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March 5, 2010 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Teresa Nielsen Hayden and MeFi's own John Scalzi opine on how to build a web community.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker (161 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
h th rny.
posted by orthogonality at 7:27 PM on March 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


If you're not reading half the comments, you're missing the fun.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:27 PM on March 5, 2010


De-voweling in one comment. Metatalk thread in probably 15 minutes.
posted by dead cousin ted at 7:30 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


MtFltr lvs Trs Nlsn Hydn wth pssn.
posted by caddis at 7:40 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've heard this Teresa Nielsen Hayden can be slightly controversial. Not sure where.
posted by archivist at 7:41 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It might be best to not bring it up.
posted by localhuman at 7:41 PM on March 5, 2010


fck hr!
sh tk m vwls nc, stll pssd bt t!
posted by HuronBob at 7:47 PM on March 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good article though. Moderating BB is much tougher than MeFi. Most of the participants are pretty civil here. I credit the $5 entry fee in part. If that starts to fail, then perhaps some sort of mandatory work like a coop would keep out most of the riff raff, but what work?
posted by caddis at 7:48 PM on March 5, 2010


MtFltr lvs Trs Nlsn Hydn wth pssn.

Why would we want her with fish?
posted by Scattercat at 7:59 PM on March 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I misread your comment, caddis, and flashed on MeFi n00bs being asked to muck out the chickenhouse before being allowed to post. Actually, that's a pretty good idea....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:02 PM on March 5, 2010


Are the weekly one-link Teresa fpp's going to become a mainstay, or is this part of some social reintroduction scheme?

I do have to say, the barriers to expertise are apparently being lowered. Lowered way down.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:11 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


BAHAHHAHAHAHAH!
(wipes eyes, reads headline again)
.
.
BAAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHA!
posted by Ratio at 8:15 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I didn't know it was considered best practice to hold posters up for ridicule by intentionally obfuscating their contributions if you happen not to particularly like them.

Shows you what I know about building a web community.
posted by chimaera at 8:16 PM on March 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


orothogonality said: h th rny.

Especially the sidebar, from Scalzi:
If you want to create an online community where members can feel free to speak their minds, even when they disagree with you, without degenerating into flame wars, you need to own your mistakes along with your successes. Scalzi remembers one debate that popped up on Whatever after several rounds of heated argument on other websites. "I said, 'This entire discussion has been pointless and stupid, and you're all idiots,'" he laughs, "and eventually people reminded me that there had been good points to that discussion, where it had actually been useful rather than simply people spewing at each other. When that happened, I posted an apology to my site and admitted that I needed to retract. People were amazed. 'You, a person on the web, and a science fiction writer, actually apologized!' Well, you know, when I'm wrong, it makes sense to apologize, doesn't it?"
posted by ShawnStruck at 8:16 PM on March 5, 2010


Moderating BB is much tougher than MeFi.

This is because BB's editors, whether they realize it or not, cry out to be mocked and trolled without mercy.
posted by Ratio at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


Oh, god. Can't we let the vowels stay? We can't have a discussion without them.
posted by OmieWise at 8:23 PM on March 5, 2010


It's like mixing matter and anti-matter

nothing good can come of this
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:26 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The two recently answered questions during a phone conversation that offers plenty of insight into how to cultivate a genuine community around your online presence by staying in control without being overbearing.

This article is comedy gold.
posted by Ratio at 8:30 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


comparing meta to boing is useless. boing's moderators are self serving and do their jobs with little thought of how it impacts on discussion or the community, on the other hand, Meta's moderators actually think about what they do, consider it carefully, and build community...

now..get me another glass of wine...
posted by HuronBob at 8:30 PM on March 5, 2010


OmieWise: Oh, god. Can't we let the vowels stay? We can't have a discussion without them.

Ai, ie. I ea, i a' a ou a, Oieie. I' o ue a i' eay ay eaie, u e' ee.
posted by barnacles at 8:34 PM on March 5, 2010


Disemvoweling joke.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 8:35 PM on March 5, 2010


Ai, ie. I ea, i a' a ou a, Oieie. I' o ue a i' eay ay eaie, u e' ee.

oieehhhhhheaaaa
posted by setanor at 8:36 PM on March 5, 2010


UNIVERSAL FUCKING HATE

(or did I miss the reason I should totally be psyched that a few of my internet "peers" are now doing the "coach the megacorps how to more successfully build brand loyalty via user-created content and online discussions" circuit?)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:48 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the article:
If you let things get started in such a way that it looks like an uncivilized frontier, then people will feel justified in behaving badly. That will drive off exactly the people you'd rather have around, while it encourages more bad behavior.
First comment in this FPP:
h th rny.
*sigh*
posted by Ritchie at 8:49 PM on March 5, 2010


Hey, kids, it used to be funny, but you know what? Not even so much then.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


The last Metatalk thread is still open -- we can just recycle that one.
posted by Zed at 9:02 PM on March 5, 2010


Boing Boing has a community? I mean, I still read the blog (AH JUST CAN'T QUIT YOU) but I stopped bothering with the comments a long time ago. Between the unfriendly redesigns, their tone-deaf approach to reader feedback and the vapid echo chamber that represents %90 of the comments on the site they've done a great job of killing off anything resembling a coherent set of frequent posters.
posted by xthlc at 9:07 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, clearly this thread is Chinatown.

I propose Chinatown be nukes from orbit.
posted by Artw at 9:09 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know that I would call Scalzi a GOOD moderator, exactly, but he is refreshingly honest about his occasionally arbitrary whims, and the sharply demarcated boundaries of debate on his blog's comments. TNH's main failings as a moderator-I don't feel qualified to judge her skills as an SF editor-are her arrogance, her lack of clarity about the actual rules of discourse, and (as mentioned above) her apparent need to hold others up for ridicule.

This is not to say that a highly active comment area like Boing Boing's doesn't attract trolls and other lowlife, but her cure is as bad as the disease.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:10 PM on March 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't know that I would call Scalzi a GOOD moderator, exactly, but he is refreshingly honest about his occasionally arbitrary whims

Exactly. He also also shown a willingness to revisit his stances, own up to his mistakes, and make corrections where neccessary. Transparency is key to good modding, I think, which is why the mods here on MeFi help the site so well.
posted by ShawnStruck at 9:33 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


it used to be funny

What did? Poking fun at old media types while you're currently just as clueless as they used to be? Personal dislikes aside, I'm actually surprised that someone at the ASAE believes that community-building around one or a few people is still a relevant topic. It is not. And who is the ASAE anyway? I'd never heard of them.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, reader activity has shifted away from personal blogs to social networks where people have embraced the egalitarian controls of self-moderation, leaving the personality cultivation genre to its intended tea party niche of "the people you'd rather have around." Small social circles will never go away, but in spite of the quality of the conversation and the eagerness of the participants, they simply cannot compete with the real expertise, differing points of view and methods of communication now available to laymen.

Do localized community websites still have content to offer? As long as people desire a customizable platform from which to tell their story, they will, but the manner by which the users interact with the platform has changed forever and there is no going back. Those communities that have embraced diversity and cultivated an audience will continue to exist, but for the most part, personal blogs will become content repositories for those who continue to insist that they need to control the message and manage their personal brand. (Disclosure: I do have a blog but I do not exert any type of moderation controls over content or commentary and I use it as nothing more than a personalized link repository. Unfortunately I share a name with a very well-known person, so I'm not making any allusions about competing with him for brandname notoriety).

This is not opinion, by the way. Since February 24th, 2010, Conan O'Brien, a seemingly washed-up talk show host who lost his job of seven months to a former incumbent, has built his own community of 546,269 followers by posting ten trivial entries on his micro-blog and performing one moderation action. One moderation action, and that was following a random person. Think about that for a second. On average, 50,000 people per day over the course of ten days asserted their affinity for someone they'd never interacted with in a medium in which they can control their own actions. No waiting lists, no $5 fees, no disemvoweling, no vaporizing. Embrace the future, kids.

People of the internet could only wish their expertise could lead to similar success, but in one man's opinion, I think it's high time that not only they, but also their followers come around to realizing that outside of a small group of selected friends, their conversation and method of message control is irrelevant and quite frankly, antiquated. And trying to prove otherwise is only going to invite scorn and ridicule.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:47 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


>it used to be funny

What did? Poking fun at old media types while you're currently just as clueless as they used to be?


I think he meant annoyingly tired favorite-currying injokes. So, yes, I think?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:09 PM on March 5, 2010


community of 546,269 followers

Isn't that more akin to 500,000 people subscribing to the Beatle's (or popular band X) newsletter, if it had been free?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:11 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


My favorite curry is a chicken vindaloo.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:26 PM on March 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, it's more akin to the equal number of Teresa's clique +1 following a random person on Twitter and that person having taken no action to cultivate a following, moderate it or make a living off of it, with the followers in complete control of their actions and the way in which they engage the subject.

I used the Conan example for its timeliness, and just as much as I could've used the Dalai Lama as an example, I guess the most relevant one to the conversation would be Shit My Dad Says or the pickle who has more fans than Nickleback.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:30 PM on March 5, 2010


My favorite curry is a chicken vindaloo.

I'm partial to Kid, myself.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:36 PM on March 5, 2010


If there had been a Twitter in '99, the "I kiss you" guy would have gotten tons of followers too. I don't really see how these big blobs of people form communities.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:48 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I believe that the posts I want to link from Livejournal are friend locked, but it's probably better not to link to ancient history (from what, 4-5 years ago now?) in this thread.
posted by crataegus at 10:55 PM on March 5, 2010


Yeah, that's a pretty effing arbitrary definition of community. For me, a community is defined by interaction, so those are pretty shitty communities in my book.

I don't really have a dog in the TNH battle royale, but as someone who noodles a bit in this kind of area professionally and obviously spends way too much time on mefi, I will say consistency and transparency are keys to 90% of successful communications - be they website communities, corporate conversations, stakeholder management, whatever. What I have seen of TNH's actions through various mefi posts on LiveJournal circle-jerks and BB implosions implies to me that she sometimes places little value on those qualities - an attitude which shouldn't be too surprising from a successful editor; a job that reflects are more restricted, older-school communications discourse.
posted by smoke at 10:59 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since February 24th, 2010, Conan O'Brien, a seemingly washed-up talk show host who lost his job of seven months to a former incumbent, has built his own community of 546,269 followers by posting ten trivial entries on his micro-blog and performing one moderation action.

Um. Going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Coco had more than half a million "followers" on that amusingly antique medium known as television, pre-purge.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:12 PM on March 5, 2010


I don't really see how these big blobs of people form communities.

You're missing the point. Communities continue to form, regardless of size, but they do so without the need or desire for third-party moderation and control. Those actions have been passed onto the participants themselves who, if the numbers serve me right, have flocked en masse to a new, open medium where their participation cannot be easily suppressed.

