I wrote yesterday about the process of realizing that a community management tool I’d established in 2008 for the Offbeat Bride Tribe was no longer relevant to my community’s current needs. In a nutshell: my current community doesn’t need high-drama posts filtered. But more importantly, they don’t WANT them filtered out.
You know why? Because on a certain level, we all gravitate toward difficult emotions. As one Offbeat Bride Tribe member said:
Is it just me or do other people actually love reading Primal Screams too? … I like to read about other peoples dramas – when the issues are different than mine, it takes me outside of myself and allows me to put my own issues in perspective. When the issues are the same as mine, I can realize that others go through the same things and not feel so alone in this process.
This member does a great job of articulating the constructive value of drama: it can give you perspective. It can be reassuring. But I’ll speak for myself here: drama is titillating. Train wrecks are interesting. Gossip is scandalizing. Arguing can be exhilarating. Telling someone on the internet they’re wrong and then waiting for a response? KIND OF FUN.
Moderated into a corner
I’ve written before about how the Tribe’s activity this year has been pretty flat. The community has been functioning super smoothly. The moderators have had way less drama to deal with. Everyone’s been very well-behaved. We’ve got all our systems smoothed out. Things have been really… nice.
And you know what my members told me this week? Basically, things have been TOO NICE. Basically, under my direction, my community manager and her team of volunteers have moderated the community into a corner. I think part of why traffic has been so flat is because we’ve been SO committed to keeping the community SO drama-free that members are, well, kinda bored. When there’s no drama, there’s less engagement. There’s less investment. It’s less, well, interesting on a certain level.
The drama hose
I watch my traffic real-time like a television when a contentious post goes viral on an Offbeat site, and here’s what I’ve seen time and time again: as comments get crazy, traffic gets equally crazy. People drop their bombs, and then refresh and refresh and refresh waiting for responses — so they can fire something back. We usually let this happen for a while, until the editor who moderates the site begs for mercy. Then we do what’s known as “clean it up, shut it down.”
It wasn't until I read a New York Times article about a psychology concept called "co-rumination" that I finally had a word to attach to... Read more
The minute comments are closed on a contentious post, traffic starts falling. Readers stop commenting, commenters stop refreshing, and everyone puts down their pitchforks and wanders off for something else to do. It’s completely predictable: shut off the new drama hose, and the traffic dries up. I’m MORE than fine with this (more about why in a minute) but from a short-term business perspective, I’m shooting myself in the foot turning down those pageviews.
On a certain level, this makes me sad. Can’t nice communities be awesome? Do we really need drama? But then the cynic in me shrugs her shoulders and sighs, “of course we do… and who am I to deny people?” I am a web publisher and pageviews are my business. I’ve been so committed to enforcing low-drama community management that on a certain level I’ve shot myself in the foot. Most of the time, I’m ok with this — you’d have to pay me six figures to put up with the daily drama of managing an Offbeat Families forum — but this week I’m recognizing the ways that I just need to let go of the reigns and allow my community members what they want… a relatively supportive place to work through tough issues, complete with the drama that may come up during those discussions. That drama is not my problem — and in fact, it’s potentially my paycheck.
Personal values vs brand strategy
Being drama-free has always been a brand issue for me, but it’s an extension of a very personal value. I spend too much of my life online to waste any of it looped in behavior that one friend described as “flank-biting.” Arguing drains me, and rather than spend time fighting over stuff, I’d rather everyone put down their pitchforks and go DO some cool stuff. For me, I want less bickering and more learning. I want less critique and counter-points, and more creating.
I totally understand the appeal and pull of gossiping, drama-mongering, and online shenanigans — I engage in them regularly outside of my work, but I feel like they hurt me. They feel like a form of self-harm, and work hard to fight it and live a life that’s focused on constructive communication and proactive choices. I try to avoid this kind of online self-harm in my personal life, and I’ve extended that value to my brand… and therefore introduced that dynamic into the relationship I have with my readership.
Here’s the thing though: it may be that this personal value is not only denying my community of readers the opportunities to develop their own values around conflict, debate, and disagreement — but also hurting my business. I’m a publisher. My success ultimately is tied to my pageviews, and by having filters like Primal Scream and our no-drama comment policies not only do I create a lot of work for myself and my staff, but I’m also fighting against my community — all in the pursuit of a value that may not resonate with anyone but me. I’m on my proverbial bleeding knees, rattling my chains and sobbing, “I work so hard to try to help you LOOK AT HOW HARD I TRYYYY” and my readers are shuffling around awkwardly being all, “Uh, we don’t need your help? It’s ok. Maybe you should get up and chill out?”
