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It Ain't Easy Being Green:
(first unedited draft 5/99)
(first unedited draft 5/99)
Kermit the Frog, one of the most endearing Muppet characters to ever cross the TV screen, had a song he'd sing that always "got" me: the song of an outsider. "It ain't easy being green," he sang. But then he went on to recognize how important, majestic and wonderful being green could be. "Green is the color of the mountains... wide like the ocean, and tall like a tree." All green. And in the context of online groups, all about how we judge and value people as manifest through their behavior and style - the online equivalent of appearance.
Personal styles and archetypes in online posting play a role in the dynamics of online communities. Understanding archetypes may also help us better understand why we sometimes fail at communicating with each other. With this, we may then find ways to cut through archetypes to better know the frog beneath the color, and maybe, just maybe, understand each other a bit better.
There are a range of archetypes, each of which lies on its own continuum and which might be perceived as being very negative (destructive) to very positive (productive). Our perceptions of these archetypes is dependent on our views, the individual, and, I suspect, vary depending on the online environment and certainly may be perceived differently over time (cumulative effect).
The names of the archetypes I've encountered over a range of communities are usually perceived as negative. But I'd like to explore the full continuum; not just the negative, but also the positive. For ease of recognition, I'll start with some of the more recognized terms. Maybe we can come up with some different labels that respect the positive aspects of these archetypes as well. Then we can examine our responses to archetypes, recognizing archetypes within our own online styles, and the ramifications of responding to archetypes. In reality, I hope we respond to individuals, not archetypes, but this provides a framework from which we can then analyze and act at a human and personal level.
Here are a few of the archetypes. If you have observed others, please send me an email. We can incorporate them here (with full attribution, of course!!) The next step after "naming" is to build a better understanding of the attributes, especially the lesser recognized positive attributes of the archetypes. And finally, the end goal is to identify how online groups can, if they wish to, work to maximize the positive attributes of these archetypes and reduce their negative impacts upon the group.
Perhaps the most famous archetype in online communities, the Energy Creature is an individual who so irritates a community that they form up around it to try and counteract it's energy, but often get pulled into the vortex and become energy creatures themselves. At their worst, they can destroy a conversation or community. At their best, they are often caricatured mirrors of the community, helping us recognize our own potentially negative patterns. They can be catalysts for groups to break through to a deeper level of communication. Sometimes they can even wake up a sleeping group.
Rallying to "protect" a community from an Energy Creature evokes another archetype, the Defender.
Defenders sometimes defend an individual (sometimes to the point of being perceived as a slavish defencer) or groups. They are hypersensitive to even the suggestion of attack, perhaps because of previous experiences. They may also have highly developed intuitive skills which could be very productive for a community.
It only takes one line, repeated, inserted, insinuated, over time, to recognize a needler. They have a point to make and it appears again, and again, and again. Often in the form of a cynical "I told you so," Needlers know they are right and won't let you forget it. Their point may be insightful or irrelevant, but the value of the point is quickly lost on an audience who gets fatigued from the repetition. This is different from a spammer because the point is often "on point." But it can loose its power and context, regardless of the quality. In some cases, this may be from a visionary who is ahead of her/his time, who needles with the best interest of the group in mind. Other times it is from a person who will not budge from their stance.
Needlers can also keep us "honest" by not letting a group evade critical issues or behaviors.
Also known as the PC (politically correct) Police. Being nice at the expense of being honest or "real." Pollyannas drive some people so nuts they will leave a thread just to escape. PollyAnnas avoid conflict and withdraw before clarity is reached because they are averse to conflict.
The clowns are generally leavening for a community, helping balance tense situations and introduce ways for people to reveal more about themselves in a potentially less threatening manner. But clowns are often taken as negative stereotypes for two main reasons: interrupting "serious" threads or conversations, and for not knowing when to quit based on group norms (usually unspoken norms.)
Constantly introducing material that is either irrelevant to the thread or repetitious and irrelevant. A by product of not feeling "heard?"
"Black and White" Folks
These are the people who present with immutable positions. They appear to be initially unwilling to see points of view beyond their own. They push instead of probe. They are usually willing to take the blame for their style (ownership) but seem to shy away from the responsibility of the impact of their style. They engage only on their own terms, but may refuse to engage others who utilize the same tactics. Interaction often escalates and winning is the goal.
"Shades of Grey" Folks
Wishy washy, no clear convictions, shrink away from the tough issues. Won't fully engage or justify their positions.
We tend to thrust this archetype on others -- the expert, the guru -- and sometimes unconsciously create a different set of rules or norms for the elder. Not held accountable to the same scrutiny of the other members. Can dominate newbies by a few words, regardless of the value of the words of others around them.
Examining Our Own Archetypes
Responding to Archetypes