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.