Crying In The Online Community Sandbox

Crying In The Online Community SandboxBy E. Brown

You can learn a lot from kids. Often, it is like looking in the mirror. We become adults physically, yet more often than not we’re still immature “kids” emotionally and mentally.

“Wait,” you might say, “I know you’re not talking about me.” Well, maybe I am not, but you know the precept is true. It’s not rocket science. All you have to do is look around you. You know the people you talk about to your friends or spouse…THEY’RE the selfish immature ones, right? Chances are, they’re saying the same about you as well. Ouch.

Face it, we’re big kids. That is not a bad thing. There is a difference between childish and child-like.

And so, we have large communities of kids IRL and online. They play in the sandboxes on the playgrounds or the sandboxes within the corporate world. Sometimes they get along. More frequently, like my children, they do not. There is just something about pestering the other person that is rewarding to the selfish mind. (See my article about Digg)

Online communities suffer the same issues. You’d think we’d have outgrown — “Mommy, he called me a name!”, “Daddy, she is not sharing!”, “That’s not fair!!”, “He’s not being nice to me….She’s not being nice to me….Make them stop….”

Mike Rowland recently wrote on The Future of Communities Blog:

We’ve seen an upswing in blog posts and articles related to the growing issue of incivility on the internet and in online communities. The most recent article from PC World’s John Dvorak sums it up nicely:

“Nastiness is an earmark of many bloggers, podcasters, and members of the herd; a few insane people; and those who feel that being an out-and-out mean and profane presence on the Internet is cool or funny. The level of nastiness that floats around the Net in various forms, forums, and Web sites is incredible.”

We think that this is not so incredible, but is just the way the world is right now. When you look at other media such as television what do you see? Nastiness. Whether it’s political (Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann), social (Jerry Springer, The View with Rosie O’Donnell), or even legal (Judge Judy) the overwhelming tone is nasty. Why? Because it attracts people to engage with the show. And the internet is the same. Nastiness gives visitors a reason to engage.

Because of this nastiness, some folks like Tim O’Reilly have called for a Bloggers’ Code of Conduct. Okay, that would help the folks that actually blog perhaps. But what it really is, is a set of very good moderation tips for online communities as a whole. (read more)

Mike says, “…this is not so incredible, but is just the way the world is right now.” I would put forth, this is the way it’s been. This is no recent phenomena.

OK, so can any initiative be taken? Is there anything we should do?

Yes, I suggest we take personal responsibility and initiative. Toward that end I have provided a list below for you to review:

Give yourself a “gut” check. Are you childish or child-like? If the former, it’s time to take responsibility and grow up. If the latter, celebrate, have fun, be opportunistic, and like kids, see the good-side of things…forgive easily.

Ask yourself, are you an Optimist or Pessimist? As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s it working for you?”

Be an encourager. (See article, Leadership Lessons From Little League)

Build positive and healthy relationships. Not an easy thing to do, but in the end VERY rewarding.

Enjoy community. Learn from others. Teach, coach, or mentor someone.

Let’s stop crying in the “sandbox” and move forward. Building online communities, takes time patience, and strength of purpose and character.

Do we need online moderators? Sure. Seek them out and choose wisely. They are the voice of your community. They can be the mentors and coaches too.

Do we need a “code of conduct?” There’s nothing wrong with that. I may throw my muddy shoes on my carpet or leave mustache clipping around my sink, but I need to respect your place when I am visiting. Every house has their set of “House Rules”. If I don’t like them, I can go cry in some other sandbox, right?


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