August 11, 2003

The List Mom Is Dead

Grizzled Internet Old-Timer Chuq von Rospach--originator of the List Mom style of internet community moderation--thinks that the concept has reached the end of its useful life, and that it is time to shift moderation style not back to the List Nazi but forward to... what? It is not clear to me, and I'm not sure that it is clear to him either:

Teal Sunglasses: The List Mom is Dead! Long Live the, um.....: ...all this begat a new, rather hard core administrative style, what I now fondly call my List Nazi period. But it was a response to trying to keep the existing subscriber base together and happy against the influx of a new group of people with a different culture and attitude.... Eventually, the need for such a tight leash receded, but the leash didn't loosen. This ended up causing other, different problems -- stagnation of the list population, and creating a strong disincentive to post to the list. People get tired of having their every move second-guessed. It kills the community aspect of things.

So in late 1998 and early 1999 (as I remember it...), we threw out all of our list documentation, rules, attitudes, etc, etc etc, and started from scratch. And out of that navel examination came the concept of the List Mom. Why List Mom? A lot of thought went into coining a new term. We wanted a term that specifically excluded any concept of ownership, but instead of stewardship. You may have created a mailing list. You may own the server it runs on. You may manage the list, and set policy for it. But you don't own it; the users do.

We wanted a term that looked more to the social aspect than the technical. An admin is a technically oriented person -- list administration increasingly is about social issues, not technical ones, and increasingly is done by non-technical people who never deal with the underlying hardware or software. And finally, we wanted a term that disconnected the administrator from the power of the position. The reason we finally decided to use List Mom was simple: we couldn't see anyone being taken seriously if they're yelling things like "you have to do what I tell you! I'm the List Mom!" (think of the underlying image: "you have to eat your lima beans! why? Because I'm the mom, and I said so!"). It's a term we felt was consciously disarming and non-threatening. In fact, we felt it was anti-threatening, and a way to overtly remind the admin not to take themselves too seriously. (quick digression: in case it's not obvious, while the terminology is generalized, the primary target of this de-frocking is, of course, me. That others have found it useful enough to adopt is a thrill to me, but I was struggling primarily to find a way to restructure how I ran mailing lists to solve problems I felt I was causing, and to build those changes into the infrastructure such that both the users and myself would understand the changes were happening and the status quo had been thrown out -- and to limit the chances of things slipping back into the old habits again...)...

And now, I realize that the whole List Mom concept has hit end of life, and it's time to go in a different direction. Or more correctly, properly document and represent the direction I think is appropriate and have been aiming at for a while anyway.... List Mom might have been a term with power diminished, but still with power. and while on a practical level someone ultimately has to have the power and responsibility, I think the adult phase of this implies an admin who exercises authority as little as possible. The real world equivalent to this for me is the mediator, or the ombusdman instead of the boss, the arbitrator or the administrator. So the List Mom is dead. Long live the, well, something...

Posted by DeLong at August 11, 2003 05:09 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Chuq von Rospach?

Wow, that name sure takes me back...

Once upon a time (okay, back in the late 80s) I was an exhuberant graduate student who had Usenet access back when it still meant something (your sysadmin could and would yank it). Once, when I was particularly annoyed by the fact that Apple had really lame documentation for HyperCard 2.0, but gave special access to some people (e.g., Danny Goodman) who would then write long-winded books about it which users would then have to buy. Chuq von Rospach took issue with my crispy flame, and at least briefly quit posting to Usenet because of it.

For the morbidly interested, here's my favorite post from the fateful thread (and keep in mind that I got some hate email for getting into this...):

http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=11028%40hoptoad.uucp&output=gplain

Now that I'm older and wiser, I admire ever more the ideal of civility on the net, which Chuq has apparently continued to spend a lot of time and effort on. The only technique that I have ever found half-way effective, though, is just this: when somebody writes a flame, never respond. Pretend it never happened. If everybody can do this then the fire never spreads. If more than a couple of people cannot do this, then you've just torched the thread, and it won't end until National Socialism gets mentioned.

Posted by: Jonathan King on August 11, 2003 08:17 PM

we couldn't see anyone being taken seriously if they're yelling things like "you have to do what I tell you! I'm the List Mom!"

If my mum yelled that I had to do something, I took it seriously - clearly this guy had a different family to mine!

Posted by: derrida derider on August 11, 2003 09:40 PM

we couldn't see anyone being taken seriously if they're yelling things like "you have to do what I tell you! I'm the List Mom!"

If my mum yelled that I had to do something, I took it seriously - clearly this guy had a different family to mine!

Posted by: derrida derider on August 11, 2003 09:41 PM

How about "List Mob" or "List Democracy?" Sites like slashdot.org and kuro5hin.org seem to thrive using a voting system of sorts to moderate posts.

Posted by: David Knight on August 11, 2003 11:07 PM
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