And on a side note in case you misunderstood the press release that passed as a FPP, in light of the progress of the past three years, to lend one's name to a lazy article that advocates the unworkable processes of the past is to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding to the realities of today. And those realities are backed up with serious numbers.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:24 PM on March 5, 2010


Maybe enough with the extremely-low-hanging-fruit disemvoweling jokes, folks. I'm no fan of the practice myself either, but the knee-jerk rush to go there (and to use is as an excuse to throw a "fuck her", etc, around) isn't making this thread a better place and not every mention of TNH needs to be an excuse to rehash the same lazy swipes.
posted by cortex at 11:29 PM on March 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Aside from whatever else Teresa Nielsen-Hayden has done or said, the whole disemvowelling thing makes me incredibly angry. It's antithetical to everything I believe in when it comes to internet ethics. I acknowledge I started out on the wooly frontier of Usenet, and so my opinions on the matter may be colored by that, but fucking with another human's words like that is shitty. Delete or leave it standing, don't hold someone up for mockery.

I try to live by Kant's idea that one should treat other human beings as ends, not means, and the disemvowelling business seems to me to be straight up using other people as a means to an end, that end being some sort of community guidelines by example. If your community guideline includes treating people as disposable, then you're not fit to opine as to what makes a good community.

I think the MetaFilter anger at Terese Nielsen-Hayden stems from that. MeFites, as a rule, are people who've bought into the idea that the internet can foster communities, that behind usernames and short comments there are actual people. The disemvowelling business ignores the fact that behind all the words there are meatspace humans. And that, to me, is immoral.
posted by Kattullus at 11:40 PM on March 5, 2010 [17 favorites]


Maybe enough with the extremely-low-hanging-fruit disemvoweling jokes, folks. I'm no fan of the practice myself either, but the knee-jerk rush to go there (and to use is as an excuse to throw a "fuck her", etc, around) isn't making this thread a better place and not every mention of TNH needs to be an excuse to rehash the same lazy swipes.

Sure, but your view is not the norm: you're on Mefi all day every day, and have seen a lot of swipes at this (lame) practice. I'm not and haven't, and I'm glad to see that the general Mefite stance is to openly mock and belittle it. Because fuck that.

I mean, things do have shelf-lives, but it's not always wrong to do something again (and again). After all, it's those repeated activities that then fold back in and become part of a culture, informing its participants' attitudes and helping them determine the degree to which they identify themselves as members of its groups.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:48 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


"the whole disemvowelling thing makes me incredibly angry"

I think I should have used the word 'peeved' instead of 'angry.' It's not like thinking about disemvowelling has me frothing at the mouth, you need a lot more than poor internet ethics to do that. It doesn't piss me off so much as get my goat, is what I'm trying to say.

posted by Kattullus at 12:04 AM on March 6, 2010


Um. Going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Coco had more than half a million "followers" on that amusingly antique medium known as television, pre-purge

He did not, in fact, have more than half a million followers on a medium where every single user, including Conan, had equal control and privilege over their participation. Please read what I said in its entirety.

You can sneer at Facebook and Twitter all you want, but the facts are that blog readership and participation are on the decline and those niche communities that people have tried so hard to curate to their tastes over the years simply cannot compete with social networks for neither their current audience nor new members, and for someone to pose as community management expert and offer advice while ignoring conventional wisdom and statistical analysis, not to mention laughing off their own [very] poor showing at the only real chance they had to gain expertise, denotes what I said before is a complete lack of understanding to the realities of today.

And for that single-link FPP to be trumpeted around like that...
posted by jsavimbi at 12:20 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good article though. Moderating BB is much tougher than MeFi. Most of the participants are pretty civil here. I credit the $5 entry fee in part. If that starts to fail, then perhaps some sort of mandatory work like a coop would keep out most of the riff raff, but what work?

People were civil here before the $5 fee, you know. Although most small web communities are pretty civil, once they scale up, that's when they get unmanageable and the $5 probably does help. But it would be nice if there were an easy way for people over-seas and in poorer countries to join. Or people who just don't like paypal.
posted by delmoi at 12:39 AM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


He did not, in fact, have more than half a million followers on a medium where every single user, including Conan, had equal control and privilege over their participation.

They have as much control and privilege with Twitter as they did watching him on TV. They can turn it on or off. They can watch him or not watch him.

Also,

Metafilter: Please read what I said in its entirety.

posted by ODiV at 1:09 AM on March 6, 2010


As I sad earlier today on Making Light, having this interview with TNH and John Scalzi is like having an interview about the various ways one can approach copyright issues in the modern world and then having Cory Doctorow and whoever-runs-Baen-webscriptions be the interviewees. Yeah, they know a ton about it, but they're both representatives of a small wavelength in a big spectrum. Interviewing TNH and jessamyn or cortex would have been more interesting.

What TNH and Scalzi do obviously works for those communities, but it isn't the only or necessarily the best way to do it. I have stronger feelings about it than that, but I'm trying to play nice at Making Light.
posted by Justinian at 1:39 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


They have as much control and privilege with Twitter as they did watching him on TV. They can turn it on or off. They can watch him or not watch him.

You're missing the bigger picture. They can say anything to him or about him without being moderated, disemvoweled or vaporized. Conan can only moderate, to himself, what he sees, not what the rest of the community sees. He cannot kill a thread because there are none. He cannot stifle dissent by threatening excommunication. He can only control his message by engaging in debate or silence, there is no implied acquiescence to his opinions because he has no tools with which to enforce them. He is an equal, albeit a popular one, amongst his peers.

To state my point as clearly as possible: due to the lack of popularity amongst the community as a whole, there is no future in becoming a moderator for forum-type websites. They are going out of business. Not because their owners want them to, but because they are losing their customers. No customers, no business, no future.

The whole premise of that article promoting the expertise of Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Scalzi as community moderators is a farce. No supporting evidence, no contradicting evidence. Someone over at the ASAE needs to provide Mr. Hogan with some supervision. And somebody at MeFi should discourage single-link press releases.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:15 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem with simply deleting posts rather than disemvowelling is that you end up with weird gaps in the conversation. I recall one blog (and it may have been BB before their new setup, but I don't remember for sure) where the comments were numbered, and posters tended to reply to each other by number instead of name, because of a large number of anonymous posters. When a mod deleted a message, the remaining ones got renumbered automatically, and suddenly none of the replies made any sense because the numbers were wrong.

Similarly, Kingdom of Loathing's chat allows you to /ignore (or /baleet) someone you dislike so that you don't see anything they say, or even that they said anything at all. If you do that, though, you get people saying weird random contextless things in the chat, because they're responding to comments that you didn't see. I eventually hunted down a Greasemonkey script that lets me assign disliked chatters phrases like "This bag of dicks sure is delicious!" that I see instead of whatever it was they actually said, and that sort of half-solves the problem the same way that "This post was deleted by a moderator" does -- I see that something was said, but not the actual content.

Arguably, disemvowelling is a step better, because if I actually care enough to want to know what was said, I can generally work it out, but I'm not bothered by the message if I don't make that effort. You might well get pissed at what messages a moderator chooses to moderate, but I don't get the hate against disemvowelling itself.
posted by rifflesby at 2:21 AM on March 6, 2010


but I don't get the hate against disemvowelling itself

Because it's petty?

A local sports blog has a better policy: they leave the comment but delete the contents with a pithy and non-usually insulting reason:

[off topic]

[spelling]

[no insults]

Sometimes the reasons seem a bit arbitrary, but that's OK. There is no effort at humiliation or being coy or clever.
posted by maxwelton at 2:37 AM on March 6, 2010


Because it's petty?

That's the nicest way of putting it.

Also, and this is just in general, I would refrain from arguing with the membership and then disemvowelling their comments when you aren't up to the task. That's even worse than portraying yourself as an expert on a dead subject.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:51 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


People were civil here before the $5 fee, you know.

MetaFilter wasn't really a sect back then, though.
posted by effbot at 2:56 AM on March 6, 2010


jsavimbi, I sure am glad you're here to tell us how exactly to experience the internet and what exactly is going to happen to it in the future.

Without your referenced expertise and unparalleled knowledge, I would be hopelessly adrift. I'm also glad you're super-clear in defining the one and only truly successful communication style on the internet, especially on a forum which demonstrably supports your uncontroversial thesis.

I had previously thought there was a diversity of methods and techniques for encouraging participation, but your definition has saved me from spending hours on wildly popular web sites, participating in outmoded and obsolete communication methods. Not to mention the time I will save in my day job as an internal communications specialist at a large multi-national. Thank you for opening my eyes to your singular vision. One thing the internet cannot support or sustain is diversity of communication platform and messages.

hamburger
posted by smoke at 2:57 AM on March 6, 2010


Similarly, Kingdom of Loathing's chat allows you to /ignore (or /baleet) someone you dislike so that you don't see anything they say, or even that they said anything at all.

Killfiles are a Prisoner's Dilemma, and widespread defection via adoption of killfiles is halfway towards dissolution of community.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you're an internal communications specialist at a large multi-national. That part I got. The rest of it I had to read three times and I'm still not sure I grasp it entirely, but I'll try. Here goes:

Response to your first paragraph: You're welcome.

Response to your second paragraph: Those communities that have embraced diversity and cultivated an audience will continue to exist.

Does that clear it up or do I have to justify participating on MeFi for the better part of a decade to you? I think I understood you right, but I'm afraid that you lack the context of what we're discussing here.

Response to your third paragraph: I wouldn't go around telling people that you're a corporate copy-boy for a foreign-owned firm as a point of argument, especially if you're telling it to an American. Not only will they not take your argument seriously because of your career choice, but they'll tend to think that you place an inordinate amount of importance into something you shouldn't, because of your employer choice and you're need to broadcast it. That's not the doing thing.

(Please confirm this asap with an independent source; I also urge you to discover other, more employable skills )

Do me a favor and try this next time your boss calls on you at a team meeting: tell her that this whole social/mobile networking thing is a load of shite and that you should be spreading your efforts out in order to reach as many customers as possible by engaging them on every variety of diversified communication platform that they may be using. Let me now how that goes.

Also, I apologize if I'm not clearer on translating what these adoption statistics mean to wildly popular websites with a double-digit user base.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:39 AM on March 6, 2010


MetaFilter wasn't really a sect back then, though.

