Felix Stalder on Wed, 5 Mar 2003 01:13:07 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> nettime 3000?

Right at the time when nettime reached the arbitrary yet symbolic number
of 3000 subscribers, the number of error messages flooding the nettime
system reached such proportions (several hundreds a day) that we were
finally forced to go through the boring process of unsubscribing those
addresses that were clearly broken. Within days, nettime got purged of 10%
of its subscribers.

All in all, this was an utterly unspectacular process, spring cleaning if
you will, but makes me wonder, nevertheless, what kind of community is
this in which 10% of the 'members' are dead, so to speak.

So, what kind of community is it? Clearly, it's no longer the hybrid
structured by the two intersecting vectors of online exchanges and
off-line events, back-packing on the European media festival circuit.
These ain't the 90s anymore. Rather, the last time (as far as I know) a
significant number of 'nettimers' were physically in the same place -- at
the WOS II in late 2001 in Berlin -- was a non-event. Just a bunch of
people happening to be together drinking beer in clubs where one could not
communicate with anyone who was more than 1 meter away. There was no sense
of being a group, rather communication unfolded as a series of friendly,
or disinterested, individual encounters. Physically, there was no
many-to-many communication, just one-to-one.

At the same time, nettime in terms of its online exchanges is doing quite
well. It's a stable, reliable, perhaps a bit predictable (the flip side of
reliable), long-term project. I personally don't know of another list that
is comparable in terms of breadth and quality of content.

It seems that, as a community, nettime has been moving in the opposite
direction of what is usually understood as the normal 'maturing' process
of a virtual community, namely, that on-line exchange sooner or later
create the desire for off-line meetings. For nettime, off-line events --
meetings, paper publications -- were crucially important initially but
steadily declined to the point that when the last nettime publication
appeared (as part of Vuk Cosic's Biennale catalogue) only a fraction of
list subscribers (perhaps not even all of those whose texts were
reprinted) even noticed.

A lot of this has to do with the subscriber base becoming more diverse
(geographically, socially, intellectually), the early enthusiasm wearing
off and the distributed, non-ownership, volunteer model showing its
conservative tendencies. This needs to be qualified. Ownership here is not
understood in these sense of being the property of someone, but in the
sense of 'taking ownership' and assuming responsibility.

Who is responsible for nettime? Of course, there are some
responsibilities.  If the email server goes down, the phone at The Thing
will ring. If something on the web server needs to be changed, the action
is in Amsterdam. And the moderation does daily maintenance work.

But responsible in the sense of being able to make decision beyond minor
tinkering is no-one. So, things stay the same as far as the technical is
concerned. Nevertheless, socially, things have changed quite a bit, the
community has become more virtual in all senses.

Perhaps, this has to do with the relative maturing of other networks, say
social forums, art festivals or conferences, which are more efficient at
providing real meeting places for more narrowly defined (but more
populous)  groups whose sense of community is more comprehensive. In a
way, nettime has always defined itself negatively. Being sponsored by art
institutions, but not being an art project itself. Having lots of
intellectuals on board, but being non-academic. Having a strong political
slant, but not being affiliated with any particular segment of the

In a time where institutions enjoy a new found respect, nettime, once
again, goes against the trend, becoming more virtual, more distributed,
more ephemeral. This process is not explicit, but it's clearly felt, as
could be witnessed by the last major discussion on the list which, by no
means a co-incidence, was about the institutionalization of another once
hybrid project: rhizome. A discussion that, from the outside was supremely
absurd -- after all, how important is a $5 membership fee, really -- but
from the inside, it seemed to touch a strange cord, one that indicates
that nettime still has a 'sense of self', which, not surprisingly, is
still defined negatively.


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