The question I’ve been considering this week: is this really a win/lose situation? Is there a way I can provide a less-controlled space to my community in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m sacrificing my values? There are three factors here:
- The inate communal attraction toward drama
- My personal values about constructive communication
- The business realities of pageviews & money
By shifting the way Primal Scream works on the Tribe, I’m essentially saying, “The people have spoken, and they want their chocolate in their peanut butter.” Keeping the two separate has cost me time and money… all to enforce something Tribe members made it clear they didn’t actually want. Why am I working so hard to inflict my values on my readership? How far am I willing to go to force my brand vision on the community members who ultimately pay my bills? I mean, here’s the thing with the attraction to online drama: I GET IT. I’ve made a choice to try to steer my time away from online drama, but most people don’t… and I think it might be time to learn from my readers and start exploring the separation between my personal values and my business strategies.
Comments on Clicks don’t lie: people gravitate toward drama (and who am I to deny them?)
As Ariel said before, this was a major eye-opener for us. Moving from Ning to BuddyPress has allowed us to see a totally different version of the Tribe. On Ning we had to actively clean things up to avoid drama breeding like evil dust bunnies of DOOM. Recognizing that the lack of drama on the new Tribe might actually be negative is still something I’m trying to wrap my brain around. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the Tribe, both activity wise and in terms of moderator work.
Moderation in all things… including moderation 🙂
There is learning in drama too. When someone has major in-law issues, I get some perspective on my own mild-yet-annoying MIL. When I’m being a selfish, whiny baby, I need someone to smack me out of it and look at the other person’s perspective. I think that the Tribe is still a low-drama place simply because we know that someone is going to say something if we get out of line. Some people post drama on the site wanting confirmation that they are right and everyone else is wrong. There is drama when they get replies that don’t agree with her point of view. It’s fun for us all to watch, but more importantly, the original poster gets some perspective and the commenters need to find a way to say “You’re not quite right” without resorting to name-calling and “Bitch, please!” I know there’s a fine line, but I think it’s a good decision to let some more drama into the Tribe.
“Some people post drama on the site wanting confirmation that they are right and everyone else is wrong.”
I think this is my problem with the Tribe. I’d prefer some honesty over insincere empathy, if I’m in the wrong. But theres so much focus on being POSITIVE that you can’t just say ‘whoa did you think about it from x perspective?’
When you think about it, who better to give balanced, considered advice than a tribe full of people going through similar situations?
theres so much focus on being POSITIVE that you can’t just say ‘whoa did you think about it from x perspective?’
It’s not either/or. One can communicate constructively while also presenting different perspectives and asking questions. Your example (“did you think about it from x perspective?”) is a great example of a totally constructive question. That’s not negative.
Sure. But I guess I have always erred on the side of caution with “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I don’t really usually bother engaging all that much- everyone is such a unique snowflake, that for me it all starts to look the same after a while.
Granted, I’m married now, and don’t need the tribe the way I did. But I enjoyed having a place to journal amongst people going through the same thing as me.
I agree with this. There have been several occaisions when I haven’t commented on a post because it felt as though dissenting opinions would most likely get labeled drama and be deleted.
I think this change in the Tribe is actually a great thing BECAUSE it wasn’t done like this from day one. I think erring so far in the direction of avoiding drama has fostered a spirit of support that will keep the ugly reality tv drama out.
I did want to chime in here and say that I have totally seen members be called out in constructive and positive ways. In fact, it’s something I love about the Tribe that we can suggest alternate perspectives. We don’t have to agree (far from it!), we just have to be polite and thoughtful about it. Evee is right, it doesn’t need to be “Bitch, please!” and that’s what we are getting at. I’ve definitely seen threads where comments pretty clearly suggested that someone needed to think about things from a different perspective, or being told that they were, in fact, crossing lines that were not cool.
I hope it doesn’t become a big ol drama pool. I like that the Offbeat Empire is a supportive and constructive community. Lots of drama will kind of ruin that :/
Don’t worry, we mods will still be around to keep things from going too far. 🙂
Yes. PLEASE do not back off of the low-drama community management brand style too far. It is what I come here for.
One of the things I love most about the Offbeat sites is that they are largely exempt from the “Don’t read the comments” rule of the internet (The rule that says that, on most sites I shouldn’t even try to read the comments because they will be full of people being jerks and idiots and it will just make me grumpy). This is especially noteworthy and valuable on Offbeat Families, but it is true throughout the Offbeat Empire and it is really nice to find a place on the internet where people can discuss important, interesting things, especially unusual ideas/experiences/perspectives and difficult topics without the comments threads being over run with trolls.
