Ruminations on OUM and Critical Mass
(Or, Thoughts Nobody Asked For)
Initially I was surprised when Eric said that the OUM site is only being regularly visited by about 200 people (re: his video on OUM about the updates). His mother's dental site, apparently, gets more visitors and the numbers make OUM less of a priority.
So, maybe we all need to go out and promote OUM, recruiting our friends, family and strangers we encounter on other sites and forums across the WWW. But would that actually improve OUM? Or would an influx of players actually be to the detrmiment of the game and the community?
I've come to believe that OUM, at least as it is currently structured, may well have a critical membership mass both in terms of game play and effacy of community.
The game component seems to suffer on a number of levels when participation increases. Firstly, there may be a finite number of workable responses to any given game starter. Even in games where there are fewer than 100 reponses we ALWAYS see some redundancy in theme (if not outright duplication). Secondly, this redundancy, in tandem with the sheer volume of posts, appears to lead to voting fatigue. I know that the time commitment to vote and comment on posts in all games saps my enthusiasm some days. And lastly, more players results in less individual recognition (I.e - the odds of winning are reduced). I believe this last point is what has led some players to seek any advantage they can via manipulation of the game (read: cheating).
These overpopulation factors all collude in a manner that erodes the community aspect of OUM (which is a lovely seque to my next thought on critical mass as it pertains to the social aspects of the site).
As humans we have a limit to the number of people we can realistically let into our world - people we can acknowledge by name, remember things about, interact with. Look at life in a big city versus a small village. Walk down the main street of a small town and you'll get a friendly hello from everyone you meet. In a large urban center you'll be lucky to make eye contact with a stranger let alone receive any verbal acknowledgment of your existence (and if you do it's probably going to be from a urine soaked hobo claimng to be Jesus).
I've heard this theory mentioned a few times (including in a great doc called 'The Human Animal' by social anthropologist/ethologist Desmond Morris). I bet it applies equally to social media. OUM's appeal for many of us is largely about the community. It brings together a special breed of creative, funny, warm and intelligent. Many of us have chosen to turn these online relationships into close virtual, and even real world, friendships (in a few cases even superceding friendship... *wink, wink - nudge, nudge*). It is possible that there is an inverse relationship at work regarding site population versus sustainibility of this personal atmosphere.
When you consider OUM history the theory appears to hold water. The original OUMers felt a big change when the CBSers came en masse back in February 2011 and it led to a fair amount of friction and a lot of "it just ain't the same". The numbers have clearly dwindled considerably from that time. Then, an ennui set in last autumn and it seemed to carry on into this winter. I don't know the statistics, but based on hearsay I suspect usage stats dipped dramatically in that time period. While those who left blamed the cheating, other commitments and interpersonal conflict - I suspect critical mass was at the root.
I'd often wondered why Eric hasn't chosen to make efforts to grow OUM into a mega community and monetize the hell out of it. I think maybe I understand that now. Perhaps he is altruistic and OUM is his gift to the world. Perhaps he is just a realist and OUM serves as both a social media testing ground and as resume fodder. I'm going to guess it's a little of both.
Either way I love the site and the people. The new changes seem to be great adds (especially tagging, IMO) and I hope the community continues to flourish with or without new membership. Hopefully you don't mind these contemplations on your site, Eric. I just find this sort of thing fascinating. :-) — tagged Eric F.