About civilities.net

Liberties is the defiance of structures of governance; civilities is the compliance to them. Lots of people write about liberties; I write about civilities. Both work in balance. You need to understand one to appreciate the other.  [12/25/07]

Welcome to Civilities– and the latest “about” page (this is a long-overdue update of previous versions).

My name is Jon Garfunkel and I've been publishing my research, observations, and documentation on Civilities since January 2004. By “publish” I mean that I stand by the words written in articles, and I keep a higher standard for what is written here than what I would articulate in spoken conversations or in private emails or in public online forums. Comments are open to registered users, and reflect the views of their respective writers.

My focus is online communities and the media structures which define them. By “online communities” I look at news sites,a shared interest groups, communities of practice or circumstance, and corporate organizations (which is limited to my own employer, and thus I don't divulge very much on). It is my understanding that these are governed by the same “media structures”– the recognizable structures like an email list, discussion forums, websites, weblogs, as well as numerous constituent parameters. These structures are built with particular values in mind– whether or not the designers are conscious of that– and thus affect how people use them. This as much I learned from Larry Lessig's seminal book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, and, a few years before that, a chance occasion to sit in on a seminar led by Helen Nissenbaum, then the associate director of Princeton's Center for Human Values.

The end goal of this research is to design community software to engage its users to be more constructive. While there is great interest in “social media”– which has as its primary aim connecting people together– my interest here is in “constructive media,” wherein people come together to learn from each other and make decisions either independently or together. In more concrete terms, I am trying to help solve the still-present problems of scaleability, credibility, civility.

These are the types of activities I do here:

  • Observe & analyze how online communities work– or don't work.
  • Articulate models and norms of online communities.
  • Propose new ideas & projects.
  • Implement those ideas in code, particularly, the Drupal software.

I post about 2-3 times a week, taking breaks over the past two summer. I write at ungodly hours of the evening and on cold New England weekends.

This site is sometimes confused for a blog: it is self-published; it is regularly updated (except, as noted, during the off season); it's available via an RSS feed, such that an aggregator like Bloglines indexes it as a blog; I happen to do a lot of writing about blogs and bloggers in 2005; and I participate in posting on blogs and other discussion communities.

But I never wanted to be constrained by blog format, values, or ideology. From the start, I was appalled by the trumpic tower-of-babble of the layout; I then noted how the definition was too vague to be useful; and finally, I started realizing that many of the blog promoters were full of it, that there ideas tended to reflect wishful thinking and, given the weak design of blogs, they were most appropriate for supporting blog consultants than communities. I avoid the instant-reaction common in bloggers, tending instead to mull over information over time and produce more substanttve pieces. I'm also just trying to define something different for constructive media.

As for the name, I picked it out of the blue; it seemed like an underused term to be used at the time. The definition I picked out is the obsolete one from Webster's Unabridged 1913 Dictionary: “The state of society which the relations and duties of a citizen are recognized and obeyed; a state of civilization.” I applied to the .net top-level domain, postponing the question of whether it would ultimately be .com for commercial or .org for nonprofit. Recently I have overhauled the design and upgraded the software.

More about me.


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