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Responsible Drama

March 2nd, 2012 by andresmh

I would  like to argue that drama, used responsibly, can be a positive factor for building online communities.

In this paper boyd and colleagues describe it as the “skirmishes and their digital traces” that teens have online  While typically undesirable, I would argue that a little bit of drama goes a long way and it’s even necessary for building community.

Designers of online communities, especially those focused on young people, tend to avoid drama like the plague. For example, Club Penguin has an option called “Ultimate Safe Chat” where users are not allowed to freely type their messages to other users (which is the whole point of the site). Instead users are allowed to communicate only from “a set menu of greetings, questions and statements.”

While the fear of drama is probably rooted in the fear of bullying, I don’t think we see this aversion to drama only in online communities for kids. We also see it in social technologies “for business,” which often strive to keep things as “clean” and “professional” as possible.

The cost of these anti-drama efforts, I think, is that they reduce the conversations to emotionless and sterile interactions. Any successful and worthwhile social system with more than one person, at some point will experience conflict, tension, and yes, drama. Removing it completely, however, can reduce the motivation for participation (people often go back to follow up on the heated discussion they had) and, given the right moderation strategies, a community can come out stronger and more united after a drama episode.

Of course, without the appropriate moderation, drama can take over the discussions and create a hostile environment that can also kill a community, but like, everything, drama with moderation can be used for good.

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