I realize that maintaining to tone of civil conversation in the comments here takes a lot of active work form the moderators, and I love you for it.
I’ll have to say I liked the primal screams for the reasons stated in your post. I thank the Gods that my life is not as drama filled, or conversely that others have dealt with it and I learn how other people work this stuff out and deal with difficult situations/people. Sometimes I just go in and offer a cyber-hug and some support if I don’t know how to help fix it.
“I think it might be time to learn from my readers and start exploring the separation between my personal values and my business strategies.”
I have SO MANY FEELS about this, Ariel. One of the many things I’ve loved about OBB is your commitment to keeping it a drama-free site. I’ve not personally been a part of the Tribe so I can’t say what goes on behind the digital door but OBB is important in the industry because it has been a safe haven for couples to get away from the considerable drama in other communities.
But like Evee just said above, I think there can be great opportunity for learning in drama. Giving your community an area for expressing the hurt, frustration, and WTF?! moments that come packaged with emotionally-charged events like weddings (or, hell, LIFE) could turn out to be utterly awesome for all. As long as drama does not become a site-sanctioned abusefest – and, yeah, that’s still takes some moderation pull off – it can be a great outlet for you, the OBB community, and your advertisers.
Oh the mod team will still be there, doing our thing, and I don’t think it would be possible for it to still be the Tribe and turn into a “site-sanctioned abusefest.” None of us would be cool with that. 🙂
Thanks, Khris. I seriously have major feels about the issue too… my biggest hope is that since the Offbeat Bride’s brand is pretty matured at this point (we’ve been around a long time, people know what to expect), the community has an established groundwork and culture for what flies. The drama that we encountered on the Tribe in 2008 was in part because it was a very new community… who knew what would be ok? But now that it’s been around for five years, new members immediately get a feel for the culture. I hope.
And, like Kirsten said, it’s not like the mods aren’t still going to be around doing what they’ve always done — which is mostly supporting members in making the community as useful as possible, and encouraging constructive communication.
What you’re saying makes sense from a business perspective right now, but I’m worried about slippery slopes and what it’ll mean for the comments sections here (since I’m not a member of the tribe). The Offbeat sites are the one place I can go, read all the comments and not hate humanity for the rest of the day. There is drama to be had just about anywhere else on the internet, so if things get drama-filled (dramatic?) here I’m worried about where I can go to both find new ideas and perspectives but also stay sane.
Maybe drama-free is your niche? It certainly is a huge part of why I keep coming back.
This is specifically a change with the Tribe and a recognition of how it is functioning. I know there is interest to see how it will impact the blogs and whether there will be any changes in the future but right now it’s specific to the Tribe in terms of a change in how we manage content.
Okay. I’ll hold off worrying until then. 🙂 Thanks for clarifying, Kirsten!
In terms of trying to build a drama and snarky free environment I’m glad you’ve done so.
My recent ‘drama’ i post up here helped since i got some wonderful responses that cleared my head. i also post the same problem at the same time on another site and oh boy. the snarkness and fingerpointing was breathtaking. offbeat bride is my ‘safe wedding’ place.
I’m not a member of OBT, but in the comments at least, the no-drama policy is THE reason I spend so much time on offbeat empire. The content is interesting, yes, but finding an interesting safe, no-drama space of the internet? So incredibly rare and precious and wonderful. It often feels like the entire internet is a giant brawl of yelling screaming angry people. I also think that, for me, having the no-drama policy makes it a safe space to discuss real issues without worrying about getting jumped on. That said, it seems like you are doing a great job trying to balance keeping things low-drama and not cordoning things off.
But what about those who end up feeling “jumped on” by the moderators because they don’t like a member’s choice of adjectives? “Moderated into a corner” is an astute choice of words because sometimes a discussion needs to be had and without the use of unpleasant but accurate descriptions, those discussions cannot exist. Perspectives remain unexchanged, nobody learns, and no one is enlightened. If everyone is so concerned about politeness and manners, uncomfortable topics are simply left out and community activity suffers.
Over many years, I’ve read and cringed at hundreds of flamewars and trollfests and I’ve even shed a tear over a handful that I was unwise enough to join and got out of control. So I don’t advocate a free-for-all.
One problematic issue can be with the term “drama free” or “no-drama”. What is drama for one person is simply robust debate for another. There are quite a few people who feel that every time someone disagrees with them, they are being personally attacked. When attacking their “attacker” back does not get the response they were hoping for, they go on to flag comments and accuse people of stalking or trolling them. These sorts of people are so easily offended that they expect the whole social world to walk on eggshells around them. Their over reaction is as unhealthy for the other community members, and as deadening to the life of the community as any deliberate troll.
