Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(May 1999)

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Subject: Re: Moderating and off-topic posts
From: murr rhame <murr @ vnet . net>
Date: Sun, 2 May 1999 09:11:36 -0400 (EDT)
To: David Sharp <david . sharp @ afp . com>
Cc: list-managers @ GreatCircle . COM
In-reply-to: <v03007800b35197f8346a @ [212 . 198 . 178 . 4]>

On Sun, 2 May 1999, David Sharp wrote:

> I'd be interested in the opinions of list members - plus any hard
> data, if it exists - on the effects that off-topic posts can have
> on the overall functioning of a list.

Even if I kept formal records of off-topic problems, data from any of
my lists would not apply to your lists.  As I have said before, policy
and enforcement has to be appropriate for the particular mailing list.  
Some lists need very loose policies some lists should be very strict.  
The level of formality must be controlled by the individual list

> A small number of contributors enjoy engaging in repartee ...

I discourage personal exchanges on the list.  Most of my lists specify
on-topic posts.  I encourage the use of private email for discussions
which are not of general interest to most subscribers.  I don't have
much sympathy for off-topic threads.  I may send a private warning to
the author of an isolated off-topic post.  If an off-topic post starts
an ongoing off-topic thread, I'll post a public warning.

There will always be a few subscribers who insist that they have the
right to say anything, anywhere and anytime.  In the US, the right to
freedom of speech has never included the right to take over the forum
of your choice as your own private platform.  If your subscribers came
to your mailing list to discuss a particular topic, it is reasonable
to expect them to discuss the specified topic and not random issues.  
The subscribers who "don't give a damn" about your rules are at
liberty to start their own forum.  They are not at liberty to corrupt
your mailing list to suit their personal desires.

> There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the majority of list
> members consider off-topic posts to be a turn-off ...

Some admins open secondary "chat" versions of their mailing lists
as an alternative channel for off-topic threads.  Some admins send
surveys to anyone who unsubscribes.  

As I said at the start, I don't have formal data. I doubt this issue
lends itself to statistical analysis.  You need to consider what is in
the best interest of your subscribers at large.  Do what is best for
the whole list.

- murr -

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