What is it about Internet communities that is so appealing? Is it the sense of belonging or the chance to feel empowered in a world which increasingly makes us feel less in control of things? From the earliest days of The Well, through iterations such as AOL, MySpace and Digg to today’s monsters like Reddit and Facebook, we’re clearly fascinated by the idea of large groups of people interacting online.
But there seems to a cycle to it all, a sort of natural process of growth and decay. Of the communities we’ve mentioned only the last two continue to operate at their peak influence, the rest have suffered savage declines in population as the ravenous herd ate and then moved on to pastures new.
Now there’s a newcomer quietly building a reputation as a potential new mega community, one where polite conversation still dominates over pictures of LOL cats. Hubski, a two year old news community founded by research scientist Mark Katakowski and aided by Steve Clausnitzer and a small team of enthusiasts, aims to offer a real alternative to the typical low attention span fodder of the current web megasites.
Billed as ‘a thoughtful web’, the site is still tiny compared to Reddit, but it has a passionate, growing population which seem to take pride in avoiding the nastiness that large communities seem to encourage. I’ve been a member for a short while now, and so far the conversations I’ve had about various topics have been perfect examples of polite and reasonable discourse. Refreshing!
The key innovation that Hubski brings to the table is a sort of mix of Twitter and Reddit. Instead of joining communities, you follow people and/or topics (aka tags) to find content that you like. So new content is posted and found via tags and people rather than from general community feeds. This structure seems to minimize the problem of great posts being buried by LOL gifs all the time, because the best content doesn’t compete across the community or for example a subreddit, any more than a tweet competes against the whole twitter stream.
Of course this doesn’t mean that people won’t find a way to game the system, clearly as the site becomes more popular the stakes will rise, and the relentless march of marketeers will try their best to build massive follower entities and all the rest. But at this early stage, and with such a tiny audience (around 30,000 visitors a month), there’s little risk of that happening.
So is there room for a new discussion community on the web at this time? Absolutely. Will Hubski continue to grow exponentially as it has been doing to date? Well the signs seem positive, but in the very wise words of one of the founders…‘I don’t eat at just one restaurant, why would I visit just one online community? I think there is room for many online haunts, and Hubski is one of them’. Definitely one to watch.