Defending The Internet

I'm feeling a little bad about myself right now. As I examine my innermost thoughts, I'm feeling like my self-esteem is at an all-time low. Why, you might ask? Because I am the moderator of an internet message board.

Lately, it seems that every time (OK… every other time) I open the sports page of my local newspaper, I see negative references made towards internet message boards. And all I want to do is read about college basketball.

The message boards on my site alone have been referred to as "behind the curve"… "juvenile"… and "generally wrong". Today, I pick up the paper and the sports writer who labeled my site with these generally hurtful adjectives, had a few choice quotes from Rick Pitino, the highly successful head coach of the Louisville Cardinals.

Seems that Pitino was quoted as saying, "Message boards are unsuccessful people knocking successful people." Yikes. If that's true, then what does that make me, the guy who RUNS a message board? Now you can see why I'm frantically rifling through my rolodex for an appointment with my therapist.

So that statement, coming from the highly successful Coach Pitino, got me thinking. Was it true? And why do all of these people seem to hate internet message boards?

I thought I'd do some research. I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine, who's a surgeon in a Boston hospital, and is also a Friar freak who spends time reading and posting on our message board. Oh, and he's also performed hundreds of surgeries that have saved people's lives, which, I guess, might make him almost as successful in life as a basketball coach, if you can believe that.

"Dave," I began, "Do you consider yourself a successful person?"

"Yes, Rich," he replied.

Okay… one isn't a very big sample, so I called another friend, this one a bank vice president, and again, an avid Friar fan and message board junkie. "Bob, it's Rich, and I've got kind of a weird question for you, but I'm conducting some research," I said. "Would you consider yourself a successful person?"

"That is a weird question, Rich, but yes I do," he answered.

Well… there's two… hang on a minute while I step away from the keyboard.

Okay, I'm back. I just stepped out of the room to ask my wife if she thought that owning my own business for eighteen years, as I have, made me a successful person. She said yes, but that didn't mean I could write off doing the chores tonight.

So it would seem that the sweeping supposition of Coach Pitino that internet message boards were filled to the brim with unsuccessful people in life who just want to criticize successful people – like him – isn't really true. Alright, I'm feeling a little better.

But what about being behind the curve, being juvenile and just plain being usually wrong? Those accusations sting. I might need that phone number again.

It is true that you get a wide range of posters on message boards. Some truly have the goods, while others are just out to cause trouble. If you read any message board over a period of time, its pretty easy to tell who has the goods and who are the pretenders. For example, if FriarRoscoe posts a hundred items and is right on all one hundred of them, I'm going to guess that item number one hundred and one can be trusted, as well. But, if Friariconsidermyselfa greatfanbutallieverdoisriptheteamandcoach posts that the team was caught doing unnatural experiments with barnyard animals, you can move on to the next thread. It ain't rocket science.

Personally speaking, I've been doing this for seven and a half years, and I can't think of many times when I've been wrong or behind the curve. (I can recount a number of times where I've been juvenile, however). Look, it happens to everyone – even the mainstream media and newspapers. Everyone is human, everyone gets stuff wrong, everyone gets scooped… I just don't make a habit of pointing it out, or citing examples. Although, just yesterday, I was reading the local newspaper, and… never mind.

As a matter of fact, Friar Insider has the largest gathering of Friar fans anywhere, and in a recent, highly unscientific poll conducted on the Off Topic Board (bastion of crazed, immature posters), most of the posters who answered indicated that they came to this website precisely because it was the best place to go for accurate, breaking Friar news.

So… as far as being behind the curve, being juvenile and just plain being usually wrong… that can't be right. In fact, maybe… just maybe… its exactly the opposite: we're usually ahead of the curve, mature beyond our years and usually right. Okay, I'm feeling a little better again.

So, why do these selected coaches and newspaper reporters say such mean things about us?

Well, not all do.

As an example, Friar Insider has given a lot of publicity to the women's basketball program, the men's soccer program and the men's and women's hockey programs at Providence College. These are programs that don't usually receive a lot of publicity, and outside of men's hockey, these programs struggle to put 300 fannies in the seats. As you might expect, the coaches of these programs are thrilled to receive any coverage at all. I think they like us.

Where the problems usually arise are at schools where football and basketball are the high profile sports programs. Coaches – sometimes rightfully so – see internet message boards as a necessary evil… and sometimes, not necessary. Some that are loosely moderated, or not moderated at all, can be rampant with rumor and innuendo, and even bushwhack recruiting efforts by letting information out too early. As with anything, problems do exist, but sometimes these problems are overblown.

Basically, coaches who are highly successful, have nothing to fear from message boards and never comment about message boards. Coaches who are underachieving and coming under criticism, as the formerly highly successful Coach Pitino was earlier this season, have thin skin and develop rabbit ears where internet message boards are concerned. In fact, didn't the highly successful Coach Pitino have a problem with sports talk radio during his less than successful stint with the Boston Celtics? When I find that phone number, maybe I'll forward it to him.

Which brings us to newspaper reporters. A long time ago, and far, far away, people got the majority of their information from newspapers. Not anymore. Newspapers are folding, the ones who remain are losing readership, subscribers and advertisers. Where are these people going?

To the internet.

Because of its nature, the internet can bring breaking news to people just as fast as we can type it. That's a threat to newspaper reporters… so much so, that many newspaper reporters have started internet blogs to combat getting beat on a regular basis for stories. Which is kind of embracing the medium that they're determined to tear down… I think.

Here's the bottom line. Sports networks, like Scout.com and Rivals.com are huge enterprises and aren't going away. Fan sites are where the communities of each school's fans congregate. Fans don't connect with each other with their individual newspapers over coffee each morning, they don't connect with each other on sports talk radio anymore – where the formats largely ignore the local college teams and pander to the pro teams. They connect with each other and their favorite program on internet fan sites, where alumni and fans can "talk" to one another, get the latest news, follow game scores – whether they're here in Rhode Island, or in New York, or Ohio or California.

Now it seems to me that schools should embrace these sites. I know that Friar Insider has given Providence College loads of free publicity over the years. We're nice that way. And I'm thinking that fan interest + the ability to stay close to what's happening via these sites + a little extra access = more $ in contributions for the schools. Which is important. At least, that's what I'm thinking, but maybe I'm crazy. We'll see what the therapist says.

So… I think I feel a lot better about myself now. I'm not as bad as the successful Coach Pitino says. Um, I think its time for the chores…

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