Once the community has interesting, informative, quotable content, it can then attract the attention of even more like-minded people who can then band together in order to put the collected ideas into action.
As you can see from the discussion above, minguo.info is a very simple, currently very small web site, but it strives from the very beginning to do things in the right way, leading the community to add much value to itself than its size would suggest it to have.
- 1. How many people will actually read this blog entry?? Oh, irony!
- 2. Incidentally, Minguo.info is following more and more closely the Blog + Wiki + Issue tracker community web site concept, except that it does not (yet) have an Issue tracker (i.e. a list of TODO items).
- 3. This is especially true with private emails, which use a separate medium, than with private messages, which may be integrated with the community's web site.
- 4. I have learned to be very cautious about such things. I have in the past quoted parts of private conversations, all in good faith as we were talking about matters of public policy, not personal matters, but my correspondent did complain about it. Now, I tend to err on the side of caution.