Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

This morning, I received an email from a person whose opinion I respect informing me that my IRC channel #joiito was being used by people to promote pornography. I rushed over to IRC and interviewed the regulars. Yes, there were some lewd URL's posted. Yes, people were talking about sex. So what, they said.

Then one of the regulars quoted David Weinberger

David Weinberger
I don't see the Web as socratic. I see it as connective, and socratic dialogue is only one form of connecting, and a pretty paltry one at that. Yelling, joking, teasing, provoking, criticizing, grieving, and flirting are all forms of connecting. So is simultaneous masturbation (no, I don't mean blogging). What makes the Web utopian (in some sense) is that it's connective, not that it's polite, rational or even intelligent.
When I post to my blog, I think of all of the people who might read the post and try to write in a balanced way about things that I think are generally interesting. In IRC, I have a sense of the people in the room and chat as if I were among friends. I joke around, chat drunk and say rude things. I can imagine that someone joining some of the discussions without warning might find them offensive or strange as anyone joining any kind of intimate chat. We do talk about "important" issues, but it is peppered with lots of more personal comments and nuances. Since IRC is real time, it is also a lot easier to say riskier things since you get immediate feedback and are able to clarify your position before it escalates.

One of the most interesting topics for discussion and one the most culturally contextual topics that I know of is the topic of sex. I don't talk about it much, but some of my best friends love talking about sex and I don't have any problem with that. I have some problems with pornography, but pornography also drove the proliferation of VCR's and the Internet and we owe SOMETHING to the pornographers...

I'm now grappling with the issue of creating an open and chatty atmosphere on IRC and not restricting people's behavior very much, but still keeping it a comfortable place for people who don't enjoy talking about sex and are uncomfortable with pornography. I don't think pornography has any place on my channel and I officially ask people not to "promote" pornography. Having said that, in defense of "the regulars", it appears that a pornographic link was posted in the context of joking around and wasn't really "promoted." Also, as a rule, you probably shouldn't open a link you find in IRC that ends in .jpg without being prepared...

IRC's been around for a long time and it has its own colorful history and culture. My channel on IRC includes readers of my blog as well as IRC regulars who have drifted in. It's quite an interesting mix, but the tone is quite different from my blog and my wiki. I'm very interested in how it will evolve and would love people's thoughts on this. I still have not banned anyone from my channel and do not yet have any rules. Any pointers to good channel rules would also be appreciated.


I wrote up a rudimentary formula a few years ago when I was working in the porn industry about the time it takes for any randomly grouped chat gathering to descend into sex chat. It was part of a piece I did for an internal chat service study so it falls under NDA which means I can't post it unfortunately. The readers digest version is that it doesn't take very long and the more people that are participating in the chat the faster the transition. It's not terribly scientific but I spent about 150 hours in various chat locales doing the research and it was fairly consistent.

One other thing. Please take a new pic of me at Supernova for your faceroll. I look like a douchebag in the one you have up ;-)

I didn't mind seeing the porn chat; was a bit fazed when someone put the url of my blog and the word kiddyporn together though...

Now I don't think googling the transcripts of the channel is a good idea... :(

Honestly, I don't think it's a matter of enforcing a certain *socratic* governance mode or adopting a set of rules or anything like that.

It's much much simpler: would you allow me to come over to your place (I 'd be invited of course, none said anything about breaking into other people's homes) and show everyone else there the nude magazine I had with me? Would you be offended? Would you shout "don't you dare come to my place again , and you lazy sex maniacs get away from that dirty thing!"

And as far as I can remember from the last time I visited Japan, porn is everywhere and entirely accepted/allowed by society. I'm not sure I see where the problem is, as long as the people hanging around at your IRC channel know that they're there in order to discuss whatever brings them together and not just exhange URLs of great orgies.

I haven't yet dropped in, although I will sometime. Unfortunately, I don't know many good porn sites, but i've got some great pictures though:-)

Pete: Hmm...

