As the midrange world continues to get more interesting, we're going to need to work together even more, and a good place to start is the forums.
Editor's note: This article is a rerun of an article that originally ran in 2007.
This article is entirely devoted to the idea of making the forums a kinder, gentler place for people to share information, and doing so is going to require that regular contributors learn to adhere to a slightly more civil demeanor, especially when dealing with "outsiders" or "newbies."
Anybody who knows me is going to point out that this is about as blatant a case as you are going to get of the pot calling the kettle black, and they would be right to do so. But just as the seasons change ("Turn, turn, turn.") so too must all things, including newsletters and online forums.
Why All the Concern?
As I said in the first sentence, the idea comes from the concern that forums aren't exactly the most welcoming place, especially for newcomers. Even though the tone in MC Press is nowhere near as unforgiving as what sometimes appears on mailing lists or other forums throughout the Internet, too many posts exist of the kind that we might consider unprofessional or, at the very least, unfriendly.
Today, one of the most important goals of any System i advocacy, be it a local user group or an online magazine, should be to foster the participation of newcomers. The fastest way to alienate those newcomers is to present an atmosphere that reflects elitism or condescension.
How to Be Mean
In general, I don't think anyone on the MC Press forums ever means to be mean, but instead it just sort of happens in the course of conversations, especially between posters who have known each other for awhile. The most common result of this sort of long-term antagonism is the ad hominem attack, in which someone might try to argue against a position by discrediting the person holding the position. Not only is this unprofessional, it's simply bad logic; the veracity of an argument ultimately has nothing to do with the person making the statement.
And while I try to avoid this sort of behavior, I still engage in it occasionally, and it's an activity I need to curtail. In the past, I have let personal feelings get in the way of my objectivity, and I've said things that were more personal than professional. When that happens, the personal issues become the central point of the discussion, and any real issue gets lost in the clutter. This causes people to tune out of the conversation and makes newcomers reluctant to say anything lest they get pounced upon.
So, if you find yourself typing a phrase that focuses more on another poster and less on the post, then it might be a good idea to step back for a moment and reassess what you are trying to accomplish with your comments.
And bad manners aren't limited to blatant actions such as personal arguments. Sometimes even the simplest phrases can be seen as offensive. Many "cute" little acronyms have crept into the lexicon of online banter and should be eradicated from civil discourse. One of my least-favorite phrases is "RTFM," whose meaning is well-known and needn't be repeated here. The gist is that the question is something that the poster could have found the answer to simply by reading some document or other. And while it's true that a very small percentage of posters use the forums as their own personal training and mentoring service, even seeing that phrase used "appropriately" might cause a newcomer to decide not to ask a question, and that's the exact opposite of the atmosphere we want to foster.
Smiley Faces Don't Make it Right
Another important point is that just sticking a smiley face—that little ":)" thingie—on the end of an offensive phrase doesn't suddenly make it professional. Or in my case, using an emotion tag such as "<grin>
So Why the Diatribe?
Well, it's because MC Press is trying to make sure that the forums are a little more amenable to professional discourse, especially to the newcomer. Up until this point, the forums have been largely unmoderated, with only truly egregious behavior invoking the wrath of the forum moderating deities. While I can't tell you the exact actions that might now trigger a visit from on high, nor can I tell you exactly what those actions might entail, I do know that decorum in the forums is a top priority moving forward.
We who are involved with the publication want to make sure that everyone who works on or around the platform feels comfortable posting questions and making comments. The old elite guard is no longer the only source of relevant information. Our primary goal ought to be to make sure that everyone—including first-time posters and "lurkers"—feels that these forums are the best place to exchange ideas and information without worrying about typing a name wrong or asking a question that has been asked before.
In short, MC Press wants to make sure that forums participants label no questions as "dumb" and that the most important subject is the future of the platform. To do that will require a new level of professionalism. We've perhaps let that slip a bit over the months and years, but it's nothing that a little self-policing can't fix. And if we can't do it ourselves, I suspect that MC Pres may decide to do it for us, and do we really want big brother (or sister) watching?