Barbara's Philosophy FAQ Nancy's Government FAQ
The Web Sociology List
Table of Contents

The product that an online community gives away is power. Members invest their emotions in one, and the community gives them back a stake in its future, its philosophy and its governance. create a stage where you can be understood when society ignores you. feel the warmth of someone's soul imprint through their words, even when they live thousands of miles away. find validity when the real world is blind to you. find a soulmate when your body is wasting away from disease. These are some of the reasons why people who are involved in online communities are so passionate about them. They can give you the power to control your dignity.

What is the purpose of this list?
This list is about the random thought connections between topics. It is about the freedom to take discussion journeys from basketball to the FBI in 4 messages. The goal is to moderate tone, not content, and create a supportive, respectful, and intelligent atmosphere in which members can feel free to tell stories and explore whatever is on their minds.

What is web sociology?
Web sociology can be at once active, reflective, and interactive.

You can discuss topics like gender, religion, sex, politics, personal growth, etc., online, with people from all over the world, all ages, male and female, parents and non-parents etc., and actively work to achieve synthesis by listening to different perspectives, disagreeing perhaps, and then learning from them.

Active web sociology also occurs when people from different countries meet in an online community and find a synthesis in the way they view issues personally important to them.

There is also the reflective part of talking about social interactions and structures that actually occur on the web, and an interactive part: real-life social trends are amplified on the web, and the web in turn influences our existing social ideas.

I embark upon this second Web Sociology list listening to the ghosts of the first, which I created and moderated from 1995 to 1999. My lesson: having one moderator be responsible for too many jobs at once is a threat to the balance a community needs to flourish in the long term. You have to share the load. In a post about conflict resolution I wrote for Nancy White's Online Facilitation list, I divided moderation into attachment and detachment tasks. For example, attachment: visionary, writer, philosopher, artist; detachment: network administrator, conflict-resolution specialist, businessperson, programmer.

Nancy agreed to co-moderate on the detachment side by heading a dispute-resolution committee if such a need ever arises, and in allowing WebSociology to exist as a general-interest offshoot to Online Facilitation. I am thrilled and honored to be able to coordinate this project with her. Scott, a first-rate, experienced programmer and network administrator, will be a detachment moderator on the technical side. I will be attachment moderator on the visionary side, writing my brand of email discussion-starters and stories, creating the web site, overseeing the FAQ, and taking care of the list on a daily basis.

I feel network decisions should be answerable to the social needs of the community. Many times this is not viable because they are based on a company's profit needs. Most members use community network services for free, so their community environment is changed without notification or input when the company makes a business deal. Although I am starting on Yahoo Groups for convenience, in time, I intend to experiment with running the community on my own servers so the network can be an extension of member needs -- such as no advertising in email and a network administrator who is not only a community member, but to whom other members can give input. This is where co-moderator Scott Bowling will play a large role.

What is the FAQ?
A FAQ is a work in progress, a philosophically defining document that should stretch and fit the needs of the community as it changes and develops new ideas. Any member can suggest an amendment to the FAQ. If it sounds reasonable, which I trust it will, it goes in after it has been discussed. The adventure of how the philosophy will grow is the journey into the unknown, which is the life blood of any community.

What is "souls touching across wires"?
It is a vision I had that goes against the emotional violence and fear in human nature. It is the leap of faith that allows other people's experiences into your mind and lets them change the way you see the world. It is the open mind that stops war.

The Sale Against Flaming
Vehement, informed debate is not flaming, but releasing your feelings destructively in anger is. For a community to work, a sale has to be made that if you put the best of yourself into it, visions layer upon visions, and the enlightened group journey you get out of it is more valuable than a flame. Emotional violence exists within us all. I have struggled with it, both within myself and as a witness to others'. It can never be taken for granted.

How do I know whether I am on-topic or not?
The phrase "on-topic" is not really as relevant here as it is on a list focusing on user problems with Cisco routers, where the subject is easily defined.

Members are free to wonder about things, whether they be issue-oriented or personal in nature. You can talk about what is on your mind and discover new ways of looking at things. That process of discovery is more important to me than the topic of conversation. And the emphasis is on the things people can discover when they treat each other's feelings with respect.

I am fascinated by the thoughtful interaction that takes place between people who meet by chance in an online environment. What wisdom will this specific combination of discussants define? Finding the answer is web sociology. :-)

What is a typical discussion like?
A valued friend of mine observed that many lists he joined started out talking about the topic they were created to discuss and ended up talking about something entirely different. And I thought, yup, list discussions seem to do this.

And then I realized that the way discussions travel is web sociology, too. This list embraces that journey and recognizes that the journey is a group creation.

How much mail will I get?
I am not sure. This is a new list. This part of the FAQ will be amended as things progress.

However, some messages are long because sometimes you can't make a reasoned argument or tell a story in two paragraphs. I don't have an opinion on the size of people's posts. I am more interested in the way they think.

Should I subscribe to this list at my work address?
I would suggest not, especially if you must report to your boss on how you are using your time. I would subscribe using my home address and read the mail at home.