Besides, when people fight and find out that they really can’t get along with certain others, they often go and make a safer place for themselves and the people who agree with them i.e. start new a new forum for the issue. The new sub-forum may live or die but the fact is, you’ve kept people with differing points of view from leaving the site altogether.
Human beings are difficult and infinitely variable creatures, so this will always be a headache. The moderation simply needs to be dialled it back a bit, and find a different, more workable position that doesn’t stifle discussion for the sake of peace, for example, not censoring swear words but blocking people when they’ve made personal insults in a flamewar.
There are definitely different forms of drama – for example, there are bitchy, inflammatory “you don’t know WTF you are talking about” criticisms, and there are the “hey, maybe you could think about doing it like this” comments.
There is also a difference between “My SIL is the biggest bitch on the face of this earth” and “I’m sad”/”I’m in this sucky situation” drama.
In both cases, my impression of the Tribe has always been that you can promote/allow the latter, avoid the former, and have a constructive atmosphere WITH a place for sadness and conflict.
Also, I think all this points to the ongoing problem with pay-for-view advertising model. My guess is: those folks returning and refreshing to follow drama (especially inflammatory drama) are not paying a bit of attention to ads or following links to products. Obviously this isn’t something the Empire can really address, but I am surprised that so much advertising remains rewarded by pageviews rather than page clicks.
One might also note: LOTS of people watch super-cheap-to-produce reality shows full of over-the-top drama (me too, sometimes!!!). But this doesn’t translate to product purchase. Some have interpreted that to mean that the wrong products are being placed with the shows – but what if it means that people watch, but don’t want to buy products associated with, over-the-top drama?
“but what if it means that people watch, but don’t want to buy products associated with, over-the-top drama?”
Oooooooh. Good point …
I am personally delighted by this. Sorry, but drama-free is boring and I don’t see the appeal of posting if everything has to be “super nice, I love it” or be censored. There is something between too much and too little and I think it would be great to have a happy medium.
Are those really the only two options available?
In my experience yes. I am sure there are ways to express distate in ways that are so sublte they are not offensive but I personally don’t have the patience. Plus, it stresses me out to have to think how to phrase it in a way that doesn’t mean having my comment deleted so I just don’t comment unless it’s to say “how nice”.
Yes, there are.
It’s not dissent that is the issue, although I can see why it can feel that way — it’s being mature enough to frame that dissent in a way that isn’t going to attack the person. I figure if I’m going to be nasty and impatient and can’t find a way around it, I’m going to keep my mouth shut. Because who needs more nastiness on the internet?
It’s just like communicating face-to-face; attacking someone by saying ‘you’re being fucking ridiculous, you pampered spoiled cow’ is antagonistic and will not be of any use to anyone. ‘I think you’re forgetting some of the good aspects of this situation/relationship’ is more constructive and sends the same message.
Your examples are extreme and based on an assumption of nastiness. Alice did not say that she wanted the freedom to make personal insults, she said she wanted the freedom to make a point without worrying so much about getting censored.
A lot of what goes on in life is subjective, and part of growing up and getting along with each other is learning how to accept that other people see life differently. All this hovering over other people’s conversations is unnecessarily controlling and asserts the sort boundaries that teachers assume over primary school students, rather than how adults in adult institutions manage discussions. We have conflicts in real life just as much as on the internet and even though the words used in face-to-face conversation may be gentler or less emotive, the point that the speaker thinks the listener is a “pampered spoiled cow” can still be made with tone and body language with equally devastating impact.
I think it would be awesome if this could be a jumping-off point for posts on all of the Empire sites with a little more tooth. I don’t mean “drama,” specifically, but it would be awesome to read an Offbeat Families post that didn’t end with either warm-fuzzies or “and now we’re all working toward this great, positive resolution I’ve laid out!” Maybe the authors of the posts just ALL have their shit way more together than I do, or maybe it’s just that people who don’t don’t tend to submit stuff, (or that I’m blocking out the memories of reading a bunch of it? totally possible.) but as a super-frequent reader/newish commenter, I’d LOVE a few posts that ended with “this thing I do/am going through/about my family really fucking sucks, and might always fucking suck, and I’m really angry about it.” I think that that kind of story can be really valuable.
Edited to say: I guess the Sarah Tuttle-Singer piece that was re-published on then-Mama kind of did that?
Edited-edited to say: The no-drama comment policy blurb next to this comment form is giving me the giggles right now.
