RockSquawk. Oh, what a wasteland.
Go ahead, survey the landscape. Endless forums, nearly each one abandoned. The time between posts is as frightening as a town with no people. A visitor is left to wonder– “what on earth happened here?” The few who remain are a hardscrabble lot. They make an occasional post, which not surprisingly, all seem to be inside jokes. For kicks, one will comically “squat” in a vacant subforum to see if they can get away with it. They do.
Our own little Detroit. Call it the “Blight of Albuquerque Music.”
“Wait, wait, wait– what the hell is RockSquawk?” Ahh, good question. Rocksquawk is an Albuquerque band cemetary.
Actually, RockSquawk is a forum for Albuquerque music that is hosted by the Alibi. I don’t know exact dates or names– nor am I a reporter– so I’m going from memory on some of this stuff. It was started up by Dandee Fleming and Jim Phillips (both members of Lousy Robot) in early, early 2003, maybe even 2002. Over the next several years or so it grew modestly and then they sold it off to the Alibi. Again, not sure on the date but it could be in the 2005-2007 range. I don’t know if it had peaked before or after the sale– and I’m not implying that it was the Alibi’s fault– but they were definitely left holding the bag. The space is just dead.
The question is, “why is it dead?” or, if you’re feeling spunky, “Who killed it?”
Here are the “suspects”:
This is an easy answer just because of the timing, though RockSquawk’s rise comes with Friendster and MySpace but the decline falls more or less in line with Facebook. Did people leave for SNSs? Maybe, but only because an internet forum is different than a personal or even band SNS page. A forum is based around threads— one topic is addressed and many different registered users respond. The forum format, and RockSquawk, isn’t designed to do what bands want to be done, namely, promote their band. Forums provide much more equal footing between fan and band.
People love to say that, “nothing ever happens in Albuquerque…. I’m moving to _______” and then insert hip city of the time period: Chicago, New York, Portland, Austin. Much less happens here, sure, but there’s always something going on. This is the kind of town in which you have to make your own party but nothing is ever stopping you.
Concerning RockSquawk, its true, some notable bands were so hip (or thought they were) that they refused to join. Others knew from the start that it wasn’t for them. Writing about music isn’t easy. For musicians who grew up in times before you had to have a “web presence,” a forum or even a webpage was incredibly foreign and unnecessary.
Yet in 2011, if you’re a new band, its pretty obvious that you do NOT get a forum on RockSquawk. Why? Well, its like arriving at a party and the only people there are 7 or so scraggly looking dudes (and one token woman) and they are either:
a) really, really, REALLY happy to see you, or…
b) sizing you up to see if you’re tough enough to hang
In both cases, you’re searching for the door.
And both are probably true. Users of RockSquawk want it to be a lively place but they also don’t know how to deal with strangers. It can be so provincial on RockSquawk that its not hard for a newcomer to feel out of the loop and even belittled really quick.
After acquiring RockSquawk, maybe the Alibi didn’t put any resources, time, or people into it? It’s hard to say. The forums are clearly prominent enough on their website. Maybe it is geared towards musicians and not enough towards fans of music? One thing is certain, they didn’t change anything because RockSquawk looks almost identical to what it was like in the first years of its existence. It hasn’t evolved in any way. Maybe this goes back to the apathy thing.
I’d hate anyone to blame the Alibi, really, though they can be part of the solution…. (see below).
Its possible, don’t rule it out. The Tea-Party isn’t.
All of the above (minus terrorists…) are probably partly true but here’s the real answer, if you’re asking me….
What happened online in RockSquawk’s “virtual” world didn’t match what was going on in the venues, practice spaces, and recording studios.
A band that could consistently draw 100 people to their show (and that’s a lot out here….) would have no one on their forum. No one, zilch. Meanwhile, nonstop chatter would take place in a band forum with no draw to speak of.
If you took a snapshot to see which bands had a forum, it didn’t reflect reality either. “Dead” bands kept their forums up while “alive” bands with a decent future had no forum at all. I could start up a band called “The Mud Buttlers,” get a subforum and post away with several different user names making myself a little world. It looks like something is going on. No band, one real person talking nonsense.
As crazy as it sounds, people did this! Many users had multiple accounts in order to spice things up and some even argued with themselves in an attempt to prove they were two different people. Who was who was a mystery except for the big time insiders. One time I actually had a fairly heated exchange with someone on RockSquawk and it turns out it was one of my bandmates using a fake account. He was just screwing with me. “Oh, its just people having fun, relax.” Well, its also one of the reasons why the place is now a wasteland.
In short, RockSquawk lacked sincerity. Forums work when people are authentically involved and what happens online matches what happens in reality.
Meanwhile, real bands were playing real shows to real audiences. They just weren’t on Rocksquawk.
So what is do be done? “Nothing! Who cares? Its just some silly virtual space.”
I argue it does matter. Blight is real, even if its on a virtual space. It says something about Albuquerque music in the same way that burned out buildings say something about Detroit. Abandoned spaces say, “nothing is happening, nobody cares, there is nothing of worth here.” It looks worse than no space at all. Vacant and boarded up spaces makes people think “stay out, get away as fast as possible.” Rocksquawk is a ghost town and it looks TERRIBLE right now. Its embarrassing. They need to tear it down and slowly rebuild.
We need a renewal effort.
It would help if RockSquawk had a “mayor.” While there are some figurehead mayors such as super-users “black,” “foodstamps,” and “RacerX,” the Alibi owns the place. Maybe they already have a plan but I doubt it. Like “abandonware,” they’re probably going to just let it die off and not develop it any more. It probably costs little or nothing to host, after all it has no traffic, and the infrastructure is already up.
But it does cost something– the emptiness of the place hurts Albuquerque music.
My friends at the Q-Staff Theater always talk about the importance of controlling your performance space. If you set up a room and if it holds 100 people and 10 come to the show, it feels dead. However, if you set up the same place for 10— where ten is “sold out”— you have a wonderful show. Empty space eats up energy. Apparently in virtual spaces, empty space eats up energy too. The only differences is that online, the space is not physical but the time/space between participation points, the time between posts.
I propose that RockSquawk dramatically shrink. There are currently a staggering 90 subforums! Nearly all of them are abandoned. Go down to three: “General Chatter,” “Musicians Wanted,” and “Gear Swap.” These are the only three with any consistent activity anyway. Interestingly, they are the ones that match reality the best. Musicians need to find each other, gear needs to be traded, and people need to talk about music.
So what becomes of all the posts that are part of the other 87 more or less dead forums? Give the subforum moderators (if they still exist) 30 days to take the data and then delete it all. There’s a record of all this stuff on the Wayback Machine if you really want to see what happened. The truth of the matter is there’s almost no content worth saving. Looking at people’s old posts, it saddens me– lots of hopes and dreams and then nothing. The silence of long gaps in time is truly a sad note.
Yes, Rocksquawk is our Detroit and I recommend that The Alibi do what they did with Detroit— renew it through shrinkage!
[Tell me what you think. Especially you, "Alibi" as you're the only ones who can do something about it.]