MeatballWiki | RecentChanges | Random Page | Indices | Categories

In time, most people will depart a community. Participation in online communities usually lasts 6 months to 3 years, with longer periods of participation common only in communities with a narrow, well-defined mission that has a direct relationship to participants' ongoing MeatSpace activities. Departures can occur on many terms.

Departure in response to conflict

At the height of a conflict, you will often see a participant dramatically exercise their RightToLeave with a goodbye message. This isn't simply a notice that the person is leaving before they slip away, it's a magnum opus of anger directed back at TheCollective. However, they are not going to leave. Even if their original intent was to leave in anger, it's not satisfying to go from such an emotional high to an immediate vacuum. Because we can lurk online, the person is going to come back to see the reaction of the community. It's just so tempting.

Insincere departures

Very often, a goodbye message is not an attempt to leave, but an attempt to draw all the attention upon oneself. In this way it is typically PassiveAggressive, as an intrinsically NonViolent act--the RightToLeave--is turned around to become a vehicle for violence. If it helps you think of it, the GoodBye message is seen as the author as a means to punish the rest of the community for failing them. As in, "Fine, I'll show you. I'm out of here."

The trouble with goodbye messages is they are often taken naively on face value by the community. In the case where the community actually does not want the person to leave because they like them, outpourings of messages will come to keep the person within the fold. However, this is merely acquiescing to the ultimatum the author has presented. "Love me or I am leaving." All ultimata must be called as it is unacceptable to use emotional extortion to get special treatment, thus this strategy ultimately fails as the community will end up eating humble pie when they have to live with the person whom they were fighting with. It's hard to go back and disagree with them again (as the original dispute has not been settled) after you just exclaimed your undying admiration. Thus they gain shortcut privileges as a VestedContributor.

On the other hand, if the person is someone the community does not want, then the goodbye will be taken positively by most individuals. They will leave "Alright, so long," messages that are simple and confirming. This is the opposite of what the author wants. They want the outpouring of emotion, which in any case would be wrong. The resulting dearth of suckers leaves the goodbye feeling empty, and more importantly, a confirmation of the poor standing of the author in the eyes of the community. And oh how the tempest storms when this is discovered. Now the only way to balance the emotional score is to wreck havoc, and make the community pay. A GoodBye is a harbinger for brutal violence.

To be fair, the WikiMindWipe was what resulted in the outpourings of love and affection way back when. If the community is weak or stupid, they will fall victim to this kind of extortion, and they will pay for it. (confirmed as a useful strategy, WikiMindWipes are now de rigueur on WikiWiki).

Responding to insincere departures

So, it seems like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You can't ignore the goodbye, nor can you accept it, nor can you seek to reverse it. But there may be another way out.

First, NameTheConflict so others in TheCollective who do not know what is going on can at least read this to understand the emotional state of the situation before they do something stupid. At no point should the community bend to the ultimatum, for that is what it is. You should be careful though as MentioningPatterns is insincere, so you will have to actually transcend your own AngryCloud and work to be incredibly sincere and open, more so than what is written here.

First acknowledge the situation to make sure the author does not feel in a vacuum. Relate to them what you think you did to cause their departure. Make it clear that you are open to continuing the discussion later when the person feels up to it. Be deeply sincere in that statement.

Do not gang up with "Ok, bye!" smarminess. That only closes the CommunicationChannels. While at the moment you feel really glad that you might have "won" in the conflict, you haven't won, and in fact you are about to lose big time. Keep dialogue open.

However, don't give the false emotional validation the person wants. Remember, sincerity is important. If the author wants to extort us emotionally, they are acting out of line; they were likely already out of line beforehand which led to this escalated situation. Instead, hold your ground. It's important to only respond to mature dialogue, to BarnRaising, and to ignore everything else. After all, it cannot hurt you if you don't accept it, so don't worry about it. Don't let it get to you. This is the churn of life. Maintain your own keel. It's up to the author to maintain theirs. The best you can do is avoid making the situation worse whilst being willing to improve it.

Note that it's often best to be mindful of the emotional state of the author as immediately after posting the GoodBye, the person will be checking for responses quite often, and will remain emotionally highly charged. Initially the person will feel spiteful, vindicated, and smug, in the "Ha ha, I showed them!" attitude. After a bit, the sinking realization of what they had done sets in, and panic may ensue. This causes the obsessiveness. After a night's sleep (and typically GoodByes are written at night, alone), the person may either feel relieved (thank god!) and actually leave--in which case lengthy responses drawing the author back will be a huge mistake--or more likely feel vindictively curious to see what mischief they have wrought in the intervening hours. Here an acknowledgment that curtails further negative reactions will deflate the author's hopes they succeeded, and either they will eat humble pie and return or they will maintain their dignity and leave.

There is no guaranteed successful response to a goodbye. Every response, even no response, can be a potential trigger to further undesirable actions from the departing person. Even if most people handle the situation with maturity and awareness, in a medium or large community there will always be some who get suckered in either to say "don't go" or to give the person an extra kick in the ass out the door.

Finally, beware of the protracted reply. The "I'm leaving!" "No, I'm really leaving." "Well, let me just say, but then I'm leaving." The person is looking for something from the community and thus is extending their exit until it appears, and the longer you withhold it from them, the worse things will get.