Early in its life, Offbeat Families (then Offbeat Mama) featured a lot of posts like that and the result was a pretty angry, bitter, somewhat miserable editorial tone. It wasn’t any fun for me to edit, and I started getting feedback from other readers who were just like “Uh, wow. Offbeat Mamas are pretty angry, unhappy people aren’t they?”
For me, it’s really important to remember that content is contagious — and that’s extra true of negative content, and ten times more true with negative parenting content. (Hence, no forum there EVER.)
I’m really struggling with this. You’re one of several commenters who’ve taken this leap from constructive communicating about difficult topics somehow meaning people have their shit together, nothing sucks, and no one can ever say anything negative. To me, this points to a widespread lack of understanding about how constructive communications works. Shit can be completely fucked up and suck SO FUCKING HARD, and you can STILL be stepping back and assessing what you’re learning and framing your frustrations in a way that moves you forward.
This is where my personal values just completely blind me. For me, it’s just not helpful to talk about how much something sucks and how angry I am. I have those feelings, but in terms of my own life, I’ve found it’s way more productive for me to work toward learning something and finding a solution of some sort rather than seek out commiseration, which just doesn’t feel like it gets me anywhere, emotionally.
The way posts are framed on Offbeat Families isn’t supposed to say “this person has it more together than you,” but rather “this person is making an effort to learn something from this experience, and maybe you can learn something too.”
Full disclaimer: I’m extra freaking sensitive/unable to be rational about this issue with Offbeat Families because that’s the site that’s consistently the most negative, most drama-laden, and most difficult to manage, and the one that also makes almost no money. It’s the problem child, in other words, and the idea of making it a more dramatic problem child gives me hives in a very personal place.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SAYING THIS!!! I think something along these lines every time life is hard. The difference between my life at its worst and at its best is all in how _I_ approched it. Sometimes life is hard for no other reason than that life is hard. It’s not because I’m fat, or female, or irrational, or poor. It’s because life is hard. And how we learn from it, how we struggle through it, how we get up again after we fall… THAT’S what makes people amazing. And, by proxy, that’s what makes me keep coming back to the Empire.
“And how we learn from it, how we struggle through it, how we get up again after we fall… THAT’S what makes people amazing. And, by proxy, that’s what makes me keep coming back to the Empire.”
In terms of this particular issue, I had always felt that Offbeat Families did deal with some of the really hard stuff. The anonymous piece by the woman working as a prostitute comes to mind. (Side note: is that piece no longer up?) I didn’t feel that the writers were looking for the silver lining to a situation in the saccharine, false way but more in a now I think about this other thing differently because I know this.
In terms of the tribe, I’m just one person but I like being moderated. I never felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t write about, and, for me, phrasing negative experiences in a more constructive, less drama laden way is helpful. It helps me see what happened from more of a distance and I don’t feel all caught up in it.
I’m interested to see how this all shakes out. It is fascinating to me that less drama is seeming to lead to less involvement.
Do you mean this one: How I support my family as a sex worker? or Thoughts on deciding whether or not to tell your kids you’re a sex worker?
I liked both of those but the one I was referring to was “How I support my family as a sex worker.” Thanks for the link, I just read it again.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply! It actually felt kind of weird for me to write my original comment, because in basically all other online and real-life communities, I’m the one who’s grumbling (silently or not) “but what can we learrrn from this shitty thing?” Maybe I’m just sort of hooked on the unresolved-ventfest-type posts and want to see them on Families even when they don’t *actually* provide me with anything meaningful as a reader/interactor.
As I was reading your reply, I also realized that part of my issue is that I tend to try really hard to “find the lesson” in my own life, to the point that it’s sometimes super counterproductive (repeated “but what could I have done differently?s” when the answer is pretty clearly “nothing, duh”) I think I might project that “all of this self-reflection might be unproductive/overkill” sentiment onto others, which is part of the reason that Families posts in particular can grate on me a little if I read too many in one sitting.
“Shit can be completely fucked up and suck SO FUCKING HARD, and you can STILL be stepping back and assessing what you’re learning and framing your frustrations in a way that moves you forward.”
Yes! I know this. I really do. I’m just not sure I agree with the second half of your point, because sometimes acknowledging that things are unresolved and that it’s either impossible or just too fucking hard to resolve them IS really important emotional work for me, and I like seeing it reflected in online spaces on occasion.
Don’t get hives! I feel like I should send you an herbal bath bomb or something now.
No apologies for the whiplash I just gave you by reflecting on the reflection I’d made on my own and others’ habits of self-reflection, though.
