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Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update
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Posted Fri May 27, 2005, 5:34pm
Subject: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

Hi all,

The moderators had a vibrant discussion regarding the General Off Topics forum last weekend, and I wanted to update our users on what went on.

We had to decide how to deal with escalations of character- or group-based attacks. We placed everything on the table, from eliminating General Off Topics, to disallowing political discussions, to "call-a-moderator" buttons.

I think I can say the consensus of moderators is that we will not disallow any topics of discussion (unless they start out violating forum rules, of course). It is an open forum.

Jim summarized the Off Topics origin:

Off topics started out as a place to annouce personal things -
births, marriages, deaths, jobs etc., and that's a valuable thing.

As Mark added:

Off Topics was created from the git-go to provide that virtual coffee shop experience... people who enjoy something (ie coffee) in common, who get together to discuss other topics not related to coffee. Often in coffee shops, politics and religion are topics #1 and #2 discussed. Then love lives.

Well, most of us are too geeky to discuss amorous adventures in a public forum, but topics #1 and #2 certainly happen.

In coffee shops, you rarely have fisticuffs break out over it... well at least not in the coffee shops I go to, in this day and age

From my own research, I know a little about coffee house conversation, and offer a bit of history and a contemporary analysis:

(scholar mode on) There are several documents from the early 18th century that detail the unique interaction which the (at the time) new invention of "coffee houses" provided. One such document, a topical publication of the day, _The Spectator_ (by Addison & Steele) seems to convincingly describe our problem:

"IT is very natural for a Man who is not turned for Mirthful Meetings of Men, or Assemblies of the fair Sex, to delight in that sort of Conversation which we find in Coffee-houses. Here a Man, of my Temper, is in his Element; for if he cannot talk, he can still be more agreeable to his Company, as well as pleased in himself, in being only an Hearer. It is a Secret known but to few, yet of no small use in the Conduct of Life, when you fall into a Man's Conversation, the first thing you should consider is, whether he has a greater Inclination to hear you, or that you should hear him. The latter is the more general Desire..." (Steele, 1711).

In addition, the coffee houses served a very important purpose providing a place for the learned and unlearned classes to (somewhat) mingle and discuss politics and issues of the day. A paper by Elizabeth Franko provides a compelling argument (caveat: no bibliography is in the version posted, so it's hard to evaluate her source documents) which argues against the Coffee Houses as being a democratic ideal, but rather they reflect the increasing "personalization" of the public sphere:

'Coffee house talk was based around “the assumption that it is possible for  interlocutors in a public sphere to bracket status differentials and to deliberate as if they  were social equals.” (Fraser, 117) Habermas goes on to state the ideal as a “disregard(ing) (of) status altogether. The... replac(ing) (of) the celebration of rank with a tact befitting  equals.” (36) While status may have been bracketed off, at least on a limited basis, in the  sociable talk of the coffee houses “the object of the meeting was order not  representation.”  (Schudson, 18) Voices which violated social norms were excluded or  silenced by norms of civility. Benhabib reiterates this concern: “the model of public  dialogue based on conversational restraint is not neutral...and...leads to the silencing of  the concerns of certain excluded groups.” (82) Norms of civility may have allowed  diverse groups to interact in the newly defined public sphere, however these same norms  squelched true democratic discourse, instead preferencing sociability among perceived  equals.' (Franko, 2004).

She goes on to talk about ways that growing awareness of psychology and personality, and the increasing focus on the "self" and "self esteem" have moved public discourse away from depersonalized discussion toward a more personalized debate (Franko, 2004). This, itself may be part of what we see in the forums (and in public debate in general) - I am right because I am me (and part of my ingroup). You are wrong because you are you (and part of your outgroup). And never the 'tween shall meet.

Franko, E. (2004). Coffee, Discourse and Democracy. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved May 21, 2005 from http://www.elizabethfranko.com/coffee.pdf
Steele, R. (1711, April 26). _The Spectator_, 1(49). Retrieved May 21, 2005 from http://tabula.rutgers.edu/spectator/text/april1711/no49.html

So there you have it folks. General Off Topics is safe. There is strong opposition to banning any particular topic, and we will just suck it up, do our jobs, and police with a light hand until things start getting nasty. So get in there and discuss controversial things - abortion, Appalachian poverty, the problems of not having a national health care policy, or whether Anakin Skywalker is truly the father. My vote is that Obi-Wan had a little thing on the side with the pretty lady, but that's just to stir up trouble.


