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Advice on dealing with new users and ill-fitting threads

Started by Eero Tuovinen, April 07, 2010, 04:03:24 AM

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Eero Tuovinen

I've noticed lately that we're getting new faces here at the Forge. An obvious consequence is that aside from new ideas and viewpoints we're also getting forum chatter: threads that are initiated to socialize and get to know other participants. These are the type of threads I'm thinking of, just looking at recent new discussions:
Universal Systems vs Setting Specific? - It's a polling thread, and an idle one at that. If there is a game design interest (it's posted on a design forum), it's not explained in any way.
[D&D 4e] New campaign needs name... - Insofar as I can figure, the poster just wanted to show off his new D&D campaign set-up; there are no questions or anything.
I don't want to call out the specific posters participating in those threads to defend themselves, I'm just picking some random examples to illustrate what I'm talking about. This sort of thing seems to be limited to First Thoughts, perhaps because people look for a general topic subforum and assume that this is it.

Anyway, I thought about it and realized that I've started seeing more of this type of thing nowadays, but I don't really have a firm handle on how I should act on it myself, if I should act at all. Thus I asked Ron about it, and he told me to start this thread, he'll be around to explain this to everybody. Here's what I wrote to Ron, I speculate about possible courses of action in it:

Quote from: Eero to Ron
I'd like a bit of advice on forum behavior. This might be something you'd want to discuss in public as well, I don't know.

We've been getting new people at the Forge who are outsiders in relation to the old culture. A good thing, but it means that we often get new threads that are in wrong places or badly formulated, or not appropriate at all. A particularly difficult case for me is when somebody starts a social chatting thread of the type that compose the majority of discussion on your average web forum - the topic is valid in itself, but the thread originator doesn't seem to have any intent to engage it aside from superficial noise. This is a recent example: it's just a lonely guy wanting to get a discussion going, it seems to me, but he doesn't know how, so he grabs at a random rpg topic and asks everybody to speak their opinion on it. It has nothing to do with the subforum it is on, and reformulating it as an actual play thread seems like a lot of work when there's no indication that the thread originator is even committed to a discussion - insofar as I see, he's just trying to make some noise to be social.

Now, my question is thus: how would you like us to interact with this sort of forum activity? I could see reporting these threads via the moderator function, leaving them otherwise alone; I could also reply to the thread myself, explain what's wrong and try to craft an useful dialogue out of it while waiting for you to recategorize it; or I could just keep away and wait for you to do whatever you want with it. I've done all three of those at times, mostly depending on ephemeral detail such as whether I've something useful to say or the author seems sincere or he's getting a crowd debating the topic, but I realized just now that I don't really know what is your preferred engagement strategy in this sort of thing. For all I know you might want us to intentionally ostracize mis-started threads until you manage them yourself, but you might also prefer it if we "help" in upholding the community standards by participating constructively?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


The question is implied by the title of my thread.  "D&D campaign needs a new name..." So sorry I didn't spell it out word for word.

Ron Edwards


Earlier in the Forge history, I asked that regular members be spot-check moderators for all sorts of social or intellectual standards here. I still think that they should be attentive to those standards, but I no longer think that they should post in that role.

As already demonstrated right here in this thread, people arrive at internet discussion sites in an emotional, socially-tense state of mind. They don't know whether the site is "good enough" for them, they don't know whether they are "good enough" for the site, blah and more blah. The actual thing they'd like to discuss, and the associated personal risks that come with that, are buried and often even invisible in the mass of social jockeying they expect to have to do. It's all about how they look, how they come off, et cetera.

Ideally, at the Forge, none of that needs to go on. The post is about what it's about, the only people who reply are interested in what it's about, and that is simply that. As I said, though - ideally. The reality is clearly not going to meet that standard from the start, and I specifically tag the more experienced intellectuals who arrive here as at least an equal hassle, in this regard, as the younger or more volatile new arrivals. The latter are sensitive, yes, but the former can be more toxic in their determination to stake out turf and to play dancing-bear rhetorical games.

Anyway, learning to moderate and oversee the whole thing has obviously been a work in progress. I've discovered a number of useful phrases, like saying, "this is not the internet." Meaning, how it's done elsewhere, what you expect from elsewhere, doesn't mean a thing to me. Or, when I move or split a thread, I send a private message letting the person know, and I include the phrase, "No big deal." Because it isn't, but if I don't say so, the person shoots back an aggrieved, defensive, agonized protest - because they perceive any message from the moderator as an attack unless it's softened by that clarifying phrase, which in this case has the additional virtue of being true.

All of this is to answer Eero: unfortunately, I have found that people acting as mini-moderators can't consistently combine the phrasing, the content, the timing, and any other detail of posting as effectively as I'd like. I can always see the good will in those posts, but the person receiving the post usually can't. Even mentioning Luminous' thread here, Eero, caused 100 times more problems than your question and my answer can solve, at least regarding his case. "So sorry," in internet speak, means "Fuck you all." He's already obviously so pissed off at being "singled out" or "picked on" that I'm throwing up my hands - there goes another one, with whatever Forge-compatible willingness that led him to sign on in the first place, diminished to the point of probably being lost. He's totally not able to see that you chose his post because you wanted to bring him into the Forge-type discussions. All he sees is a slap in the face and social ostracism, as if you'd put him in the stocks.

Disclosure for fairness: Eero began this inquiry with a private message and I asked him to go public with it. I didn't specify whether to include the link to the thread (in his message) or not, but I should have, and said "not."

So here's what I'm asking now. Use the "report to moderator" button and briefly explain your perception of the post. You don't have to send me a paragraph. Just say, "new poster, needs help," or anything like that. Hitting that button means both Vincent and I get the notification in our email. We share standards for how to handle it, and if it doesn't work out, then at least "the mods" are the bad guys in the person's perceptions, not "the Forge" in terms of the community here.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

Thanks, Ron. One elaboration on the question: when we have a miscategorized thread (on the wrong subforum, that is), do you mind if people engage it where it is, or should we wait for you to move it before starting a discussion?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Ron Edwards

Hi Eero (and my apologies for at least facilitating the problem I was talking about above),

That's a good inquiry too. So far, I think that engaging with the thread topic is a good thing, especially the way you do it by saying "A moderator will probably move this thread to the (whatever) forum soon" as well. Assuming that you personally want to participate in that thread anyway. No one should post to a thread topic they're not interested in.

And of course, if someone prefers simply to hit "report thread" and say "wrong forum" in the message, that'd be fine too.

Best, Ron

Eero Tuovinen

Thanks Ron, I'll make a point of remembering to tag these sorts of threads for the moderator from now on.

Luminous, I'm sorry for putting the spotlight on you; I didn't think that it'd be a big deal, I do all sorts of weird things on forums myself as well. Just something we have to live with. For what it's worth, I thought that your campaign set-up was rather cool; I just didn't understand the point of the thread, as naming a campaign seems pretty minor to me - if I ever do it, it's usually only after a couple of sessions of play, once we see where the game is going. To me it seemed like you weren't really looking for help, but rather just social validation.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.