Communities are difficult to manage; we used to have newsgroups a long time ago, but I felt compelled to close them after it became more of a babysitting job than a thriving commons. We reopened a few years ago, and our Problem Solvers have been going like gangbusters (if you can overlook a few recent server slowdowns). Lockergnomie John Woodward came out of the shadows the other day to comment on this general subject.
I have used Slashdot in the past, along with several other ‘Forums’ where commenting is the chief form of feedback. It seems that if you find these places before they are too mature you get far more bang for your buck. Once they become poplar these places seem to fill up with the commenter who lives for the one-liner. And there is always a plethora of people who think they can distill a sometimes complex or sensitive subject into a one or two line snappy comeback… post it and voila, they win. Now I like humor and good natured sarcasm as well as the next guy but it gets old. Add to that you now have a hundred comments to search through to try and find some worthwhile information instead of ten or twenty.
Then of course there is the shield of anonymity the Internet provides. People will post extraordinarily rude remarks about or to others simply because they can. Flamers and trolls seem to eventually find most comment boards, and if these places are “moderated by the community” will thrive there, because no one really has the time, or authority to shut them up.
Then of course there is the issue of your time. It is a precious commodity, and the advent of all of these time-saving devices don’t really seem to help all that much. Instead of having more time we have less, because we are expected to do so much more since we have these tools. When you find a good forum it can be a real boon, giving you good quick and reliable information. Then it grows, the miscreants creep in and you spend more of your valuable time looking for that good information and finally looking for another forum. I think it eventually scares off the people who post intelligent, thoughtful, and useful information.
What do we do in the end? Well I try to find well moderated forums. Ignore flamers and trolls. Skim the one-liners and look for the more in depth postings. Make a note of good posters and watch for their messages and threads.