Sincere departures during conflicts

But, sometimes at the height of a conflict a mature person will also post a GoodBye with an essay. But the essay is a balanced letter describing why they felt they needed to leave. It's free of blame and anger. It's more a realization they cannot continue with this, and they should not continue distracting TheCollective with a fight that cannot end. That is sad. It's not an escalation in the conflict, but the author's attempt to sincerely end it. Please accept it. Don't fight the author. Discuss it if you'd like to learn from it, but be respectful of the author's decision. They made it in GoodFaith in order to help TheCollective.

And then occasionally an author will write such a letter and then StartAgain with retribution. But here we're talking about ForkingOfOnlineCommunities, and that is a whole other emotional battle.

Contrast this with the ByeForNow? message, where a user states that they will leave for some (perhaps unspecified) period of time and expect to be back later.

Silent departures

Occasionally you may notice some contributors who stop contributing suddenly, without any "goodbye" or "holidays" notice; they just disappear. If they left after an argument, it is possible they got pissed off so much that didn't even bother to leave a goodbye message. In this case administrators should understand that their community may be too unhealthy or broken, since this behaviour is a clear evidence of "taedium vitae" (the weariness of life) as regards the activities of the online community (cf. RightToLeave). You may try communicating these users privately in order to ask them what made them feel so pissed off.

Other reasons a user may leave without notice include: a) They can always revert their decision without consequences ("aha! you said goodbye but you are here again!"), b) they continue to contribute with a SockPuppet account, c) they want to see whether the community will start questioning their disappearance. It's important to note that the latter mind game is immature passive aggressiveness, and it almost always backfires since the community is more likely to AssumeGoodFaith that your personal life has taken priority than believing you had left in anger.

In most cases, leaving a community is a process rather than an event. There is progressive disengagement as community involvement takes a lower priority than other activities. In time, an attitude shift takes place; as the departee internalizes a conclusion that the community no longer matters, or that it is beyond their control. This isn't necessarily unhealthy nor symptomatic of a PassiveAggressive pattern. In many cases a participant will become less active but still care about the community, possibly becoming a lurker and only contributing in certain situations.

Responding to departures

Online and in MeatSpace, the best thing to do when someone chooses to leave a relationship or community is to wish them well, express an earnest desire to encounter them in other settings, and invite them to return should they wish to do so.

If the departure note is truly insincere (which is rare), such a response won't provide much satisfaction.

Most departure notes are sincere at the time they are written. The former contributor genuinely intends to discontinue active participation. But leaving is a process, not a single event. The signs of a previously committed contributor uncommitting themselves to the goals of a community are usually clear. The departure note is a step on the road, and oftentimes will be followed by scaled-back contributions and lurking.

Responding in a positive manner that acknowledges the departure reinforces that participation in the community is voluntary and egalitarian, and that exercising the RightToLeave is an appropriate response when the game is no longer worth the candle. This contrasts with highly controlling organizations (c.f. Mennonites, Amish, Watchtower, Bretheren) who shun former members who depart, refusing any sort of social contact or possibility of reconciliation.

Only the wisest communities have the strength and perceptiveness to learn from departures. Was this someone who was ill-suited to the community in the first place? If so, what brought them here and kept them here? Or was the departure a natural one, where the community and the individual had matured in different ways making them no longer suited for each other? Or was it because of a failing of the community that could possibly be corrected, so that more members are not lost?


I have not seen anywhere here any comment on the possibility of going off the emotional high ground with humour. Unfortunately all I can think up here is only more insulting (like answering it "Oh! Don't leave us!") - but perhaps someone has some better ideas? -- ZbigniewLukasiak

Case Study

In my case, I have lots and lots of interests. I came here, I saw some interesting discussions, I participated in some of them, and I became part of the community.

But, I have other interests. I play guitar. I have a family. There are pop culture communities I'm a part of. (No, I don't have Spock ears or a Starfleet red shirt.) MeatballWiki is a community about communities, where BarnRaising and CommunityBuilding are the center of this community, and while there are people absolutely driven by those thoughts, I haven't been.

But OpenSource is a community, as much as it is a body of code. Perl is a community, and the reason to look into Perl is [CPAN], a freely-available collection of Perl modules, which is created and maintained by that community. I found that the Perl community was holding Yet Another Perl Conference::North America in Chicago, near me, so I went, and while my appreciation of Perl as a powerful language for expressing ideas and doing things went up, it's my appreciation of Perl as a community that grew enormously there. I had ideas for the expression of the Perl community in local, interpersonal environments, the Perl Mongers. I had an idea for an IntelligentAgent for the web that would use OpenSource tools (Firefox, GreaseMonkey?, Javascript, LAMP (Linux, Apache, mySQL, P(HP|ython|erl), CPAN, JSAN (which is Perl webgeeks working with Javascript and wanting the benefits that Perl and CPAN have within Javascript's community) to create a Web Agent that worked beyond the StupidAgents I write all the time and started touching the SmartAgent or even IntelligentAgent areas.

And, once I have the rough framework put together, I'm going to try to package it as an OpenSource project. This means I'll need to attract users, explain what the framework is for and how to add to it, accept additions and bug fixes. I'll need mailing lists and wikis. I'll need, in short, to build a community.

And thus I'm back. It was never "Grr, those MeatballWiki guys are so stuck in their ways! I hate them." It was more "I should really check out what's going on at MeatballWiki, but X, Y and Z have been pushed on the stack. I'd better start looking at them." And then it got buried so far down the stack, I started to forget about it, and since my interests were not aligned directly to MeatballWiki, it didn't get pushed up again. Until now. -- DaveJacoby



MeatballWiki | RecentChanges | Random Page | Indices | Categories
Edit text of this page | View other revisions