I think my working motivations, when it comes to programming (or, more specifically, web application programming), are slightly odd. At least, they’re not what you usually see. When it comes to these things, I find myself most interested not in the money coming from the business of running a successful web application, nor in the possible fame within some communities from running such… I think, in a large part, it comes from the chance to possibly watch a community of users evolve around it. I’ve been involved in several such communities over the years (various forums, wikis, chat channels, and web applications), and the community dynamics have always intrigued me.

Since I’ve dug further into programming, I’ve come across multiple instances where I’ve thought a small tweak one way or another in some part of a specific technical implementation should be able to tweak the entire community dynamic that’s formed in a specific way. To put it another way, I think that often tiny changes in the code (both programming and design) behind a tool can visibly affect the way that people interact using that tool.

Let’s take an example. Say we come across a tiny ancient civilization living among the rainforests. Let’s say we’ve decided to give them a single tool, and then leave them be, while studying them from a distance. Let’s give them… a small shovel. We watch as they reproduce this shovel and distribute it among their community, and possession comes to be seen as a status indicator of sorts, communicating one’s grasp of wealth and community respect. The more worn your shovel, the more you can be seen to have used it, and the more respected you are as having contributed to the community.

Now suppose we change the initial situation a little—instead of a plain shovel, let us sharpen the edges a little. A minor change, yes? And yet suddenly, one of the villagers discovers you can cut yourself with the shovel—perhaps even others! Not this time do we see possession of the shovel become a symbol of respect and contribution, now it symbolizes a vindictive desire to cause pain, and it garners power through fear. You don’t mess with the guy with a shovel. All this, from a physically minute design decision!

What would be different if we showed this closed community a mallet? What about a wheel? These considerations map just as well to modern communities, internet communities, as they do to this hypothetical backwater village. This fact and it’s implications interest me greatly.


I’m obviously not the first person to consider this stuff. Possibly the first time I considered any of this, was when I came across this article on similar topics. It discusses a piece of software called “Shiichan” (and software similar to it), which may be used to power sites like (“Futaba Channel”),,, and other ”imageboards”. Other similar pieces of software include futaba (the original), Futallaby, and Wakaba — there’s even an imageboard dedicated to discussing the culture of imageboards!

Anyway, that was a bit off topic. Imageboards really aren’t my point here—they’ve simply had a lot of time and practice perfecting one approach to an online community. Their reputation around the internet is very different from the reputation of normal forums, simply because they made one little decision—they allow fully anonymous posting by anybody. This simply proves and cements my point from above, that the smallest of technical choices can cause quite major changes in the community congregates around the system in which those choices were made.