Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Resistance to Winnowing

Having ran online discussions since 1991, I've managed millions of online comments, reaching a point where literally nothing I see online can possibly surprise me. I know with high certainty where a person is coming from based on even their briefest written expression, and I can predict how multitudes will react to any given bit of online writing.

So these thoughts might not be fully relatable for readers who don't share my hard-won elite Spidey sense. However, such readers will not take that into account as they read the following, because the very point I'm making here is that people tenaciously and indignantly resist any effort to make them self-bifurcate.

Since I know all the many ways an online discussion can digress and otherwise fail to fit the bill of the original poster, I sometimes try to pre-filter results. I did exactly that here, where I tried to summon not the trillionth online hummus recipe, but the hummus recipe for those who, like me, are super-dissatisfied with the standard hummus recipes. The problem is that when people sense that their contribution is being pre-winnowed, they really don't like it.

The most popular forum derailment is to question the querier's assumptions. Ironically, if you try to stave that off (by noting something like "if you question my assumptions, cool, but then this discussion is not for you"), those same assumption-questioners will take umbrage, and question the assumptions behind your request not to question assumptions.

I'm tempted to conclude that you can't win; if people want to give you their shitty hummus recipe, there's just no way to persuade them not to. Trying to thwart them will only piss them off. However, I very likely did discourage a number of shitty recipe postings, where would-be posters shrugged and went away quietly. I also surely lost babies with that bathwater - dynamite hummus recipes not posted because I scared the bejesus out of posters unsure they'd fit my bill.

But still, half the replies are assumption-questionings, nitpicks, and umbrage. Enjoy the several non-fascinating parallel discussions of my stupidity.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because it recalls the reaction to Chowhound's old opening page (before it was sold to CNET/CBS). The following message obstructed each and every new visitor to the site:
Everyone has one in his or her life: the brother-in-law with a collection of 800 takeout menus, the coworker who's always late from lunch because she HAD to trek to one end of town for the best soup and to the other for the best sandwich. Chowhounds know where the good stuff is, and they never settle for less than optimal deliciousness, whether dining in splanky splendor or grabbing a quick slice of pizza. They are the one in ten who live to eat.

We're not talking about foodies. Foodies eat where they're told; they eagerly follow trends and rarely go where Zagat hasn't gone before. Chowhounds, on the other hand, blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure. They despise hype, and while they appreciate refined ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by mere flash.

No media outlets serve chowhounds. There are no chowhoundish newspapers, magazines or TV shows. And they've never had a place to gather and exchange information. This discerning, passionate crowd has long been completely invisible and utterly disenfranchised.......until now!

Chowhound.com's Alpha Dog, professional restaurant critic/author Jim Leff, along with Bob Okumura, launched this site to provide a non-hypey haven where their fellow hounds can opine, bicker, and rave to their hearts' content. Anyone who eats is welcome to stop by for unbiased, savvy chow advice or to just sit back and watch in amazement.

If you, too, fret endlessly about making every bite count; if you'd grow weak from hunger rather than willingly eat something less than delicious, this place is for you! Welcome to our community. Let's talk. Let's swap tips (click below to get to the meat & potatoes).

You needn't be an expert to participate. If you're less food-obsessed than the rest of us, but have a yen for egg creams, gazpacho, or Quisp Cereal, let the resident hounds guide you to the best stuff. Follow (and chime in on) some of cyberspace's most rollicking, contagious discussion -- featuring thousands of entertaining messages from characters all over the world. But, hey.....

It was a filter, intended to repel folks who'd fill our message boards with trendy ditz...while enticing intrepid treasure hunters. And it worked! We boasted the highest "bounce" rate in the industry, which ensured the distilled quality of the discussion. But, surprisingly, it really pissed off the people it was designed to repel. They could feel the repulsion, and it infuriated them. Once again, people tenaciously resist any effort to persuade them to self-bifurcate.

To this day, I frequently hear from people who were "turned off" by that intro. They assume it was a bad business practice, because they unquestionably assume that it was my aim to attract and please them. They figure I'd be stricken to learn that they didn't agree. Because this message made them think twice about participating in the site, it was an existential blunder on our part. Since they didn't enter, we scarcely existed!

I can't empathize with this mindset. But I can more or less anticipate it. It's one of the hardest for me.

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