Every person approaches the Internet differently. There are a lot of nice "two types of people" dichotomies we can define using the Internet:
- Readers vs. Writers
- Anonymity vs. Celebrity
- Social vs. Anti-Social
- Technical vs. Creative
And so on.
Perhaps someone should ascertain what percentages of these types the Internet contains through a survey. I'm sure social data is already collected, but I don't see a lot of research on how people are with regards to the Internet specifically.
The one dichotomy that is probably the most relevant to the Internet of 2007 is permanent vs. disposable. In the age of YouTube, MySpace, and Google, what was once disposable has now become permanent. Nobody deletes any more; we just archive. And the museum of yesteryear is open 24 hours, neatly arranged and indexed for instant access and retrieval.
We are no longer in the business of forgetting.
At first glance, this seems promising. After all, how many untold treasures of prose, poetry, photo, audio, and video have been destroyed by the ceaseless crushing wave of history? Tens of thousands of libraries of Alexandria, dashed to bits and thrown asunder. And even moreso, the little joys of life, our personal bon mots, our histories, our stories can be preserved, too. Our place in the world has become a place on a hard drive.
But now the folly of this plan's simplicity has been laid bare by Sturgeon's Law: what if you throw a party, and everyone shows up?
The Internet has brought a lot of things to the forefront, but what it revels in most is its instantaneous nature. Breaking news, RSS alerts, fast recall, breakneck conversations with thousands of participants, the endless sea of blogs and websites clamoring for our eyeballs. To paraphrase Robert Frost, we are drinking truth from the biggest hydrant ever invented.
The technology to store is decidedly dumber than the technology to filter and search what is stored. As technology is an exponentially self-rewarding endeavor, we find ourselves falling further and further behind in our efforts to categorize and sort all of the information being generated and stored. The Internet's response has been to simply throw up its hands and hand over the keys of editorial discretion to the end user. "Ignore the things you hate! Tell us what you want to see! You're in control!" The path of least resistance reigns supreme.
But that's not how we roll.
Here at Everything2, we have made a conscious decision to put a particular public face on our website with regards to content of our writeups. Call it raising the bar, call it Node for the Ages, call it whatever you want. In one way, this decision has been a fairly evolved one - out of "I know it when I see it" has emerged several strong indicators of what is and isn't strong E2 writing and weak (and therefore unacceptable) E2 writing.
A consequence of this decision has been that many of the former writeups, primarily consisting of throwaway jokes, me-toos, opinionated executive summaries, and impossible to follow debates were deigned to disappear from the site into Node Heaven. In short, E2 decided it no longer wanted to resemble a forum - in the Internet or the social sense.
On a grander scale, E2 decided that it was still in the business of forgetting. Ephemera simply didn't have a seat at the table any more. It was relegated to the chatterbox where banter and personalities could emerge separate from the writing. This deliberate segregation of noder-as-author and noder-as-member was not exactly instantaneous, but it was abrupt enough to cause considerable consternation.
The addition of the Honor Roll compounded what panamaus deems as the "serious" E2, and since its inception, the quality of the average E2 writeups has risen dramatically, while the quantity has diminished just as dramatically (if not more so.) Simply put, it's been 7 years, and all of the cells that incorporated E2's body at its birth are dead. And yet it moves.
We have undergone so many makeovers, so many identity crises, so many "what E2 is" discussions, that to rehash them all would be personally ungratifying and logistically impossible (there's a 65,000 character limit on these things, you know.) But if I were to sum up the major "problem" with this website, in my eye, it would be this: false advertising.
In 2007, website domains are more often noted for their complete inscrutability - what is a "Google", a "Boing Boing", a "Digg"? - than their insightfulness. Domains that aren't complete gibberish are usually used instead as a direct form of sloganeering. And ours is a lie in every way. We acknowledge this in our FAQs ("what everything is not" sounds more like a koan than a point of order), in our aesthetics, in our power structure, in our core philosophy. And the lie is doubly compounded by the very nature of the "You are the Man of the Year" Internet that has sprung up around this website.
In the age of anything goes, a site called "everything2" has the highest standards.
I would, however, like to offer a light rebuttal to panamaus, or at the very least a counterpoint: one's contributions to this site do not have to be governed by merit, or reputation, or the bar. There are great writeups, there are good writeups, there are okay writeups, there are barely passable writeups, but they are writeups all. I could give you a few examples of writeups which barely pass muster, but I'm sure you've seen some for yourself. People who place pressure on themselves to write things on this site which will garner accolades and approval do so voluntarily. If I had one regret about the site, it would be the extent to which we do place value on these sorts of trappings. But they are nevertheless trappings most users choose to wear.
I look back on early E1 and E2 documents and marvel at how far we've come, how different the site is from its intentions, what a long strange trip it's been. I suspect in 7 years people will look back at this writeup and others like it with the same bemused detachment. But the honest truth is that we are a niche in the Internet, not the beginning and end of it. We have our community, and we know that not everyone will agree with our philosophy or fit in. That's our bed, and we have lain in it for quite some time. Because we're not looking for everybody, and we're not looking for everything.
We're looking for 10%.