Or why the new Classifieds made me see red on FPN!
I just wanted to offer a philosophical take on the Classified Kerfluffle over at Fountain Pen Network. Certainly I, along with everyone who has either raved or ranted about the new selling format, has (or ought to have) a deep and genuine appreciation for the (volunteer) work on the project and on FPN in general. Nevertheless, I do see that a lot of folks reacted pretty strongly to the new format. If I’m being honest, I must confess my own inner curmudgeon came out swinging.
My apologies for that; that’s why I sat down and tried to determine why I had the gut reaction I did. I thought I’d share, for my own sake, for the sake of letting our tireless (and often unthanked) mods know what was up, and maybe, if what I have to say isn’t pure rhetorical fluff (and as an academic, I always acknowledge that’s possibility) it may be good to think about moving forward.
I think part of the problem is that the new marketplace format has gone from feeling like a community thing, like a farmers market, to feeling more like an institution. In this day and age, I think we (consumers, users, customers, members) are too used to having ‘new and improved’ shoved down our throat, will we or nil we, only to find, that “new and improved’ may indeed be the former, but is almost never the latter. We are also surrounded by incomprehensibly and excessively complex systems for everything, from calling our local bank to reading our phone bill. And in too many venues, “new” too often means “even less comprehensible, and even less useful.”
As it was, for all its flaws, the old selling forum was not complex, it was not rigid. It was simple, and relied on integrity and community goodwill to work. And, by and large, from where most of the members sat, it did. It was more of a conversation, a series of exchanges and interactions, not between vague entities, but directly between people. I think that is something we don’t have enough of, and I for one, cherished that on FPN.
Now? This is no longer feels as personal, it is not a direct conversation. Sure, technically, it still is – the same exchanges, the same interactions. Pens, PayPal, etc. But this classified format acts as an entire structure, an edifice, a simulacra of a storefront between buyer and seller that did not exist before. It occupies, I think, the same mental space as customer service phone menus and fine print. On a purely psychological, symbolic level, it creates distance by inserting complexity. I think people tend to rebel against that.
I do get the drawbacks of the old system; I really do. And I get that, in the end, it is rarely (if ever) possible to make people behave voluntarily. However, the freeform nature of the old sales forum was something I, for one, really valued for that specific reason, and was actually proud of. The casual, personal, ‘I’m dealing with a real human being’ nature of it was a big part of the reason I’d prefer to go here than eBay. I suspect the same is true of a lot of those who are objecting.
Perhaps we are overreacting. Likely, it will still be more personal and ‘real’ than eBay ever will. But will it be the same conversation? Will it regain its intimacy? Will the sense of ‘community’ overcome the distance? We’ll see, and I’m not the one to prognosticate. My purpose here is merely to reflect on what changed for me and why. If that proves useful to others, well, I’ve done far more than I ought to have hoped for.