(NOTE TO ALL: This commentary arises from this thread Discussion on reducing the trust level requirements of the Price & Trading topic. I posted it here because if I do not, it will probably be split here because it will be said to be ‘Off Topic’ from the main thread. This will likely happen even though it pertains directly to the discussion occurring on that thread, and directly in response to comments made in that thread that are already off-topic. That I have to worry about this in the first place kind of makes the point of the entire post. Peace to all of you, mods included.)
So, for context, please read that thread, and any references I make to others come from that thread.
Alright. After a long hiatus, I’m going to weigh back in with my opinion on moderation. I’m going to keep as much of my emotion out of it as possible, in order to maintain as much peace and fluid communication as possible. I don’t expect to be here long, because I don’t personally believe anything will change, but it’s worth a Hail Mary anyway.
Full disclaimer: I’m a friend of @Jabba and broadly concur with his views. Of course, some of the specifics he mentioned, I wasn’t party to, and so will not go into those. Also, I have had previous strong opinions on the moderation here, and have voiced my concerns.
tl;dr to sum up in advance
Overall, imo, this is indeed a pleasant community to be taking part in, for most. There are many detailed discussions on the technological aspects of the SAFE network, which I very much enjoy. Though I left the forum quite some time ago, I still lurk here to read often, partly because I wish to see SAFE succeed, partly because of my investment in the crowdsale, and partly because I want to keep a sense of where things are going. But I don’t usually comment, because for a long time, imo, the moderation/system here has been going in the wrong direction, I feel very restricted when I comment, and have to be very vigilant as to whether I can write down my thoughts and it will be considered ‘Off-Topic’. In my view, this forum has enormous, unrealised potential, and the moderation here is a great hindrance on the realisation of that potential. I have exactly zero expectation of success in making these criticisms, but I will put solid suggestions at the end of this post.
LET ME BE CLEAR: I have no ill will towards any member of the moderation team. I have ill will towards some of the philosophy behind that moderation. There are a couple of very clear (to me and some others) blindnesses in how it is implemented. I also don’t see the situation as extreme, but more as having an unnecessary nanny-state flavour, that may be limiting both the number of users, and the type of users that make this place their mainstay. And it is the effects on the type that concerns me greatly, because this place could not only be doing well, it could be doing AMAZINGLY.
A little about me:
I am a CompSci grad and software developer, with a wide range of interests. I was a buyer/investor in the crowdsale for MaidSafe, and lurked on the Google Groups forum that was our main home before this one existed, and have thus been here since Day One. I lurked for a considerable amount of time (from memory), but began to get involved in actively discussing on this forum when I was inspired by a great deal of the content that was being produced by the forum members. This content was, quite literally, a rainbow of diverse subject matter, many thought-stimulating discussions, many of which touched on aspects of SAFE but branched out into other subjects, such as political theory, freedom of speech, government, computer security, and many others, and how the potential of SAFE may enable advances in all of these. Many of these discussions veered away from discussions of SAFE, and became debates into these different topics also. More on this later.
Look at the front page today. For those already interested in SAFE, meaning those who already understand what it is, it is a playground of interesting information. For those who have a very faint idea about it, or only know of MAIDsafecoin at this point, or aren’t interested so much in the technical details, but instead wish to explore SAFE’s actual potential implications, it seems to me it looks like a boring and technical-focused discussion forum, with some social aspects.
LET ME BE CLEAR AGAIN: I am not attacking the forum, the users, or even the individual mods, all of whom/which is here to make SAFE a successful project. But when this forum was instituted, it was a different place. The goal of this forum, in my view, should be to make SAFE as successful as possible. This requires drawing in many different types of people, from many countries, who have many different opinions, skills, passions and priorities, all united by the interest in SAFE, but probably differing in their focus or priorities (EG some from China may be interested because of the potential to avoid censorship or identification of oneself, while others may be here for the financial potential, and others for the overall concept of decentralisation, etc etc etc).