For me, I’d say that acknowledging when you can’t do something is about moving forward too. It doesn’t have to be progress in the way of resolving. It’s sometimes just personally acknowledging that you can’t be stuck on that forever and in some way you have to keep going. So maybe that perspective is there, you’re just coming at it from different angles. 🙂
I can definitely see that interpretation, and my first impulse is to agree and say that it doesn’t matter that Ariel (and everyone else) and I are describing it differently and that we’re all *actually* in agreement and semantics and whatnot, but I think that what I mean when I say “acknowledging that things are unresolved” falls into the category of things that Ariel described finding too stressful/dramatic/community-degrading for the site in its early days. Which is fine! But I think there’s a definite disconnect that goes beyond semantics, I’m just having trouble articulating it without using language that sounds moving-forward-y. Which is probably good and I should just not worry about it?
My god, I sound like an unhappy person in this thread. I am literally eating ice cream out of a cone at 2:16 on a Friday afternoon. I am so happy it hurts, like, 85% of the time. This was a weird horse to hitch my wagon to.
Your comment just blew my mind in the best possible way possibly possible. Herbal bathbomb YES.
Haha, thanks! I’m glad.
Now I’m gonna make you a bath bomb shaped like your mind blowing with a little note inside that says REMEMBER TO REFLECT ON THIS BATH LATER.
That probably wouldn’t be the creepiest craft I’ve ever made, either.
Thanks for articulating, trying to articulate this, the subtle not so subtle differences here. Props to Ariel too.
I’ve never gone to the families section because, despite having a family, I never go to _any_ family websites any more for this very reason. When it comes to issues involving children, people will get so upset that courtesy gets thrown out completely even if they manage to keep it together on any other subject. At the same time still others will take offense when none was intended even though they too, can keep it together in the face of criticism of any other aspect of life.
Children are such a highly emotive issue, especially for people who had trauma during childhood, that a certain hysteria can take hold. I am not at all surprised that it is the Offbeat Empire’s problem child and that there is no forum at all.
Really, IMHO helping people with family problems is best left to the professionals. It is extremely hard work.
I haven’t ever been on the Primal Rants page and I stopped reading Offbeat Bride after I got married. But I do read and love Offbeat Home and Empire, and I like the mostly drama-free nature of both blogs. Yes, constant positivity is annoying and insincere, but we can disagree without being dicks to each other, and Home and Empire have got this balance down. In fact, I actually got pretty upset when outside people started dragging their shit-covered boots all over the comments page on the Offbeat Empire article about liberal bullying, partly because I felt like my nice, kind community was getting attacked. In short, I hope Home and Empire don’t change in the direction of more drama.
Thanks for this, Rose! Just to echo what Kirsten said up-thread:
I’m really glad of this. Just wanted to throw my voice into the mix 🙂
I’m glad you did – I really agree strongly with this:
“In fact, I actually got pretty upset when outside people started dragging their shit-covered boots all over the comments page on the Offbeat Empire article about liberal bullying, partly because I felt like my nice, kind community was getting attacked. In short, I hope Home and Empire don’t change in the direction of more drama.”
I think there’s a difference between negative emotions and disagreements and being a dick or ruminating about how much something sucks. And I think what Ariel is trying to avoid is ruminating and bringing the entire tone of everything on the empire to the negative. But it’s okay to not like things. And it’s okay to not have a shitty situation all tied up in a bow.
What I noticed often happening in Primal Scream, at least when I was still active on the Tribe, was that it often became a wellspring of support. Internet hugz all around and war stories of everyone who has been there and done that. There’s a sense of camaraderie in that, and I think that’s part of what drew people to Primal Scream, although the train wreck thing is totes valid.
I think it’s good to frame things in a constructive way, but it can make people feel like a failure too, because we don’t all do that all the time. That said, I think there are admirable intentions here and it’s part of what a lot of us (at least I) love about the Empire. And I also have always been of the opinion that Ariel is Grand High Empress of all things OE and she can steer this ship anyway she wants because it’s hers, although I do appreciate how much she cares about the community she’s built.
SOMETIMES I CARE A LITTLE TOO MUCH:
So, so many feels.
Yes, we don’t all always feel good. Some of us fall apart easier than others. Mental health is an issue because people who can feel their mental health is taking a hit and are searching for support will come to internet communities like this one, looking for the support they need. In that situation, demanding that everyone be constructive and functional in their postings is unrealistic and translates into rejection.
