A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Frank Reed
Date: 2010 Dec 5, 21:19 -0800
To all, please be sure to read the general advice that follows after the line of dashes (---) below.
Bill Morris, you wrote:
"I understand Frank Reed bears the cost of administering NavList."
Yes, but as I said in November, money is not the issue. Words like these can be very "sticky" and hard to shake off, so I must say this again, this has NOTHING to do with the actual financial cost of managing NavList. I accept that cost, and no one owes me anything for it. I do, however, put a very large amount of work into maintaining the NavList, message boards and technical operations, publicizing NavList as a community and the achievements of its members, and making it easy for newcomers as well as long-established members to enjoy NavList.
In this particular case, Peter Fogg simply over-reacted. Calling me an "incipient megalomaniac" is just his (insert favorite adjective here...) way of expressing himself. He knows I'm nothing of the sort, and I am quite certain that that the overwhelming majority of NavList members and readers recognize the ridiculous when they see it. I keep expecting Peter to see the futility of this sort of thing, but so far... not so much.
You all should also know that I have very few "powers" to speak of. As I described in my, hopefully amusing, post about my "absolute powers," the only REAL power I have over NavList is the ability to make you think with my words. If I say "think of a telescope" or "picture a lunar distance as a cone of position," and actually make that point and enable you to see that in your head, well, that right there is real power. And it's a power that you all have, too. Now it's true that I, as NavList manager, have the technical power to ban email addresses from posting, but this power is an illusion as I have stated many times (also PLEASE read the essay below). It's an artifact from the early days of the Internet when email addresses were relatively difficult to acquire and rather closely tied to a person's identity. Today things are dramatically different. Anyone whose email address has been banned can come back within five minutes simply by using a new email address (though new additions are initially moderated to prevent spam). Or if they wish, they can email anyone they know from the community off-list and use that means to bypass any supposed ban and express their "outrage" (even if no such ban exists and they're just experiencing some momentary paranoia). I have made this point many times on NavList, usually when someone tells me that "as the owner" I should force someone to stop mis-behaving, as if I have some power of enforcement. They just don't get it.
You also spoke of the effect that "ad hominem" words have on newcomers. While there is definitely some truth to that, the wider Internet is a rough and wild place and this is fairly mild stuff. More importantly, I have spoken to many NavList members in person and the NUMBER ONE thing that attracts them to NavList is excellent content. THAT IS WHAT WE NEED TO ENCOURAGE. I SUPPORT ANYTHING THAT LEADS TO EXCELLENT CONTENT.
Finally, the NavList community AS a community has the only real power here. If someone behaves badly, speak up and tell them so plainly and directly without escalating the problem. And if that individual then lashes out at the person who pointed this out, others should stand up and support the individual who went to the effort to stand up first.
As for the stated topic of this thread, "NavList posts should be primarily in English", Peter made a claim that he had posted in French when Dan Hogan was managing this group, and that Dan Hogan didn't complain. Peter's memory is probably off here. There was a message that was posted when *I* was managing NavList with some French comments in it. There was nothing wrong with it, and indeed it was a nice welcoming, convivial thing to do. As the subject line here says, and as I explicitly stated in my original post, NavList posts should be PRIMARILY in English. No one will mind if you add some French or any other language of your choice for friendly conversational purposes or even for a little concealed satire (Latin was often used this way in public letters in the 18th century). It's only that the navigation-related *content* of NavList messages should be primarily in English. That is what members and other readers expect, and to do otherwise is exclusionary. There is nothing extraordinary here. It is no more remarkable than saying that one should not post French paragraphs into the middle of articles on the English-language edition of Wikipedia. This is not rocket science.
FINALLY, it is time once again to post some general advice regarding online communities. I have done this about once a year for the past five years. I am NOT the author of either of these, though I have added some edits. These essays have been around for years and years, and they reflect general phenomena seen in all online communities.
I. THE LIFE CYCLE OF ONLINE DISCUSSIONS:
Every online discussion group seems to go through the same cycle. Below are the six stages in the life cycle of an online discussion group, with a fateful fork in the road at level six. Also included are typical posts for each stage from the online "Pizza Forum" (mythical):
1. Initial enthusiasm: People introduce themselves and gush a lot about how wonderful it is to find kindred souls.
Pizza Forum: "You like pizza?! I like pizza, TOO! This is so great."
2. Evangelism: People moan about how few folks are posting messages and brainstorm recruitment strategies.
Pizza Forum: "We could make this the best place for discussing pizza on the whole Internet. I bet there are lots of people like us who love pizza!"