IMO, there are two main visions on how to achieve this kind of user base.
1) You can make it as sanitised as possible, ensuring there isn’t a single person left offended, besides those who are offended by censorship (or effective censorship), or
2) you can allow the community to thrive in all of its glory, allowing liberal policies on what might be discussed and where it may be discussed, while focusing your efforts on addressing the appropriateness of people’s communication styles and language, based on intent, and all the while allowing people to speak freely, provided they are reasonable and respectful.
The moderators, individually:
As I said above, I have no particular problems with individual moderators; I haven’t concentrated on this subject for a long time, and may have missed other moderater actions, so others may disagree, but by and large, I would like to assert that the moderators here that I am familiar with (and past ones, like @happybeing), are good people. I do not think that they have nefarious intent, nor do I think that they take actions on this forum with anything but the good of the forum in mind, insofar as they comprehend it. I do, however, believe that fundamentally this forum is run according to one particular vision of how this forum, and therefore this community, should be. That is indeed necessary, as all organisations engaging in centralised control, whether that control is exercised democratically or otherwise, will need to run themselves in some fashion or other. Either that is true, or there is no vision whatsoever. Nevertheless, the end result is a form of philosophy involved in the carrying out of the moderation here.
'Fate, it seems, is not without it’s sense of irony’
A decentralised project that will entirely remove all restrictions on internet users (within the scope of SAFE), having as it’s main community forum a very centralised, and, in the opinions of some of us, a censored and controlled course of discussion. Almost absurd enough to be funny, seemingly required enough to be unremarkable to most, and annoying enough to deeply irritate and disillusion the souls of some of us who saw in SAFE a solution, finally, to problems the human race is in dire need to rid itself of: centralisation, control and censorship by the few over the many.
Two different visions for the forum (these are broad and general ideas, not meant to be particularly exacting, and further, they are my point of view alone.)
Vision 1: A clean, sanitary, family-friendly environment with very low levels of conflict, that is strongly biased towards content that discusses SAFE tech and the immediately surrounding details directly, and little else.
In my opinion, this forum began as quite anarchic, and became less so as the moderator structure grew and was implemented. I have my own ideas on whether the anarchic aspect was good or bad, both probably, but suffice to say that as the group of moderators grew and became more organised, the system became more structured, as is necessary for a centralised administration. The phrases ‘regression to the mean’ or ‘lowest common denominator’ spring to mind for me.
- Profanity was banned.
- On-topic rules were increasingly enforced.
- The off-topic category was created and policies enforced.
- Meta was created, and all discussion about moderation placed here.
A couple of notes on these points.
Profanity - I’m not too worried about the swearing stuff, either way. I don’t need it myself, but absolutely understand those who feel as if this restriction effectively treats the forum members as if they are unruly children, which from their perspective is exactly what it is. On the other hand, I do understand the mod’s perspective: (if I may assume) that they have a responsibility to keep this forum open and welcoming to as many people as possible, including younger people and people with tender sensibilities, partly because SAFE is so all-encompassing and potentially universal in it’s potential that it can affect almost everyone on the planet, eventually.
I don’t enjoy the Youtube comments section, or other forums where people scream at each other either. Still, most of the time, the damage in profanity mostly comes down to the intent behind it. It’s not hard to determine whether someone is saying “F*** yeah, you’re right”, or instead “F*** you”. IMO, It’s the second kind we want to avoid, and so personally, to allow people to be people, I would prefer that we are less restrictive on the wording itself, and instead focus on the intent behind it. Nevertheless, this is a very low priority for me, and I have no need to debate it. A more minor issue, only included to flesh out this vision.
On-topic rules increasingly enforced - This has been a sore point. Inevitably, because SAFE has such a wide range of implications, and so many interlocking aspects (great design, team MAIDSAFE!), discussions about one subject often branch into others. I have no problem with the idea of separating out two entirely separate discussions (one that logically flowed out of the other), in order to maintain ease of reading and lack of scrolling for those interested in the thread’s original question/topic. That makes sense.
