I found it interesting this past week the amount of publicity in the Apple community/blogosphere/Twitterverse that John Gruber’s stand against app store review prompts received. Gruber is one of a very select group of personalities that can bring an issue to the forefront of people’s minds simply by mentioning it on his site. Was anyone thinking about review prompts before Gruber brought the issue up? I know I’ve always thought they were annoying, but it never occurred to me they were a big enough issue to really focus on. However, Gruber decided they were an important issue and numerous other bloggers wrote response pieces and an entire dialogue was created out of sheer force of his will. That is tremendous power.
It makes me look around at this community and wonder if it’s a healthy place. The cliché is that it has become an “echo chamber” in which we all discuss the same issues and link to the same people and make the same comments. Yet, the reason that notion has become a cliché is I think it carries a lot of truth. There seems to be a comfort people have in following the crowd and getting outraged about the same things everyone else is getting outraged about. I sometimes see tweets from people and it almost seems like they are imitating how they think someone in the community should react to something, instead of actually thinking about the issue and having a genuine reaction.
But can we begin to move away from this “echo chamber”?
I think we need more voices in the community that are varied and nuanced and won’t simply be regurgitating the issues that more established figures in the community think are important. The problem is many are hesitant to write posts that go against the grain or that might offend one of their internet heroes. Of the ones that actually are brave enough to push the boundaries, they usually have no where near the audience as the big guns and no way to disseminate their views to the community as a whole. Thus, we are left with the same voices yelling back and forth, and while these voices are intelligent and astute, I think they may have become a bit stale over the years and too comfortable in their established talking points.
However, the ultimate solution to this problem might simply be time.
If you see the Apple community as a series of concentric circles, the established voices reside in the center, with the less popular voices slowly emanating out into the larger and larger circles. I’m currently at the circle farthest from the center. My circle is extremely large, but jammed with thousands of other bloggers and tweeters and podcasters, all trying to get a word in edge wise. We throw our voices out towards the center and hope people in the inner circles notice us, but usually we get lost in the shuffle. However, the voices in the inner circles boom out from the center and permeate to all the other larger circles.
Taking this metaphor further (maybe too far), I see those large, outer circles as exerting a tremendous amount of pressure on the inner circles. While individual voices have little power, the concentrated force of thousands of voices will eventually push into the inner circles. In time, those at the center will give into the pressure and be pushed down into the void. That’s how any community works, a slow, but constant rippling of the circles inwards. The voices of today replaced by the voices of tomorrow. Thus, right now we may feel like we are treading water with the same people and issues and viewpoints, but it will change, eventually.