It's really easy to find something on the Internet that incontrovertibly sucks and then outline every way in which it sucks. The medium is full of sites only their creators could love, a kennel full of mangy, unsociable dogs where the rarity of a clean puppy or a competent hound stands out more than usual. It's my job to kick those ugly mongrels for my and your amusement, but I also feel compelled to occasionally examine a creature that isn't clearly awful or lovable. There are a few sites out there that don't quite attain the engaging, professional tone of a proper website but also escape the fetid pit where all the worst websites reside. It takes closer examination to determine if such a site really is, deep down, horrible or if it has the potential to overcome its problems and become something truly good. One such site is SoulPancake.
A big part of the problem with identifying SoulPancake's place on the good-to-awful spectrum is that it's not entirely clear what it actually is. It's as if someone started building a web forum then had a tiny stroke that compelled him or her to switch to designing a social networking site. Then there was a shift change and the evening programmer decided to code for a Deviant Art rip-off instead. It doesn't help that the site's mission statement sounds like it was written by a 20-year-old philosophy drop-out. It reads, in its entirety:
SoulPancake is more of a mission than a Web site. It's a MOVEMENT to wrestle with and chew on LIFE'S BIG QUESTIONS. It's a way to EXPLORE why we believe the things that we believe. It's a place for you to TALK about your soul and the existence of God. It's a space to ENGAGE in art, philosophy, creativity, truth, and beauty. And ultimately, SoulPancake is a community of people who are digging DEEPER to figure out what it means to be human and to experience this rich, strange, difficult, and awesome journey called life.
Replace the term "Web site" with the word "church" and replace "SoulPancake" with "Unitarianism" then see if you can tell the difference.
SoulPancake lives up to its promise of being vague and pedantic by presenting users with its creatively named Big Questions. BQ's are things like "Would you bend your gender?" and "What are you putting off to please others?", with the occasional smattering of non-specific monotheism like "What's God done for you lately?". Normally I'd chalk this all up to another attempt by non-denominational Christians to trick people into finding Christ but there's just not enough follow-through. Missionary sites always lead to some kind of clear message about Jesus, even if that message is buried under a few layers of misdirection. SoulPancake never goes there, so it seems more committed to spirituality for spirituality's sake.
All of the stuff I've mentioned so far is firmly on the "awful" side of the spectrum, but here's where things get confusing. SoulPancake's users are, for the most part, not your typical Internet scum. They tend to be on-topic, reasonably thoughtful and not entirely driven by Id. They also tend to be evenly distributed between genders. Granted, most of the thread responses (and they are just fancy forum threads) are at least a little pretentious and self-involved, but that's still a wonderful alternative to the rank stupidity found in most places online. This leads me to one conclusion: SoulPancake has to be moderated, at least a little.
That's right. There's no way an Internet forum of any sort can avoid the jabbering ugliness of the medium without employing some sort of filter. Seeing as SoulPancake was co-founded by a reasonably high-profile actor (Rainn Wilson of The Office and a few movies nobody saw, except that one scene in Juno), I'd say the chance of reasonable censorship is high. A man with money and the incentive to protect his image would be willing to supply the resources necessary to keep the unwashed hordes at bay. So, for its willingness to build a fence around its bored, vain 20-somethings, SoulPancake isn't nearly as awful as it could be.
And yet, it's still not exactly good. At best, SP is the Internet equivalent of a hipster bar. It's filled with educated people who only say meaningful things by accident, art that is amusing even if it's just south of competent, and is ultimately harmless because it's self-segregating.