Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(December 2001)

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Subject: Re: I know this is off-topic, but...
From: Chuq Von Rospach <chuqui @ plaidworks . com>
Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2001 00:38:40 -0800
To: "list-managers @ GreatCircle . COM" <list-managers @ greatcircle . com>
User-agent: Microsoft-Entourage/

(I'm trying to catch up on e-mail, so I'm going to edit heavily, and respond
to multiple people in one message. Sorry if you don't like the format, but I
thought it was better than deluging the list with nine or ten separate

Just some accumulated responses on the "I know this is off-topic, but..."
thread, now that I'm actually catching up

Bernie Cosell:

>But, not exactly 'lazy' --- I think you're vastly underestimating the hassle
>and the entry barrier to dropping into a new, focused forum to ask a one-time

No, I don't think so. I know how tough it can be. That's why I'm tolerant of
it at all. But on the other side of things, I have to worry about and trade
off what hassles that stuff cause subscribers and the list. That's my
struggle. I don't want ot end up with mailing lists titled "stuff on the
internet", but I'm way out of my list-nazi stage of life.

Vince Sabio:

>FWIW, it is not uncommon for us to receive off-list messages of
>thanks whenever we kill an off-topic thread. It seems that the folks
>who enjoy -- or even tolerate -- such threads are well in the
>minority, though of course it varies

I'm not sure that's a safe assumption. Unhappy people give feedback. Happy
people don't. fact of life. So you'll hear from folks who appreciate you
doing away with something they don't like. You'll rarely hear from folks who
say "I want off-topic stuff". Most folks don't like off-topic stuff, except
when they do, and it's that "except when they do" part that's the fun part;
good off-topic stuff is well-received, even by most folks who don't want the
list to wander. But "good" isn't easy to define...

Greg Woods:
>I definitely don't want to get into publically admonishing one of the
>list's regular and respected posters, so in that case I might publically
>let it go, and privately ask the person please not to post stuff that
>they *know* is off-topic, but if it's somebody relatively new on the

defines my policy pretty well. The more a person contributes to the list,
the more I cut them slack, even if I disgree with their decision. They've
earned it with sweat equity. And I generally try to administer in private,
except when the list in general needs a reminder or to be spanked. I've done
the "public flogging as an example to the rest of you", but these days, I
try to stay away from that most of the time. I'm uncomfortable with how it
treates the poor floggee. Sometimes, though, they've earned it. but mostly,
I try to disconnect the lesson from the person in the stocks....Excedpt when
I don't. 

JC Lawrence:
>I try and build lists where the membership have the general view that
>they need to aggressively defend topicality.

And I tend more to building things where the list is more "people with this
interest" than "list on this topic". Even at Apple, with the heavy tech
stuff, I let the community aspects develop, although with a much shorter
leash. I think people who know (and mostly like) each other tend ot work
better together, and it's the side-chat that lends itself to that
getting-to-know-you part. You can't let it take over (or maybe you can, if
you're primary interest is community), but I find it useful for building
relationships inside the list community.

Janet Detter Margul:
>My list handles that by labeling those in the subject line with the
>prefix TAN: 

I have mixed feelings about this. I find it works better in smaller groups
that have been together for a while. the larger the list, the harder it is
to make work. You can't (basically by definition) make it happen by
technology, and I don't have time as admin to wander through lists noodging
people to adopt it. The big problem I run into wtih it at times is when some
group decides it "has to happen", and goes into cowboy mode on everyone who
doesn't follow suit.

I've decided that if groups want to self-build standards like this, that's
great. I won't make them formal policy, though, because I don't want to get
into the meta-fights over stuff that should or shoudln't be flagged, or the
cowboy admins going off to take policy into their own hands. You can create
some nasty fights that way, and the advantages are fairly minor, so I leave
it informal and slap the cowboys before they spook the herd... (grin)

JC Dill:
>At some point the list manager started publicly (posting "to the list")
>"slapping" people with a dead fish for off-topic posts.

It wasn't the "salmon of contrition", was it? I ask because a community I
was in many years ago invented that concept, and I know it's spread to some
other communnities around the net from there. I've been known to use it to
get a point across in a non-in-your-face way at times, too. (for much the
same reason I coined the term list-mom as a non-aggressive term for admin,
the salmon of contrition is a way to remind someone to get their act
together, but with an image that is, well, hard to take seriously. so you
have a serious point and a non-serious imagery attached, and it makes a
situation a lot less confrontational. Which can be very effective if you
have people yelling at each other, and you want to break up a fight without
them all turning on you instead....)

>IME, if you let a single thread like this go unchecked (and have a lot of
>novice Internet users on your list), the threads multiply like bunnies, and
>your most clueful on-topic contributers end up silent, and then leave.
>How do other list managers address this problem?

I used to worry about the "if I do this, I set a precedent" problem. I've
found, though, that mostly, people don't pay attention that closely, and if
you leave a "because I'm the mother" clause in your list rules, you might
not make them happy, but you can get away with it. I try to have a good
explanation for why A was okay, but B wasn't-- and frankly, if I can't, then
maybe I'm wrong, no? but I'm a lot less worried about the precedent issue on
lists these days, since people don't seem to use that as much as I'd

Cyndi Norman:
>So what's off topic?  Virus warnings,

you know what? As bad as it's gotten "out there", I finally gave up on this.
Sometimes, you need to spread the word. Bogus stuff, and all that fake
e-mail virus warning crap, I still step on hard, but if someone got infected
and wants to warn folks, even though my list is protected, once viruses
started mailing out of address books, one subscriber CAN now infect another
subscriber, without going through the list where I can control it. A really,
nasty problem. I think I want those fake e-mail virus hoaxes back,
personally. Those I can deal with...

Jeffrey Goldberg:
>I try to intervene before list members feel the need to act themselves
>(and before they unsubscribe).

that is THE key, Jeffrey. And that means knowing your list populations. And
each list is different, even if you manage them the same.

(a while back, Apple, bless them, hired me an assistant to free me up for
more development work. He now does most of the first-pass postmaster stuff
for me, as well as machine admin and other stuff. And he's learning, fast,
that the technical stuff is the easy part of mail lists... It's dealing with
people that takes the time....)


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