No, of course not, what a stupid thing to suggest, where do you even get these ideas?
posted by the Cabal at 4:00 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's like moderation Thunderdome in here.
posted by Justinian at 4:06 AM on March 6, 2010


Twitter and Facebook gaining users doesn't necessarily come at the expense of other styles of communication. There might be more participants in total now. It could be that moderated forums have less of the total share of the potential userbase, but roughly the same number of users they always ah fuck it what's the point it doesn't really matter.
posted by Ritchie at 4:53 AM on March 6, 2010


The idea that you can confidently predict the future of social communication on the Internet by holding up two currently popular sites that *no one* would have predicted 5 years ago is really hilarious.
posted by mediareport at 4:59 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's what I should have said, Omie, instead of wasting my time on sarcastic rejoinders.
posted by smoke at 5:28 AM on March 6, 2010


To state my point as clearly as possible: due to the lack of popularity amongst the community as a whole, there is no future in becoming a moderator for forum-type websites. They are going out of business. Not because their owners want them to, but because they are losing their customers. No customers, no business, no future.
Lets hope they don't all go out of business! Also I don't know that's true. Not everyone is on twitter. In fact, More people play farmville then use twitter (which is actually even worse!) But that indicates that forums on facebook fan pages, for example, could be pretty damn popular over time. And of course, fan pages can be moderated (AFAIK)
The problem with simply deleting posts rather than disemvowelling is that you end up with weird gaps in the conversation.
Well, you can do something like "Post removed" or (even better, IMO) have a link that says "post hidden" and then you can click to reveal it. Plus a lot of times the disemvowelled posts are completely incomprehensible, especially when they get long. A lot of people read by "word shape" rather then looking at each letter and sounding them out like a toddler. Disemvoweling makes that impossible.
Similarly, Kingdom of Loathing's chat allows you to /ignore (or /baleet) someone you dislike so that you don't see anything they say, or even that they said anything at all. If you do that, though, you get people saying weird random contextless things in the chat
Uh, if you chose to ignore someone that other people don't ignore, you pretty much have to accept the consequences of that. Your basic attitude seems to be "What's good for me, the reader" while ignoring the people who actually post. Of course, unlike some people I do think it's possible to get rid of all the interesting people and along perfectly wallowing in groupthink and sycophancy. Boing Boing is a perfect example of that, (at least from what I remember of the Violet Blue incident).

And, um, I guess that's what TNH is selling!
posted by delmoi at 6:31 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Communities" are vastly overrated. I can't tell you how many linkblogs and such I visit where the comments are absolutely worthless and better off avoided.

Is there even a term for the speed at which such "communities" stop being about whatever the site is about and start just being about the community? It seems inevitable, and disappointing for visitors who want to discuss the topic at hand and not just wade through a swamp of in-jokes, mutual appreciation, and the obligatory "bacon!" crap.
posted by Legomancer at 7:00 AM on March 6, 2010


jsavimbi:

"The whole premise of that article promoting the expertise of Ms. Nielsen and Mr. Scalzi as community moderators is a farce."

Well, except that both she and I have done it professionally (she for Boing Boing and I for AOL), and we also have long-standing personal sites with significant communities around them, for which we have developed workable strategies for comment moderation. One may choose to agree or disagree with these strategies, or whether we individually or severally are good moderators, but arguing that we don't have expertise or experience is not a particularly good argument.

Also not a particularly good argument: "reader activity has shifted away from personal blogs to social networks." It's not an either/or situation. The readership of my personal blog continues to grow in raw numbers from year to year, and the comment activity on the blog grows commensurately, requiring the need to moderate the threads and set certain community expectations. At the same time, I have a Twitter feed and a Facebook profile, both of which are also growing and which while having some overlap with the blog readership also have their own committed memberships (people who read them and not the blog or the other social media in which I participate). Quite obviously the social dynamics of each are different, but one is not supplanting the other; they're all there, doing their thing.

Beyond this you appear to be intentionally or unintentionally eliding differences of site/community between these various forms. There's a difference between using a service to reach people and running one's own site. Conan's got a half million Twitter followers, but he doesn't run Twitter, and the responsibility for moderation on Twitter is not his, it's Twitter's. Twitter can choose to moderate/block/edit on its own rules, and has people on staff to deal with those. However, if he puts up his own site and allows comments, the responsibility for that rests on him (or whatever corporate entity sets up the site). You may choose to believe that if one has a Twitter feed, that one no longer needs a personal/corporate site, but there are a number of folks who would disagree with you, and some readers prefer one over the other. So the skills involved in community building/moderation aren't going away anytime soon.

Finally, jsavimbi, your obvious dislike of TNH, evidenced on this and another recent thread, appears to make you irrational when discussing her and a jerk to people who argue with you when you're flaming on about her, whether or not what they're arguing with you about is directly related to her or not. You might want to look into that.
posted by jscalzi at 7:12 AM on March 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Should we just reuse the last MeTa thread? It's still open, and the disemvowelling jokes haven't gotten any funnier.
posted by moss at 7:46 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know whether to flag this post for trolling or favorite it for the lulz.
posted by cavalier at 8:10 AM on March 6, 2010


The problem with simply deleting posts rather than disemvowelling is that you end up with weird gaps in the conversation.

There are downsides to any sort of destructive editing of a thread. Removal can create disorienting gaps; disemvoweling can create equally disruptive speed bumps. Both can generate aftershocks and negative feedback loops if folks route around the attempt to moderate (by discussing what they recall or copied or quoted or, in the case of deemving, reconstructed) and keep discussing the problematic stuff anyway.

There is no silver bullet here. On mefi we prefer to keep deletions to a minimum, address some of the borderline stuff in thread with conversation instead, and try to reduce the friction/disorientation of those deletions that are potentially distinctly disruptive with a clarifying comment to help keep things clear and encourage any needed metadiscussion to transplant itself to a part of the site built specifically to enable that sort of thing.

It's one approach among many, but it's one I believe works pretty well here.

I recall one blog (and it may have been BB before their new setup, but I don't remember for sure) where the comments were numbered, and posters tended to reply to each other by number instead of name, because of a large number of anonymous posters. When a mod deleted a message, the remaining ones got renumbered automatically, and suddenly none of the replies made any sense because the numbers were wrong.

BB did indeed have number comments, and from what I saw a culture of basing quotes on numbers, back in the 2008 summer of Violet Blue, and their practice of comment deletion (one which, to be clear, was a standard part of the toolset in addition to deemving, something that I believe is true on Making Light as well though it may come up very infrequently there) had exactly that problematic effect of reordering the comments and nerfing all the explicit numeric back-references.

It's a common enough system. And in contexts with very small conversation threads and little need for active moderation, its simple and accessible and works well for commenters without a sense of the local culture to jump in. But as the conversation on a site grows, it becomes more problematic.

And the problem there is using dynamic numbering, period. If you know you're going to cause the re-ordering of comments, don't make that ordering visible and easily referenceable. You're setting your commenting userbase up for annoyance and confusion. Either modify your codebase to make the order of comments fixed regardless of deletions (and regardless of the presence of visible [comment deleted] markers), or eschew the numbers entirely.

I think eschewing the numbers in the first place is the better move, personally. I feel the same way about a lot of built-in quoting mechanisms, however. I may be a heretic.

But from my perspective, it's important to make people try to engage each other. Encouraging people to selectively quote one another instead of just blockquoting a whole comment; encouraging people to address each other by username rather than by number-of-comment: these are both positive developments that come from what could from one perspective be considered an under-featured commenting system. But these features being absent from Metafilter after ten years is not an accident.
posted by cortex at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


The problem with simply deleting posts rather than disemvowelling is that you end up with weird gaps in the conversation.

That's problem #2. Problem #1 is that if you just delete the posts on many sites, the thread then becomes a cesspool of misunderstanding of the first amendment, rather than the discussion you really had.

People wondering about the ability of either Scalzi or Nielsen Hayden to manage communities should note that they *have* communities, they have had them for as long as we've been around, and they are quite successful.

Plus a lot of times the disemvowelled posts are completely incomprehensible, especially when they get long

Really? This must be a person to person thing, I find them almost trivial to parse out. Sometimes you'll hit edge cases, but English is a very rdndt lng, nd y cn rd vry dmgd txts. Or, in another fashion, the meaning of this sentence can be glorked from it's context.

I like disemvoweling, because it does three things.

1) It leaves the post up, in a more difficult to read but readable form.

2) It removes the offending post from the general flow, but if you must, you have it.

3) It mocks the idiot who thinks "fuck you, you fucking cunt" is intelligent discourse.

And these people need to be mocked, because they're shitting on the public commons. I get to have real, meaningful discussions on here, on Whatever (not that I post much) or on Making Light (even less so...) because the shitheads who think that Frist Psot and Fuck You are funny, and that personal attacks on the proprietors and other commentators on a website are valid means of discourse, are mocked and shown the door, and not only does this keep the commentators happy, people who are possibly going to behave that way quickly learn that it isn't going to work -- and in many cases, they become valued participants in the sites -- even if they ride the edge for a long time.

Go onto these sites and disagree with the proprietors, and you'll be welcomed. Even better if you bring evidence. The moment you pull out the insults or whatnot, you get nailed -- and I'm all for it, because, frankly, if you think Fuck You, TNH is worthy discourse, you deserve public humiliation.

It is very interesting to note that we have three very different sites -- Mefi, Whatever, Making Light -- with three very different populations, and all are very, very successful communities, with very different moderation tactics. But fundamentally, that tactic boils down to this.

Slap down shitheads on sight.

So, I'm glad for TNH, and Scalzi, and our own lovely crew of mods here. That's why were still here. That's why we have in-jokes -- because they've made it possible, nay, pleasant enough for us to stay around long enough to form in-jokes.

It's why I've been here for almost nine years -- and I read the site before that. In some ways, MeFi is like family. And one of those reasons is that Grandpa Matt will raise seven sorts of hell if you start punching your sister.
posted by eriko at 8:17 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is because BB's editors, whether they realize it or not, cry out to be mocked and trolled without mercy.

Really? Why do you read the site, then?

Oh, because you thinking mocking and trolling are good things.

And that's why we need moderators.
posted by eriko at 8:20 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really? This must be a person to person thing, I find them almost trivial to parse out. Sometimes you'll hit edge cases, but English is a very rdndt lng, nd y cn rd vry dmgd txts. Or, in another fashion, the meaning of this sentence can be glorked from it's context.

One thing I've noticed about deemving in discussions about it over the years is that it tends to be a pretty polarizing mechanic; some people think it's great, some people think its terrible. It's a conspicuous moderation tool, all else aside—like it or loathe it, I don't think that aspect is up for debate.

And that conspicuousness isn't a problem in a community where everybody has had a good chance to settle into the mechanic and buy-in on it. Which is why I think deemving is a better fit for Making Light (with its smallish, very smart, collegial community regulars) but has gotten more flak on Boing Boing (with its much larger and more disparate collective audience), for example—if you're going to do something that draws a reaction from a passerby, the reactions that thing gets will scale up with the volume of potential-commenter traffic.

That's part of why I dislike the mechanic, especially for general usage outside of a fairly tight community that has largely bought into it ahead of time—it's a form of moderation that draws excessive attention to the methods of moderation. If your goal is to keep things moving smoothly, you should not create new distractions for people to gawk at.

Again, it's a polarizing mechanic; these are my opinions, and there are plenty of very smart people who disagree about it. I think that aside from the argument that the feature itself is a net good or net bad in any specific context, the conspicuousness of it is itself a net problem, and that that's something that folks who like the feature for its cleverness and for the public-example-making aspect may be necessarily blind to—it clearly appeals to them as a working method.

Slap down shitheads on sight.

I would rewrite this as "mitigate the damage shitheads can do". It's too easy to let the understandable desire to put shitheads in their place color decision-making about how to accomplish, and how publicly to do so, the prevention and repair of damage. I think it's a mistake to celebrate the slapping-down, and I think deemving is something that does just that.
posted by cortex at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


Slap down shitheads on sight.

This is a good policy if the shitheads just write profane insults. It's a bad policy if it's because you disagree with what they are saying.

