31 March 2017

Social aspects of newsgroup moderation and mailing list administration

How do those of us (tinw) who run non-commercial mailing lists or newsgroups as a hobby view that role?

What motivates you?

My guess is that at least those who have operated many such forums, done it during a long period of time or supported large user bases tend to be driven by a kind of public good. Of course, this is a generalisation, but if your motive isn’t altruism, what is it that makes you tick? (A sense of power? That would seem particularly unlikely after the first five or ten years of toiling. Material gain? Nonexistent, as far as I know.)

Hobby or mortal combat?

Leisure activities should be fun and relaxing, and running a discussion forum may indeed offer occasional humorous moments. (If it would not, how many administrators would put up with the darker side, such as legal or physical threats?) Let’s try to keep it fun as well. You probably get your fair share of controversy at your day job, so why become all worked up over a hobby?

Take it easy, and your heart will thank you. Spend your free time online with a chip on your shoulder, and become a cardiac fatality with ‘They never missed an opportunity to get back at someone’ engraved on your tombstone. If a newsgroup or mailing list is starting to look like a power game to you, why not take a leave of absence. Go for a walk, smell the flowers. Whether it’s for a week or a month, it will also help you run the forum in a more balanced way when you return.

The rule of first impressions

Newsgroups and mailing lists do not exist in isolation from ‘real life’. If you lose your cool online, people will assume that you suffer from anger management problems in other environments as well, particularly if you are known to be past puberty. Remember that sites such as Google Groups create public (and potentially eternal) archives of various forums. People with notoriously inadequate self-control may even receive their own ‘fan sites’ displaying their writings. – Speaking of fan culture:

Don’t try to turn a forum into your fan club

Any literate person can set up a mailing list, and no matter how good you are, no one is irreplaceable. Users are mainly interested in discussing whatever is on topic for the list or group; they are unlikely to care much about the team that handles the background work, at least as long as those worker bees are competent enough not to break too much too often. (It’s not like most list administrators or newsgroup moderators would receive e.g. 10,000 holiday gifts each year from their user community.) Set an example by posting objective, on-topic articles, but if you feel the need to rant about something irrelevant, not to mention engage in ad hominem attacks, consider doing it elsewhere, if at all.