Concerning ’groupthink’ concernes

A week ago co-founder of The Sixtyone, James Miao, wrote an open letter to the community, explaining what he considered to be 'groupthink' and why he sees that as a thread to T61. His epistle caused quite some upset, mainly because James confirmed that one of the important forces behind all kinds of social activity, the user known by the name KosmikRay, was banned because of violations of the Terms Of Service. The ban eventually resulted in the termination of the KosmikRay account.
The owners of The Sixtyone wanted to make sure that Listeners can make independent choices, something that they see endangered by what they call groupthink and mob mentality. James: "it drastically limits the voice of the community to specific subsets of power users, which is exactly why so much injustice pollutes today's record business."

He doesn't make it all clear what he considers to be mob mentality, although he mentions a phenomena invented by KosmikRay, called Upload Party - more about that later.

Mob mentality

Maybe what he meant was, that no group of members should become influential enough to dictate the success of a song or an artist. But I've never witnessed that kind of groupthink.

Of course there was this bunch of Second Life members who promoted T61 in their virtual world and promoted SL artists on The Sixtyone. They possibly succeeded one or two times in getting some of 'their' artists on the homepage, but you could hardly call that groupthink, or even worse, mob mentality. The SL'ers were supportive to some artists but were never able to push them or their songs into the top charts, or prevent others from reaching the billboard. The Listing part of the T61 community is too individual and too smart to let others determine their good taste, not even if the Second Lifers were really aiming at that, which I doubt.
And than there was KosmikRay. Ever so now and then he came up with some exciting event or campaign to add some fun to the fun and some glue between members. The greatest event he was able to organize, was the Mega Upload Party in remembrance of late blues singer, writer and guitarist Michael Paul Miller (1952 - 2008). KosmikRay got more then 61 artists to upload a new song within the time frame of only a few hours. It was as if Artists and Listeners attended a virtual music festival, where Listeners were bumping every song, instead of applauding for them.
The backside of this type of organized events was, that for a brief period of time attention became drawn away from what was normally going on at the browse pages, causing KosmikRay and his friends being accused of gaming the system on several occasions.

Adding Fun to the fun, playing games within the game

It's quite odd that the term 'gaming the system' is used to brand activities - that were organized with no other intention in mind, then to have some entertaining, social interaction with the community - as an act of violation. Especially when you take into account that the system is a game and that the participants only used the tools that were supplied by the system itself: wall comments, browse zero pages, tuneboxes, multibumps, first bumps, playlists and what not. It's not unlikely that the creators and owners saw these events as a thread to their own plans with The Sixtyone.
To take counter measures against mob mentality is defendable, not only from an owners' perspective, but also from a community's standpoint. Nobody wants to see some big music label spending sky high budgets just to viral advertise anything they like to the top of the game. But none of these things were going on. The Mega Upload Party, the campaign to raise a Temple Scene song to 1000 bumps before it hits the homepage and the First Bump Scramble were no examples of mob mentality. They were examples of games within the game. Nobody who joined these events realized that they did something wrong. Yet, within a few days, the freedom to comment on any wall you like, or send any Listener you like a tunebox was taken away, the account of a very active and highly respected member was terminated and one off the co-founders introduced the terms 'groupthink' and 'mob mentality', associated these with events of good intention, and declared them unwanted.

Game psychology

I believe the whole groupthink epistle was written to justify measures (the ban of KosmikRay and the block-by-default of the Listener walls and tuneboxes) against a certain way of using T61. There was definitely no mob mentality going on. When James writes: " the only way we can reliably shed light on good new music is when listeners make independent decisions", he might be right in itself, but the unbiased mind he wishes for every Listener is not endangered by groupthink.
As a matter of fact, it's not endangered at all, but it is surely influenced by the system. Elements like Leader boards, first bumps, max bumps, points, levels, revives, achievements, listener subscriptions, Sam and James being top 40 Listeners and Artists being featured on the official T61 blog, do have their effect on the ability to make independent decisions. This is just plain game psychology and there wouldn't be a game without it. The amount of influence is determined by the ability of the Listener to recognize and deal with this game psychology. It wouldn't surprise me if the top Listeners are all individuals who master these influences.

In other words, if you want te be good at the game* you have to learn to control yourself, which is not easy with all the great songs that you come across.

A small group of loud members

What happened last week with the ban of KosmikRay, the block-by-default of comment walls and the open letter by James, was rude, unnecessary and poorly explained. It gave way to anger and polarization, which was foreseeable and also dealt poorly with. The Listeners who dared to express their anger were described as being part of a small, loud group. As if the silence majority of members agreed with the measures taken. But it is more likely that the majority of members just wanted to have fun, hear good music and try to become better at the game. They don't want to be bothered by disputes between the owners and a small group of unsatisfied Listeners.
What constantly is being overlooked is, that the small group of members who vent their opinion, is a group of very active Artists and Listeners. People who promote and advocate The Sixtyone outside. People who try to get new Listeners on board, as well as new Artists. People who bring their membership to a higher level, by adding some A&R support to Artists (which was the case with - amongst others - KosmikRay, of whom a professional Artist said to me: "I recieved some good advice from KosmikRay - many actually.") People who take the music they discovered at T61 outside through blogs and podcasts. Their involvement with the site causes some of them to be critical.
Instead of diminishing those as just a loud group of complainers, you should listen to them and talk with them - not talk at them, or ignore them.

Evonity, June 30, 2008

* On a site note: Being critical is sometimes mistakenly being implied as being against Sam and James. Of course the founders of T61 need their fans to applaud for them. That gives them the energy and spirit to continue their work, but they also need their critics to stay sharp and far ahead of the competition.
* I happen to be one of their critics, not by choice, but by involvement. I don't think this will change. But to once and for all make it clear that in the end, I'm on their side, I hereby truthfully declare that:
  • I am grateful for The Sixtyone - the system is a work of art, in fact, it's the best thing I came across in the past thirteen years of surfing the high waves of information and interaction.

  • I acknowledge that T61 is the property of Sam Hsiung and James Miao and that they can do whatever they want with it.

  • I trust the owners to develop a site for the benefit of an independent music industry.

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