Hi Chuq, the answer really varies with the list I think. And of course can
change over time as the list changes.
Funny that Vince should mention not making an exception for Sept 11th,
because I made an exception for that topic on my list, though people were
not allowed to put forward racial and religious stereotypes (no one
tried...it just worried me). Some lists I'm a member of banned discussion
entirely, but they all allowed what I consider essential, off topic or not:
members in NYC or DC posting that they were okay.
My main list, Immune, is the biggest. I do not allow off topic posts at
all. But the topic is so broad that it includes pretty much everything
someone would want to post. The focus is on a particular grouping of
health problems and toxicity issues, but any post about health is on topic.
Any post about how someone is doing emotionally is on topic. So are posts
about the environment, the health industry, health politics, etc.
Ironically, even Sept 11th was on topic in most ways because our discussion
focused on the toxic effects of the fires, smoke, asbestos, etc and the
lack of protection for rescue workers...which grew into a website I
So what's off topic? Virus warnings, chain mail, general chatting,
television shows and movies (unless they're discussing a particular health
issue), etc. I also gently cut off any discussions that get out of hand
and vere into off-topic areas (I write the participants and ask them to
take it private). I discourage joke and inspirational forwards but allow
the occasional one.
Another list I run, Immune-Survivors, is more of a support group so
anything goes there. I just keep out spam and attachments.
A third list, LCVeg, is so low traffic (about 100 lurkers!) that I'll
accept anything that even vaugely fits. But if traffic picks up, I'll keep
it to food, diet, health, and exercise.
The fourth list, Immune-Admin, is announcement only so not an issue; I'm
the only one who posts.
And then I started a fifth list, using Yahoogroups, and it's only to
discuss a particular project I'm coordinating. Whenever some one has
posted anything off topic (including asking if they can discuss related
projects elsewhere), I've asked them not to (an announcement of the related
group is okay).
There's actually an advantage to running so many groups. Like when someone
posted to the project group asking for advice on nontoxic means of getting
stains out of carpet, I told her to post to Immune, where such a question
was perfectly on topic. I rarely have to tell someone not to post, I just
tell them post there instead.
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 10:10:15 -0800
From: Chuq Von Rospach <email@example.com>
What I can't decide is whether this is a problem, or whether any 'cure'
would be worse than the disease. On the one hand, I see this kind of
side-chatter as community building (mostly, sometimes, it's just clueless
people, but a lot of it is mining of a trusted community for non-topic
information). On the other hand, these things can lead towards an attitude
of "topic is optional", and some of the discussions can take off with a life
of their own and clutter up the list, creating all of the problems too much
It's a trade off. I've found that lists that allow chatter tend to have
more people and more traffic--Including more on-topic traffic in
general--than lists that are stricter with posts. There is another list
similar to Immune that is very chatty and it was actually a spin off from
my list years ago for other reasons. Because many subscribers to one are
also on the other, they compliment each other. I like keeping my list more
focused on quality information and I don't feel guilty about it because
this other list has the chatter for people who want it (I have posting
priviledges on that list but do not subscribe--I find the discussion there
to be more plentiful but less useful).
Whatever you decide, I recommend you make some rules about it. Either
don't allow off topic posts or allow them but only if people mark them as
such. "OT:" in the beginning of the subject line works well and lets
people who filter messages weed them out. Putting OT elsewhere in the
subject is not as helpful. You might want to allow certain kinds of off
topic messages (personal announcements) but not others (jokes, chain mail).
Another trick is to post the dilemna to the mailing list and ask
subscribers to give their opinion. I find this extremely useful for
backing up decisions I make. I bet you'll find a lot of people who hate
the clutter. Of course you don't have to go with majority rule, you're
just getting feedback. I suggest you insist all comments go to you
privately and not to the list, but that you wait a couple weeks then
summerize the results on list. A way to avoid on list replies is to create
a poll on a website and then post the URL.
I've used this successfully for the should replies go to the list or the
poster problem. I think the latter because to do the former breaks things.
But I constantly get requests to change it. No one writes to say don't
change things, but why would they? When I did a poll, the majority said
they liked it the way it was. Now when I get bitter complaints about how
hard it is to post to the list (use reply-to-all sheesh!), I can tell them
about the poll and they shut up.
Anyway, good luck and I hope it works out for you.
"There's nothing wrong with me. Maybe there's Cyndi Norman
something wrong with the universe." (ST:TNG) firstname.lastname@example.org
_________________ Owner of the Immune Website & Lists http://www.immuneweb.org/