JasonD: Whatever happen to the $50 bet that you'd lose weight? I paypal'ed it to you. ;-) Sure, I'll take another picture, or you can send me one.

George : actually, I think I'd probably be unhappy if people opened up a porn magazine during a party at my house, but probably won't mind if people beamed URL's to each other on their palm pilots. There is a fine line...

The bet's not up yet. The deadline is at Gnomedex. I've been busting my ass to hit it too.

JasonD : ahh. Well, that's probably the best time to take a pic if you haven't given up by then. ;-)

The only thing that's going to stop me is death in which case I think I should be uncaring.

Joi, if someone complains about something they saw on #joiito, it seems to be their own problem since you are not a server admin for any of the freenode servers as far as I know. The IRC channel in question is not comparable to your living room, it is a public space, a section of a commons.

A better example is if you and your friends or family are having a picnic in Yoyogi park and someone is sitting under a tree 2 meters away reading porn. Can you complain or control the situation besides asking the person to go elsewhere or going elsewhere yourself?

If however the conversation were taking place on you would have every right to install whatever language filters or rules for a public channel, or simply ask that people take the off topic/off color discussions to another channel. What weve done in the IRC community I'm involved with is to create a special channel specifically reserved for "inappropriate" or non politically correct behavior. The channel is set mode secret/topic protection/no outside messages/keyword so if you dont know it is there, you wont accidentally find it, keeps out the kiddies and lilly livered christians. Also allows the more rowdy to still maintain "membership" in the main channel while having an outlet for their impulses.

as usual, my commentary is worth exactly what I charged you to read it.

J- you're a dork :P

Joi: "I joke around, chat drunk and say rude things"

I need IRC if you are all kinds of chatting drunk now! :)

Hey Chey. 3 words. Pot. Kettle. Black.

i think moving the channel to a specific, separate, and well defined porno area is the best solution. it is offensive. period.

I got so annoyed when I read the last comment that I had to go away for a while to be able to write my own response.

Dff, it's too bad you were offended if/when you visited the IRC channel. I sincerely mean that. It's always unfortunate when one's experiences in life don't match up with one's expectations. It sucks.

It's also what it means to be alive, since expectations are oh-so-rarely fulfilled.

I have an excellent solution for you, though--and any others out there who might be feeling the same way: if the IRC's offensive to you, don't hang out there.

See? That wasn't so hard.

I'm having problems coming up with a suitable analogy, which isn't like me at all. I like some of the Joi's Living Room concept, but it's not wholly applicable. For one thing, if I opened up a porn mag at a party at Joi's, it's unlikely that everyone in the room would be able to see it. And Joi would actually be there, and he'd bring me another drink, saying, "Darling, let's save that for later, okay?" And that'd be fine with me--because, after all, he is my host.

Having said that, the public park analogy doesn't work, either. Some random guy looking at porn in a park doesn't reflect in any way on who Joi is. But the IRC carries his name, so it does reflect, in at least a small way, on him and his reputation (whatever that may currently be).

So, what to do? How does Joi keep people from stumbling unprepared into the IRC and being offended? How does Joi control a bunch of people he knows only virtually and are far too smart for their own good?

First, very little. Second, he can't. And third, he shouldn't have to try.

There is often "blue" language. However, the porn URLs were an anomaly, and--to the best of my recollection--carried caveats. I've spent a considerable (read: an embarrassing) amount of time there in the last few weeks, and it's not the norm.

There is witty banter, and flirting, and entendres of both the single and double variety. Thank god. Helps to keep the geek quotient from being totally overwhelming to those of us who are just wannabes.

Basically, what it comes down to for me is this: suck it up and deal. If someone in the room offends you, drop a little side message and tell them so. If you can't do that, just go away quietly. You shouldn't try to break other people's toys, just because you don't like them.

well why don't y'all pass a law?

what? you can dispute taste?

ummm....youve got drunk people here eh? cew well hi thenmates! heheahaha...*cough I mean, sup sober folk......heheheh

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