Why social mudding works
Recently (for my version of 'recently'), R. Francis Smith wrote The Right Social Networking Model Is From 1989, in praise of social muds (and one in particular, DinoMUSH) as a model for social networking in general. As it happens I have a certain amount of experience with hanging out on DinoMUSH myself, and so I think that there are some specific reasons that it works so well as a social network, reasons that may make its virtues and approaches harder to apply to social networking in general.
(By 'a certain amount of experience' I mean that I have been hanging out on DinoMUSH and its predecessors for, well, not as long as R. Francis Smith, but almost as long as that.)
Thus, some of the reasons why DinoMUSH works:
- the DinoMUSH social group is in constant contact, as most of the
remaining population logs in quite often. I don't think that it
would work as well if most people only logged in relatively
infrequently; there would be too much catching up going on.
- because hanging out on DinoMUSH is seen as ongoing conversations,
people are tolerant of the the repetition that's necessary to
(re-)establish the context for people as they pop in. Much like
a real conversation, it's acceptable to have to repeat to the
latest arrival what's going on and the latest important news.
(Russ mentioned the MRD, which helps to reduce the annoyance of this; to a reasonable extent you can bring yourself up to speed without having to bother anyone else.)
- there are persistent out-of-conversation information sources,
some of them even on DinoMUSH itself. Complex updates often
get put there, and in the conversation people just point you
at them in order to pass on the information.
(Twitter's deliberate limitations encourage this sort of usage, but most everything else seems to want to be all inclusive.)
The final, slightly more cynical observation is that most of the users of any long-standing social environment are going to be exactly the users that the features of the environment click for. Thus, I am somewhat wary of generalizing that DinoMUSH's features are generally desirable; while I certainly like them, there may be more than one reason that social MUDding is a very small subset of online social networking.
When can you assume UTF-8 filenames?
Here is an interesting question: when is it safe to assume that all of the filenames on your Linux machine are encoded in UTF-8?
The simple answer: it's only safe to make this assumption when you (and your system) have lived entirely within a hermetically sealed UTF-8 only bubble, never coming in touch with filenames from outside that bubble. Now, this is a pretty big bubble and it is slowly expanding, given that basically all new Linux machines default to UTF-8, but it still a bubble, and there are still lots of things outside it.
(Thus, if you are writing general software the actual answer is 'never'.)
Unfortunately this is an easy mistake to make. If you live within the bubble and are sufficiently far from its edges that they are out of sight, you can be ignorant of its existence (and many people probably are). And even if you aren't exactly ignorant of its existence, you can still be overly optimistic about the size of the bubble.
(It's also possible that I'm being overly pessimistic about the size of the bubble. But I don't think that UTF-8 only systems are anywhere near as universal as people would like them to be, and I do think that they are fragile; there are lots of ways for 'bad' filenames to seep into the bubble, including various programs that make no attempt to guess filename encodings and transcode filenames into valid UTF-8 when they unpack archives.)
Or in short: if everything you see is UTF-8, it is easy to assume that everything in general is UTF-8.