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Author Topic: Making Friends on the Web: general use vs. niche spaces  (Read 591 times)
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« on: August 06, 2023 @842.01 »

I vaguely remember a topic like this existing a while ago but I just recently had quite some experiences that I want to talk about in a thread of their own.

Essentially:
I feel like the more general a platform's scope and target demographic is, the less people seem to actually interact and make friends there. And conversely, the more niche something is, the more it seems to facilitate authentic interaction and lasting connections with others.

I have wondered for a long time why it is that on Twitter, Facebook, or even indie sites like SpaceHey or in the Fediverse, I could barely make any friends, have interesting conversations or build lasting connections. It seemed like everyone - including me - was just there to customize their profile and show off their identities and labels. Nobody actually interacted much or even browsed the site for long.

On the other hand, I have made several good friends and even relationships from Minecraft forums, GNU/Linux groups, hacker culture IRCs and so on!

Eventually it hit me: the less focused and niche a community is, the less you tend to have in common with the next person, and if it grows to the point where the general population is a target group, the only thing you have in common with an average user is that you both use the same app. SpaceHey's forums for example are just full of style advice for the SpaceHey profiles themselves and barely any real interaction happens there, and Mastodon famously only really thrives in discourse about the Fediverse and Mastodon itself.

Even Melonland sometimes has the issue that I feel it is a little bit too broad in scope and I found myself checking it less and less; but what made me stick around and keep coming back is that we at least have the web revival and a certain affinity for retro tech and aesthetics in common. And that's what I have the best conversations about on here anyway.

I just feel like having a niche platform...
  • ... ensures that I have something in common with the average other user,
  • ... ensures that there is always something to talk about, share or discuss if conversation's dry,
  • ... ensures that most people can join the conversation easily without being part of established cliques.

This is what kept me coming back to the aforementioned Minecraft forums, various niche subreddits, various queer Discords ... before they all shut down or became victim to enshittification. Many of you will have fond memories of things like dollmaking forums or text-RP communities!

On the other hand, on super broadly aimed platforms like SpaceHey or Twitter, I feel like the only thing I can do is showcase myself, my identity, my political opinions and my aesthetic on my profile, while never really knowing what the hell to do on there because everyone else feels so unapproachable and writing them without a "reason" or something in common feels like overstepping a boundary. I never felt like I needed to justify participating in a hobby forum, but always feel like it on things like SpaceHey.

I just deleted my SpaceHey account, dejectedly, again, since I found that beyond customizing my profile, there was nothing to talk about, nobody to interact with and nothing going on in the forums, blogs or bulletins that I really cared about. Nothing incentivizing me to check it regularly, let alone talk to someone on there. I went back to the #osdev channel on Libera.Chat (IRC) and immediately got greeted by a bunch of familiar names, could talk about my new projects and even got someone to ask for my e-mail so they could help me with it.

If there can be a bottom line or lesson to all this: I think the "web revival" needs a LOT more niche communities and much less general use spaces. What about a retro-schemed sci-fi forum? A webring for people who only use text browsers? A fan-fiction writing Friendica instance?
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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2023 @869.09 »

Generally I agree. There deserve to be more niche spaces within the niches, and not just general use.

... ensures that most people can join the conversation easily without being part of established cliques.
Hmm. I think that depends. I find that the smaller the space, the more weird it feels to suddenly join - it feels more like intrusion in a private space and all eyes are on you. It can be easier to join a big space in which you are one of several newbies and aren't immediately in the spotlight. It's tough joining a smaller group and they have this rapport and injokes with eachother already. The bigger and more general spaces can help with that.

Similarly, I think there are lots of small spaces focused on a specific topic that are hard to engage in as a newbie because you first have to learn their in-group terms, or even become reasonably decent at the topic. I think many people have nothing to jump in with or offer in a conversation when they are not as knowledgable on the topic; let's say, started playing Minecraft a week ago, or is a complete Linux noob but wants to learn. You will get a lot of help as a beginner, but it is uncomfortable to expose lack of knowledge or ask for help sometimes, especially because then you don't offer anything in return, you just leech help (or just lurk silently until you catch up) without being able to add anything. The skill or knowledge difference keeps people quiet.
Meanwhile, everyone has a favorite song, or favorite food, or just saw an episode of a TV show. These are low risk topics people can just participate in that don't require much. They don't foster super deep discussions often, but it is at least one way to connect. I see so many people on here especially in the Welcome threads connecting over music or anime in a more meaningful way than discussind Web Revival.

What about a retro-schemed sci-fi forum? A webring for people who only use text browsers? A fan-fiction writing Friendica instance?
I'm afraid most people don't wanna lead any group, especially ones where strangers will join, and manage a community, steer it, remove trolls and navigate fights that may arise. It's super time consuming, at times emotionally taxing and it can take ages to take off and even attract anyone. I don't know how to alleviate this initially high cost of starting a group or space (regardless of if its Discord, IRC, a forum etc.) :/.
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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2023 @871.38 »

Hmm. I think that depends. I find that the smaller the space, the more weird it feels to suddenly join - it feels more like intrusion in a private space and all eyes are on you. It can be easier to join a big space in which you are one of several newbies and aren't immediately in the spotlight. It's tough joining a smaller group and they have this rapport and injokes with eachother already. The bigger and more general spaces can help with that.

Yeah, I agree with that actually! That's why I specifically called them niche spaces and not small spaces; niche does not have to be small.

