memory serves correctly, I've been knocking around online communities
since 1983 or so. In those days, you could prowl through the back
of Computer Currents magazine and find loads of listings for bulletin
boards. You'd open up your modem program, set the parity, length
and stop bits to match, and dial direct to the number with the old
AT DT command. If you were lucky, phone line would be open, the
BBS would be up and running, and you could wander around to see
what was going on.
of the environments were pretty sparse - topics of discussion and
conversation relied upon other users, and when there were only a
few incoming lines available - the bottleneck was obvious. It was
common courtesy and practice to capture the text of others comments,
log off, compose your responses and then try to log back in and
early on, I found The Well, joined up and mostly hung out in the
computer music area. The level of information was pretty high, and
it was a great resource for what was a strong interest area at that
time. They had banks of phone lines, as well as the ability to telnet
in, so it was a lively environment. It also didn't really tolerate
fools, so people who had little to offer were quickly shouted down.
(There were a number of interesting characters, and people were
permitted their idiosyncrasies, but boorish behavior was in the
minority.) The focus always remained on the ideas which you posted,
and strong social pressure existed to keep folks in line.
to state the non-obvious, these were text-based interfaces. No graphics,
nothing to click on, myriad ways to get lost or frustrated. Because
of the limitations of text on a screen, there was a strong need
to be specific, make your points clearly, and bring others along
with the tone of what you were saying.
may be a bit of a lost art, but text bulletin boards continue to
exist in web-based forms, and people still run mailing lists which
remain text-based. Usenet still exists (though arguably in the same
way that "downtowns" still exist in many cities). I still
enjoy this type of communication and intereaction.
course, there is a heck of a lot more traffic these days. I've found
myself gradually withdrawing from the more public forums, either
tiring of needless sniping or having to ignore95% of the the topics
and posts. Many of the follow-up "contributions" seem
to revel in being cleverly rude and snide, as a mirror of popular
practice that it's better to be provacative than thought-provoking.
outlets ecourage that type of behavior. If that gets you charged
up, far be it for me to convince you otherwise. But, as many people
have made the jump from AOL forums* (for example) to non-public
mailing lists, they do so without coming across what were once pretty
standard guidelines "back in the day". It has gotten me
thinking again about those tenets of behavior which were generally
accepted. I've begun collecting them here.
not pretending that these are some set of rigid guidelines to be
followed at all times. Heck, we all have bad days or those times
when we just don't really care. But, if there isn't a basis of agreement,
some kind of ethical floor, then it becomes very difficult to get
past the noise.
of these things are common sense, but until we get to the point
where we can visually interact regardless of physical distance like
the Jedi Council, they are slightly non-obvious.
can't see if you are smiling -
Text-based communications means just that. We don't know if you
are laughing, grimacing, shaking your head, fist or something altogether
too personal to menton. All we have to go by is the words you have
chosen to share. This is a key concept that often gets ignored.
we can if you tell us -
can help to put across levity. If I type -
- then it means I'm winking and smiling. Even :-) can tell people
that you aren't all that serious. More here.
can tell if you are shouting -
Capitalization places strong emphasis on what you are saying. There's
a time and a place for it. ALL CAPS is generally regarded as shouting.
People read that as though you are screaming it. The only people
who scream all the time are basketball coaches and streetcorner
are better ways to strongly make your points.
is by using the <return> key and giving it a separate line.
is to use an underscore before and after the word. That looks like
the Depth before you Dive -
Most mature (as in "been around for a while") groups tend
to have a tone. This is pretty evident in the Usenet groups, where
you wouldn't write the same kind of posts in rec.bicycles.tech as
you might in some alt.sex forum. Generally it's not a bad idea to
subscribe and then "lurk" for a while - get a sense of
who posts a lot, how folks post things, and what type of responses
are frowned upon. Some groups are extremely narrow in their topic,
and won't tolerate anything that is slightly off-message. Some are
a little less stringent.
Group has a TOPIC for a reason -
Even if your new found friends are forgiving of off-topic wanderings,
try to limit those excursions. It isn't (in most cases) as though
we each don't do other things. It's just that this is where we've
chosen to talk about a specific subject. Under the best of circumstances,
mailing lists are reasonably anarchic gatherings. They will tend
towards entropy unless you make a concious effort to keep things
under the chosen umbrella.
Your Post -
I think many people must hit "Send" as soon as they finish
typing. This strikes me as a monumentally bad idea. Stop. reread
what you've written and ask yourself if you are really adding anything
to the conversation.
In the spirit of "Reread Your Post", I try to delete at
least half of all posts which I plan on making.
End of Story.
Use journalism-style paragraphs - short ones with one point or thought.
Huge blocks of run-on sentances are reasonably tough to deal with.
you pause when you are writing something, it's a good idea to hit
<return>/<enter> to let the rest of us pause with you.
In short, it's the visual clue that thoughts go together.
Small Bites and Chew Thoroughly -
Unless the group seeks a different kind of response, start small
and build up. Don't introduce yourself with the equivilient of a
2 page posting. Pick a small thing or two and build up over time.
Too much at once seems reasonably off-putting, in most cases.
us our trespasses -
Despite all of that, I'll probably say something wrong or stupid.
Hopefully, it doesn't mean I'm always wrong or stupid, so if you'd
allow me that slack every once in a while, the net will be a nicer
Dog-pilin' or "Me-too"ing -
If you've ever spent time in a dog park, you'll see that a dog that
tries to get away is suddenly chased by an ever-growing number of
other dogs - probably moving to an ancient pack-code of "eliminate
the weak". When folks make improper statements or incorrect
assertions, by about the third response, most people are just echoing
what has already been said.
you have to make the case that your comments on on-topic, they probably
(Or, if you have to make the case that your topic is on-topic, it
AOL Forums - Don't assume I'm dissing AOL or their discussion
forums. Both of my parents - who had no computer chops to speak
of - managed to get online through the courtesy of AOL (probably
2.1 or something), and it's been a tremendous force for most people
in reducing what was a reasonbly steep learning curve of getting
online. It's just that with such a broad user base, it has struck
me more as visiting a mall than a library.
list of thoughts sparked this little thread
is a work in progress. If you have ideas or feedback, please feel
free to email me.
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