All communities come together based on some common traits. It's not uncommon for them to become overly insular. Most mod flame outs have involved a clash between aggressive moderators fighting against something they perceived as trollish, that a good section of the community respected if not agreed with.

Except disingenuous anti-bacon trolls. Fuck those people. There's no logical way to be anti-bacon, so they're just trying to get us riled up.
posted by FuManchu at 8:45 AM on March 6, 2010


People wondering about the ability of either Scalzi or Nielsen Hayden to manage communities should note that they *have* communities, they have had them for as long as we've been around, and they are quite successful.

You're comparing apples and oranges while trying to define success. Both Mr. Scalzi and Ms. Nielsen are successes in their own homemade product, nobody is arguing that. There are no two more qualified experts in their own domain. But when compared to success in the real world, outside of their domain, Mr. Scalzi is a relative unknown and Ms. Nielsen was such an abysmal failure that her reputation has suffered as a consequence.

Historically, one can not look back and say that Teresa was an expert at building communities. A hobbyist yes, but not an expert. Small scale, niche communities with "the people you'd rather have around" but nothing outside of that. Nothing that can actually compete, if you will.

You may choose to believe that if one has a Twitter feed, that one no longer needs a personal/corporate site, but there are a number of folks who would disagree with you, and some readers prefer one over the other. So the skills involved in community building/moderation aren't going away anytime soon.

Update your reading list. Update it soon. When major, slow-moving brands are shifting resources away from their traditional websites and redirecting users towards their cheaper, more flexible social networking options, you know the gig is up.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:11 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, because you thinking mocking and trolling are good things.

No, I don't. But in the eyes of TNH and the BB "moderators", "Cory, you're wrong, and here's why" is trolling, and is disemvowelled.
posted by Ratio at 9:14 AM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Go onto these sites and disagree with the proprietors, and you'll be welcomed.

No, you'll be banned for "complaining about the free ice cream."
posted by Ratio at 9:16 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's part of why I dislike the mechanic, especially for general usage outside of a fairly tight community that has largely bought into it ahead of timeā€”it's a form of moderation that draws excessive attention to the methods of moderation. If your goal is to keep things moving smoothly, you should not create new distractions for people to gawk at.

Yeah, while I don't have a huge problem with the mechanic*, that's my major objection to it. It creates this impression of the moderators looming over every conversation, like the gods of Olympus, lighting bolts in hand. I much prefer the MeFi approach (obviously, as I'm here).

*Nor with TNH. Although I haven't posted in her threads anywhere, I enjoy her blog.
posted by brundlefly at 9:26 AM on March 6, 2010


jsavimbi:

"Mr. Scalzi is a relative unknown"

Well, except to the various corporations whom I have advised over the years on online community and commenting. "Relative unknown" in this case appears more accurately to mean "Someone I don't know very much about." It's certainly true I'm better known for other things, but that's not the same thing as saying I'm not also recognized as having expert knowledge in this particular area.

Likewise, it's not an apples to oranges comparison, since in both cases the practical knowledge both of us garnered developing our own site communities was of benefit when discussing community/commenting issues with corporate clients.

"When major, slow-moving brands are shifting resources away from their traditional websites and redirecting users towards their cheaper, more flexible social networking options, you know the gig is up."

Alternately, like any organization with a modicum of public relations intelligence, they are accessing as many pipelines as possible to give the appearance of interaction with their consumers. Most corporations with Twitter/Facebook sites have not abandoned their corporate sites because in most cases they realize that the two things have separate (if sometimes overlapping) missions. Some excellent examples of this exist in the science fiction publishing field, in which the publishing houses have recently developed some excellent sites and blogs to promote their works and their authors and have simultaneously built Twitter feeds and Facebook sites which a) reach slightly different audiences and b) very often link into the corporate blogs/sites.

jsavimbi, I do note that you seem to be issuing declarative statements on this subject as if you know what you're talking about here, so, as someone who does, in fact, have years of professional as well as personal experience in the area of building and maintaining communities online, and who finds your declarative statements somewhat at odds with his own experience and knowledge base, I'm curious as to your own knowledge and experience in this area.
posted by jscalzi at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think it's a mistake to celebrate the slapping-down, and I think deemving is something that does just that.

My sentiments precisely. The title of 'moderator' was chosen for a reason.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2010


Sarcastic comment.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2010


The conspicuousness of disemvoweling is also a good thing, I think; it holds moderators accountable. If you disemvowel a comment that people think should have stood, it's up for argument in a way that a deleted comment isn't. Metafilter works as well as it does because Metatalk creates a place to hash out moderation discussions and hold moderators to accountability; on other blogs, when comments just get disappeared, that can create a climate where dissent isn't tolerated.

But I don't think that it necessarily scales well to a large site, and especially not to a large site like BoingBoing where people get really vocal about censorship and free speech.
posted by Jeanne at 10:55 AM on March 6, 2010


Sorry for my late response; I was busy looking for accredited college-level forum moderator courses and degree programs to bullet-proof my future against the recession. Any ideas? Both ITT and U. of Phoenix appear to bereft of the discipline.

I'm curious as to your own knowledge and experience in this area.

Not much; just slightly over a decade's worth of continuous (as in over-employed), professional work as a user experience designer and developer at enough corporate clients to make you sick of the rat race, web-based startups and the occasional mom and pop pro-bono work that I still get suckered into because I have a heart.

Although from now on I'll just show people how to set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account and be done with it. Easy, peasy, instant gratification. No designers, no developers, no assholes trying to sell you seo or best practices based on their limited experience.

So yeah, just the guy that actually works on teams that design, build, test and monitor large web and mobile applications. Search and social, mostly. Just the guy that lives and eats by the numbers of user-adoption rates and who has enough umph to read and analyze the data in the public and private domain and understand how the industry works, where it is trending and is constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve by doing actual work.

Not the guy who is hired after the second or third investment round to help foster community involvement and moderate discussion. In the industry, those are the soft positions you fill only when you have extra cash to burn as they add little valuation to the team in the eyes of the investors but are interesting to talk to at cocktail parties. Not looked upon in high esteem, just friendly. Hired last, fired first. That is the reality.

I'd love to run a numbers comparison featuring you and some of your peers, just Twitter as they're publicly available. Can you name two or three so we can have a balanced discussion about the numbers? I'll provide an equal amount and @scalzi will act as the mean. Who knows, you may be setting a new trend, although by the looks of follwings, replies and retweets vs. the number of tweets and followers, that account looks to be a one-way conversation. Not very social, but interesting nonetheless. I'm actually serious about the number crunching; just funning with you about playing second banana to Teresa.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My god, the guy from Glengarry Glen Ross is a user experience designer? Who knew?
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 11:09 AM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one surprised that there are no comments on that page? Or were they all deleted?
posted by waraw at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2010


jsavimbi:

So, what you're saying is that although you apparently have experience in building Web sites and associated technical things, you don't actually have experience in actual community building and comment moderation.

So, no real practical knowledge or experience in this area.

Okay, good to know. Thank you.
posted by jscalzi at 11:14 AM on March 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


A! B! C! ALWAYS! BE! COMMENTING!
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not the guy who is hired after the second or third investment round to help foster community involvement and moderate discussion.

Really? Despite your awesome interpersonal skills? Gedoudatown.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2010


So, no real practical knowledge or experience in this area.

From the technical side I do. Although given the fact that I'm still working for a living I cannot claim success nor offer up any expertise to the degree where I can be sure that you'll succeed either, let alone claim my superior expertise as you do in your pr release.

Stop hiding and let the numbers prove your degree of success as compared to your peers. This thread isn't about what I have or haven't done, it's all about you.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:15 PM on March 6, 2010


So, no real practical knowledge or experience in this area.

Okay, good to know. Thank you.


Tried not to get into this... urk...

Again and again, it's this amazing level of condecension and implied "fuck you" that makes the whole idea of you or TNH fostering a true online community so LOLZ.

Whatever is your personal web forum. Making Light is TNH's. The fact that you each have creative works that entitle you to fans, admirers, and sycophants that will keep coming back regardless of how you treat the locals does not automatically grant you the title of community experts.

That's what's so ridiculously funny about this write up. Two of the most juvenile, heavy handed, "fuck you" implied in every moderation writer folks being written up as experts in the creation and management of "community". How in the world does churlish condescension foster newcomers, outside opinions, or any other form of a rich and diverse community?

Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I expect more out of a community than "omg you guys are so smart and right and awesome! love you guys!"
posted by cavalier at 12:28 PM on March 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


*rolls eyes* oh, the hubris...the comments on boingboing contain about the same level of 'community' as the comments on youtube. well, at least they did the last time i visited...which would have been back when they threw 'HypocrisyFest2008'

also
MetaFilter: "This bag of dicks sure is delicious!"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2010


Stop hiding and let the numbers prove your degree of success as compared to your peers.

That's a bit problematic, how you seem to be defining success. What "numbers" would define it? How would you rate, say, circa-2002 Slashdot v. Making Light?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:45 PM on March 6, 2010


jsavimbi:

"From the technical side I do."

Which is to say you build Web sites and associated technical things, which we've already established. You don't manage communities, nor do you appear to have in the past. On the subject under discussion, on which you have opined so assertively, you don't have actual experience. You're like the carpenter who by his own estimation is really excellent at building walls who feels that this makes him an expert at picking furniture, even as he looks down at the interior decorator for having an inferior skill.

You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but people with actual experience in the field about which you are opining are equally entitled to judge the validity of that opinion based on your experience, which in this case appears to be none. As I mentioned before, this is good to know.

"This thread isn't about what I have or haven't done"

Well, this part of it is about that, actually. As well as being about what you do or don't know, relative to what you seem to think you know.

Cavalier:

"Again and again, it's this amazing level of condescension and implied 'fuck you' that makes the whole idea of you or TNH fostering a true online community so LOLZ."

Eh. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to ask someone who suggests he knows something about something I actually do know about to explain how he knows it, particularly when what he's asserting runs counter to my own experience, and to boil down his response to the actual information therein: i.e. in this case, that in fact he has no relevant experience. I've been perfectly polite about it; you choose to read it as condescension, which is not something I have much control over, nor something I'm going to spend much time worrying about.

Whether you choose to believe either I or TNH can foster a "true online community" is immaterial to the fact that both of us do, and have for years. Again, whether how we do it is something you like or dislike is a perfectly valid subject for discussion, but what we do works for us, and it's a subject that people recognize us having a base of knowledge in, which is why both of us have worked professionally as community moderators and (in my case, at least) advising companies about community.

"Maybe I expect more out of a community than 'omg you guys are so smart and right and awesome! love you guys!'"

Heh. You apparently don't actually spend a lot of time looking at the comments on my site. Nor for that matter does moderation always have much (or at times anything) to do with the person moderating or running the site. People in the comment threads talk to each other as much if not more than they talk to (or at) me. And as it happens, I value them being more polite to each other than to me.
posted by jscalzi at 12:50 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scalzi, just post your list of clients so we can measure how well they did before and after your involvement with them. This would help ascertaining just how well and to which degree you build communities and we can put a dollar value on your expertise. Prove it with numbers.

