A week or so ago, I ran across one of my posts on a discussion forum. It had been copied and reposted in its entirety, along with my name and a link to the original post. The discussion was quite interesting, though sometimes critical of what I had written, and I thought that I would add my own comments in order to address some of the questions that had been posed. Unfortunately, the discussion group was closed to visitors, and I was informed, when I tried to join it, that it was not accepting new members. I can hardly overstate my frustration.
It was not that the group had chosen to pursue the discussion on their own site rather than mine. I know that many online writers consider this to be bad etiquette, but I think that there are perfectly valid reasons to begin a new discussion elsewhere rather than to pursue it entirely through a single source site. I myself have used my site to discuss other writing on the web, and I would say that this practise can only encourage the kind of open dissemination that is the greatest advantage of internet media.
Neither was it that the forum had copied my post in full that made me frustrated, because this also accords with what I believe the practise of the internet should be. I have not yet officially released the material on my site through a Creative Commons license, but this is entirely due to my own laziness. As long as my writing is attributed properly and is not being used to make a profit, I have no reservations at all about how people copy, share, and mix it. I firmly believe that this kind of openness is essential to promoting cultural creativity, whether through the internet or anywhere else.
No, what frustrated me was that the discussion was closed, that the conversation was posted publicly but restricted to its private members. To me, this kind of closedness is an affront to the nature of the internet. It takes a medium whose strength is in its capacity for openness and sharing, for dialogue and interaction, and makes it into the same kind of closed dialogue that could exist through any other medium.
I admit that there may be perfectly good reasons to keep a conversation private. I would even say that a good deal of what is posted publicly on the internet should probably remain private. However, to post publicly a closed conversation eliminates the very openness that make the internet function most effectively. It closes rather than opens dialogue. It arrests rather than mobilizes thinking. It paralyses rather than stimulates writing. It fails to encourage what I find most valuable in the internet: the open conversation.