Gauging interest in a new IF forum [now open at!]

As an experiment, I’ve created a new forum for discussing IF. My hope is that a forum based on software that allows users more control over their own experience will be able to get by with lighter moderation and avoid some of the tension and panic that built up here over the past week.

I’m not sure it makes sense to publicize it in its current state, but there are some threads and a handful of pioneer users, and I’d like to invite anyone else who’s interested to help us build it up to the point where it’s ready for business.

If you’re interested, please contact me via private message for an invitation.

The forum is now open to the public:

I’m curious what that means.

Filters, ratings, and automated moderation features, mainly. The software is Discourse.

I love Discourse, but they offer non-moderator users surprisingly little control over their own experience, IMO. In particular, they do not let non-staff users block/mute other users like you can on Twitter, which surprised me. (They argue that it fragments the conversation, which is probably right.) … ser/6001/3

Also surprising (to me) is the inability of moderators to secretly ban users (aka shadowban/hellban), considering what the CEO Jeff had blogged about it a few years ago. … llban.html … nity/10176

I think of Discourse as a way to super empower the moderators, rather than a way to put more control in the hands of the users.

  • Flagging can auto-hide spam if reliable users report it (where the moderators are the measure of reliability).
  • Starting new posts auto-searches for similar threads as you type your post, inviting people to visit those threads instead of starting a new one.
  • Earning Likes and avoiding flags/penalties earns you karma, which manifests as badges and even additional powers, all automatically.
  • The system auto-generates a Recommended Threads list, based on activity, and especially Likes in the thread. (But ironically, before we had our current code of conduct, this caused a Bad Thread to be recommended, because somebody was transphobic and a bunch of people piled on, earning a bunch of Likes for everyone else.)
  • It has a pretty reliable sockpuppet detector.

So, yeah, stuff like that. It’s a mechanism for being heavy handed, IMO, not a mechanism for avoiding a heavy hand, so, probably not exactly what vaporware would have in mind.

I don’t see much of a problem for this forum. The only trouble I noticed was over the Gamergate harassment.

Actually, from what you mentioned, it sounds pretty appealing. With less need to spend human effort on the tedious grunt work of moderating – catching spam, keeping things organized – there’s less of a need for human moderators in general.

I’m not especially interested in moderating posts based on their content, or shadow-banning anyone. IMO, either someone is abusing the site, in which case they ought to be banned for real, or they’re not, in which case I’m mainly interested in keeping their posts appropriately categorized.

I’m on the fence about user ignore lists. I’ve been on forums with and without it. If there’s sufficient demand for it, I’d consider installing or even writing a plugin to add that feature, but I think Jeff makes a convincing argument that it isn’t needed.

I’m not aware of any such harassment taking place on this forum, and I would like to avoid moderation policies that preemptively block discussions based on hypothetical concerns that they might attract people who might cause a problem, as happened here.

I think there were a couple posts reported that seemed borderline threatening concerning Gamergate. Regarding Gamergate’s concerns and Interactive Fiction, this genre of ours has endured labels of “x is dying” since graphical games began and the heyday of Infocom started to slide. So my advice for everyone is just “cool it”.

IMO, if you want to:

  1. allow users more control over their own experience, and
  2. get by with lighter moderation,

then Discourse will not really help you solve either of those problems. It’s pretty cool in the way it solves other problems, but the Discourse team seems pretty committed to the idea that:

  1. all users should see basically the same thing when they come to the forum, and
  2. a well-run forum is moderated with a heavy hand.

And the thing about Discourse is that they bake their ideas about what forum culture should be into the product; it’s “opinionated software.” If you like their ideas about forum culture, as I do, then you’ll like Discourse. If you disagree with Discourse’s approach, you’ll be fighting it all the way.

To pick an extreme example, if you wanted to start a 4chan/8chan clone, Discourse would not be a good starting point.

Related: a number of folks argued that we should be able to get by with a simple “be respectful” code of conduct, and complained about the length of the new code of conduct here. But that “long code” is almost exactly the default Discourse code. (We added a couple of other rules on top of that, especially the “avoid subtle -isms” and “don’t argue civility” rules.)

In the “IF Is Dead” thread, a lot of people said that they had a problem with this forum (or that their friends did) even before Gamergate came up. I’m not sure a different software approach would solve it though. (I started trying to describe something here and realized that what I’d described was the internet.)

Only one step removed from humanity itself.

Without getting into details, I’ll just say I don’t share that assessment, at least for the posts that I’ve seen locked or deleted, which I’m led to believe are the only recent examples. And I think that sort of disagreement is one reason it may be useful to have more than one discussion forum.

Well, it is an experiment, but bending software to my will is my core competency. :slight_smile:

I think Jeff writes good software and makes a lot of good observations, but I don’t share all of his opinions on forum culture. From what I can tell, with the right setup, it is possible to run a forum using that software without buying into all of its philosophy: for instance, I’ve replaced every word of the FAQ/Guidelines page (“code of conduct”), resulting in something that hints at core values without drawing any hard boundaries.

I’m hoping that reducing the amount of human moderation – through some combination of different software that lets moderators spend more time away, an intentional hands-off stance, and a smaller user base – will make for a place that those folks find more hospitable.

If it has RSS done sensibly then I’m totally there. Or, actually, not there. You know what I mean…

Apparently you can get the RSS feed of any page it serves by appending .rss to the URL. Seems sensible. :wink:

Well, for example, the intfic forum has a New Topics feed, and board-specific feeds, but as far as I can tell there is no New Topics feed for each board. I don’t want to see every topic on every board, but I also don’t want to see every post on a single board. Also, a board-specific New Topic page might not make much sense as a page compared to a feed, so the fact that every web page also has a feed might not be relevant.

Ironically, I think Discourse has Doug covered, but Discourse has totally messed up RSS for my use case; I’ve been meaning to go in and fix it myself, but I just don’t have the time.

They have the same bug as VBulletin: they have a feed of threads (overall or within a given category), but not a feed of posts. So your RSS reader will show you a new thread as it comes up, but when someone replies on that thread, you’ll never see it.

Hm, I guess I was thinking if I care about a particular topic, I’d subscribe to the topic (and thus get every response in my feed).

I think the category pages will do this on Discourse, e.g.

IMO, having two forums wouldn’t help this community. Reading both would be difficult and fragmenting the discussion would make the community less cohesive.

Personally, I think the threat of potential censorship and potential harassment is quite a bit less than imagined.

When talking of such things, we should always ask, “Are we talking about this forum?” or “Are we bringing in outside attitudes that are not relevant here?”

I find the idea of recruiting for a new forum on this forum rather distasteful, especially during comp season when it’s both seeing a great deal of use.

Plus, if this is about what I think it’s about – it took less than one page to be brought up, good job everyone – there already is one.

(Personal opinion. Not official.)

Is it tacky to recruit here? Well, yeah, a little. But if people will be more comfortable somewhere else - this is the best place to let people know they have alternatives.

I recently considered leaving these forums myself. I’m not going to criticize anyone for wanting to go. And as long as no one’s badmouthing this forum, I think it’s okay to invite people elsewhere.