Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dark Ages of Third Wave

Once upon a time, forums were the means for open debate.

A buddy and I were discussing the coffee community the other day and how, if this is truly the "Third Wave" of coffee then we're certainly in that wave's Dark Ages.

Perhaps it's been a reflection of our nation's psyche but within this community, what was once open discourse has now turned to self-gratification and a growing sense of close mindedness. From around the time that I entered the community (about 2003) until 2007 there was a strong sense of community and discussion. Forums existed on the internet where coffee people could banter back and forth on different theories and really get into the mix.

All of this started changing around 2007-2008 when those who had once been simply the newbies to the industry started making their bones. A new leadership within the industry emerged under the flag of change and transparency, wrestling control away from the cronyism of the old guard. As time would bear out, this "new guard" would only differ in that they waved the flag of transparency and change. However, very little would actually change and much of that opacity would remain the same.

At the same time, the forums of old started losing their cache when the administrators showed their draconian ways and censoring the open discussion that was central to the community.

It's been all downhill from there.

Today, the "Third Wave" exists in a sense of darkness. Where there was once a community that discussed the issues and challenged each other, we now have a community that's comprised mainly of self-congratulatory posts and emanations through individual blogs or twitter tweets.

As a new generation of coffee professionals enter our ranks, they're left with people held to "God-like" stature - people who've developed an aura that they should never be questioned because they're, essentially, Gods of Coffee. There no longer exists that forum where those gods would be questioned and challenged. Now they simply issue their dictates from upon high, whether on top of their blogs or from the chair of coffee organizations.

Dark Ages, indeed.


AndyS said...

Hi Jay,

It's a bit lame (IMO) to savage an entire group rather than offering specific examples that can be openly discussed.

I'm a bit outside the "third wave" loop, so please help me (and perhaps a few other folks) understand: what are some of the radical ideas and trends that are being squashed by the evil "Gods of Coffee"? The smallest list list of some of your hot-button issues would be much appreciated.

You seem to feel that other people have an obligation to create and manage the kind of transparent forum that you demand. Why don't you do it yourself instead of blaming others?

Lastly, I'm sure you can appreciate that a vague condemnation of everyone and everything -- besides yourself, of course -- comes awfully close to the "self-congratulatory posts" that you so intensely criticize.

With respect,

onocoffee said...

I hear you. However, it would be incorrect to presume that I hold myself separate from the community.

When you state that I "feel that other people have an obligation to create and manage the kind of transparent forum" you are mistaken. I do not expect that forum to exist, nor am I calling for one to be created.

My commentary is that an open and transparent forum does not exist and it is a reflection of that lack of transparency within our community. What we have in its place is the facade of openness and transparency in the form of blog postings and tweets.

Another problem with the demise of forums is that it becomes very difficult to exchange dialogue as a community since the communication is fractured. Where once there was an recorded and searchable archive of thoughts and discussions, whatever discussions being conducted are lost in the sea of tweets or held within very small groups on blogs.

The openness of discussion that once fostered the community has eroded.

Where I do feel that people have an obligation is to their word. Those who tout "transparency" yet work to create opacity are the very ones lauded as "gods".

I understand and agree with you when you say that it is "lame" to offer "vague condemnations." However, bear in mind that I do not separate myself from the community as I have been very much a part of said community for many years.

I can only assure you that when speaking with other industry and media people about these subjects, a strong understanding is there and that these issues will come out in greater detail in the near future.

James Hoffmann said...

I really do miss some decent hubs for discussion. it seems that every discussion site in coffee seems to have a lifespan before the debate moves elsewhere. to CG to coffeed (perhaps to HB to some extent).

Now - sadly - twitter seems to be the place where debate happens. it is a terrible medium for debate. Blogs aren't great - though I count myself very lucky that so many people are willing to contribute opinion on my own blog. I wonder how much twitter has damaged forums in other industries.

I'm also with Andy on being a little confused as to who these "gods" of coffee are that are fostering opacity, issue dictates and are remaining unquestioned?

James Hoffmann said...

Did my other comment not make it through?

onocoffee said...

The comment made it through but I do moderate the comments posted. Took a bit longer than usual since I flew out to Bogota.

Twitter is such an interesting medium. On one hand, it's very handy as it facilitates quick communication - of course, there are those who abuse that method by continually posting stream-of-thought posts ad nauseam, but otherwise it can serve a good purpose. On the other hand, that fragmented method of sharing means that the thoughts quickly get lost in the fray, rendering the discussion nearly impossible to recover and review for further thought.

Ben said...

As a new person to the coffee game I feel the loss of the forums. I waited two years for a coffeed membership only to be approved at a time when posts and replies really seemed to drop off. I felt kind of ripped off to follow others who were gaining so much from the sharing of information for so long and then be let in as the percentage of good content seemed to drop. Maybe I should be among some of the new blood and try to keep posting and asking questions but it feels like I wouldn't be reaching the same number of qualified people to draw responses from. (I'm not trying to say good coffee minds aren't there I just think there are less of them paying attention to the forum.)

I also agree that twitter has a downside in that I can't search back for some bit of info from a past discussion the way I can, (and very often have,) somewhere like coffeed. But Twitter does offer something very useful and valuable from the point of view of a "newb" like myself. I can contact other people in the industry with questions and more often than not get straight answers in real time. Some of the folks I've had correspondence with in the recent past may even fall under the "coffee god," status. I think twitter has more value to a new coffee person than some might think. Just my 2 cents.

Jay - I hope you're having a good time in Bogota. I would love to ask you some questions about high altitude off gassing in espresso... or maybe I'll post my questions on a forum and on twitter and see which gets a better response.

Fernwood Coffee Company

onocoffee said...

The downturn at the forum you mentioned certainly is a shame. However, it seems that a lot of the traffic started to curtail after I was banned for speaking my mind on the site that the "moderators" were circling the wagons for the SCAA...

The shame is that our community loves to toss around the word "transparency" yet some of its greatest advocates are the one who are the most opaque.

But forget all of that. If the newcomer is finding information and communication through new medium such as Twitter then more power to you. There's a thirst for knowledge that needs to be quenched and the shame with Twitter compared to more traditional style forums is the lack of archiving and accessibility to whatever archiving exists. The tweets seem fleeting and temporary and that's where I think the shame lies.

On the subject of high altitude extraction and brewing, I'm certainly observing some interesting data here and I'll probably write more about it in the future.