Digital Community in the 1970s

When we talk about the beginnings of online community, we often discuss The WELL, which launched in 1985. It’s easy to forget that some people, like our guest on this episode, were building digital communities well before that.

Randy Farmer co-created Habitat, recognized as the first graphical virtual world. Over the last 30 years, he has helped companies like Lucasfilm, Electronic Arts, Linden Lab, Yahoo! and Answers.com to design better community products. On this episode, we discuss:

  • Randy’s online community building efforts in the 1970s
  • The importance of Habitat, and its recent revival
  • Yahoo!’s acquisition of Flickr and what went on behind the scenes

Big Quotes

“You get prepared, do the thing, and then you talk about the thing. This pattern has been the basis of my career in understanding how humans interact socially and how computers can facilitate it.” -@frandallfarmer

“I believe reputation systems have a key role to play in helping improve discourse between people. I don’t mean just cleaning it up and making it nice. I mean actually helping us have reasonable discussions that produce some output even if it ends up being multi-sided.” -@frandallfarmer

“One of the reasons I think Twitter specifically has so many problems is it had no single context. It has infinite contexts. It becomes difficult to even use the same words, the same way. People are broadcasting, acting as if they’re having conversations, they’re not really having conversations. They’re talking past each other.” -@frandallfarmer

“I don’t believe there’s a single truth. One of the things that’s interesting is that everytime someone talks about fake news, I can’t get a handle on what fake news actually is. I can’t tell it apart from some of the stuff I see in the mainstream which leaves out important details or tells only one side of some story. It’s like, well, is that fake news? What is news?” -@frandallfarmer

About Randy Farmer

Randy Farmer has built online social systems almost continuously since high school in the 1970s, ultimately working at companies such as Lucasfilm Games, 3DO, Electronic Arts and Yahoo! He co-founded several startups, where he helped pioneer foundational technologies including avatars, virtual currencies, the JSON protocol, web apps, newsfeeds, futures and promises, amongst many others.

Randy’s most recent was Suddenly Social, which made real-time multi-user mobile games, who’s server tech was ultimately open sourced as Elko II. He is co-author of “Building Web Reputation Systems” (O’Reilly Media). He presently calls himself a social media product strategy consultant, advising dozens of companies on how to design and operate social-powered applications, from websites to mobile apps to games. As a side project, Randy leads a ragtag team on the Neohabitat project, bringing back the first MMO/virtual world, Lucasfilm’s Habitat, after 30 years, as 100% open source.

Related Links

This is an incomplete list of related links from this episode. Once we have finished our transcript, this list will be updated.

Transcript

Your Thoughts

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