Where you draw the line is extraordinarily important, however. For example, if someone has made a very high-quality thread about Safecoin Divisibility (and this is just a hypothetical to illustrate, not based on the actual thread), and how to achieve that, we may see alternatives being proposed that have certain practical economic implications. Discussion of these implications may move into economic theory/practice, in order to establish each different position’s validity and greatly affect the process of weighing pros and cons of the different solutions to Safecoin Divisibility. I’ve seen discussions that I very much believe are necessary (in the past) being split off and placed in ‘Off-topic’, even though I very much believed that they contained very necessary considerations for the overall topic. And on to off-topic.
The off-topic section - Again, on this issue, I am in two minds, and my instinct is to be fair. The way the forum software operates or is set up, we have a monolithic list of active threads on the front page, with no categorization. If we allow any thread to be listed there, then a huge growth in the Political Theory or Economics subjects/debates/arguments/slapfights may swamp the immediate front page and effectively delist (due to people’s irritation at having to scroll down to see the) SAFE-focused content. So I see the point of this. On the other hand, because there is no direct link to these topics on the front page without engaging in at least two clicks, they are effectively placed into a subordinate role to all other topics. These topics become segregated from all others.
The compromise we make here is to 1) not bother users interested only in SAFE-tech and none of the other discussions, but we also 2) effectively deprive the average user of even knowing they exist. Given that these discussions are often heated (politics for example), I assume that this is very convenient for the mods, because they have to do a lot less moderating, simply because less users see the topic, and therefore less users join the topic, and thus less users have battles that flare up.
Regardless, by moving these to a small corner of the site, these topics are segregated, sure, where they can’t annoy anyone, but you also artificially reduce the number of views they get, and this then reduces the discussion of these topics, and so any user who might wish to engage in these kind of topics, and is less technical, may not be retained as an active member. And hence we start to skew the “type” of person that wants to engage here. Many people would be interested in SAFE as a political playing-field-leveller, as youtube and others (the internet itself) have at times been. Those people can help to fuel this project, and putting their discussions into no mans land where very few even know to join the discussion effectively makes them feel unwelcome here, myself included.
Meta - Which brings me to meta. To be fair, once again, I realise that these topics often are quite heated. People do indeed attack the mods, and in the past, I have seen nasty attacks. I recognise your (mods) right to be treated with respect, to which anybody else here is entitled also. I understand the potential viewpoint that having these topics on the front page is essentially ‘airing the community’s garbage’. But wouldn’t that only apply to people who feel slighted by the mods?
Isn’t there a difference between someone going on a rant because they were banned and have a bone to pick, a personal grudge, or in the other case, someone who is genuinely trying to point out an alternative view of how the forum could be moderated (like I am trying to do here, and @Jabba and @Josh were also trying to do before it was moved here, to meta)? Is rational argumentation and differences of opinion on the exercise of authority not something the community should see? Again, like the off-topic category, moving these discussions to a corner of the forum simply makes them not visible to most users on this forum, unless they are specifically looking for them. It’s the internet equivalent of George W. Bush’s “Free Speech Zones”. ‘We’re not going to ban freedom of speech, but we’re “only” going to put it over here where nobody else can see it’.
Do you not see, to people who agree with the dissent expressed in meta, that putting it outside of the awareness of the majority of the community makes it seem as if you are hiding criticism against yourselves? Do you not realise that, whether you intend to do this for a purpose or not (and I’m pretty sure you don’t intend this), it looks a lot like you are? And whether or not you are, the effects are practically and effectively the same?
And what is your solution? To allow dissenters to ‘draw up a detailed proposal’? And then, if the moderators deem this proposal to be ‘detailed’ enough, then, and only then, will it be presented to the community. This represents a further roadblock towards getting community support: that criticism of the moderators is approved of by the moderators for presentation to the wider community. Really? You really, really don’t see the problem here?