3. Growth: More and more people join. More and more lengthy threads develop. Occasional off-topic threads pop up.
Pizza Forum: "I just can't believe how many people love pizza. I had no idea that Richard Nixon liked garlic pizza. And I'm not sure I needed to know that."
4. Community: Lots of threads, some more relevant than others. Lots of information and advice are exchanged. Experts help other experts as well as less experienced colleagues. Friendships develop. People tease each other. Newcomers are welcomed with generosity and patience. Everyone --newbie and expert alike-- feels comfortable asking questions, suggesting answers, and sharing opinions.
Pizza Forum: "I have never loved pizza so much in my life. Thank you so much for that terrific recipe for thin crust! That story about the historical origins of mozzarella cheese was fascinating."
5. Discomfort with diversity: The number of messages increases dramatically. Not every thread is fascinating to every reader. People start complaining about the signal-to-noise ratio. Person X threatens to quit if *other* people don't limit discussion to person X's pet topic. Person Y agrees with person X. Person Z tells X and Y to lighten up. More bandwidth is wasted complaining about off-topic threads than is used for the threads themselves. Everyone gets annoyed.
Pizza Forum: "I really could not care less about the historical origins of mozzarella cheese. I am sick and tired of these self-important 'pizza geeks'. This group is supposed to be about loving pizza, and now I'm starting to hate pizza. What happened??"
6a.Smug complacency and stagnation: The purists flame everyone who asks an "old" question or responds with humor to a serious post. Newbies are rebuffed. Traffic drops to a doze-producing level limited to a few minor issues; all interesting discussions happen by private email and are limited to a few participants. The purists spend lots of time self-righteously congratulating each other for suppressing off-topic threads...
Pizza Forum: "Again? Look, we have already reached a group consensus on the mozzarella question. Please consult the archives. Can we get back to the history of dough-shaping please..."
6b.Maturity: A few people quit in a huff. The rest of the participants stay near stage 4, with stage 5 popping up briefly every few weeks. Long-term members may find that they ignore more messages than they read. But the community lives contentedly ever after.
Pizza Forum: "I still like pizza."
(with thanks to the original author of the "Life Cycle of a List")
II. An essay on general etiquette issues for online discussion communities entitled
DON'T BE A JERK:
The Fundamental Principle:
"Don't be a jerk" is the fundamental rule of all online social spaces. Every other policy for getting along is a special case of it. Although nobody in this community is empowered to ban or block somebody for being a jerk (as this would be an instance of being a jerk!), it is still a bad idea to be one. So don't do it.
No definition of being a jerk is being provided here. This is deliberate. If a significant number of reasonable people suggest, whether bluntly or politely, that you are being a jerk, the odds are good that you are not entirely in the right.
Being right about an issue does not mean you're not being a jerk. Jerks CAN be right — but they're still jerks; if there's something in what they say that is worth hearing, it goes unheard, because no one likes listening to jerks. It doesn't matter how right they are.
COPING with Being Called a Jerk:
If you've been labeled as a jerk, especially if you have been told this by several people in a particular community, it might be wise to consider the possibility that it is true. If you suspect that you may be a jerk, the first step is to become aware of it. Ask yourself what behavior might be causing this perception. Try changing your behavior and your mode of presentation. In particular, identify the harsh words in your communications and replace them with softer ones.
Honestly examine your motivations. Are you here to contribute constructively? Or is your goal really to find fault, get your views across, or be the one in control? Perhaps secretly inside you even enjoy the thrill of a little confrontation. This may not make you a bad person, but to everyone else, you become an impediment. People get frustrated, rancor ensues, the atmosphere changes, and the whole community suffers. Are you here to give, or to take?
If appropriate, publicly apologize to anyone to whom you may have appeared to be a jerk. It's okay; this won't make you seem weak. On the contrary, people will take notice of your willingness to cooperate and will almost always meet your efforts with increased respect.
Telling someone "Don't be a jerk" can easily be a jerk-move in itself, so don't use this criticism lightly. This creates an obvious conundrum.
It Takes TWO:
It takes two to have a disagreement. You can't argue with yourself. If you're involved in a dispute that has become emotional or rude, blame yourself first. It's always a good place to start. If after careful reflection you sincerely believe that you are not at fault, then your best bet may be to step back for a few days.
PS: For Antoine: you used the wrong posting code (typo). If you want your reply in this thread to appear, just re-send it. If you need a copy of the text, please email me off-list.
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