Hopefully you'll have proven expertise in communities other than sci-fi; otherwise I'll have to clasify you in the one-trick pony bin.

I build websites and stuff. Yes, that it what I tell old people. It's easier that way.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:08 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


jsavimbi:

"Scalzi, just post your list of clients so we can measure how well they did before and after your involvement with them."

This sort of apparent unawareness of the possibility of complex corporate goals is exactly why I'm not entirely convinced you are qualified to make a competent assessment of what qualifies as "success" when it comes to community building, jsavimbi.

For example, when I was working with AOL with its AOL Journals community, the goal was not pure numbers of users (it eventually had a couple million people using AOL Journals), but the use of Journals and other initiatives as retention initiatives -- i.e., tools and strategies to keep AOL members from quitting the service and going off to another online provider.

Now, as it happened, AOL Journals did a pretty good job with this; the member retention among members with an AOL Journal was higher than with those without it, and a fair amount of credit was given to the fact there was a genuine community feeling to it. But eventually AOL changed its corporate strategy from member retention to creating or buying sites on the Web proper to support advertising, and when that happened they closed down AOL Journals and other initiatives that had member retention specifically in mind, regardless of "the numbers" or the success of the community building there.

This is why your focus on numbers as a relevant criteria is a bit silly; raw numbers never were relevant criteria in the case of AOL Journals, retention numbers were -- until they weren't. Likewise, other corporations building sites and communities may or may not be interested in numbers for the sake of numbers -- they may be more interested in creating a small but motivated member base, or possibly they're less interested in raw numbers of visitors but having those visitors stay on the site for long stretches of time, and so on. This very site carefully controls its membership numbers, opting for fewer people than it could get in the hopes of generating better discourse among the people who are here.

I understand that you want to give the impression that you know what you're talking about when it comes to online communities, and that you're hoping for some easily digestible metric to use to chart success, but out in the real world the business of community building is bit more complicated than that. The fact that you're trying to reduce the complexities of community building to numbers only strengthens my opinion that you don't, in fact, know what you're talking about, since only someone who doesn't know what they're talking about would try to reduce the goals of online community building simply to numbers.
posted by jscalzi at 1:41 PM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's probably too late to step into this minefield, but I was pretty surprised to see an ASAE article posted on the blue.

Just to clear up a few things, ASAE is a professional association for people that work for professional associations. (Yeah, roll your eyes, but there's an association for every field.) I am in association management and my organization's online community has been featured in a recent issue of Forum magazine, the trade publication of Association Forum of Chicagoland. This is a super hot topic in the association world.

This isn't "megacorp" trying to co-opt the web-community concept. The audience for this article consists of the staff and volunteer leaders of non-profit (501c6) trade and professional associations, big and small.

Associations are at a really interesting turning point thanks to demographics, technology, and a confluence of a number of societal trends. Many are struggling to maintain membership levels and are seeing average age of members increase because younger professionals are not joining. The more forward-looking associations know that they are competing with the internet in terms of providing space for professionals in a particular industry to interact with each other. Gone are the days when golf tournaments and annual conferences or local chapter luncheons were the only time professionals had to network and share business ideas with each other. While those in-person events haven't disappeared, we know that if we don't provide a place for networking and idea-sharing online, someone else will.

Your average association management staff doesn't have experience with participating in, much less creating, online communities. The volunteer leaders of organizations don't either. (And one of the unique things of working for an association is that it's the members that have the decision making authority over what projects get funded. Most associations have officers and an executive committee and/or governing council of some sort that has budgetary and priority-setting control.) Organizations that don't adapt won't last, and ASAE knows this and is trying to help it's members/readers help their organizations survive.
posted by misskaz at 2:13 PM on March 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


I don't really think of BoingBoing as a community. Did anyone mention that part yet? The MetaFilter community meant that I had two very nice women to have beers with in a random part of Anchorage last night. I sort of wonder if BB has the same sort of thing. Do BB people hang out, outside of BoingBoing? Do people who comment ever get to post? Do people have a sense of the moderators as individual people with personalities. Do people know the managing editor, Rob, at all?

Anyhow, I know this is tangntial or orthogonal to the jscalzi vs. jsavimbi thing [and guys you may wan tot take that to email if it totally chokes off any other discussion here] but I've always been curious about it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:17 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


the jscalzi vs. jsavimbi thing [and guys you may wan tot take that to email if it totally chockes off any other discussion here

Yeah, that's all this thread really is now?
posted by setanor at 2:18 PM on March 6, 2010


Jessamyn:

"guys you may want to take that to email if it totally chokes off any other discussion here"

I'm pretty much found out what I was interested in knowing, personally. I'll be happy to let jsavimbi have the last word in our little discussion if he wants it.
posted by jscalzi at 2:21 PM on March 6, 2010


Yeah, and you were remarkably restrained and well, gosh darned cordial to me, so, well, thanks for that! Huh.
posted by cavalier at 3:13 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another round of Teresagate has passed and before I sum up what I've learned here, I'd just like to say that if you're going to FPP anything Teresa-related, please do so on a weekday morning, preferably Monday through Thursday. It makes for better theater throughout the day.

Things we already knew:

- I'm a crank.

Stuff we've learned, most from Mr. Scalzi:

- Ronny Hogan from ASAE is the go-to guy for puff pieces that your friends will post on their blogs. Need some expertise-building cred? See Ronny H.

- Teresa and Scalzi are community building experts, but only in their natural domain, which is something of a vanity press for sci-fi bloggers. That's indisputable and I recognize their efforts in that domain.

- Both of them have enjoyed employment in the past, to a varying degree of success, moderating forums outside of their domain, but since neither of them have moved on to positions of higher visibility in the comment moderation industry, one can only assume that they prefer their own company. Nothing wrong with that, enjoy success where you can make it. I, for one, have taken the same route. To a varying degree of success but I don't tout myself as an expert, just a hard worker.

- Scalzi refuses to debate non-experts and instead attacks their credibility based on their non-expertise in a field where apparently he's the expert. Circular, anyone? This is akin to a bathroom attendant telling me I don't know how to take a crap because I'm ignorant as to where he stashes the toilet paper supply. (Do you get the joke there?)

- Scalzi cannot or will not quantify or qualify his ROI because it's about esoteric things that are so beyond our understanding that it's impossible to put a dollar figure on how much will it cost to hire him to babysit our forum while we work on improving our core product. that's if we had a forum. Either that or he's only focusing on building online communities which don't necessarily need to turn a profit or only consist of one voice. There's nothing wrong with that, but even a clan site would need to get a sense of measured success over cost in order to qualify his expertise, after all he is touting it. Or does he do it for free? I haven't been able to figure that out yet, but I'm pretty sure I don't need any "free help" from Teresa.

- Some companies would rather focus their efforts on engaging a core set of followers and nurturing a community in that fashion, away from the unwashed masses. That's absolutely correct and is dependent on the industry in question. Facebook is not for everyone, nor is Twitter. Not only have the companies in question been unable to realize the value proposition in using those mediums, but their customer base has no need in using them as well. Those platforms are better suited to building open and transparent customer relationships, not guided tours of one's favorite topics.

- Scalzi is an expert in building online communities. But one data point does strike me as strange, and maybe Scalzi can explain it better since it's his @scalzi account: only one of his 10,000+ followers has been deemed significant enough for him to follow.

Only one out of every 10,000 of his followers has something to say that may be of his interest.

I've known four fucking popes in the time it has taken John Scalzi, community building expert, to go out and show the very minimum of regard towards his constituency. I find it very odd that this guy, a self-professed community-building expert, finds his community so boring and unappealing that he has no actual interest in hearing from them. A tad bit self-centered? Or are you just tweaking your brand mechanics? Must be a vanity account, huh?

A guy able to go out and round up a following you may very well be Mr. Scalzi, but a community-oriented person you are not.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:31 PM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


jsavimbi, the fact that you call it the "comment moderation industry" a) makes me want to go have a drink or three to drown my despair and b) convinces me that "crank" is putting it mildly.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:55 PM on March 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Dude, you need to zip up your fly and put that measuring tape away.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:00 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]



jsavimbi To state my point as clearly as possible: due to the lack of popularity amongst the community as a whole, there is no future in becoming a moderator for forum-type websites. They are going out of business. Not because their owners want them to, but because they are losing their customers. No customers, no business, no future.

By "no future" do you mean "no one will get rich"? Because that's not why most of us who volunteer at large forums are doing it; we volunteer to moderate and admin because of content and the community that generates that content.

The attitude you seem to be attempting to express in corporate-ese is "show me the money." That's what killed the Richard Dawkins community; the assumption that members brought traffic to the Web site to worship Dawkins, not because they'd created a community. The attempt to exploit a community, for ego or money, is what kills the community. People are funny; we don't like to be exploited.

Craig Newmark has said, more than once, that the success of online community, whether a Website, a blog, or a forum, depends on providing users with what they want. I think that's true; I think making dissent safe, and fostering conversation are also the kinds of values that encourage communities. Certainly that's helped the forum I call home flourish.
posted by medievalist at 4:01 PM on March 6, 2010


jscalzi, let's leave jsavimbi's bizarre arguments aside for a moment. Doesn't it remain a fact that when TNH was moderating BoingBoing and things got furious, the mods at BoingBoing deleted some of their own most inflammatory comments without acknowledging that they did so?

How on earth is that community-building behavior?

The biggest problem with this puff piece of a link, to me anyway, is that there was no honest discussion of the horrible mistakes TNH made during her tenure at BB. Instead, there's a ridiculously vague "I was heavy handed in my moderation at times" that ignores BB's absurdly Old Media "let's just erase any record of the problem" approach, coupled with a large dose of blaming the community for feeling a sense of ownership of the site they loved.

That's insane. The person who interviewed you two seriously fell down on the job by not portraying that episode accurately.
posted by mediareport at 4:09 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


jsavimbi, the fact that you call it the "comment moderation industry" a) makes me want to go have a drink or three to drown my despair and b) convinces me that "crank" is putting it mildly.

I'm sorry, but these guys are being hard to nail down in exactly what it is they do, so one has to use a term that can be understood by all. I've used similar metaphors to describe athletes, airline pilots and cops, who are little more than psychiatric referees, so don't get all drunk-assed on my account. It's just my little way and I'm heavy handed in my descriptions at times. Good moderation and communities are always valued.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:29 PM on March 6, 2010


Just to clear up a few things, ASAE is a professional association for people that work for professional associations.

This is fascinating, as is the rest of misskaz's comment, which basically made this whole thread worthwhile.
posted by moss at 4:32 PM on March 6, 2010


Good moderation and communities are always valued.

