Thursday, April 01, 2010

Heat on the net

Communication can become very heated on the net. I remember my first experience of it years ago when a round of emails between me, Max Kelly and Ross Street spiralled, in the course of a couple of hours, in aggression. The only way out of it was to stop writing, and start again later. (We successfully maintained a seminar, with others, which began in 1970, was still active when I left Sydney in 1998, and remains today one of the principal seminars in category theory.)

I was reminded of this while thinking of the 20 year success of the Categories List. One needs to be conscious of the new mode of communication in order to produce a stable and productive group communication. I receive other lists which contain nothing but announcements of conferences and of jobs, whereas the categories list has managed to sustain mathematical discussion.

I found an interesting page about moderated academic lists. I quote one paragraph:
"One lesson I learned along the way is that the ecology of an active online community is surprisingly fragile. It can go wildly out of whack, and even self-destruct, in a very short time. I’ve seen any number of lists decline and die over the years. Some merely waste away through attrition and neglect until no one posts
to them anymore; others become mere notice boards for calls for papers and the like, without any real interaction among subscribers. A few flame out spectacularly, bursting with so many nasty, off-topic messages that all the “lurkers” unsubscribe, leaving the
disputants to fight among themselves until even they grow weary of it. Charting a middle course means achieving a high “signal-to-noise” ratio, in which the list’s content is useful enough to make it worth people’s time to stay involved."

Another thing I learnt looking around is the meaning of "internet troll". From wikipedia a quote:
"Forum trolls are users that repeatedly and deliberately breach the netiquette of an established online community, posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages to bait or excite users into responding or to test the forum rules and policies, and with that the patience of the forum staff. Their provocative behavior may potentially start flame wars or other disturbances. Responding to a troll's provocations is commonly known as 'feeding the troll' and is generally discouraged, as it can encourage their disruptive behavior."

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