Friday, September 7, 2007

Forum Moderation 2

Background note: Last July 30, I started a thread in the USCF Forum where I offered my ideas on policing forums. I had offered to be a Moderator for the USCF Forum and these comments were in that context. The USCF Forum was and remains a deeply troubled place. At the time most of the Moderators and the Forum Oversight Committee had resigned. They were down to just 1 Moderator and he has since died. I reproduce them here.


Our problems with civil discourse in this forum is a part of a larger societal problem in the internet. Folks get online, are anonymous (on the USCF Forum semi-anonymous), have little personal acquaintance with the people they write of, and say mean, unkind things. You don’t need me to tell you how widespread a phenomenon this has become.

Our problems are that we want freedom of speech on the one hand, and civil behavior on the other. Worse, when it comes to civility, we can’t agree where to draw the line.

The USCF Forums

It has a bad reputation. It has a very bad reputation. I discovered first hand just how bad it was. I have a blog. Some people from the USCF helped me on it. Very important people contributed material to it. Susan Polgar, Paul Truong, Don Schultz, Bill Goichberg.

The material I used was positive pieces about the USCF and chess. The things that these worthys let me use contained some important information. But the feedback I got from the other chess sites I approached! They would not link to it or say anything about them to their readers because they would not touch anything having to do with USCF politics. People made the most surprising comments. One Web Editor wrote me that even a reference to USCF politics might bring the “crazies” on the USCF forum to his site.

Even the most innocuous pieces met this kind of resistance. What struck me was that the response had little to nothing to do with me. I could understand someone saying that, “you’re a nobody with a nothing blog.” But that was not it. It was all about USCF politics. Not even a piece written by the President of the USCF himself. Not even if it contained important information about USCF affairs. Maybe it was anti-Goichberg sentiment then? No. No to Truong. No to Jones. No to anybody who had anything to do with USCF politics and the “crazies” on the forum.
This was a surprise to me.

So there is a cost to the incivility of this forum. And this cost is born by every person who posts here. Relatively few people read your posts. So, how can we improve your readership?

The Importance of the USCF Forum: My Vision

I want this forum to build a sense of community among the chess players of the country. I want this forum to be an information engine. I want this forum to become an important part of the chess culture – and there is a chess culture, if we could only be aware of it.

We are heirs to a great heritage. From the Greats like Morphy and Steinitz, to the itinerant cowpoke on the dust-filled plains, though the great sweep of history, chess has been there.

When I first walked into the Seattle Chess Club in 1973, when it was still on Jackson Street in the old district, the relics of the past, of Admiral Byrd, chess magazines, and brick-a-brack from the earliest years of the century, were still there. A poetic eye could still see amidst the dust and the decay all around, ghostly figures from the past, seated at those rotting tables moving long-vanished pieces on the inlaid squares. To them, the tables were still new; the wood held it’s original shine; the square tiles laid down and cemented in by some forgotten artisan, signified the pride those chess players took in their club and the permanence they planned for it.

This is the place where we are with the USCF Forum today. It is a new century and it is a new place. Cyberspace. The Forums can be a real engine for pride and for growth. What is holding us back is the proper policing of it.