That if someone wants change, your moderation group is the sole judge of whether the proposal is detailed enough to be presented to the community? That you are the judge of whether the community even gets to see it, unless they already know and care about these issues, or happen to be browsing meta. Why would someone browse meta? For fun? Do you not see that OF COURSE these issues don’t get much support, because few know about the complaints. Most people go along to get along, tolerating their own complaints about the way things are, until someone else has the cajones to speak up. And the system here, in effect, silences those who dissent. I’m not joking when I say that it results in the corporate helpline model.
We get to say it, but in the tradition of every corporate helpline, your complaint goes nowhere. “Oh, I understand, sir, yes I’m very sorry, but unfortunately we can’t do anything about that. I’m here to help you, Sir.”. And the point is, of course, always implied that a) you are in the minority, Mr Complainer, and b) nobody else supports your views, because nobody else is complaining. This is part of what causes some to explode with rage, frankly. How can anybody else who might have agreed join the discussion if they don’t know it exists? And finally, if you skew the moderation on this forum towards one particular philosophy, one way of thinking, YOU ARE GOING TO ATTRACT PEOPLE THAT THINK THAT WAY AND REPEL PEOPLE WHO DON’T. Which will cause people to more and more agree with your views and ways of doing things, creating more of an echo chamber. In this case, a technical echo-chamber. Not completely bland and colourless yet, thanks to the project itself, but the forum moderation is leading in this direction.
No offense intended, but this kind of stuff sounds like every tone-deaf Local Council meeting I’ve attended. A circle of genuinely nice people with good intentions, but seeing things through the filter of their own role, and not seeing how their policy effectively silences their very own critics. And still claiming to be a “Community” organisation or an expression of democracy. Some of us believe that it is this very structure or organisational architecture itself that sets up natural incentives/disincentives in natural human hierarchical behaviour and almost inevitably leads to this phenomenon, hence the desire to decentralise the internet in the first place?!?!?!. And again, all with good intentions. But that’s a deeper discussion, anyway.
(Again, I wish to make the point that I don’t believe that you guys are nefarious. But I do think that you seem to currently lack the ability to properly consider the point of view of the complainant(s), and I don’t mean that every mod, every time, doesn’t see the point, it’s more of a general comment on the overall practical results, and the banding together I see. I’m sure it is very true that many complainants seem to lack the ability to see your point of view as moderators also. Welcome to admin, boys and girls! Don’t Bee Eye Tee See Aitch about it, it comes with the job . Still, I’m trying very hard to consider your view from a logical perspective as I write this, as you can hopefully tell. And I encourage others to do so also.)
Vision 2: The Alternative Vision: Liberty and expansive creativeness: a playground of ideas, an exploration of the MANY aspects of SAFE, it’s technology, it’s future, it’s implications, whether social, political, economic, and otherwise. A place where people can feel energised and strongly enjoy the conversations held within. A place where censorship is only engaged in in order to prevent direct attacks and subversion or price manipulation. A PLACE THAT REPRESENTS AND EMBODIES THE AIMS AND GOALS OF THE SAFE NETWORK ITSELF. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND FREEDOM FROM CENSORSHIP.
This place does not currently exist. SAFE itself will be that place one day, simply because moderation will be fully optional with decentralised forums, depending on the implementation.
Please note: This forum still does an excellent job at providing a discussion space about specific aspects of the technology itself, and also provides a rallying point for new users to learn about the tech. What this forum does do, it does so exceptionally well, not least because of the mental and technical abilities of some of the members it has attracted. But it could be so much more. So I am not here to reduce what is already being done, I am here to lay out a separate vision for how we could append that ‘so much more’ on to the end of it.
As I have stated above, I fondly remember the early days of this forum. There are few subjects that are so wide-ranging and all-expansive that they can create a vibrancy and attract such an incredibly diverse set of participants on a forum exploring that subject. SAFE brought all comers: techies, hippies, political activists, investors, traders, free speech activists, deep thinkers, revolutionary thinkers, censored parties, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, the decentralisation crowd, anarchists on the left and right and otherwise, independent thinkers, anti-establishment types, people who hold the environment in their hearts, Christians, atheists and on and on.
