Another insightful discussion has broken out in the onlinefacilitation yahoogroup, and it’s great that the messages there are public facing, so that I can provide direct hyperlinks into individual messages which blog readers can visit without having to register or anything.
Beverley Trayner initiated the thread with a question about who owns posts.
Bev later elaborates on the story, which gave cause for concern, and sums up some of the replies received.
Rosanna rewrote one of her responses on her blog , (permalink not working atm) and I’m doing the same with mine below:
Beverley’s story is a true gift for us here, because of the way it
portrays real events in an online community rather than hypothetical
or hoped-for ones. I find the unravelling of disputes fascinating as
much as sad, beause they go so much further in revealing the true
underlying power relationships which are sometimes inherent in the
nature of the particular technology itself, or it’s implementation.
It’s very interesting that the dispute appears to have precipitated as
a result of one group continuing a dialogue referring to f2f meetings
in the online forum. That’s pretty much what I would expect to happen,
but another group, the moderators, which may or may not have an
overlap with the activists, acted to squash discussion, presumably
acting in an overprotecting manner thinking they were helping to avoid
a potential problem with the the non f2f people feeling left out by
these particular conversations.
OK, so the moderators are inexperienced, they don’t have the
confidence to just let things flow. Perhaps they were also guilty of
trying to set up an ‘artificial’ discussion space, with preconceived
ideas about exactly what the potential membership would be expected to
talk about and how they would be expected to behave, even if they
would surely fall short of that themselves.
The question which occupies my mind, is what are the contributory
factors which guided the the moderators to start acting in a way that
broke the community?
I suggest some possibilities:
*Pattern of thought and behaviour brought over from our current
society which encourage a top-down controlling structure as the only
*The bulletinboard software, like so much social software these days,
comes preconfigured for a hierarchical group of all powerful
moderators. The role of the administrator as appointer of moderators
with the power to censor comes built in, and is therefore often taken
to be the normal way to behave. When under stress, the temptation to
actually use these powerful tools which are positioned right under the
nose, may be difficult to resist.
*Fashionable consensus and nearly all of the written advice and
conclusions from research all tell people that the key to successful
online community lies in facilitation, where the term facilitation has
passed into wider coinage as a euphamism for moderation, which in turn
is a euphamism for one person holding the unnegotiable power over
another to tell them what they can or can’t say and where they can or
cannot say it.
I think that in practice these days, given the difficulty for any
group of people who want to hold discussions in setting up something
that doesn’t involve appointing at least one all powerful moderator,
the best policy is probably to appoint only one, and for that person
to do as little as possible. This is the benevolent dictator model,
or absent dictator model. Technology for the truly unmoderated group
does still exist on the internet, and a few tens of thousands of
unmoderated groups persist quite happily, but not on the
world-wide-web where every space has to be owned by somebody.
Experiments with the “everyone is a moderator” model have not been too
sucessful in the longer run. A simple fact is that the more moderators
a community has, the greater the opportunity for one of them to turn
rogue, go insane , or make a mistake with seriously damaging
Technorati Tags: onlinefacilitation, moderators, technologyforcommunities,