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Or, what we need to do to minimize the DarkSideOfCommunity here.

Avoid oblique references

Since one of our topics is creating tips for online communities, we take real situations here and generalize them. However, this sometimes creates the perception of "talking about me behind my back", or of veiled insults. In addition to generalizing our prescriptions, we need to be careful to be direct with people whom we disagree with or are talking about.

In some cases this prescription contrasts with BeProfessional. Usually, however, you can criticize without insulting.

Being direct is PunishReputation unless the accused has the right to defend himself, and therefore this approach is evil. ForgiveAndForget is likely the correct approach, no matter how personally painful it is. -- SunirShah

Recognize that we are imposing

The social norms here often go against the prevailing social norms of the web. It is elitist of us to assume that anyone who happens across our little space automatically understands the way we do things here. We are one small community within the much larger community which is the internet. We are justified in imposing our norms on whoever comes around here; but we would do well to remember that it is somewhat of an imposition.

Specifications of the last point:


Taking my own advice, I'll try to give direct case examples for those of these for which one example was particularly in my mind as I wrote it (rather than making oblique references).


SunirShah asked me not to collaborate with FermentWiki because JoeAnderson was involved, and indirectly (through his journal) asked MarkDilley not to collaborate with LionKimbro. I feel his request to me made at least some sense, as my connection to FermentWiki was at least directly related to MeatBall. But, professionally, it does not make sense to expect MarkDilley not to collaborate with someone on a separate project.

Since one of our topics is creating tips for online communities, we take real situations here and generalize them. However, this sometimes creates the perception of "talking about me behind my back", or of veiled insults. LionKimbro felt that some text on ShallowWiki was a veiled insult.

We must be very clear and upfront about our unusual norms. There have been many incidents where people come in an use a psuedonym, or use MeatballWiki as a class project space, or write in a style we don't like, or make too many pages. We should spell these secret expectations out with crystal clarity, either on MeatballWiki or on a page directly linked to it. I tried to do this with StartHere?, and with MeatballWikiProposed, but so far the community hasn't seemed too excited about moving forward with either of those. I urge the community to reconsider, or to suggest another way to be more clear.

If person A isolates person O based upon a vague condemnation of O's character by B, then person A has acted against O out of rumor. A = BayleShanks, O = JoeAnderson, B = SunirShah.

SunirShah obliquely criticized JoeAnderson by saying "Just because FermentWiki has technical similarities to what you want, it is not culturally a good place." Based on JoeAnderson's homepage, and on the NameWithheld? section of UseRealNamesCases, I don't see anything that is very inconsiderate on JoeAnderson's part.

I feel that Sunir has had some interactions with JoeAnderson outside of Meatball, perhaps on WikiPedia, and that JoeAnderson probably said some nasty stuff in the past that has since been deleted.

I'm willing to avoid JoeAnderson in this case based only upon SunirShah's say-so. I just wanted FermentWiki as a place to store my open content so it wouldn't be lost; I can always start something similar if I need to. I have no personal urge to help JoeAnderson, but I do have a desire to not make SunirShah's life less pleasant.

While this outcome is good for me and good for Sunir, it is questionable whether it is good for the atmosphere in the community. It is also an example of "allowing personal connections to triumph over egalitarianism".

We should not refer to people obliquely. This smacks of cliquiness. SunirShah obliquely criticized JoeAnderson on the page BayleShanks by saying "Just because FermentWiki has technical similarities to what you want, it is not culturally a good place." I assume Sunir said it this way to avoid saying "JoeAnderson, who runs FermentWiki, is a bastard; don't work with him". NeverUseStrongWords? is a good idea. However, in this case the obliqueness creates a division between those "in the know", in this case including Sunir and me, and newcomers, who could only guess at what is going on there. And it would probably bother the target, JoeAnderson, although maybe not as much as using strong words would have.

I think in this case, "Please don't use FermentWiki; I've had some problems with JoeAnderson" may have been the best bet. -- BayleShanks

I could be more specific. But do you really think that is wise? -- SunirShah

Do you mean because JoeAnderson may not see it or be able to respond to it here, so it's making an accusation without him having the means to defend himself?

I feel that that situation is already the case when you make an oblique reference to him, so it's better to be direct.

Or, do you mean that talking about it in public might start a flame war?

In that case, maybe that would have been a good place for a BackRoomDecision; not dissing FermentWiki at all in public, but emailing me in private with details about what Joe has done.

Sometimes being oblique can be diplomatic; NeverUseStrongWords?. But I don't feel that being oblique is really being diplomatic in a case like this; it's insulting to Joe either way. If one has to say something like that at all, one should be direct.

Note that either way, you are personally taking on the burden of warning people about Joe, and if people disagree, they will think you're petty. If you want to avoid taking on that personal responsibility (and I don't think anyone should have to do that), then the only thing to do is for MeatballWiki to publically have a page somewhere with the community's complaints about Joe. With all the perpetual flame war problems that that implies.

-- BayleShanks

Meatball can also change its relationship with Joe. There is no reason to believe that we must perpetually be locked in a conflict, but recording the conflict on a permanent AuditTrail will serve that wrong end. -- SunirShah

I've started to delete what's left of the records of the conflict. You can barnraise with me if you like - you'd know where to look... :) --MartinHarper

Thanks, Martin. I'll do (yet another) ForgiveAndForget pass later. I'm tired of Meatball for today. -- SunirShah

I'd much more prefer oblique references than to have my name scattered many, many times in the page. It makes the whole process of ForgiveAndForget very difficult. It is very distressing to be reading this for the first time, years after it happened, to see that the attempt at blacklisting me had been made so public. On the other hand, the danger of oblique references is that various transgressions can blur in the accounts that remain--one might have no way of knowing that the cultural norm I ran up against was MeatBall's idiosyncratic UseRealNames stance, rather than, say, something much more offensive outside the confines of Meatball. -- JoeAnderson

If you wanted, could you not exercise your RightToLeave and delete all references to your RealName on this page?

There was no attempt to publicly blacklist Joe. There was an attempt to let it go, which was subsequently denied by Bayle's exegesis on avoiding oblique references in response to [...]. All of this was itself an oblique reference to [...], so mostly I think this page is a failure. As you can see, being specific is stupid. (Stupid backhistory elided; you can read it in KeptPages if you really care. It's there to make the point of how assinine this whole story is.)

If there is any dark side, it's that at some points in our history, good faith was abandoned or not assumed, which indicates we all need more fun and/or sex in our lives. Mostly, all of this convoluted past is the result of a bunch of dumbasses on the Internet bumbling along trying to score points off each other because we're too bored to do something productive, so there is no point in bearing grudges. -- SunirShah

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