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Friday, June 09, 2006

All Things in Mod-eration

Today's pic is a two-shot photo I made of a Morta Signature done for a buyer in Israel, and the bamboo-shank Talbert Briar which is currently on its way to Pipe & Pint. I hope I haven't posted this before. I may be losing my mind. Emily has adopted another abandoned baby bird here, so our schedule has gotten a bit bizarre with lots of napping and feeding every couple hours.

I wanted to write a few words today on the subject of moderated boards. I mentioned in a past blog post the tendency over recent years for the pipe community to fracture, and spread out from the once-central alt.smokers.pipes to many different public and private boards. Reasons for this are numerous and varied, but a commonly-cited grievance is the preponderance of flames and spam and crossover threads on ASP. A large percentage of collectors, especially collectors of higher-end pipes, have relocated to small private messageboards such as the one run by my friend Jeff Folloder, where they find the high signal-to-noise ratio that they crave. But one question is often raised - is board moderation good? ASP has seen many instances over the years where someone has appeared and raised what they saw as huge issues regarding various moderated boards. Claims of censorship, ego tripping, personal exclusion, and just bad manners abound.

I personally am a fan of the Quiet Room. I think all pubs should have a big, loud public room where everyone can party and dance on the tables and talk about garden gnomes all they want, but they also need some nice private back rooms where those so-inclined can gather for more in-depth discussion. Everyone is happy. But, alas, problems arise when individuals incompatible with one or the other venue try to cross-visit. Just recently there was a long and hot thread on ASP about censorship on the Pipes.Org moderated board. This particular board pops up often in complaints, with some observers calling it a "fiefdom" and arguing against what they see as overly-restrictive moderation.

I disagree, and I'll try to explain why.

In a nutshell, every moderated board is a fiefdom - They are private discussions run by approved members chatting about a common topic, and the mods are free to make of the boards what they will. If a moderator is an ego-madman and bans/censors posts randomly, the board simply won't last. Posting to any moderated board is an explicit statement that you understand the policies of that board and agree to behave in a manner befitting that board's general comportment, whether it is the hardcore non-commercial nature of the Pipes.org forum, the relaxed-but-serious mutual friendliness of the Folloder forum, or the family-friendly Smokers' Forums.

Some may find it strange that I would defend Pipes.Org when I had my only banned post in sixteen years of online posting there. I posted a link to an article written for this blog, which I thought the readers might find interesting, and the post was rejected on grounds that this blog connected to my site and thus constituted a commercial link. My reaction? Well, what I did not do was go start a huge flame fest on ASP crying about how I'd been unfairly censored - Instead, I shrugged, realized I had misunderstood the extent of their board's non-commercial policies, and stopped trying to post there (I don't feel I can adequately split out my commercial pipe identity from my regular self to participate in such a non-commercial venue without it having some shade of brand-identity overtones).

It did leave me wondering about those who so frequently complain about moderated boards, however, and praise ASP for the "freedom" of its communication - the very freedom that has sent so many others off to private boards! As I mentioned, I've been posting about pipes online since AOL in 1990, and I post to multiple moderated forums both private and public, and during all that time I have had only one post censored. I find today's moderated forums pleasing, relaxing, and (despite claims to the contrary about elitism and totalitarianism... and please, if anyone is actually going to use the terms "totalitarian" or "Nazi" to describe something as trivial as private PIPE clubs, for god's sake, please pry them out of the basement...) much freer in terms of open communication than the public boards. I say a lot of things on Jeff's forum, for instance, that I would not say elsewhere because in other forums the joke would be lost, meanings would be misconstrued, or worse, deliberately twisted for purposes of argument.

At the end of the day, if one finds one's self continually being censored and/or ignored or banned by moderated forums, the odds are very good that it is not actually a problem with the forums themselves...