reply to post by infinite
Peace, on ATS and within any Internet forum/blog/board is a relative thing. We tend to have higher aspirations here on ATS, and do our best to instill
those aspirations amongst our new members, but our DNA is still "just a board on the Internet."
Let me elaborate...
Just A Board On The Internet
We've all experienced other discussion environments. At one end of the spectrum we see free-for-all blogs and boards that unfortunately tend to
showcase the worst of people who participate in such environments. And at the other end, we have autocratic boards/forums with heavy-handed topic
management that showcase the worst in owners. Such is the environment in which we find ourselves... and we get a broad range of new members who fall
somewhere between refugees from these environments, and proponents of such environments.
Peace On The InterWebs...
...is like asking for peace in the mid-east. Long ago we coined the term "Digital Ego"
or "D-ego" (pronounced dee-go) here on ATS, and
it's responsible for how people loose track of normal social graces when participating in online discussions. The anonymity of these venues fuels the
D-ego. The desire to protect your position at all costs fuels the D-ego. Deriving perverse pleasure in "flaming" one another fuels the D-ego. I'm
certain that future sociologists and cultural anthropologists will have a field day (in fact, many are right now) with the study of human behavior
behind screen and keyboard -- the psychology is complex and difficult to correct.
Victims Of Our Success?
I've been involved in managing online discussion environments since such things existed. One such environment was CompuServe's largest and most
popular collection of forums, The Computer Arts Forums back in the early-to-mid 1990's... and never have I witnessed such a horrible collection of
flame-happy D-egos rum amuck. Popularity can be bad.
Several years ago, Simon and I decided to see how popular ATS could get if we put some effort into it. The thinking then (and now) was that our
members have some exceptionally important opinions, and the world should have the benefit of being aware. We are now among the Internet's top 0.018%
most-popular websites, and firmly rank among the top-five most trafficked discussion boards (as ranked by Big-Boards). Not in our wildest imaginations
did we dream of such popularity... but with such massive awareness comes a collection of difficult management issues.
The Awkward Balance Of Passion, Freedom, and Civility
We have some very-real challenges of operating within a notoriously ill-mannered environment, where many have grown accustomed to a free-for-all of
vulgarities or unsavory topics, and increased numbers of people are finding us every day. As if that didn't seem like long-enough odds against us,
toss into the mix that we focus on some of the most provocative and volatile topics found anywhere online. And finally, to further complicate the
matter, we want to ensure that all members have complete and utter freedom of expression. Maintaining this fine balance within normal real-world
requirements of civil social graces is not just a challenge, it can sometimes seem downright impossible.
Here, There Is An Earnest Effort
We've said it before, we'll say it again, and we'll say it often -- AboveTopSecret.com is not for everyone, nor will we try to be.
slagging-off with poetic flames is your thing, you'll not last more than hours here. If you cannot discuss provocative topics without vulgarities,
you'll not last more than a day here. If you're unable to focus on the topics and not each other, your membership may not last more than a week. We
make no excuses, this is the way we choose to be.
While there will always be waves of discontent either from batches of new members unable to cope or highly-charged topics that rise in popularity, one
thing sets us apart -- we strive to be different.
Every day our all-volunteer staff struggles with maintaining decorum and topical neutrality
while working hard to help us all aspire to impeccable standards of conduct and relevance.
One Out Of Two
There are generally two types of people who become active in online discussion environments (blogs, boards, forums, chat). Those who simply seek to
interact with other people, and those who want to learn more about a range of topics. For the most part, the flamers and trolls rise from the ranks of
those seeking interaction -- it's a form of entertainment for them. We want to attract people with a desire to learn more, for within this group is a
high percentage of people who understand and appreciate our aspirations to be above the fray.
Back when we first decided to see how popular this place might get, the most important new tactic was to enforce real-world social graces within the
discussions on ATS. There are a number of other tactics and rule changes that evolved over the years, but enforced decorum is by far the most
important and often used. This is the "secret sauce" by which we grew. Once people stopped bickering, the topics became the focus and the online
There have been bumps along the way, and there will be more in the future. But here on ATS we're constantly focused on being different and making a
difference. Hopefully being a member of ATS and playing a part of such an effort smoothes the bumps. And hopefully, the topics upon which we focus
provide inspiration to remain part of the effort.