Dana Leighton - Espresso hack and CoffeeGeek moderator
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Joined: 8 May 2005
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Location: Baltimore, MD
Posted Fri May 27, 2005, 9:00pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

The Society of Moderators rocks!

Many of our mothers probably told us this about sex, religion and politics: don't talk about them at polite dinner parties. In my experience, there's no a priori reason to exclude food and drink from that group of topics. Many individuals have very strong feelings about what they eat and drink.

Why is there such a difference between the Coffee and Off Topics forums? Consider that this community is comprised of people with great differences in experience, plain old magic-touch talent, hardware set-ups, and personal tastes. A natural matrix for controversy, right? But in the coffee forums, every individual is considered to be on the same team. People feel no reluctance to post a photo of that first try at latte art, because they know they won't be shot down. If a wizard posts a photo of a triple-motif macchiato, everybody else just says aaaaaaaahhh, right on! A person who has extensive knowledge of a particular machine or technique treasures the information as a gift to be shared. Very neat stuff.

I'm an American. For me, the most disconcerting thing about our recent election was not who won or lost, but the daily demonstrated truth that many of us very simply don't know how to talk with each other about sex, politics and religion. We do know how to discuss coffee, apparently. If we make a conscious effort to remember that we had better all be on the same team in the great finality of it all, maybe we can make progress in the other (less important than coffee?) areas.

Dana, thanks for your extracts. Good stuff.
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Posted Wed Jun 29, 2005, 6:26am
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

Erm, suggesting that Obi Wan Kenobi would violate the Jedi Code is more than enough reason to resort to fisticuffs.
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Posted Wed Jun 29, 2005, 8:01am
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

(did Padme really know Obi Wan was on that ship in Episode 3)

hmmm interesting Blasphemy.....
she did look a little startled to see Obiwan standing behind her while she was arguing with her husband......that was a long flight not to know he was onboard....

(i will now proceed to put on my noise cancelling head phones....oh yeah I am reading that doesn't help)

DOM...evil genius ...Up to no good in espresso at all times... VIVA la parts de Espresso
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Posted Wed Jun 29, 2005, 11:47am
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

My money's on Yoda.

Cafe todo el dia, tequila toda la noche
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Posted Wed Jun 29, 2005, 12:46pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

The difference between a discussion board and a live coffee house:  people will write things that they would never say to a person face to face. Having a person in front of you has a "moderating" influence on what you say.  And if someone is obviously hurt or uncomfortable, most people back off.  Anonymity and a lack of non verbal feedback seem to allow escalation.
I often find the same thing happens with email.  A sarcastic comment by one person leads to a war of words.
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Posted Wed Jun 29, 2005, 12:51pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

Nice work mods.  The right call, IMVHO.
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Posted Thu Jul 14, 2005, 4:56pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

Kudos, Mods.

One of my online groups, Reality TV World, sums up its guidelines in the Message Forums this way:

The Reality TV World Message Boards are filled with desperate attention-seekers pretending to be one big happy PG/PG13-rated family. Don't be fooled. Trying to get everyone to agree with you is like herding cats, but intolerance for other viewpoints is NOT welcome and respect for other posters IS required at all times. Jump in and play, and you'll soon find out how easy it is to fit in, but save your drama for your mama. All members are encouraged to read the complete guidelines. As entertainment critic Roger Ebert once said, "If you disagree with something I write, tell me so, argue with me, correct me--but don't tell me to shut up. That's not the American way."

If we just remember to discuss issues and not each other, then I think we'll be fine.

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Posted Fri Feb 20, 2009, 7:56pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update

I have no idea how I got to this thread but cracked up at the phrase "herding cats" !!!!!!!

#--> I recommend Eric Svendson's adapter and thermometer for E61s (also Silvia) : easy surfing!
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Posted Sun Apr 26, 2009, 3:25pm
Subject: Re: Moderators and General Off Topics -- An update


Yes, I'm truly happy for your decision.  I had felt reluctant to post news of my need for an abortion and due to poverty here in appalachia and lack of health insurance not being able to have one and therefore being forced to birth an alien.
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