For those of you out there who use Ubuntu Linux (or any Linux distro for that matter), recent events on the Ubuntu Forums might intrigue you. Ever since I became acquainted with this online community, I have paid many a visit to their “off topic” forum, originally dubbed “The Backyard”. This forum was intended to be a place for people to post threads that had either absolutely nothing to do with Ubuntu, or in fact caused controversy (often on a political or social level). Apparently, over the last few months, some posts in this forum have required moderator intervention. In fact, a lot of threads have required moderator intervention lately.
As you can imagine, the variety of topics in this forum are often all over the place and unpredictable, and of the threads that are closed: often they are closed justifiably. This is nothing new. But lately, most of these threads have been closed, not because of the original topic at hand, but because of one or two assholes who don’t know how to act a little more civilized, when debating something controversial or sensitive, show up and spoil the discussion with personally degrading insults. Rather than ban such users and let the conversations continue, the mods have thought the best thing would be closing the thread. This has caused a lot of their time to be wasted because the same problems have been repeating more frequently, and they’ve finally gotten fed up with having to spend so much time censoring the forum. They’ve been hearing opinions from users about the possible closing of the forum for the last few weeks and I always thought that, while the tone of the moderators threatening to close the forum has been stern, you wouldn’t have believed it… until now.
Recently, a new policy has been enacted by the moderators, which allows members to continue visiting the forum and posting in already existing threads, but prevent people from posting new threads. The theory is that this will cause interest in the forum to dwindle down to a more controllable murmur, as well as experiment to see what the result of closing the forum might be without actually closing the forum cold turkey.
Having discovered this today (a little too late), I wrote the following in a thread that originally suggested the idea of disallowing new threads forever:
It seems I am unable to post a new thread in OMGPP.
This saddens me because:
1. Despite the abuse the forum gets and the trouble moderators have dealt with in an effort to keep things clean and inviting to new Ubuntu forum users, it stands to silence a lot of relevant, healthy debate.
2. The motto, “Anywhere but here” sounds rather the opposite of what open-source communities are supposed to be proud of: being open.
3. The moderators can close the forum if they’d like, but there will be consequences down the road. One consequence is the need to continue closing unwanted threads that land in forums outside of OMGPP at a higher frequency because new users might think it would be acceptable. The community cafe would be forced to absorb the traffic that used to come here.
Idea: Stealing from the comments management system on digg and reddit, why not make the posts on this forum vote-able, and anybody who gets a certain number of negative votes will have their post “muted” or something to that effect. You could even impose a minimum age requirement if you’re concerned about offending easily offended individuals.
Why do I suggest this?! Because I don’t think the moderators have provided the users a way to more easily self-moderate the forum themselves. You have a “report” button. Super! Does it work? Not for the moderators; they work for that button. Why can’t they create a few more buttons that work for them and the rest of us at the same time?
It will be interesting to wait and see what kind of feedback this late suggestion gets, now that some whiny moderators have got the ball rolling on closing it down. But I have to say that it just seems rather outrageous to see other tech forum websites (like techguy.org and their “Civilized Debate” forum which are dominated with Windows users) exhibit more ability to tolerate or manage “offensive” users/posts/threads than Ubuntu forum users and moderators can tolerate. What a bunch of thumb sucking babies. Now, if I had said something like that in the forum that used to be called the Backyard, I’d probably get some sort of silly reprimand from a moderator because it made someone cry (if I had said something more insulting, I would expect to be fairly repremanded… but it feels like things have gotten more and more childish lately). Of course, making someone cry isn’t my goal in posting in that forum. My goal would be to express opinions that may very well be more justified than the opinions of someone who would prefer to self-censor what they read and think via complaining to moderators about being “offended.”
Now, I can’t say anything bad about the rest of the forum or the community as a whole. My hats off to developers, the mods and the forum community users. And I know that the general consensus says the forum does not get much traffic and thus, won’t be a great loss to the rest of the community. But I get this feeling that some of what’s going on in this forum lately is being done because someone perceives the Backyard/OGMPP forum as being an embarrassment to the community, or worse, Ubuntu (the operating system) itself. How pretentious do we have to be? Well, enough that the forum is going to be officially closed on October the 1st. It remains to be seen how the rest of the community will react when they find their backyard water-cooler hangout was closed down because Dennis the Menace and Bart Simpson broke in wielding silly string and water pistols and nobody could come up with a decent solution to the problem. ”Let’s just close the forum!” What kind of a solution is that? Oh well. Like they say, no great loss… but it’s still a loss.
One user stepped up to create a replacement forum on his own server. You can find it here:
Unforuantely, this alternative forum only has about 70 members in it so far, compared to Ubuntu forums ~67,000 active members (~671,000 registered members). I’m not saying 67,000 made use out of the soon to be killed Backyard forum, but it was at least convenient for them in the off chance they felt like talking with other fellow Ubuntu fans about something other than Ubuntu. I’ll never be allowed to post a new thread about my puppy dog, or ask people if they think the economy is going to collapse or poll people on how much longer they think Sarah Palin will be able to go without answering a difficult questions. These topics are not offensive, and I really appreciated the quality of interaction I got from the Ubuntu community over any one of many random topics. And now it’s about to be locked up and demolished with nothing to replace it, making Ubuntu Forums a dry, less emotional place to be. I mean this with all due respect, but I sincerely feel the moderators at Ubuntu Forums has failed the community they govern. Though their take is that the community failed them! That’s pretty rich, I have to tell you.
Saturday, September 27th, 2008