Forum Etiquette in the 21st Century
As someone who has worked in the Internet Industry for about a decade, I have to admit that I'm still learning new things all the time about the Internet. I recently dove into a few new online arenas that have exposed some of my reclusive traits... I've never been a social butterfly.
A few months ago I started working on a certain application that helped speed up productivity in a specific activity. I was still working on the tool when I got the bright idea of making a video demonstrating the tool in action; furthermore, I decided that I should find all the forums with people doing what this tool was meant to help and share it with them.
And this starts my education into forums. Now I've known about forums for a long time. I've used them as resources from time-to-time, I've followed a few threads, and I've posted some things here and there. But I've never really been an avid forum participant. Somehow I never knew that there was a certain set of rules that everyone follows in forums. Not only rules, but also a lingo.
I started posting links to my tool in the forums where I was sure people would be happy to use it. Overall, most people were actually very happy. But I started getting some messages from forum admins and moderators questioning me about spamming. As it turns out, it's bad form to join a forum to share a link. The main prod was to join and participate instead of being a "fire and forget spammer.”
OK... so that meant I should start participating. I started finding some discussions that either interested me or had questions I could answer. That should appease the admins who want a new participant rather than someone using the forums to further his/her own goals. But no... it turns out that it's also bad form to reply to posts that have not been active for a while; apparently, unanswered threads are considered "dead”; participating in them is considered necroposting. And even though my word processor underlines "necroposting” in red... it's a term that all the forum users understand to be a real word. Being labeled a necroposter is worse than getting a scarlet letter in the world of forums.
So I had to find a new way to be a legitimate forum user. So I started replying to current threads. Especially ones that are getting a lot of posts! Unfortunately, those threads were usually the kinds of things that I would normally avoid publicly... you know, things like politics, religion and Mac vs. PC. Now they had nothing to do with the application I was sharing to begin with... but somehow they were wrapped up in the same forums and would finally prove to the moderators that I was a legitimate forum poster. And now I started learning about a new terminology: Flame Wars. I let myself get sucked into a few of these. Sometimes I was trying to be tongue-in-cheek; I must not be good at expressing irony or sarcasm—humor seems to be forgotten in flame wars. It's a serious business.
In other flame wars, I tried to play my more traditional diplomat role. But I soon realized that it's impossible to make a point in a long popular thread... the point gets lost in the mayhem. In fact, it gets hard to respond to a "thread” when the points get so wide and varied and buried... and no one really knows what the points are but are certain they have to respond anyway. The art of being a flame warrior is to over simplify things, polarize the discussion, then attack the enemy noobs (another term underlined in red but known to me for years because I have kids who play online video games).
Something that seems to become apparant in forums is that people often expose seemingly contradictory motives for being in a forum: on the one hand, to get help; on the other hand, to display superiority. I responded to a technical question in one thread; later on, someone mentioned that the easy way to do something was X, Y and Z. I mentioned that the really easy way was A. A response was that I was "unprofessional" to give A as a solution (as it was an app I had built) when another solution was already present. Hmmm...
So Joe asks "How do I get from New York to California."
Fred says, "You can walk there in a few weeks."
George says, "You can take a jet in a few hours."
Fred gets mad. "You are a schmuck George... we already gave a solution."
Being a person who realizes full well that I don't know it all... I have come to appreciate the collaborative nature of forums. But they also foster superiority complexes.
I was enjoying the feedback from the threads about my application. But for some reason I started finding myself getting sucked more and more into other threads. As the number of posts next to my name started to grow... I started to remind myself what it was like before the forums... back when I was using my time to create things and torture my children. Then I was hit with a realization that froze my soul... I was becoming an addict! Was I doomed to become a forum hero that has thousands of posts in the forums? Thousands and thousands of random tidbits that will remain on the World Wide Web for years but probably never be read again once they are a week old?
Luckily, I think I'm not cut out for the world of forums. I won't completely stop using forums now that there are a few communities happy for the tool I've shared. But I think that I'm more happy being the recluse that I am, only coming out to share things when I actually have something useful to share. That's probably why I personally don't like the majority of the Internet and the age of forums and Social Media. For the most part, the Internet is filling up with random and trivial content. Not enough of it it is produced; instead, it's just spilled out all over the place.