The precursor to Facebook groups 450 years ago worked much better

ridotto was pretty much like a Facebook group.   It gathered like minded people around a topic.   It was private, like a club.   Any of you who have visited Florence might have seen the plaque commemorating the Camerata, a ridotto which met at the house of Giovanni Bardi di Vernio.   They argued and talked, and gossiped and had flame wars.   I assume pretty much like people do in forums or Facebook groups.   They repeated themselves, they clashed, some member came and some left.   But in the twenty years that this group met at this house, they did something much more important:

They made the first ever opera.

Because – unlike most Facebook groups – the ridotto channeled the energies of its members around a theme.   They were concerned with the nature of musical expression.  Vincenzo Galilei (father to the famous Galileo), based on the conversations in this house, made scathing public attacks on the madrigal, the “pointless pop song” of the time.  But they didn’t just post pictures on their common timeline.   They didn’t stop at making fun of the ridiculous repetitiveness of madrigal technique.   They developed and refined specific theories to explain why the artificiality of the madrigal was useless for human expression.   They didn’t just make a facebook fan page for Girolamo Mei, the scholar who was their guru, they developed his ideas further:   one singer, simple accompaniment, clear wording, natural declamation, no dance rhythms on the words, music to express the emotions of the singer.

The Florentine Camerata staged “Daphne” by  Rinuccini and Peri in 1598.  Other members of the ridotto and Monteverdi soon followed. The world has had opera ever since, the musical genre which has survived without interruption ever since.   That in itself is quite a success in a world which has been shaken by everything from the Renaissance, to the Industrial Revolution since.

Now get back to your Facebook tab.   Yes, I know you have it open!   Check out the content, especially in pages or groups organised around a particular topic.   Do you think there is ever a chance they will produce anything close to a new musical genre?  If it happens, it won’t be with any help from the technology.  The members argue about the same topic at regular intervals, yet there is no way to organise the arguments like at .    People nitpick about the exact meaning of specialized terms yet there is no specialised dictionary being built.   Heck, you can’t even easily find an old discussion!   But most of all, you have no sense of actually building on something.   It is unsatisfying, confusing and ultimately a waste of time.

This is ridiculous given the technology at hand.   Most Facebook groups are built around a cause.   It would be quite easy to almost automatically make some of the content in a good online spat, end up available online for the public.   To intelligently build around a mission statement.   To make members feel they are actually achieving something.   So, since Facebook is so obviously intent on staying in the “timewasting” part of the market, I ask of everyone else to make the plug in technologies to get the job done.   An app to get content out of Facebook and into a blog maybe.   Another to find unusual terms or specialised words and compile them into a dictionary for new members (or the public).   Just scroll down the timeline of a Facebook group you are a member of and loads of other great ideas will come.

In fact I think I will setup a ridotto for people that want to work on this idea.

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1 comment

  1. Email from Paul about this article, think it is worthy of bein public!

    “Using the power of a community to create something worthwhile is difficult. Sales force Chatter is a case in point: a social media tool for communicating within an organisation or company, it fails to build a body of corporate knowledge and remains as transitory as that swell of noise one hears at a pub: you overhear a snippet that intrigues, but the gist of the conversation is drowned out by your neighbour’s crunchy nuts. Crowdsourcing is the ultimate aim of things like LinkedIn questions, but you are quite dependent on the quality of response given by people who, it seems, do nothing else with their day than respond to the angst of others. What you are describing, perhaps Alex, is more along the lines of an ‘open’ software project than the edited noise of a Wikipedia – something useful, with defined goals, and clever people seconded by interested organisations. On a personal level I am intrigued by the news that Connotate and CrowdSource will be working together to provide competitive intelligence. I wonder if the result will be musical, or as dischordant as the rattle of glasses at the Rose and Crown?”

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