Soup Bowl for a Square Peg Part III – Audience

In yesterday’s post I referenced an e-mail sent from HOTSOUP! Editor-in-Chief and former Associated Press political reporter Ron Fournier. There was one more very noteworthy passage from the e-mail, which follows:

Your voice is already being heard…
Fox News began its interview Monday with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, with a screen shot of HOTSOUP.com, and asked him the question you’ve been answering in the Soup: “What is the biggest issue being ignored by the mainstream media and our leaders?” Cornyn pointed to the importance of the judiciary. The host followed up by citing some of your opinions – health care, education, poverty – and asked the senator whether those issues “are moving the meter” on Capitol Hill. Congratulations!

This community is only a few days old and you’re already MOVING THE METER!

HOTSOUP!, again, was founded and is run by

  • Four Democratic political consultants who are partners in one of Washington, D.C.’s largest consulting firms and were key advisers to the last two Democratic presidential nominees
  • Two Republican political consultants who were key to the advertising and message development strategy for George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns
  • A former Associated Press political reporter – Fournier – who covered all of the above campaigns

And yet, the above referenced e-mail gives the impression that it is the dynamism and excitement of the HOTSOUP! community – rather than the political and press connections of its founders and proprietors – that landed a screenshot of HOTSOUP! on Fox News and had the newscaster asking HOTSOUP!’s questions to a sitting United States senator.

This is, to say the least, deeply dishonest. But it’s also a useful window into what kind of “community” of “Opinion Drivers” HOTSOUP! strives to be. In short, it’s classic vaporware – a lot of hullaballoo over something that is simply not what it claims to be. In point of fact, there is no community per se at HOTSOUP! – or at least no evidence of a community.

One of the few observable interactions of the site thus far is that a member – who, as I discussed yesterday, fits exactly with the ideological aims and goals of the proprietors of the site – has been granted the opportunity to participate on equal footing with other, proprietor-selected “Opinion Drivers”: Applebee’s International Chairman Lloyd Hill; Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes; American Idol Judge Randy Jackson; and Civic Enterprises President John Bridgeland (who are not even ostensible members of the community). It is, as I proposed, blogging and social software as sharecropping: please the owners with your work and you get your reward – otherwise, there is not much of value offered by this community.

It also is derived from a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic nature of online communities and user-generated content in communal or networked settings. Users join communities for two basic reasons:

  • Shared interests – to read others’ ideas and opinions and contribute their own; a desire to make new friends and allies
  • Presence of pre-existing friends in the community

HOTSOUP!, by casting itself as a place for

  • people who are different from each other
  • people whose friends ask them about stuff (but not their friends)

is actually intentionally isolating itself from the basic principles of online community.
Additionally, the “reward” for being a successful (whatever that might mean, though correct-thinking seems to be the metric in use) member of the community is the opportunity to interact with and on the same level as people who are even more different from them: celebrities.

At a very basic level, this might make a kind of sense: after all, people love celebrities, and celebrity culture is perhaps the most prevalent form of contemporary American culture. But while people love celebrities, very few actually flatter or delude themselves that they could actually be friends with celebrities, even if they harbor dreams of being a celebrity themselves. Mostly, people like spending time with and talking to people who are like them: people that they know – their friends.

Tomorrow and/or Friday: credibility, identity and language.

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One Response to Soup Bowl for a Square Peg Part III – Audience

  1. Ian Broverman says:

    I wouldn’t say that I fit exactly with the idealogical aims of the proprietors. When I went to record my video at HOTSOUP, they had me talk about three topics. One of them was about the November elections. My speech for that question was a five minute rant about the dangers of microtargeting, which was Matt Dowd’s baby in the last Bush election. I wasn’t mean about it, but I definitely didn’t agree with something the editors felt so strongly about, they devoted the first chapter of their book to it. (It’s much tougher to be mean about someone’s work after you meet that person) Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll air this piece. I don’t think they’re censoring it; there’s just not enough time before the election to run it.

    You’re right about there being little to no community on HOTSOUP. The interface isn’t set up for people to join cohesive groups, or follow each other’s threads. I keep e-mailing them about this, and they say they’re working on it. I don’t think the editors are too happy with the interface either. Judging by their book, I think they really wanted to be a big, community-building force, and they have to be aware that they’re not there yet. There’s some hope for it happening, though – there is a common interest amongst HOTSOUP users. They are looking for a place where they can have civil debates with the different people. It’s the ‘civil debates’ that are the unifying part. It will be interesting to see what HOTSOPUP can do (if they choose to do anything) to avoid internet trolls.

    Oh, and I don’t consider being put on equal footing with Karen Hughes and Randy Jackson as a reward. In fact, one of them might’ve been thrown in as a punishment.

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