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Positive Communities


Most internet communities that I have participated in (anywhere from Usenet groups to W3C mailing lists) seem to tolerate far more rudeness and harshness than anyone that I know would tolerate IRL.


That and Kathy Sierra's excellent article on Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain have made me determined to make any community in which I have some influence a "positive community" by documenting and banning negative behaviors as much as possible.


examples of positive communities


Flickr is known for being one of the most positive/supportive online web communities, and therefore is worth analyzing and learning from. See the Flickr Community Guidelines for a good starting point.



The microformats.org is one such community where I am insisting on far more civil behavior than I myself have experienced in any other "web standards" related mailing lists or communities, even public W3C mailing lists.


See the microformats community general guidelines, in particular, the first guideline: Be nice.


in person community

In addition to positive online communities, it is important to proactively support positive in-person community interactions as well, outlining both good behaviors and explicitly noting undesirable behaviors to avoid. Here are a couple of good examples:



positive tone

Quotes from @hchamp, Flickr community manager during her presentation at An Event Apart San Francisco 2008:

  • "soft pleasing tone of voice"
  • "Human, friendly, inclusive, authoritative, transparent, honest, witty, funny and clear"
  • "Bubble up the good" (e.g. in the community blog, twitter, etc.)


In customer care forums for companies (see MyNextStartup), consider text like:

  • "Our community is full of helpful, clever people who know more about Flickr than we do!"


rational criticism is good

To be clear, the point is not to ban criticism, because of course, in any scientific discourse, not only is criticism useful, but essential. However, as scientists, it behooves us to develop methods of criticism communication that are non-personal and constructive, if for no other reason than efficiency. Emotional conflict is simply inefficient.


Thus negative behaviors are undesirably from a purely economic perspective. Rational criticism, on the other hand, should not only be encouraged, but actively sought out, in the interests of improving whatever ideas and thoughts are put forth.


Example of rational criticism of negative behaviors: Tantek Ã‡elik comment on previous comments on Molly's post \"Dear W3C, Dear WaSP\".


We must set a good example on both fronts, demonstrated by our actions, how to conduct scientific discourse with rational criticism, and when necessary, conflict management.


do not reward bad behavior with attention

In general, don't feed the trolls. See TrollTaxonomy for more on that.

  • "Don't create super-villains" - another quote from @hchamp at AEA SF 2008.

Perhaps by that, don't "make an example" of a bad actor in a community, because that "making an example" gives them attention, which may be the primary aim of their misbehavior. If anything, practice the opposite, that is, ignore when possible.


iteratively delete negative disruptive or noise behaviors

Not as a reaction (which would both be and seem like attention), but rather, just as part of continuously iterating on content:

Delete the things trolls say or contribute that are:

  • inflammatory
  • disruptive
  • hurtful or discourage participation by others
  • bad or obsolete content
  • thrash e.g. reorganizational changes - which often also discourage participation
  • noise or other dilutionary content

And do it both on a regular periodic time cycle (like daily or weekly) just as part of routine cleanup, temporally uncorollated with the actual negative behavior events.


Doing so helps reduce future attention that trolls might derive from their past actions, and may reduce instances of copycat negative behaviors as well.



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