Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(June 1998)

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Subject: Steering an OT back on topic
From: Mike Nolan <nolan @ celery . tssi . com>
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 15:21:12 -0500 (CDT)
To: list-managers @ GreatCircle . com (List Managers)
Reply-to: nolan @ tssi . com

John Meyer wrote:
> Hi, I was wondering if anybody had any ways in which they steered OT
> conversations back on topic and how long do they allow a tangenial
> conversation to go on on their list.

Ask 100 list managers and you'll probably get at least 100 answers.  

I've used all of the following strategies:

1.  Post on the off-topic thread and try to make it more relevant.  This
    usually requires SOME relevance be present in the first place, it would
    be challenging to steer a thread about Windows 95 back to a discussion on
    body surfing, for example.

2.  Send the poster(s) private notes suggesting they drop the thread or take 
    it to e-mail.  On many lists your subscribers will do this, too, usually
    less politely than I do.

3.  Make PUBLIC posts saying that the thread is no longer welcome.  I find 
    this works almost all the time, though it might take another 24 hours
    for the last round of posts to straggle in.  I prefer to handle this
    disciplinary matter myself, on occasion some of my subscribers will 
    post or send me private e-mail to suggest some thread go away, I 
    generally ask them to let me be the 'bad guy'.  (That probably means
    my tolerance level is slightly below that of my subscribers.)

4.  Threaten to and/or suspend posting privileges for people who continue 
    the off topic thread.  Fortunately, I have a built-in four day waiting 
    period for new subscribers, implemented by a daily job which copies the 
    subscriber list through a series of three three intermediate files and 
    then to the posting list, so all I have to do is take someone out of 
    the active posting list (and possibly one or more of the intermediate 
    holding files) and the posting privileges are restored anywhere from 
    one to four days later, depending on how long I choose to suspend them.  

    I do this for ALL obvious copyright abuses, BTW, it gives me a line of 
    defense should I ever get sued or threatened by a copyright holder for 
    posts sent to my lists by subscribers.  I generally treat all 
    disciplinary matters as private, but on very rare occasion I have posted 
    about disciplinary action taken.  

    I've never had to permanently suspend someone's posting privileges,
    though I do have that capability.

5.  Kick the offender(s) off your list completely.  In over 7 years of 
    running sports lists, I've only had to do this about a half dozen times.  
    (Anti-spam measures not included.)
As to when to pull the plug, it sort of depends, I usually do it when my
gut reaction to another post on the thread is 'Oh no, not ANOTHER one!'.
But some of the best ON-TOPIC posts have come about as a result of OFF-TOPIC
threads that stimulated more relevant discussion.
Mike Nolan

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