Hey, you! Yes, you. The one with the keyboard in front of you and the mouse in your hand. Step away slowly from the computer, with your hands up. Oh, you were thinking about typing something really nasty, weren't you? Something truly stinging. Yes, that person on the other end of all of these "pipes" said something that made you mad. Heck, it was downright rude what they said. Now you are going to make them pay.
About time, right? They deserve it. I mean, it's not another human being that you are talking to. It's just a screen name, a bunch of text on a screen, nothing that you really need to worry about. When you're done and have sent your nastygram across the wire, you can walk away, go have a coffee, and go about the rest of your day, in real life. In real life you'd never say the things that you just typed. That's the beauty of the Internet though--why worry?
Of course, they responded back. They're even more angry. Now you can't back down...they'll think you're weak and chickening out. Now you have to pull out all of the stops. Maybe an insult about their name...no...better yet, and insult about their mother's name. Ha! Take that! On and on it goes, more people jump into the fight, and you've got yourself one big brawl...all typed out, historically documented, and beautifully easy to forget about--just turn off the screen.
Alright...out of that narrative mode. What I'm illustrating above is what I believe the absolute largest challenge in an online community is--keeping it civil. Flame wars flare up, and it's tough to get them under control. They can keep a community from being effective. They really can hurt people. And, in the end, they can kill a community, dead in its tracks.
What can be done to make people realize that they really are taking with other people? Adam Curry, the podcasting guy that does the Daily Source Code podcast, has commented a few times on his show about his message board flame war problems. He believes they are inevitable...every online community is destined to die the same death--overzealous people flaming the forums to death.
I have to say that I'm still more optimistic that Adam, but, we did lose our first moderator this week to flame wars. This blog post isn't directly about that situation, although it's on my mind, and that's why I'm blogging it. I don't have a great solution. Rule the community with an iron fist, and at the first sign of trouble, bring out the ban hammer? Let the community vote people off of the island? Forget about it, and let people slam each other to death?
I'm not sure...but I'm open to suggestions...