In fact, sometimes it’s just a mob. And mobs can be very ugly.
danah boyd’s keynote yesterday at Web 2.0 Expo was a prime example of a mob mentality. Behind each of the speakers ran a live Twitterstream, which pulled everything tagged #w2e. In boyd’s case (she was the last speaker) the audience used it to at first criticize and then make fun of her delivery. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see the stream in order to use some of the feedback productively. All she heard was the laughter of the audience (read her perspective on it here). It was an extremely uncomfortable experience, and, frankly, it really pissed me off.
Those of us in this space are always talking about the importance of transparency and unvarnished feedback, and the wisdom of crowds. What the audience did at Web 2.0 yesterday technically fit into those boxes. Hey – she wasn’t doing a great job, they were having their say! – but it was also mean and rude. Getting on stage in front of a room full of strangers is a high-pressure experience, no matter how much you love the rush. Having that audience start inexplicably laughing at you? That’s the stuff of nightmares.
I’m not going to say that boyd’s talk was fantastic. It was too fast, it was dense, and she did read from her notes. But even still, the crowd knew that what they were doing was wrong – they knew they were a mob; every time anyone posted a tweet calling out those who were mocking Boyd, the room seemed shamed, quieting significantly (full disclosure: I sent a few myself).
So, in closing: the “old” rules of human decency still apply in this new space. If you tweeted something during danah boyd’s keynote you thought would generate a chuckle, you’re a coward. If you truly wanted to improve the experience, you should have had the courage to stand up, raise your hand, and ask her to slow down a bit.