Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New AML Forum

Well, some of you have been asking about the cryptic reference I made to a brouhaha over at AML. (Others of you already know what I’m talking about.) So here’s just a little summary of what happened from my perspective.

The board, of which I am secretary (notice I said secretary, not president, or anything very powerful at all), decided quite a while ago that something needed to be done about the List. The List is an e-mail conversation we’ve been running for years. How it works is that you get all the posts (on ANY topic) coming to your e-mail in-box. When you want to comment on a topic, you send your comment to the general address and it goes out to the e-mail boxes of everyone who has subscribed. The results of this kind of format is that you get an awful lot of e-mail on a lot of different topics that may or may not interest you. Lately, we have felt that the quality of conversation has been going down, and that the List seemed to be dominated by several very profuse writers (“the loudest voices”) while some of the less vocal participators seemed to be dropping out. We wanted to revitalize the discussion and also provide greater variety in voice and topic. We decided to move to a forum format.

We knew that this choice would be popular with many people and unpopular with others. Some people like getting everything delivered to their in-boxes so that they don’t have to go somewhere on the net to check for new posts. Personally, I like being able to follow the topics I’m interested in without having to follow others. Also, I think a forum format allows the more timid people to feel more comfortable commenting because it’s not as if your comment is going to the in-boxes of hundreds of people.

At the same time as all this discussion was going on, we have also been discussing the problem of decreasing membership in AML. We’ve been losing the academics for a long time and lately seem to be losing others as well. We need to figure out how to expand. We know there are a lot of people out there who might appreciate what we’re doing, if they knew about us. But publicity requires man-hours and money, and with very few people bothering to pay for membership, we are definitely limited.

Hey! Maybe we could solve two problems with one solution: there are lots of people enjoying the conversation on the List who never bothered to become members. Maybe, when we move to the forum, we could require that people become members in order to post. That would limit the discussion to people who really care about AML, for one thing, and might immediately improve the quality of conversation as a result.

Then we made two mistakes: we decided to make both changes at once (moving to the forum AND requiring membership), and we didn’t give an awful lot of notice about the change.

People were furious.

I can’t really blame them—we were taking away their candy and then charging money for it. What floored me, though, was the WAY people protested. People were thoughtless, rude, and downright nasty. They said horrible things about the board (“who are these people in their secret meetings passing down rulings,” etc.) The things they said hit me like a kick in the gut because I have put in so many hours serving an organization that, at times, almost fell apart into nothing. Suddenly I saw things as they were: no one seemed to care about what the board had been doing all along to keep the organization going. No one seemed to know the work we do and the hours we put in. At least, if they did, it didn’t matter. No one seemed to care about AML itself, but just about continuing the List.

OK, I admit, there were only a few very vocal people being so negative. I was surprised, though, about which people had nasty things to say. Some people I expected it from; others I didn’t.

It was really, really depressing. I wanted to quit. Still do, actually.

Anyway, Eric (our president) and Boyd (our president-elect) discussed it and decided to eliminate the membership requirement for the forum. They ran it by us and most of us agreed (I did). After all, the goal is to expand, not limit, participation. Let’s let everyone participate who wants to. So that got changed, and now anyone can comment at the forum.

So far, I think the forum is working great. If we look at every comment as something that would have been an e-mail going to everyone, I think we’ve lost very little traffic. Maybe we will gain some now. I have high hopes about that.

If you’ve been interested in AML at all, now is the time to show your support by going over to the forum and joining the conversation. (If you really want to show support, consider joining.)

If you haven’t known much about AML before this, trot on over there and check it out. I think it’s one of the most enjoyable on-line communities out there. These people are, for the most part, faithful readers, writers and critics who enjoy conversation about the future (and present) of quality Mormon literature. I’d like to hear what you think.

(The address: forums.mormonletters.org )

1 comment:

Zina W said...

Thanks for the explanation. Doncha love it when people wait for others to donate their time to run something, and then criticize the people doing the work they weren't willing to do themselves?

Personally, I do have a problem with AML's policy of having to use full names/locations on the forum -- I've heard it's just not good internet security to put that information out there. Yeah, I'm Googleable to people who already know my name, but that feels different to me than regularly broadcasting my full name and location in a public space. I don't mind giving AML that info, as long as they'll keep it private and let me use just my first name on the forum. I assume the idea is to make people accountable for their words, but I'm still not comfortable with that kind of internet visibility -- so I don't expect I'll be signing up.

(I *am* a little torn between wanting attention and wanting privacy, but so far the scale's usually tipped towards privacy for me when it comes to the internet.)

P.S. Looks like over 60% of voting Utahns agree with you abt. Referendum 1. (I'm in the dissenting percentage, but I'll respect your wishes not to explain my reasoning here. Anyway, it's moot now, huh?)