Member Rara Avis
As most already know, The Alley has been closed for most of the last two weeks. I was forced to shut it down as the only viable response to a long-running series of contentious political threads. I have spent a good portion of the past two weeks rewriting much of our software in hopes of discovering and implementing OTHER viable responses to what has become a reoccurring problem in our community.
In the past, we've only had two ways to respond to posts that fell outside our Guidelines.
At the gentle side of the spectrum, we could edit or delete posts, both to help preserve the integrity of the forums and as a reminder to those involved that we do have rules we expect everyone to follow. Most of the time, this was all that was ever needed.
At the less gentle side of the spectrum, our software allowed us to ban people who simply refused to follow our rules. Banning is not something we have ever done lightly, in large part because reversing a ban is not something done lightly. Kicking people out of the community is serious stuff. There have been exceptions (we pride ourselves on our exceptions), but banning is generally a permanent solution to a serious problem.
Essentially, our software allowed us to issue traffic citations or to throw someone in prison for the rest of their life, with no viable response between those two extremes. In particular, we've never had a good way to deal with people who kept running the same red light over and over and over again. When prison was too extreme a response and continued traffic citations were utterly ignored, we became helpless to enforce our rules.
We needed more options.
The first of two changes to our software is cosmetic and you've already seen it. This thread is "sticky" and will remain at the top of every forum page in the Alley, at least until I decide to remove it. You won't see a lot of sticky threads in any of the forums, because they're kludgy and not without side-effects, but they do provide the best opportunity I could find to REMIND people what our expectations are.
The second change to the software is one that most people will never see. I hope.
We now have the ability to constrain people from posting in specific forums. There are already a handful of people who will discover they are not able to post in The Alley. They are free to participate anywhere else in pipTalk they like, but not here. They have simply run too many red lights, repeatedly demonstrating an inability to follow our rules. They are all good people, valuable people, but for the time being their posts will not be welcome in The Alley.
My intention right now is to reset all Forum Constraints on a monthly basis. Those Constrained in September will again be given the chance to show they can follow our rules come October. Repeated Constraints will likely last longer down the road. Our schedule will be pretty flexible while we experiment to find what works. If we do this right, it might open the door to restoring other similarly contentious forums to an active status. We'll have to see, together, what works and what doesn't.
The Importance of The Alley
There has been a lot of speculation in the past two weeks, virtually all of it unfounded, and I think it's important to take just a minute to talk about why The Alley, and indeed most of our other discussion forums, exist.
PipTalk is a writing community. Some want to put the emphasis on writing, while others want to put it on community, but the reality is that those two words can't ever be realistically separated. I'm not just talking about at pipTalk, either. The indivisibility of those words is the very foundation of effective communication. William Shakespeare knew how to string words together in a pleasant enough fashion and that made him a pretty good writer. It was, however, his understanding of the human condition that made Shakespeare a great writer. The only thing any writer EVER writes about is people. If you don't know people, you don't know how to write.
Our discussion forums, and the rules that make them work, are here so that we can better learn to understand those with whom we share this Earth. It's an incredibly diverse Earth we share and there isn't a single one of us who will ever live long enough to see and understand more than a small slice of it. The Internet gives us an unprecedented opportunity to expand that slice. Unfortunately, diversity too often leads to contention. We don't like different and that, too, is part of understanding who we are. We need rules if different is to coexist beside different.
It's easy to conflate writing with talking. It's easy to think of writing as an expression of what we think and feel, as a persuasion to get others to think and feel similarly. It's easy to see writing as a stage, as a podium, as a soapbox where we can show everyone how clever and witty we are, engaging in verbal sparring and one-upmanship.
Writing, however, is none of those things. Writing, rather, is understanding our own humanity and then helping others to better understand it, too. And understanding doesn't come from talking. It comes from listening.
I sincerely hope we still have a few people here willing to listen.