The Minecraft forum I mentioned, the one I called home for many years and found my first relationship and many friends on, was actually super huge; but it was a niche: I checked it for Minecraft news and mods and maps and whatnot so I always had something to talk about, a "justification to exist" so to speak.

Small spaces can be daunting, but medium-to-large sized spaces with a specific focus are pretty much best in slot.
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« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2023 @590.95 »

On the other hand, I have made several good friends and even relationships from Minecraft forums, GNU/Linux groups, hacker culture IRCs and so on!

Just reading that makes me a little envious. I am very happy keep (re-)finding these places for yourself. I think what you describe is something we can observe in many different ways in our daily life. Local clubs for sports and hobbies for this very reason manage to captivate the ones involved. Whenever I go to concerts of more obscure bands, I find myself thriving among the people there. It's embodiment of your own passion for an interest that you can collectively celebrate. It is something we should always treasure!

On the other hand, on super broadly aimed platforms like SpaceHey or Twitter, I feel like the only thing I can do is showcase myself, my identity, my political opinions and my aesthetic on my profile, while never really knowing what the hell to do on there because everyone else feels so unapproachable and writing them without a "reason" or something in common feels like overstepping a boundary. I never felt like I needed to justify participating in a hobby forum, but always feel like it on things like SpaceHey.

I believe this is a prevalent problem in many emerging social platforms as they are rarely interested in providing you with the capability to start intriguing discourse in the first place. SpaceHey very literally is about the nostalgia experience. We can sugarcoat it as much as we like, but MySpace never was more than writing silly things about yourself and decorating profiles. It is YourSpace. Original Twitter never wanted you to start meaningful discussions with peers until it had to adapt to the social shift by applying bandaids to an archaic concept. What I personally see them as is an entry point to dig deeper to find the niche groups and their spaces. And I feel like general forums like this are a great place to actually find them.

This board is a great place to share your niche groups, actually. It's slow, diverse, and encourages to create something on your own. It's something big plattforms won't really care about, and whenever people share their own projects or webrings, it gives me much hope for the digital future.

One thing I would love to throw in is the factor of exploring the niche. I would like to compare it to, say, a video game. I always found it the most beautiful to discuss very new emerging games for some series with such a niche group. Seeing the familiar faces explore those new games and share their opinions on it felt so nice, and I think it's what really makes spaces like them shine. To me personally it was a small Animal Crossing forum where we discussed the new games. New Horizons was truly a magical time for me, haha.
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« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2023 @638.96 »

As an autistic person who is heavily invested in my special interests, I greatly appreciate the existence of communities based on nice subjects, because it means I can only ever talk about my interests without having to worry about getting flagged as weird or annoying, because that's what we're all there for! :grin::grin:

I find that the smaller the space, the more weird it feels to suddenly join - it feels more like intrusion in a private space and all eyes are on you.
Exactly this. I feel like I've never properly been able to find my footing in the Castlevania fanbase because so much of it is made up of small, tight-knit groups that I've never really felt welcome in. I wish there were more forums but everything out there seems to be either dead or borked :sad:
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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2023 @650.01 »

Essentially:
I feel like the more general a platform's scope and target demographic is, the less people seem to actually interact and make friends there. And conversely, the more niche something is, the more it seems to facilitate authentic interaction and lasting connections with others.
I agree absolutely. I had this feeling but couldn't properly phrase it, thank you for putting this into words.

I also think this is the reason why so many millennials found partners and long-lasting friendship on online spaces, I read plenty of stories on this very forum and my personal history is like that, when you meet someone passionate about something you really have that thing as a bond-catalyst. Even fandoms of the same thing can have various sub groups, take FFXIV for example, there are people who love raiding and getting the biggest number and people who are there for the roleplay and fanfic-writing, these groups hardly overlap and that's okay.

Meanwhile, everyone has a favorite song, or favorite food, or just saw an episode of a TV show. These are low risk topics people can just participate in that don't require much. They don't foster super deep discussions often, but it is at least one way to connect.
I second this, having broad discussions places is as important as niche ones, it's a way to at least let people see and find you.

In the end I don't think its particularly more easy or more difficult to join a small online group, groups are groups online or offline regardless and the newcomer will have to put on some work to fit it. Doesn't mean the members need to be shitty or unkind, far from it, but the human condition is like that. Deep connections take effort and communication, having that niche interest gives you something to talk about or do together, it solves the initial problem of having to discover things you both like but if you want to be liked you need to put yourself out there and endure the ordeal of being known.
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« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2023 @740.19 »

I've always struggled to voice why I have issues with 'general use' spaces, and I feel like this sort of put into words why.

With general use spaces, you can sometimes carve out your own niche and begin to cultivate a certain type of person who interacts with you by posting about that thing, but that requires investing in a site that you're not really currently getting anything out of. For example, I was able to do this on tumblr, but that's only because I've been posting on tumblr since I was, like, 12. I don't have the energy or the time to invest in doing this again with a whole new platform. Why would I work to gain the experience you can find on niche forums and servers when you can just join niche forums and servers?

I'd love to see more sub-communities in the web revival movement. I think webrings are great at this, and it's why I think more webrings (especially big webrings) should have a server or forum accompanying it. Like, if some of the biggest Neocities webrings did this, that would give us (for example) a way of connecting with those in the web revival community who specifically are fanfic writers, autistic, furries or fans of a certain piece of media!
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