We're embarking on a great project to help Freecycle.org with a new website that knocks down many of the barriers to entry. Currently, the only way to participate is to join your local Yahoo!Group, which has some pretty strict moderation - to join mine, it took at least 10 steps. If I wasn't working with Freecycle, I would have said 'fuggetabout it!' about 9 steps prior. But along the way of discussing options for the plan, we kept hearing, "I don't know, the Moderators will freak out if we do that."

So, I went into the forums (which are, actually, more closed Yahoo!Groups). There are a couple of issues here. We've heard it talked about that anonymity reduces accountability. Well, what about invisibility? In this case, I think that the private nature of the group with very little moderation has led to some crazy flamewars. I'm assuming that people without fear of being Googled saying nasty things to other people, feel more free to be nasty.

But no. I did a wee search on forums and heated discussions and, sure enough, even those open ones seem to breed some nastiness.

I also found some common memes in forum flame wars (which were similar to the Freecycle arguments):

  • Censorship - rabid cries of censorship. Seems this is the most common outcry of all.
  • Entitlement - oft spoken, "We have the right to ..." - and oft tied to the censorship thing. Unfortunately, people don't understand their true rights on the net. Google deletes your account? Bummer 4 you. You really don't have much for retribution. It could happen on ANY site, too. Keep local backups? Remember, too, that your hard drive could croak at anytime, taking all of your data with it (mine has) and you are not entitled to sue your hard drive manufacturer for the lost files.
  • Unfair - changes to the site, new rules, etc. bring along cries of unfairness. Ironically, the free sites seem to me to have more of this going on than the paid for sites. Is there a psychology around this?
  • Down with Da Man - and by 'da man', they usually mean the person who spends their waking hours running and paying for the site to stay in service. Accusations of money embezzling often show up in this thread. "so and so is rolling in the dough while we wait in the dark" I especially loved one particular cry that a non-profit site was wasting their grant money of $5,000 on improving the website when it should be distributed to the volunteers. In these outcries, a distinct lack of understanding for what it costs to run a site prevails.
  • General Paranoia - "they are stealing/using/selling our data" Well, some do. Ever subscribed to a magazine? Filed taxes? Filled out a ballot to win something free at a tradeshow? Pretty much everyone is selling our data these days. Everytime you do a web search (and it doesn't matter which search engine you use), your data is recorded. How do you think it's all free? I don't want to be a hardass, but we need to be made aware that the moment we have an internet connection, we give up a great deal of privacy. Personally, I accept and am aware of that and use it to my advantage.

I'm trying to gather a bunch of links to threads with this sort of heat, plus figure out what are some other common memes, then compile a way to 'douse the flames'. I think Flickr does a consistently great job of managing all of the above. Who else? Have some war stories of your own? I found this great post from someone who, obviously, has been there, too. Please help me compile a great list of resources...and tips...

p.s. disagreement is necessary in any community, I'm talking about when the discussion derails from being rational and gets personal.