Monday, May 2, 2011

Practicum #6- Michael

In this post, I’d like to talk about the effect that the Knicks making the playoffs for the first time in seven years had on the virtual community sites I’ve been keeping track of throughout this practicum assignment. More specifically, I’d like to point out a trend I’ve noticed regarding what might have an impact on the frequency and tone with which the majority of Knicks fans post.

I’ve always personally felt that the message boards and various other areas of discussion among virtual community sites I’ve followed regarding pretty much any of my favorite sports team tend to become more active as there are more negative things to talk about regarding the team’s make-up/play. It just always seemed to me that whenever the Knicks of old (before there was anything concrete to cheer about like the playoffs) would go on a bit of a winning streak there would seem to be a lot less activity in the discussion sections. Then the minute things went back to being bad, every poster would come back out of the woodwork with their own analysis of what the team was doing wrong on the court and what needed to be done from an organizational standpoint in terms of fixing the roster in order to bring about a winning team. Everyone apparently knew the answers to all the teams problems, even though just a few games ago (during the hypothetical winning streak) there was apparently nothing negative to be said about the team. Now this theory, I thought, was all well and good, but didn’t mean much of anything without having an actual, concrete marker of success that lasted beyond a mere winning streak within the context of a losing season. Well this season, with the Knicks making the playoffs for the first time in seven years, I finally got that opportunity. I aimed to track all three of the virtual community sites (’s Knicks Message Forum, Facebook’s Knicks Fan Page, and to see just how many posts were made from the point in which the Knicks made the playoffs to the point in which they were eliminated from the playoffs. My results were pretty much the same for each site.

On each site, once the Knicks officially made the playoffs, there were more comments, topics, and overall discussion than there had been the entire season. On top of that, there was a flurry of new posters on each site (similar to when Carmelo was traded to the Knicks) mostly from those Knicks fans that had been waiting for them to make the playoffs to start getting involved as a fan, from fans of other teams that had already been eliminated and were rooting for/interested in the Knicks, and fans from other teams still in the playoffs that were rooting for the Knicks so that their teams had an easier route to the championship (being that the Knicks were the heavy underdog against the veteran Boston Celtics). Furthermore, all of the posts‘ tones were extremely positive. Even those that recognized the serious shortcomings of the team, they had to appreciate the fact that the team had come so far from where it had been over the past decade. These positive trends didn’t come as too much of a surprise, as I’ve mentioned in the past how hungry Knicks fans are for a winning team. However, I was a bit surprised by the amount of time with which these high amount of posts, new posters, and positive tones would last. But after the two regular season losses that closed the season for the Knicks, things started to die down a bit as I expected. People were still excited, but didn’t have much to talk about other than predictions for the series and what they hoped would happen. Things just seemed dead as everyone waited for the start of the series. Of course things picked up a bit once it got closer to the first game, but there was still barely any new topics created or discussion points brought up. It was just sheer anticipation. Then once the Knicks lost their first two games, the flood gates absolutely opened. Suddenly there was even more activity than before the playoffs had started, everyone had a different reason as to why things were going badly, and people began to complain that the team did not deserve to be in the playoffs and began to list all of the team’s problems both on and off the court, just like the days before we were able to make the playoffs.

I used to be much more active on the sites, but after spending years observing these trends, I’ve been steered into more of an observer’s role. When things go wrong, there’s non-stop negativity and everyone instantly needs their voices heard, but when things are OK it’s like there’s nothing to talk about. I think this stems from a number of things. Firstly, I think it’s human nature to linger on the negative and tacitly acknowledge the positive. Also, I think that in general there’s more to talk about in terms of what can improve than there is about what needs little to no improvement. The things that are going wrong jump out at us as deviating from our natural schema of how successful basketball should look. This leads me to my next point, which is that because of the Knicks’ rich history and because of the general mindset of New Yorkers, I believe fans expect to win and expect to be playing quality, successful basketball for the vast majority of the season and most certainly in the playoffs. Whether or not these are the correct reasons as to what causes these trends, clearly there are others who feel the same way:

It’s frustrating to see negativity run so rampant and gain so much attention and it’s a shame that there isn’t as much activity and positivity as there should be when we’re winning, but that simply seems to be the nature of the beast. In the end, its effect on the communities can be that of creating a massive amount of debates and sometimes creating conflict between specific posters, creating tons of threads that will need to be locked due to various violations of terms of service, and general negativity throughout the forums/comments section (leading to negativity, even in positive threads/discussions). But it is something that seems to be inherent in people and groups of discussions and not simply a result of the virtual communities sites themselves. Hopefully in the future we will get a heavy load of positive discussion points and we can see how community members handle their posting habits from there on out. Perhaps with more of a consistent winning culture in general, posters will find more aspects of positivity to talk about and we can get a steadily even stream of positive and negative sentiments throughout the grueling up-and-down season of the NBA.

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