Is DeviantArt a community…?


tardis_by_homemadezombieit’s flashback time! I originally posted this editorial on DeviantArt.Com, on November 21, 2006.

Deviant Art is NOT a community.

There has been a lot of talk recently, especially around the recent anniversary, of weather or not DA is a “community.” I’ve been on the Internet since it was still called Bitnet, NREN, and some other names I can no longer recall. The 1990’s were a very difficult period in my life, so with regards to the Internet and what it holds, I’m probably jaded and bitter. But in my opinion, the Internet doesn’t have communities. It never did.

My experience with online groups started out well enough, but it really went south during my “dark time.” I found that a very large proportion of the people on the Internet tended to lie and deceive at every turn. I also found many net denizens to be hopelessly immature, or just emotionally messed up. Sometimes both. Given my own emotional state at the time, constantly talking with such people was at best, a questionable practice, but I did it anyway. To my ultimate regret.

During my periodic fits of loneliness or boredom, I would go on-line looking for some human interaction. While I was able to conduct conversations with people, via newsgroups or chat rooms, I was never satisfied. After a while I found that I would log off feeling worse than when I logged on! When on-line, you think you’re socializing, when really you aren’t. The bait-switch nature of this online “socializing” felt very cruel. I was better off moping at home than getting on line. At least if I was moping around my apartment, I was being honest in my feelings.

Some people can still see a “community” in Internet-based groups. But for me, if I don’t know a person at least via telephone, then I don’t consider them a friend. A positive acquaintance, yes. A potential friend, certainly. But until I meet them in person, I won’t call them a real friend. It takes at least two friends to make a community, in my opinion, so if friends aren’t possible over the Internet, then neither are communities.

As for DA, for me, it’s simply an art gallery. It was never anything else. I look at the pictures, read the prose, post comments or critiques from time to time, and I’ve even put up a few items. But I don’t think of it as a community. I went into DA thinking “art gallery,” not community. The Internet is not where I go to socialize. It’s a commodity or an appliance that I use when I need something else.

The Internet somehow seems fake. I know that it’s supposed to bring people together, to exchange ideas and stuff. I remember when I first went online in 1992, the Internet (or NREN) was still an idealized forum for scholars and artisans. Within two years it became the loneliest, more alienating place on Earth. Instead of growing into utopian forum for ideas and creativity, it became an electronic version of east Las Vegas, where people would lie about who and what they are, and where various forms of deception were the norm instead of the rule. It was a virtual “red light” district, devoid of any real human interaction.

I guess I’m one of those who requires the “human touch.” I may well be in the minority in this regard. If you’re one of those people who can still enjoy the Internet as a social forum, and see Deviant Art and similar places as actual communities, then by all means, continue to enjoy it. But I’ve found the real, unplugged world, with all of it’s ugly flaws, to be far more satisfying.

The ultimate personal irony is the network handle I used when I started: Cyberbard. I’ve become about as un-Cyber as a man can get. If someone had told me in 1993 that Cyberbard would eventually turn into a borderline Luddite, I would have told them they were crazy.

Crazy is as crazy does.

I did receive some comments on this one, contesting my view. I will give credit to the creators of DeviantArt for trying to make it an online community. I think they did the best they could. I don’t think a true community is possible in an online environment, so try as they might, they were destined to fail. Sorry, guys. lives

By a twist of fate, and an interesting discovery, this web site received a midnight call from the governor and avoided deletion.

Here’s the thing. I have been using 1and1 as an email and web space provider for about five years. The web site I used to run had succumbed to what I call web rot, and the two blogs that were attached to it had been completely overrun with spam. It was going to take far too long to clean them out and make them usable again. So I decided that the time had come for me to close down the web site, and stop maintaining an address in “the cloud.”

The funny thing is, that was actually a difficult decision for me, because I have maintained some sort of web presence since late 1993. That was well before most people even knew what the web was. When personal web spaces became such a fad in the late 1990’s, I continued to maintain the one I had started with (albeit from different servers as my career moved about). And, I continued to maintain a site long after it became old news and many closed their sites down. So to leave the web behind was a bid saddening for me. But at the same time I was paying for a service that wasn’t being effectively used, and while the price was quite low, it was still an unnecessary expense and it would be pragmatic to let it go. Or so I thought.

The one part of my 1and1 package that I did use was the email. But, since I had free alternatives for that, it wasn’t enough to compel me to keep 1and1. So I set up a gmail account to be my primary email, and started to disconnect the cyberbard account that I had been using for five years. That’s when the problems started. Within two weeks of opening the gmail account, I found evidence of lost or misdirected messages, and a few hacking attempts. I immediately found out that reliability and security are recurring problems with gmail and many of the other free email services.

I had not fully closed my old email address yet, so when this news came to light I hastily re-visited the issue. Perhaps closing my 1and1 account wasn’t such a good idea after all! My email address through 1and1 never had any security problems that I know of, and it was a distinct enough name that messages weren’t likely to get lost or misdirected. In this day and age, it’s often necessary to have an email address for commercial and financial uses. For such applications, an email should be secure enough to evade hacking. A commercial service is far more likely to provide that instead of a free one. I looked back at the monthly cost of using 1and1 and ultimately decided that the low rate was an acceptable price for an email address that wasn’t likely to be hacked, hijacked, or messed up.

This in turn brought up the web site. My original plan was to simply euthanize the site. I had attempted to use the blogging features in the past, but the spam bots moved in like radioactive kudzu. I had not ruled out the possibility of using one of the free web services to make a clean start, with the hope of being able to keep the spam under control. However, since I had elected to retain 1and1 for their email services, that meant I would have a file sharing service as well.

So, I retained my domain name, purged all content down to the last bit, and started anew. Some of the information will be the same, but I suspect with time it will start looking very different. My old web site was very old school in design. It used static HTML files and a very antiquated design method; methods that were the norm when I first started web spinning back in the early to mid-1990’s. I was still using that same approach, and for a long time, I didn’t care about being out of date. But things have changed. I may have some professional opportunities related to web design in the future, so I figured it was high time to update by ancient skill set. I’m still getting the hang of WordPress, and I’ve been tinkering with some of the other major web tools when time permits. Instead of using a flat file structure, I’m using the cascading style templates provided by WordPress, and the internal site management features. Hopefully this time things will turn out better.

Cyberbard dot net is dead.

Long live Cyberbard dot net.