Please don't be on my side anymore, ok?
posted by restless_nomad at 4:41 PM on March 6, 2010


mediareport:

jscalzi, let's leave jsavimbi's bizarre arguments aside for a moment. Doesn't it remain a fact that when TNH was moderating BoingBoing and things got furious, the mods at BoingBoing deleted some of their own most inflammatory comments without acknowledging that they did so?

mediareport, what on Earth makes you (or anyone else) think Scalzi is TNH's mouthpiece--or that she needs one? That XY chromosome pairing does not equate with or telepathic device.
posted by medievalist at 4:50 PM on March 6, 2010


First prize if scalzi SHOWS THE NUMBERS is 100+ favorites. Second prize is a MeTa thread. Third prize is you're banned.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


jscalzi, let's leave jsavimbi's bizarre arguments aside for a moment. Doesn't it remain a fact that when TNH was moderating BoingBoing and things got furious, the mods at BoingBoing deleted some of their own most inflammatory comments without acknowledging that they did so?

How on earth is that community-building behavior?


I, too, am interested in Mr. Scalzi's thoughts here.
posted by Ratio at 5:29 PM on March 6, 2010


hear, hear
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:23 PM on March 6, 2010


I'm sure in his shoes I'd really want to continue interacting with an angry belligerent mob with an axe to grind and no time for answers that don't push forward it's pre-determined agenda as well. That sounds like a barrel of laughs. Maybe he could pour boiling coffee down his pants and eat a fistfull of live bees while he's at it?
posted by Artw at 6:36 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm sure in his shoes I'd really want to continue interacting with an angry belligerent mob with an axe to grind and no time for answers that don't push forward it's pre-determined agenda as well.

It's been proven that ignoring objections to your behavior and avoiding discussions of it have lead to favorable outcomes. That is why corporate public relations, government institutions, and internet moderators alike all abide by it. Just look at Enron, North Korea, and TNH.
posted by FuManchu at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm not sure "TELL US PUBLICLY HOW MUCH THESE OTHER FOLK SUCK" is going to work all that well.
posted by Justinian at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2010


The problem with being well known on the internet, however, means that people tend to think that if you're around "on the internet" then you're available for any and all questioning.

jscalzi didn't make this post, TNH isn't even here and never has been, and as far as I can tell, neither of them work here. mathowie, cortex and I are all available for asking questions about moderating, but just because someone wants to talk to you doesn't mean you need to talk back to them. If I were jscalzi I'd stay the hell away from this thread.
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's been proven that ignoring objections to your behavior and avoiding discussions of it have lead to favorable outcomes.

No one here demanding "answers" from Jscalzi is in the slightest bit interested in the answers to real questions about moderation. It's rhetorical questioning for the purposes of bullshit and point scoring, which is pretty much the opposite of having a discussion.

at Enron, North Korea, and TNH

Oh boo fucking hoo. Moderation that is not to your taste in the wake of some spat between web quasi-celebrities is not fucking Enron or North Korea. Get a fucking grip. Give it up.
posted by Artw at 7:30 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


mediareport, what on Earth makes you (or anyone else) think Scalzi is TNH's mouthpiece--or that she needs one?

I don't think that at all. I kinda suspect that jscalzi has a less-than-full understanding of exactly what went on in that Boing Boing episode, and am trying to figure out if that suspicion is correct. For folks who don't know the particulars, I think cortex summarized the episode very fairly and accurately in the recent MeTa thread, including what he called "the silent redacting of portions of [Xeni's] and Teresa's more problematic comments."

Silently erasing your own problematic comments is hardly the sign of good community building. I challenge anyone to debate that point.

Anyway, to jessamyn: I'm just responding to jscalzi's presence in this thread; he can continue to reply or not. Forgive me for thinking that the point I raise is far more relevant than the nonsense jsavimbi's been spewing - and jscalzi's been responding in detail to.
posted by mediareport at 7:42 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I actually see your point. I got caught up in my snark. I don't know jscalzi, and can only assume that he's a top-notch moderator. If he's got people gunning for him, he probably should have avoided the conversation. No one asking him questions seems to have anything out for him, in particular, rather they'd like his take on a subject that has something of a consensus here (that TNH's particular behaviour at that point was somewhere between "doesn't matter" and "hypocritical," hovering around "less than optimal"). He entered the discussion (maybe he shouldn't have), and some people have posed the question to him. I think a curt non-judgmental statement is called for in the PR handbook.

And my comparison to other entities of actual significance was apt, I think. I think the drive that people have -- to avoid the issue, cover it up, pressure others to shut up about it -- comes at all levels. Petty tyrants have behavior similar to tyrants, albeit over things I don't really care about. Those forums they moderate over mean nothing to me. I am, however, absolutely curious how those decisions were made, because its the best analogy for those significant occurrences that can be dissected in my little corner of the internet.
posted by FuManchu at 7:51 PM on March 6, 2010


FuManchu notes

I am, however, absolutely curious how those decisions were made, because its the best analogy for those significant occurrences that can be dissected in my little corner of the internet.

The thing, is, speaking as an admin for a very large and very active discussion forum, and someone with experience that pre-dates UseNet:

There's a lot those of us who aren't mods/admins don't see. We don't see it because it's swept away, or because it never was public (and shouldn't be). One of the reasons for disemvowelling (or ROT-13ing) is to keep the idiocy public in the spirit of The WELL's "own your own words," but to protect the innocent who shouldn't have to be exposed to the idiocy, unless they choose to.

I note that those people who most object to disemvowelling seem to be suffering from golden words syndrome, and think their utterances are all gems.

They're not.
posted by medievalist at 8:00 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


That sounds like a barrel of laughs. Maybe he could pour boiling coffee down his pants and eat a fistfull of live bees while he's at it?

youtube or it didn't happen.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:21 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


... to protect the innocent who shouldn't have to be exposed to the idiocy, unless they choose to.

medievalist, like I said above: This is a good policy if the shitheads just write profane insults. It's a bad policy if it's because you disagree with what they are saying.

The difficulty comes in defining what idiocy is. If it's profane or out-of-context utterances, I would be fine with that. From my short time at BB, TNH did not limit herself to that. She and her co-mods took joy in slapping down people who disagreed with her. The thread that did it for me there was this gun-related thread.

Maybe my cynical take on most communities -- that they serve mainly as echo-chambers to self-affirm -- is the correct way to look at internet forums. Metafilter moderators are truly the best of the web, I think. The vulgar and insulting comments are usually gone before I see them. But even here, at the margins, the community still has the catty self-affirmations of its beliefs and policing against opposition. Maybe it's inescapable.


MeFi mods are also incredibly open about their reasoning and don't hide it. They don't seem threatened or defensive. I think anyone involved in public relations who stand by their principles, whether a corporation, government, or internet forum, will never encounter the problems that befell the previous examples I mentioned.
posted by FuManchu at 10:00 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I note that those people who most object to disemvowelling seem to be suffering from golden words syndrome, and think their utterances are all gems.

I have objected strongly to disemvoweling, in careful detail, a number of times, but have no illusions about the value in troy ounce of my individual comments and have not to my knowledge ever been disemvoweled. It makes me uncomfortable to see defenders of the method fall back on this kind of "they only dislike it because of [personal failing x]" dismissal.

There's more than one way to approach all sorts of moderation problems, and ultimately whether or not I personally dislike disemvoweling doesn't much matter beyond the tip of my own nose—obviously it's not going to become a moderation method on mefi, and obviously what gets used for moderation on BB or ML is not my job to worry about. But there are legitimate reasons, voiced by lots of folks who aren't merely nursing some sort of grudge or what have you, for disliking it as a moderation method.
posted by cortex at 10:09 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


jscalzi: I've been perfectly polite about it; you choose to read it as condescension, which is not something I have much control over, nor something I'm going to spend much time worrying about.

*slaps knee*
posted by stinkycheese at 3:58 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


This thread had me re-thinking Making Light and its comment moderation -- maybe it wasn't as heavy-handed (heh) as I remembered? So I went and had a look at the comments on the article of this post.

And lo and behold, comment 65, there was TNH doing exactly the sort of thing that creates such animosity towards her moderation style. It's almost self-parodic at this point.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:30 AM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


In fact, because she is addressing Metafilter, the article in question, and because it's relevant to her moderation style, perhaps I can post her comment here? It's really quite pertinent to the discussion IMO:

David Bilek @25, 30, 46, if Metafilter is such a great community, why are the people who love it so bleeping insecure about it?

Let me be more specific: what was it about the way I moderated Boing Boing that got MeFi's knickers in such a twist? I haven't said much about it, because oh-for-pete's-sake and all, but the sheer amount of hot air expended on the subject has not escaped my notice. They were at it again just last week -- including Language Hat, who I'd have sworn was smarter than that -- moaning on about how terrible my moderation style is.

(I do wish they'd figure out that I had nothing to do with how the Violet Blue mess was handled. Xeni initially got that ball rolling, but thereafter it was pretty much David Pescovitz calling the shots. I just got stuck with cleanup.)

You've been rude since you entered this thread. What you're calling "insularity and groupthink" is the sound of Making Light's commentariat collectively responding in a polite and restrained fashion to someone who keeps stepping on his own, er, input device.

Did you notice Lisa Spangenberg's dry comments about how Making Light's moderation isn't all that heavy-handed? She was trying to be kind to you. She's not the only one who's done that.

You've been especially rude to Abi, for which you have no excuse.

I'm not going to ban you. But as of this moment, you are limited to specific, concrete, nitty-gritty discussions of how moderation actually works. That should make a pleasant change, given that you have yet to say anything on the subject. If you stray onto any other topic, the digression will lose its vowels.

Your earlier comments are going to lose some vowels as well. Don't pretend you're surprised about that. Please don't pretend it's happening because your ideas are somehow threatening to our worldview. They aren't a threat. They aren't new. They aren't particularly interesting. They're just badly expressed.

posted by stinkycheese at 4:32 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes. Okay. What? I don't get it. If you dislike TNH that much, if you hold her opinions in so little regard, why would you care what she thinks of Metafilter? Why would you even go to her site? It doesn't make any sense.
posted by Ritchie at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Poking fun at old media types while you're currently just as clueless as they used to be
posted by Scoo at 6:06 AM on March 7, 2010


So, have there been any interviews with the members of Metafilter's mod staff about moderating? I've seen jessamyn's slides about user revolts, but never heard the talk. Other than that, I'm stuck reading contentious meta threads to try to learn how they do what they do, and why.

I'd subscribe to a newsletter, were one offered.
posted by Richard Daly at 7:44 AM on March 7, 2010


"Do BB people hang out, outside of BoingBoing? Do people who comment ever get to post? Do people have a sense of the moderators as individual people with personalities. Do people know the managing editor, Rob, at all?"

I'm the new boy, and so far have been busy doing stuff that isn't blogging or writing. But I'm sure robsucks.com will be up and running soon! Just yesterday I got trolled by a grammarian who made a grammatical error in his critique, so progress has already been made.
posted by beschizza at 7:46 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've had about half a dozen posts from non-editors and unscheduled guestbloggers in the last couple of weeks, too. All you need is a pitch, and a thick skin.
posted by beschizza at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2010


So I went and had a look at the comments on the article of this post.

Wow. The moderation in that thread is full of hilarious, petty, gloating, self-satisfied FAIL.
posted by Ratio at 8:44 AM on March 7, 2010


Just yesterday I got trolled by a grammarian who made a grammatical error in his critique, so progress has already been made.