Is there anything at all that is not permitted on this list?
This might be a little too rosy for me. I live in the real world.

This list is not a place to advertise your services or post anything of a commercial nature. However, talking about work and asking advice is a natural part of life. A work-related post could focus on anything from talking about your day to installing NT to web design to housework. Work-related posts in the context of life are fine and are considered quite different from advertising.

If you include a link to a web site in a post, it should be to provide fuller editorial context for your philosophical point, or, perhaps if you find something side-splittingly funny, uniquely interesting, or helpful to another list member. But the website link should not be self-promotion for financial gain.

Copyright Law
In the spirit of preventing harm to the owners of words and other forms of intellectual property, we take the copyright laws seriously on this list.

List Rule:
Please refrain from posting copyrighted material, whether it be in written, graphic, musical or any other format you can think of.

Exception 1:
An attributed quote of 2 or 3 sentences may be used as something on which to base an original piece to the list. This would fall under the definition of Fair Use.

Exception 2:
Reprint permission. If you have obtained reprint permission for copyrighted material you feel is pertinent subject matter, please state this prominently with a note from the author, and the phrase, "the following is reprinted here with permission from the author," before you post the piece.

Reprint Permission Request Procedure
If you get an idea about other artistic and educational ways you would like to showcase this community, they are welcome. Creativity is a vital life force of any community. So that these projects can proceed smoothly, I am providing a procedure to request reprint permission from Web Sociology authors for not only their words, but for using the personality of any member as a character in a fictional representation.

  • Collect the texts you would like to use with the authors' names and email addresses.
  • Write individual email letters of permission to each author. In these letters, describe the purpose of your project and where it will be displayed, and include the quotes you wish to use.
  • Have the authors include your permission email in their reply stating their decision. Then you will have a written record that you got permission to use the stated text for your stated purpose.
  • Then separate the "yes's" from the "no's", and GO! Total Score. :-)

Nothing you write on email is really ever private. It can be forwarded. The most common breaches of trust are not from people you don't know, but betrayals by people you thought you knew. With all the variations between online and real personalities, the only security on the internet is silence.

The revelation-privacy balance is perhaps the most important social skill you can ever develop in an online community. I made an imaginary graffiti wall in my mind, and on that wall I spraypainted: "This is who I am, this is what I feel, and I don't care who knows it." Anything in front of that wall is fine to post. Anything behind that wall should be kept close to heart. It is up to every member to make an "informed decision" about what they post so they don't suffer the consequences of getting addicted to revealing things past their comfort level. Technology will never be able to take care of you.

That said, we have all made mistakes of revelation. I have made them, too. Sometimes the egg cracks open and the yolk comes out. What's in that yolk isn't always sane. My hope though is that the list will be sympathetic to the fact that as much as we try to be in control, human beings can never do anything perfectly all the time. If someone makes a mistake in revelation, my hope is that we will have enough skill as a community to treat that information with respect.

Policy: Readers are not bad people.
I call them readers, as I have a great distaste for the term "lurkers." For some, the privacy balance is silence. They might be shy, or too busy, but these people participate too, and I respect and embrace them equally with those who post. Because readers are such a ubiquitous fact of internet life, their audience-like role kind of makes posting to an online community into a performance. Good discussion needs an open list. The performance aspect of posting is as ubiquitous as the audience of silent readers. I believe it is the poster's responsibility to take readers' existence into account and make informed decisions about what they post. If the unknown is a threatening character in your mind, or you are just fearful in general, or you don't like the performance aspect of writing to a group of people you don't know, this list is not for you.

Crossover Membership
This Web Sociology List has crossover membership from Nancy White's Online Facilitation list, which has many professional facilitators on it. The two lists do not duplicate each other in what they provide members. However there is crossover membership.

A person's revelation on The Web Sociology List might have professional reprecussions for those using the Online Facilitation List to make professional contacts. It is a risk which members should take into account when making a decision about what to post.

The Negative Stuff
I am no fan of negativity. But I have to recognize that there are certain behaviors that harm list communities.

I cannot anticipate all the situations that would come up. I can only think of situations mentioned by others and things I have seen before in other online experiences that really bothered me.

If something that isn't in this document comes up, we will all deal with it then and an amendment will be suggested, discussed, and added. But for now, I am including some negative questions and answers for this purpose.

What would be better kept private and not posted to the list?
If a married person decides to have an affair with someone else on the list (married or single), I would prefer they do all that stuff in private mail.

I do not judge people on those issues. They are none of my business, and none of anyone else's business either.

I mention this because someone told me that on a list she was on, the public display of romantic sentiments between two married people irrevocably harmed the community. So I figure if we know it doesn't work, don't do it.

Dysfunctional Behavior
I have no intention of creating an atmosphere where people are afraid to express an opinion, but I hope everyone would agree that they would not want to be subjected to these types of dysfunctional behavior:

Hate Speech
Two examples: If a person starts a thread entitled, "All Jews Are Nazis," or uses the N-word in an agressive, abusive manner to signify a racist sentiment towards another list member, I wouldn't have any problem with them leaving.

