I'll just leave this here (can't remember where I got it) ...
ESSAY 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")
ESSAY 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 ó 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.