When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re there to drain the swamp. And worse, all it takes is one alligator.

Trolls don’t scale. you don’t need lots of problem-makers to screw up or kill a community; one or two is enough. That was a key problem with USENET: one idiot you could ignore, three would make you crazy, ten would make you leave, and USENET had no way to ban out the trolls — kill files help cut the noise, but earplugs aren’t the same as silence.

It used to be that I’d spend a lot of time trying to work with problem-makers, trying to solve problems. I found, though, that most of the time, that work was wasted. Their either couldn’t get it or didn’t want to try. Or lied through their teeth at me just to make me think they’d behave, until my back was turned.

A few of those convinced me to stop wasting my time, at least most of the time. Life is too short to be taken advantage of.

As Bill Cosby once said, Parents don’t want justice. Parents want quiet.

It serves no constructive purpose for the list (or my sanity) to have a long, nasty fight before kicking out a troll, so now, I tend to use a quick hook on obvious cases — pull the plug, and the onus is on them to convince me they’re worth being allowed another chance, not on me to have to prove they ought to be kicked out. Occasionally, one does, too. And while that argument continues, it continues off-list, saving everyone else the hassle.

Use of terms like “freedom of speech” or “my right” or “lawyer” are guarantees that they’ll never get back in, either. The US first amendment means you have the right to start up your own damned list to babble on, not that I have to subsidize your babbling. Use of a mailing list is a privilege, given to you by the owner of the list, not a right. That privilege can be taken away for any reason, or for no reason, and that ought to be made explicit in the list rules and documentation (for the same reason restaurants use the “we reserve the right to refuse service…” boilerplate).

there’s a class of person out there who gets off by destroying what you built. That’s all they want. And the only way to deal with them is quickly. There’s a second case, that of a person not compatible with your community, but who insists that the community reshape itself to his preferences. That’s a lot less clear-cut, but IMHO, ultimately, the best thing for both that person and the community is to invite the person to search for a more compatible community, and usher them out the door. This needs to be done politely — but it needs to be done.

I’ve sometimes considered wherher you could build two parallel, overlapping communities based around dominant but incompatible personalities, but to be honest, the thought scared the crap out of me, even though I have a perfect test case on one of my lists. The chances of it working long term are too risky for my tastes, and I’d hate to try it and then have to patch things back together if it fails… Ultimately, I think the answer for these things is for multiple independent communities on the same subject, with some level of cooperation between them that everyone feels comfortable with. That allows people to migrate to the community they feel most comfortable with, and the information sharing minimizes the issues of people feeling they’re missing something that might be going on the ‘other’ community. as if we have time these days to be everywhere on everything…

And that’s a huge change in the community aspect of the net many old-timers (and others) still haven’t gotten: ten or 12 years ago, when the net was still fairly small and intimate, having a single place for information was a good thing. But as the net’s grown up and the population has gotten large and diverse, there’s more of a need to break up discussions by community as much as by topic.

Think about it: in a small town, you might only have one bar. But when the size of the town doubles, or triples, can you imaging the bikers, the gays, the mill workers and the sports fans all sharing the same bar?

But there’s still a lot of that “small town” attitude on the net, and it’s changing more slowly than it should. We’re all better off with 10 smaller communities on a topic than one huge one, especially if that community is always fighting over which sub-group within it is going to be in charge… Especially so if those smaller groups can build some type of cooperative sharing structure…