I’m not saying that no longer exists: I’m sure most here are just as diverse as ever, if not more so. But, imo, we are unable to express that effectively, because ‘this forum is about SAFE’ (really, just a narrow-as-it-comes technical perspective of it). And as I have already mentioned, many of these ideas tie into SAFE, that’s why people are interested in SAFE in the first place. The way things are run right now, most of these aspects of all of us, and how they tie into SAFE, and how changes to SAFE might have implications on these ideas, are effectively silenced, or muted. Is that what you want this place to be? A mostly dry, dusty librarian-ish technical discussion forum? I’d rather have Woodstock than Google Evangelism. I’d rather smell a few stinky smells from time to time, instead of never leave my house.
I see an alternative future for this forum. A future built on diverse opinions, ideas and boundless creativity. Some were questioning in the Price and Trading topic about why MAID has missed the boat, relative to other coins. For transparency, my personal preference is to have the price crash, because I’m building up my stocks, and I want more, more, more. But that’s just me, it has nothing to do with this, and the success of SAFE is more important to me. So why has SAFE not exploded like others? Buzz. IMO, a lack of understanding of the project, and buzz. People have been commenting on marketing in this regard.
So do we want pumps and dumps? Not really. I’d prefer a steady growth in the value of MAID, for exposure reasons, to get people more excited. What we need is steady and continuing growth in awareness of SAFE, it’s potential and that requires an energised, fun, and diverse community, that welcomes all comers and their new perspectives and areas of interests. A free-speech oriented marketplace of ideas. A SAFE-Idea Bazaar.
Lack of understanding - SAFE is a complicated system to understand in the nuts and bolts, for many people. Coming to this forum can help you understand SAFE, but only after reading through a myriad of topics, a vast array of discussions. I understand it a lot better now, having read a LOT. The average newcomer who might be lukewarm, is less likely to dive right in, unless they understand the big picture. How do we get content on here that understands the big picture? Well, not with technical discussions of the finer points of one aspect of the architecture, that’s for sure. And that’s what this forum is, now. It’s really, really true that with SAFE, it’s really hard to see the forest for the trees.
No, the pathway towards having that kind of discussion, the one that leads towards lots of topics that practically describe SAFE’s potential in the real world is via allowing people (encouraging them!) to discuss the side-subjects, the subjects that MAID will have an effect upon! It’s the expression that I was mentioning before that is limited at this time, it’s the rainbow of different interests, priorities, skills, talents, passions and different fields of knowledge, all being discussed in context with SAFE, in how they relate to the SAFE NETWORK, that will lead to an expansion of interest and a clearer understanding of the project itself. And then we will see a lot of buzz, because non-techies will be more attracted to this forum. I may be a techie, but I’m not so blinded by my specialisation that I’ve forgotten that the majority are not.
The problem/s as I see it:
1. Too much ‘systems-thinking’ in the moderation. Lack of interest in ‘colour’, ‘vibe’, ‘environment’, ‘variety’ etc.
2. An inability to see that when the mod team itself has to approve ideas before they are presented to the community, then ideas die on the vine. If we have to prove our solutions to the mods before the community even gets to see them, then how in the hell can they be agreed on by the community? We’re not allowed to post them anywhere else, and nobody comes here, dude!?!?! Also, by definition, people unaffected (SO FAR) by the current policies will probably often see no reason to agree with our proposals, read here and get involved, and may see no problem at all. Until they cross your lines. Then they’ll come here, do what I’m doing right now, and get told that they don’t have community support. Which is one reason why the original members have been disappearing over time. And frankly, some of those members have been some of the best thinkers and visionaries, as well as dedicated SAFE supporters, that we had. It’s a crying shame to lose that talent. And it’s a bad sign, if not for SAFE itself, then for the forum.
Part 2 Continues below