For example, a middle aged bride with a bit of middle aged spread is feeling old, lonely and fat from looking at too many pictures of wedding dresses on young size 2 models, and trying on sample dresses in sizes so small that it gives no indication of how it would look if the dress was made in her size. She comes here looking for support from other women who are not fashion model sized either. But she can’t express her mixed feelings about this because it might offend other people who might be size 2.
I think it’s REALLY GREAT that you don’t want to host a crazy cesspool of internet drama. There are long-term advantages to your position even if you’re giving up page clicks for now. Drama’s kind of like Cheetos. People get really excited about it and gorge, but it ultimately destroys people’s ability to trust and learn from each other and makes everyone feel a little sick. In the short-term it bumps page clicks, but you end up in an escalating cycle; plus, crazy drama means that nice people with interesting things to say don’t want to write for you because they don’t want their family & feelings to be snark-cannon fodder.
Still, I feel like there’s a trade-off: it’s hard to have spirited but interesting arguments that don’t hurt people’s feelings. Non-wedding blogs that run interesting comments sections (Ta-Nehisi Coates has one; maybe there are others? it is NOT EASY) tend to allow much more disagreement and criticism. Here the attitude seems much more that criticism is per se suspect. I think that’s probably partly an outgrowth of the subjects — weddings, family, and homes are really personal, people approach them in really different ways, people have very very strong feelings about them, and practically everyone is convinced that their way is also the Official Best Way for Everyone. That makes it much more challenging to create a space where people can actively disagree and express negative feelings without feeling personally hurt. I don’t really have a solution but maybe it’d be useful to think about how to open things up to negativity and disagreement without letting people be jerks. Putting Primal Scream back in with everything else probably moves things in that direction.
Also, I really appreciate how engaged you are with readers and how much your ethics about community and communication inform your business practices.
Thanks so much for this super thoughtful comment!
This has actually always been the goal… but as several comments on this post make clear, understanding the difference between “disagree” and “being a jerk” isn’t easy for many (most?) people. As one commenter said up-thread, “I am sure there are ways to express distate [sic] in ways that are so sublte [sic] they are not offensive but I personally don’t have the patience.”
That said, I totally agree the the topics at hand are part of what make moderation such a challenge — who would want to share their weddings with us if the comments on our weddings attacked them? Part of our no-drama commitment is because so much of our content is community-submitted. Who would want to contribute to a community where you’re going to get ripped apart?
“as several comments on this post make clear, understanding the difference between ‘disagree’ and ‘being a jerk’ isn’t easy for many (most?) people.”
ABSOLUTELY. I tend to think of different blogs as having different general flavors wrt that. My impression of the Empire is that the ‘house blend’ is really non-judgmental and low criticism. I don’t know if it’s out of line to talk about moderating on other blogs, but I sort of used to feel like the house blend on APW was more pro-engagement and disagreement, and that there’s been a shift in the last year or so towards a lower-criticism flavor. On TNC’s blog the house blend allows a ton of argument, critique, and disagreement, but it’s also a really different, much less personal environment and there are no sponsored posts.
Basically I think this is a genuinely challenging problem for you and other lifestyle bloggers who would like to promote engagement and conversation (and clicks). To whatever extent I have anything like advice, it’s just — don’t feel like you have to reach some kind of ultimate endpoint where it’s all perfect. Right now, you’ve done an amazing job creating a space where people can expect to be treated respectfully. Maybe next you’ll experiment with ways to have a little more drama and conflict and see if it’s manageable. FWIW I think you already have pieces on the Empire that do some of this — vaguely controversial features that are structured to invite debate about a problem rather than provide a solution to it do some of that. Also, your opinion pieces do that pretty well.
“understanding the difference between “disagree” and “being a jerk” isn’t easy for many (most?) people.”
I… feel ironically judgmental about this.
My first impulse is to say something like “Really? How is this not an obvious difference? These are basic communication skills!” But I’m pretty sure that would constitute being a jerk:p
I am going to have to sit back and think about this reaction. I may be a communication snob. Or over-socialized. Or possibly just terribly naive. Hmm.
I’m SO with you on this. SO incredibly with you. Since constructive communication is such a huge life value for me, I have to really struggle to remind myself that it’s NOT for everyone, and that lots of folks don’t have the patience.
Well, I appreciate your comment reminding ME of it, too.
To quote my favorite author: “Check your assumptions. In fact, check your assumptions at the door.” – Cordelia, from “Cordelia’s Honor” by Lois McMaster Bujold
I’ve been on the tribe since some point in 2008. I have to say that I really love the “Tough Times,” idea. I was one of those folks who posted about drama, because the Tribe was my only outlet and so I truly appreciate that I had it then.