Violent Sexual Fantasies
If someone uses abusive sexual language towards another member in a hateful way and/or posts a violent sexual fantasy about them to the list, they should go to alt.insane.sexual.dysfunction.

Unsubscribing a member without his or her knowledge
The decision to subscribe or unsubscribe to a list is private. Someone should not go to a list web page and unsubscribe a member without prior consent.

False Email
Sending email under another member's name with the purpose of misrepresenting that member's views for prurient interest's sake will not be tolerated.

Email Harrassment
If a member, participant or silent reader, subjects another member to malicious email harrassment based on what they have posted to Web Sociology, it will be considered a breach of trust.

Forget it. Bye.

When people join Web Sociology, they do so to discuss what is on their minds. They do not join to be exposed to sociopaths, so we will make it our duty to assure people who are considering joining our community that we will be vigilant in dealing with dysfunctional behavior when it is exhibited. Of course, my hope is that this whole section only has to be included as a formality.

Online Citizenship
For the last section of this FAQ, I offer my member citizenship guide. I am now coming to believe that to be a healthy member of an online community, there has to be emotional self-sufficiency on a number of fronts. These are serious spiritual issues and perhaps dealing with them well in an online environment can help with dealing with real life, too.

Being able to take responsibility for your own security speaks to the ability to conquer your own fears and still function. In the emotional design of a community, one of the things the creator has to think about is -- at what point in the fear/risk balance do you want to say, "If you fear this much, it might serve your interests more not to be here for we do not believe technology can take care of you past a certain point." I suppose the answer to this question is one every member has to make for themselves. We'll help if we can, but help and protection are two different things. We are saying up front that members are responsible for their own words.

Leaving an Argument
Leave an argument when you percieve it is getting too personal for the other person.

Once on my mailing list, a woman came out for Megan's Law becasue her niece had died a brutal death. Three guys responded to her with the pain of being falsely accused. They were engaging her in objective debate. They might have been right in their arguments but they did not percieve that this woman could not take it. Look at the wound. If you see a wound is too great, let go of the argument.

After a pounding, she quit the list and kept emailing some people for months because the pain people caused her, without meaning to, was too great. That is when we, as a mailing list, learned to play better basketball. Don't stifle free speech, but use some judgment and have mercy on a wounded soul. Judge who can take objective debate and who cant, and argue another day. It doesn't hurt.

Place faith in yourself as opposed to projecting faith onto the community as a whole or on any one member

This might be the toughest issue of all, faith. About a year ago, one of the best friends of my second community, Radio Free Monterey, wanted to give us experience with professional actors. So he called his brothers, professional comedians, to come work with us. They cancelled twice. Then he said he'd bring his father, a famous character actor. No one believed him. He never called. He finally called one hour before arrival and the father came. Only one person was there to do the interview. Our friend felt that this project was the next big thing, put his faith in it, tried to give it his most precious gift, and human administrative miscommunication hurt him badly.

I am still talking to my friend. No rifts here, but I dont want this to happen again.

It is so easy to have faith in an artistic project. But I am coming to believe that it is the most dangerous thing of all about online communities. I feel members should have faith in themselves first. Don't substitute the online community project, or any artistic project, for the faith you should be able to carry with you. Human frailty will break it every time.

Taking care of your own fears, your own faith, these are pretty heavy philosophical issues to deal with. "I just thought I was joining a mailing list to talk about birds." I have always found it was more than that.

Fantasy and Reality
Find balance between the real and online worlds so that the community doesn't become 100% of your life.

A fantasy conjured up by online emotions can become so real that you project it onto the person who is the object of your obsession or fear, even when there is no evidence of its existence. Then you inject a group dynamic into it, and madness ensues in my personal opinion.

Real life provides a crucial, tangible balance to online life. It makes a healthier online community if each person takes the responsibility to find that balance.

Off-List Gossip
Too much of this is harmful.

Some gossip is inevitable, but again, when someone engages in too much off-list gossip, they have made the online community too much a part of their lives. The result is that one member's gossip can come to define another member's identity, and for me, this is trespassing. Identity online is intellectual property. Each member has the right to define themselves based on who they are in real life, and not have their identity altered by a gossiper's fantasies. Respect the identities of your peers.

Honesty and Revelation
Have the confidence to be honest so that when you write something you feel is appropriate for your community, it doesn't matter who knows it. This is who you are, and you trust others to respond to you as a human being, with respect.

This is the point within yourself you have to come to, to be a valuable contributing member of a community. Then you can reveal. If you can only get to this point about baseball, then you only talk about baseball. No problem there. But when you can throw your soul out there, that is when the magic begins.

So how do you do that with all these serious philosophical lines? I don't know. I suppose one just has to try it and see what happens.

But creating from an idea, using a network to make it real, that's the passion of communities. The network never says no. Only a stupid boss at the office does that. The network just goes on. That is why I do it. The freedom to create is like nothing I have ever experienced before. (Addendum: My last boss was a really cool guy. :-)

Thank you
So here it is, the FAQ for the Web Sociology list. Thank you for reading this far. I hope we piqued your curiosity. If you have any questions, you are always welcome to write to me, Nancy, or Scott.

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