Oh my god welcome to the club. We'll send the obligatory fruit basket.

So, have there been any interviews with the members of Metafilter's mod staff about moderating?

I've talked about it a few more places [there was a big Mod Panel at SXSW last year, different from the User Revolts thing, probably videotaped] but I feel that part of the issue really is [and speaking to the main topic] moderating is, at its best, a community enabling thing, not a thing you do because you want fame and glory personally. I mean sure, people moderate because they're really good at running their own communities or have been elevated to that level by people who trust them, but if you use your moderation as a way to advance your personal platform [anywhere but your personal site] there's a good chance you're doing it wrong.

Or, if not doing it wrong [because I hate that "other people are wrong on the internet" smarmy fuck thing] you're doing it in a way that seems to me to be less condusive to a community because then it's about you. And frankly if you're a mod some people are going to hate you no matter what because you're a power/authority figure. Some people may or may not like you depending on how you do your job. And some people will probably like you no matter what either because you're a power/authority figure or because they know you or because you're maybe a little likable.

So TNH was popular [and unpopular] before BB and her BB stint gave her a way to be even more under the microscope for the mod skillz everyone had been touting. Skills that worked pretty okay on her own personal site where there was a sense of ...self-organizing. If you liked it there, you stayed. If you didn't, you went elsewhere. Once she was on BB [and I agree with her initial assessment, the way they had sort of the forum and no comments on site was even less condusive to community than what they have now] she was sort of messing with someone else's rules and it was less appropriate to say "well if you don't like it, fuck off" We say it sometimes on MeFi, it's a tough thing to say to people. But we're small enough and all on board enough with the same set of rules and guidelines, that we can conference very quickly and decide very quickly if something like that has to happen.

BB, different situation. TNH was already a personality before she went there, and being a high profile mod on a site of twitchy smart people especially one that likes touchy topics [even more than we do] is a mug's game. Again, I don't know TNH personally, but I find the weird wheels-spinning hatehatehate directed at her completely weird.

Put another way for the tl;dr crowd. Some people are just cranky. TNH is one of those people. So are the people who rant against her. That's not necessarily against the rules on BoingBoing. That is why it is different from here.
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on March 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, TNH's latest unhinged moderation rant is pretty astonishing when you look at the details. This is the first comment from David T. Bilek, whom she attacks with "You've been rude since you entered this thread":

Interesting interview. I do wish, however, that instead of Teresa and John Scalzi they had picked one of the two and then gone with a moderator from a successful online community with a more relaxed moderation style. TNH and Scalzi have similar philosophies about moderation (even if the details differ) but that philosophy is not the only way to run a successful community, nor is it necessarily the best one depending, of course, on what your goal is and what kind of community you hope to end up with.

How on earth is that rude?
posted by mediareport at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read the quoted rant above and don't find it inappropriate at all - for Making Light. And that's an important distinction.

Both Making Light and jscalzi's Whatever (on both of which I lurk faithfully) are run on the basic community principle of "This is my living room and I reserve the right to throw you out if I feel like it." For personal blogs run by people with full time jobs, that's an easy, enforceable principle and it can very well be community-building, if the owner is not completely capricious. This works because it supports the fundamental purpose of the site. Making Light is intended to provide a place for the hosts and their friends to discuss the things that interest them. The fact that other potentially neat people can wander in and add to the conversation is a feature, but it's not the central point. It's specifically a social space for people whose company the blog owners enjoy.

Metafilter has a completely different purpose. Matt and the mods aren't even in the picture - the point is to use the internet to spark fascinating conversations. All of the moderation decisions seem geared towards facilitating those conversations. Whether or not anyone likes anyone else has nothing to do with it. It's got a completely different kind of community (and even the subsites have their own communities, really) and completely different goals. So of course the moderation style is different.

I run communities for commercial products. The point of an MMO forum is to encourage people to continue to engage with the product and therefore keep giving us money. It turns out that one of the best retention strategies is to make sure your users make friends with each other, but forums and their moderators are expensive, and therefore we tend to limit off-topic conversation, enforce civility, and worry a fair bit about people opening us up to various kinds of liability. It's yet another kind of moderation that wouldn't work here or on a blog, but generally works fine for us.

Both Making Light and Whatever do have strong communities. The other point that I want to make here, though is that "strong" does not necessarily equal "open." Making Light is a hard place to walk into and start commenting - there are a whole set of customs to follow and pitfalls to avoid. This is not a bad thing. This is a community-building thing. The regular commenters there can recognize each other and have safe conversations even about incredibly sensitive topics. Even in the overtly commercial communities I run, there are customers we're better off not allowing on the forums, even if that means they stop giving us money.

Communities over a certain very small size have to be exclusive to a certain degree, I think, or they never really gel. Online communities in particular scale rather poorly. The bigger a community, the more likely it is to turn into a cesspool. For a site with a technological barrier, like Metafilter, it's simple to control the raw size of the community. For a blog with open commenting, it's almost impossible - so community mores and relatively strict moderation are probably the only way to do it.

I'm not saying the Nielsen Haydens are without flaw - they're really, really twitchy about discussions about themselves or their friends, and they both enjoy the art of the takedown perhaps too much, but they run a very successful blog filled with delightful people. (I will note that most of the (visible) moderation these days is done by Abi, whose touch feels much closer to Jessamyn's than Teresa's, which may or may not be relevant.)

(I'm not really familiar with the Boingboing thing, except that having presided over various internet disasters I'm perfectly willing to take Teresa at her word that she didn't have much to do with it. It's such old news at this point that I can't see much point in trying to dig deeper.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


restless_nomad, why didn't you chime in before? Great post. Thanks for providing a detailed distinction between community and vanity blogging. Wish I had the expertise the other other day to put that into one post instead of egging jscalzi on during a beer-fueled afternoon.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:10 PM on March 7, 2010


Heh, because I was on my way out the door to go get drunk :)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2010


Richard Daly: on moderation, there was this interview with cortex at stackoverflow.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:44 PM on March 7, 2010


How on earth is that rude?

It wasn't rude. And I constantly defend PNH and TNH here on metafilter. They do a lot of good. They're also bullies. Some people don't recognize the former. Some other people don't recognize the latter.
posted by Justinian at 1:49 AM on March 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


restless_nomad: I read the quoted rant above and don't find it inappropriate at all - for Making Light.

I don't find it particularly inappropriate. I just find it absurdly wrong. The only people being rude in that thread are Patrick and Teresa. It just doesn't seem like they can deal with a discussion which contains even a hint of light criticism of anything they or their friends are involved with if it seems like it's not coming from someone they consider one of the club.

Both Making Light and jscalzi's Whatever (on both of which I lurk faithfully) are run on the basic community principle of "This is my living room and I reserve the right to throw you out if I feel like it."

Sure, and people are perfectly free to believe that this isn't much of a "community" principle. Because I understand something doesn't mean I like it.

jessamyn: Again, I don't know TNH personally, but I find the weird wheels-spinning hatehatehate directed at her completely weird.

Well, I hope I don't qualify as someone with a weird wheels-spinning hatehatehate, given I have defended her here on occasion. I do admit, however, that it is getting increasingly difficult to do so when she is constantly accusing me of being a rude, underhanded, uninteresting, poor-communicating troll. Which is ridiculous. And the thing about the very aggressive and combative moderating style is that nobody in their right mind is going to say up and say it's ridiculous. Except me, of course. So I guess I'll just have to live with the lurkers supporting me in email.
posted by Justinian at 2:51 AM on March 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


And lo and behold, comment 65, there was TNH doing exactly the sort of thing that creates such animosity towards her moderation style. It's almost self-parodic at this point.

My god. Self-parody indeed, its almost as if TNH is playing the role of some cardboard James Bond villain, cackling about her power to disemvowel anyone who disagrees with her.
posted by orthogonality at 5:25 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure, and people are perfectly free to believe that this isn't much of a "community" principle. Because I understand something doesn't mean I like it.

You could certainly argue that it could (or should) be done differently, but I think you'd be incorrect to say that it doesn't work. I'm talking about "community" in a very practical way - not as any sort of ideal social principle, but in the "this is how to create and manage a functioning and long-lasting online community" sense.

As I said, the Nielsen Haydens are absurdly touchy about personal discussions, whether of themselves or their friends. It's a failing, I think, but it has nothing to do with Teresa's fitness as a community management consultant.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:26 AM on March 8, 2010


As I said, the Nielsen Haydens are absurdly touchy about personal discussions, whether of themselves or their friends. It's a failing, I think, but it has nothing to do with Teresa's fitness as a community management consultant.

I think we're in agreement, mostly, but we differ on the degree to which the latter part of this sentence is true. Or at least how much it is true when the community being managed constantly involves personal discussions of the NHs or their friends.

In a commenter, being absurdly touchy about certain topics is more-or-less a minor foible. In a site-runner and head moderator it's a fatal flaw when those topics constantly come up. TNH and PNH fly off the handle when there appears to be even a hint of criticism or disagreement wth anything they or close friends are involved with, as you yourself note (if in nicer terms), and since so much of Making Light involves things they or their close friends are involved with, that means that they become rude and combative when people disagree with a great deal of what they post on the site.

A successful community, yes. But it is incredibly insular. Even if it upsets them for me to say that.

For context, this is not me just popping up with this opinion. I've been in various online communities with the NHs since at least the early to mid 90s. The Ge SFRT (peace be upon it), r.a.s.f.w., and r.a.s.f.f. in their Vinge-esque glory days, and so on. So I do know a little bit about of what I speak.
posted by Justinian at 5:53 AM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


A successful community, yes. But it is incredibly insular. Even if it upsets them for me to say that.

Is an incredibly insular community successful? I guess it depends upon your definition of 'community.'

I think this sorta-works with Making Light and Whatever because those sites are about specific people, and if those specific people want to be capricious in 'moderating,' well, that's almost by definition OK. (I believe Scalzi and TNH actually implement this differently, which is why I found the interview fascinating.)

Where you really get problems is in trying to do this in communities that aren't all about you. It's invariably going to be counterproductive to anyone but the mod in question.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:22 PM on March 8, 2010


Is an incredibly insular community successful? I guess it depends upon your definition of 'community.'

I think it depends more on your definition of "successful". There are a great many offline communities which I think we'd agree are both insular and successful. Because some people like it to be that way.
posted by Justinian at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2010


medievalist: I note that those people who most object to disemvowelling seem to be suffering from golden words syndrome, and think their utterances are all gems.

Personally, I think this is an absurd assertion and, frankly, people who make such disingenuous and unsupportable assertions and then disappear into the ether to make them again somewhere they can't be responded to are being passive-aggressive and quite rude.
posted by Justinian at 9:58 PM on March 8, 2010


Personally, I think this is an absurd assertion and, frankly, people who make such disingenuous and unsupportable assertions and then disappear into the ether to make them again somewhere they can't be responded to are being passive-aggressive and quite rude.

