Clay Shirky’s new piece, A Group is its own World Enemy is a wonderful look at on-line interactions. he’s right on. Going back to the days of the Backbone Cabal, I’ve seen (and re-lived) the same kind of issues he’s talking about.
(and, in some great virtual co-dependency, like Skinner’s pigeon, once the wounds scar over, I always wander back into the fray, thinking next time, we’ll find the secret that’ll make it work, this time for real (nothing up my sleeve!). Or maybe it’s Maslow’s monkey — it sure feels that way some days…)
A few random thoughts that his piece brought up, for no particular reason other than I thought they synced up with his piece rather well.
Groups are normally created by a small set of people with very similar ideals and goals — after all, they’re a group. but a successful group is going to attract new members, and over time, you’ll start bringing in members that aren’t fully in sync with the full set of goals for the group, and that’s where conflict starts.
So for a group to be successful, you need to design in UP FRONT one of three things:
1) you design the group to be of fixed membership, so that it never grows and doesn’t have to change. then hope members don’t die, get bored, burn out or have fights with each other.
2) you design the group for change, and hope to god the old pharts are willing to accept it when it comes.
3) you try to put in a framework that inhibits change, and hope to god that the fight that happens when the new pharts and the old pharts collide doesn’t kill it (and if it doesn’t, it makes us stronger. in theory). Then be ready for the fight and try to moderate it as quickly as possible…
When it comes to mailing lists, I’ve always had a hands-on approach. This pisses off people who don’t want someone to tell them what to do, but I generally find those folks are the folks who most generally need to be told to quit being annoying. As they say, if you’re not the lead dog, the view doesn’t change, and my corrolary is that if you are the lead dog, you don’t like being told to get out of the way and let someone else have their turn. But in my experience, mailing lists with “absentee landlord” admins come in two forms: small cohesive groups that have expelled troublemakers already, and dead groups that are badgered by one or two dominant trolls. I generally don’t stay on lists where there’s not SOME hand on the rudder, so to speak, because generally, those lists are quite not-fun to be on, and have a bad signal/noise ratio.
Which doesn’t mean to say my hands-on approach was always good, either. I went through a list-nazi phase I wish I could take back and bury. But it immediately followed the “we’re all mature adults here, so I really shouldn’t need to make up rules and tell you what to do, because you all know what’s right”. yeah, right. 99% of them do. it’s that other 1%….