However, the reason I love the idea of Tough Times, is that it may help people help each other. Sometimes a person can feel very isolated when they’re enduring something difficult, so you want to see that you’re not alone. But I think simply by labeling it “Tough Times,” rather than PST, you take some negativity away.
Can I just say that I totally admire OBB/The Empire for having the guts to clearly tell its readers 1) that something’s changing 2) that its changing for commercial reasons and for the betterment of the site(s) and 3) the conflicting values that went into that decision?
I am just so much happier reading a site where all the commercial considerations are out there, laid bare and we can see what works and what doesn’t.
I think most comments so far are clustered around item 2, because no-one is sure yet what the change will look like and what effect it will have on the status quo. Fair enough. What i LOVE is that really no one is being snarky or having a go at the OBB management team and Ariel’s values as per item 1 and 3 (unless those snarky comments have already been moderated out, lol!). I think that indicates a great level of trust that your readership has in you and the journeys you are taking us on as the empire develops. I think you should be really proud of that as a website and a business, generally. It means you’ve got a really good, understanding readership, but it also means that you haven’t screwed your readership over and they trust you.
I love your site because you put your philosophy and the commercial stuff out there front and centre for those who want to understand what goes on in the business-end side of the business instead of wondering if the site and its advertisers are screwing us.
Keep going, keep experimenting, and hell – if the drama-heavy setting of the Empire doesn’t work, you can always dial it back a notch to drama-lite – it’s just that when you do, you’ll know what’s involved 🙂
Best wishes for the journey on a more drama-inclusive path – I’ll sit back and read posts with joy.
I love everything about this comment! It DOES say so much that no one seems to be upset about the decisions that Ariel described, and I think a huge part of the reason for that is that we don’t have to speculate! I’ve seen so many threads on other blogs’ sponsored posts speculating wildly about the owner/author’s reasons for taking on more ads/sponsorships/whatever, and it’s always ugly. It’s a great business decision and a great decision for the community for Ariel/the Empire to lay it all out there.
Thank you so much for this amazing comment, and the massive compliments.
Transparency is a delicate balance. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by community feedback, and start to feel pressured and paralyzed about making decisions. People WILL be unhappy with decisions, and being transparent can open you up to criticism at difficult points in the decision-making process.
Once you let your community into your plans, it can be difficult to draw lines about where feedback ends and where the business decisions begin.
So while I really super deeply appreciate the sweet words here, I also want to recognize that it’s a really challenging balance that a lot of businesses wrestle with… and one that after almost six years of working on this, I still struggle with — a lot.
I just wrote a journal entry (Your marriage may not be forever and I think that’s ok. Here’s why.) and it didnt fit into any of the following so I just stuck it in ‘Tough Times’. It could go under ‘philosophy’ or ‘marriage’ instead, I guess? But maybe it’s not good having to limit categories always?
Current categories: DIY Tutorials Introductions Planning updates Porn: pre-wedding Porn: wedding pictures Tough Times Writing after the wedding YAY!
In general, I think this is a good move for the community and the business. Overmoderation is suffocating and most people are adults. Most sites that have big online communities (any forums) only get involved when it’s bullying or illegal, so you guys are already making your lives hard. Worth researching how they do it elsewhere.
My overall Internet readership plummeted when I vowed sometime last year to stop hate-reading and stop subconsciously scanning the Internet for emotional trigger content. It’s been a delicate balance because I don’t want to be tuned out to social issues and current events of the world, but I also need to protect my sanity.
These sites are some of the few remaining where I come to see what people are talking about.However, I can understand that from a business perspective, you have to make choices. The fact is, a business may not survive on the shoulders of readers who respect the pants off of you because you have publicly employed values and ideas that make the Internet a better place. Respect doesn’t pay the rent.
I can also understand how the conversation gets watered down when surrounding an emotionally charged subject, where a balanced alternate perspective becomes difficult to express. I have swallowed a few* comments myself. (*countless)
As someone who has written here, the one thing is that the site is an amazing haven for expressing something potentially unpopular. The sex worker post mentioned above comes to my mind as well. I appreciate that that author was able to share her story without fearing a tar and feathering.
So I appreciate what you’re doing and I hope you’re able to keep doing it in a sustainable way.
This is a powerful, astute, and deeply concerning point. 15 years ago, I was the editor of a free national music magazine. It had a huge amount of community support, but never could pay the bills. We were committed to remaining free (other similar magazines had switched to being sold on newstands and we viewed it as “selling out” — oh, naivete!) but ultimately the magazine could never quite support itself and it was shut down in 2002.
Indeed, respect doesn’t pay the rent.
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