I'm right here sweetie. I've been right here for a number of years--longer than you, in fact. It's not my fault you're too clueless about online communities to click on a profile link; it's not like I'm hard to find. My observation about the reaction is more than adequately supported by your little textual tantrum over the absence of a few vowels. I note, by the way, that you don't seem to understand "passive aggressive," because your use of it just now is in fact passive aggressive. In other words:

If you've got a point to make, then by all means make it.

I note, by the way, that disemvowelling doesn't make your post unreadable, or stop you from responding. You've had several requests for specifics; you have failed repeatedly to provide any, and instead, sob that you're being bullied. You poor dear. It must be dreadful to be called on to support your assertions.

So fine; you disagree. Here's a specific question:

Why do you think people object to dismevoweling if it's not because, like you, they suffer from golden words syndrome and object to having the vacuous nature of their response highlighted? Because you certainly seem to feel that your words are golden.

Points for responding in succint prose with high semantic value.
posted by medievalist at 12:19 AM on March 9, 2010


I'm right here sweetie. I've been right here for a number of years--longer than you, in fact [....] Why do you think people object to dismevoweling if it's not because, like you, they suffer from golden words syndrome and object to having the vacuous nature of their response highlighted? Because you certainly seem to feel that your words are golden.

Well, honeybun, I'm not sure your 17 comments qualifies you to pass judgment on either the quality or length of someone's contribution to Metafilter, nor do I think your understanding of the site is very high if you think that a comparison of user numbers means anything to anyone.

Why do you think people object to dismevoweling if it's not because, like you, they suffer from golden words syndrome and object to having the vacuous nature of their response highlighted

I think people object to disemvoweling for a rather wide variety of reasons.

Some people believe that editing other people's words is quite different than removing them entirely and that it is significantly more fraught with ethical considerations. When you remove so many letters from someone's words, you make their post or comment into something they did not write. It is, of course, true that you usually reconstruct what they said with a little effort (although there could be errors; English is very redundant, but not perfectly so). But that doesn't change the fact that altering someone's words is very different than simply removing them.

People, including myself, also believe that using a method like disemvoweling contributes to and reinforces what many people consider to be a sub-optimal dynamic between moderators and the community. Note that this is a widely held opinion. Wikipedia, for example, notes a case study about online crisis communication which asserts this to be a case specifically with regard to the BB fiasco. It appears to be behind some sort of registration or paywall now, but the citation is still available.

Disemvoweling, the supporters claim, removes the offending words from a casual glance while still making them available for the interested, and so it is claimed to be less aggressive a moderating tool than simple removal. But this claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny. If one wishes to hide the words from a casual glance while still making them available, there are many other methods which don't involve editing the words themselves and leaving them to stand in an edited fashion under the original by-line. This view is also widely held; for example it is shared by at least one moderator of a well-known, large, and successful community of which we are both members. You are welcome to put forward the idea that cortex and many others suffer from "golden words syndrome" and doesn't like to have his vacuous words highlighted, but I don't think you'd get very far and would instead prefer to silently walk back your statement.

Disemvoweling wasn't a thought-out strategy. The stuff about leaving the words to be reconstructed, etc, etc are an ex post facto rationalization. When it started it was just a contemptuous lark. I note TNH's first use in this comment:

Speaking of which, I decided that since nobody was paying attention to PS's arguments anyway, and it's dreary having to scroll up and down past them, they'd be better shortened. [...] So I took out the vowels..

And I believe that's what it generally remains to this day. Not an attempt to help the commenter by gently showing them the error of their ways, but an assertion of dominance and a holding up for ridicule. That's the evidence. You can see it yourself in the link. You may argue that isn't the intended purpose, although I think that's a tough sell, but it is certainly the effect. Disemvoweling is not about treading lightly or about gentle correction. It's about making a show of the process. If it were about treading lightly there are far better ways to do it which do not involve deliberately changing the words other people have spoken which, to me, is ethically dubious. Frankly, it is likely also legally dubious although as a practical matter I doubt anyone will ever make a big stink about it in a legal forum, so that's only important on a theoretical level. But it does reveal the problematic nature of the beast.

Now, I could keep going but I know you've said that writing lengthy comments is a sign of something arguing in bad faith, so I'll stop there for now except to say that, yes, what goes on at ML is, indeed, bullying. You can see it in the current thread. There can be no other description for allowing a pile-on of people attacking someone who is not allowed to respond. Period.

Points for responding in succint prose with high semantic value.

So do you really think nobody could possibly object to disemvoweling without believing themselves to be a special snowflake? Points for responding in non-condescending, self-satisfied, and snide prose.
posted by Justinian at 2:05 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me repeat that for emphasis. The reason for disemvoweling was "since nobody was paying attention to X's comments anyway, and it was dreary to scroll up and down past them". That is not the type of thing a moderator interested in a welcoming, friendly community does or says.
posted by Justinian at 2:08 AM on March 9, 2010


User 543, freeloading off this place from before it cost anything.

medievalist: Points for responding in succint prose with high semantic value.

We're playing for points now? Crap I am way behind.

In cortex's interview with Stack Overflow at one point he said, approximately, mods don't ridicule the commenters even if you think they deserve it. I lurk at metafilter lot* and I've seen jessamyn and cortex put up with a lot of snide, personal abuse with good humor and a willingness to forgive.

Speaking only for myself, I can say the reason I disagree with disemvowelling is because it's public ridicule, and I can't stand it any more than I can stand they way Teresa Neilsen Hayden used to wade into threads at boing boing replying to several commenters at once telling them they were: lying; willfully wrong; disingenous; concern trolls; trying to tell the boingers what to post; and finally, I will disemvowell you but I will then respond, so that you know who's in charge.

I personally feel much more comfortable knowing that if I screw up here jessamyn, cortex, or mathowie might start with a polite [some comments removed this isn't the place for it] rather than "Well, you asked for this you!"

I don't know if that has high semantic content but I happen to know that semantic content has a medical card so that's cool and it's usually willing to share and never jacks my lighter.

*By contractual agreement I can't post a front page post unless it's some Canadian lying to everyone AGAIN about Reboot! coming back. Canada, why you always gotta break a girl's heart?
posted by mrmorgan at 3:47 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, by the way. For the record: Over in the thread about this on ML I did not ignore the requests for links to specific comments and such. Abi's last comment and my last two (fairly lengthy) comments containing said links have been removed-without-comment. Not disemvoweled, just removed. Leaving a rather different picture of the events.

So, yeah. Not so much with the defending of ML from now on.
posted by Justinian at 5:18 AM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I will say, for the record, that the Making Light folks' ongoing temper tantrum in that thread is not doing my assertions that TNH generally knows what she's talking about any particular favors.

However, every community I've been a part of has weird triggers. Here, it's declawing and Sarah Palin and whatnot. One of my old games it was server transfers. There, it's criticisms of the owners. Doesn't mean they're not healthy, well-run communities otherwise. Theirs just looks somewhat more insane than most, particularly this week.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:47 AM on March 9, 2010


Oh, and Justinian, they just posted over there that a number of posts were lost due to a server move, so perhaps it's safer not to assume malice just yet.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:56 AM on March 9, 2010


No, of course not, what a stupid thing to suggest, where do you even get these ideas?

I used the word in its "cult" sense. And I get that idea from reading the site, and having read it for many years. You guys have completely lost it.
posted by effbot at 8:03 AM on March 9, 2010


I've been following this thread and the Making Light thread for a few days now—it occurred to me on Saturday to see if there was an interesting discussion over there about the TNH/Scalzi article since it'd have significant local context there—and at this point I'm honestly just really tired out by the whole thing.

Justinian, medievalist, I'd honestly like to not have this turn into a parallel staging ground for the stuff going on over at Making Light. I know dual citizenship makes for weird dynamics sometimes, but I don't feel like duplicating the argument over here is going to do anything to help the sense of mild festering cross-community head-bumping that's been evidenced both over here and over at ML. If you want to keep talking, please try and (a) remember that not everybody over here is following the conversation over there in detail or at all and (b) cut some of the jabby or condescending rhetorical crap in the meantime.

I struggled with whether to join in the discussion over on ML this time around, and honestly I was too dispirited by some of what Teresa said when she jumped in to want to even try engaging, but I feel like just trying to ask to have this settle down over here I'm commenting by proxy. It's a frustrating bind.

Mostly I'd just like people to let each other be; I can't and won't presume to try to tell the folks at ML how to handle their discussions and their moderation, and as much as there are commonalities in some of the basic elements of the sites I don't think that mefi and ML have particularly compatible outlooks on a lot of that stuff for a variety of reasons that have as much to do with scale and mission and the visibility of proprietorship as anything, and it'd probably be best if folks could avoid introducing any more of this (in this case honestly pretty limited so far, as far as I can tell) border-crossing weirdness with conversations on and about the two sites.

The few people here who have a specific issue with TNH could really do to be less reflexive about voicing that at every opportunity, or to take it to their own blogs if they really need to vent. That the TNH-directed anger is confined to a small handful of people here and is not endemic to the mefi userbase or some sort of official or officially-condoned position is something that should be obvious enough and it'd be nice if it didn't feel like that was being missed out on by the folks on ML to some extent. But both of these are issues of charged emotions combining with personal perspectives and it's hard to know what to do about it other than to just point it out and hope for the best in the future. So this is me doing that.
posted by cortex at 8:49 AM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


cortex: I actually agree wth you. I repeatedly and emphatically stated over there that I wasn't responsible for what other people said on another site and that I was in no way going to be held up as representing Metafilter. At all.

And then those very disclaimers got disemvoweled. So I dunno what to tell you, cortex. When my very attempts to limit the discussion get redacted, it makes it problematic.
posted by Justinian at 9:14 AM on March 9, 2010


When my very attempts to limit the discussion get redacted, it makes it problematic.

To be really clear, that's a problem with Making Light, not with here.

I think people have been generally decent on this thread with a few outliers, but we really don't want MeFi to become a "We can't have that conversation there, so we'll have it here along with the GRAR that is forbidden there" outpost. It's actually completely within the prerogative of ML to do whatever they want with their comments. I also know it's frustrating to feel that you're not able to contribute to a discussion respectfully because of the moderators' decisions. That said, the weird cross-site discussion needs to sort of wind itself down, not up, which I think is what it's doing.
posted by jessamyn at 12:22 PM on March 9, 2010


Sorry, cortex. I have Next Morning Internet Hangover Regret for that blob of text about moderation at Boing Boing. I really just wanted to reply to the madcap assertion that critics of disemvowelling suffer from "golden vowels syndrome." Which would be an awesome name for an SCP.

Well, and I've been holding onto that joke about Canada and Reboot! for literally months now. MONTHS.
posted by mrmorgan at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2010


I would also like for Reboot! to come back, fwiw.
posted by cortex at 12:33 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


No! No Canadian infiltration of our television!
posted by Justinian at 4:57 PM on March 9, 2010


Man, Justinian, I remember when you used to be cool.
posted by mrmorgan at 7:25 PM on March 9, 2010


Canadian sympathizer.
posted by Justinian at 8:25 PM on March 9, 2010


Also, I was never cool. You need your glasses checked.
posted by Justinian at 8:38 PM on March 9, 2010


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