RE: ADMIN: From the TECHWR-L Mailbag

Subject: RE: ADMIN: From the TECHWR-L Mailbag
From: Kevin McLauchlan <kmclauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2007 15:02:30 -0400

The following is a response to a number of people,
and merely uses this ADMIN post as a convenient
starting point.

> Yes, TECHWR-L has administrators. We're the ones
> who posted three--count 'em THREE--ADMIN messages
> in the past week about various threads being off topic, with
> suggestions for alternative ways to communicate such material.

I know that authority universally hates to be questioned,
and that those who dare to do so are inviting uninviting
consequences. I also question authority as a matter of
personal philosophy which has become reflex.
Nevertheless, I do put some thought into it, as I have
into the following.

> We are setting repeat off-topic posters to Moderated status.

I'll be interested to see if this message gets through,

> Often it's a fine line between on-topic and off-topic, and we
> encourage the community to moderate their own postings
> and ask questions about appropriateness if they're not sure.
> What's been going on in the past few days, however, goes
> beyond people disregarding the purpose of this forum. Yesterday
> alone, the TECHWR-L list has more than 160 messages posted
> to it--160!

I get that many every day from OOo Users list and from the
opensuse list, among several other high-volume lists to
which I subscribe. In all cases, I remain subscribed to
those lists because I derive value from them. Apparently,
so do a LOT of people. In all cases, I ignore the messages
that I don't want to read. In very technical lists, I ignore
the posts about aspects of the tech that I'm not using
(for example, I don't have a 64-bit Linux machine, or
a PowerPC-based machine, so roughly a third of the posts
on opensuse are not useful to me).

> How many of us have time to wade through 160 messages,

Now, you're talking about moderators who feel the need
to read every post to their list. As a moderator, you
do have a point. But on behalf of everybody else, maybe
not so much.
Everybody else... really, EVERYbody else has a modern mail
reading program that lets them set rules/filters to handle
incoming mail. Not a single one of those people is in any
way forced to manually/eyeball-ly(?) deal with every last
incoming message.

Naturally, any mail from a high-volume list resides in your
inbox no longer than the microseconds that it takes your
filters to shunt it into a list-specific folder. Right?
When you open that folder and see that some messages contain
a subject that you prefer not to see, you highlight ONE
such message, click the column header (to sort by Subject),
then you hold down the Shift Key, scroll to the last offending
message (thereby selecting them all), and press the Delete key.

If more come in and it looks onerous to keep mass-deleting
them, you can construct a filter in about 15-seconds to
consign them all to ... er... heck before you ever even see them.

Even those who (foolishly, in this day and age?) choose to
receive the Digest version can use simple "mechanical" methods
to scroll quite rapidly past offending messages.
For example, you can open a digest, scroll happily until
you encounter the first annoying message, then invoke the
"Find" dialog. Fill in a standard set of characters that
normally appear in just one place in a message - like
"Subject:". Or just put the cursor on that word in
the header before you invoke "Find" - most interfaces will
insert the current word as the default search term, saving
you a couple more keystrokes.

Every time you click "Find Next" or type [Ctrl]-[F], you
are at the top of a new message (within the digest),
looking at its title, immediately to the right of the
highlighted term.
If you don't like that title, keep hitting [Ctrl]-[F]
until the situation changes.

If you wish to complain about having to press [Ctrl]-[F]
160 times, then consider getting your messages singly,
and applying automatic filters. It's not hard to learn
how your mail-reader does that, and yes, your reader
DOES have rules/filters capability. If not, then you have
other problems - avoid driving and avoid handling sharp

The above are suggestions, possible approaches, that don't
involve repression.

If certain people constantly offend your sensibilities,
then filters are handy for that, too. With no change in
behavior by current posters, your Techwr-l folder
could easily have no more than five or six messages per day,
all of them the kind you do want to see, and none of them
with my name attached. Filters/e-mail rules are your friend.

> let alone when a good portion of them include
> nothing more than a "witty" remark or something that's even
> labeled OT. Folks, before you post a witty comment, a
> one-line reply, a comment that takes discussions further away from
> technical writing, or the like, realize that you're not adding
> value for the 3,000+ subscriber base and the 10,000+ daily
> list readership who subscribed to discuss technical
> communication.

The key in the above paragraph is "nothing more than".
I've got nothing against a witty remark that comes along
with some thoughtful exposition or some questions.
But yes, wise-ass comments alone are problematic in a
list with a large number of subscribers.

> The TECHWR-L list is set up so that when people
> reply to a message, they have to make the conscious
> choice to Reply All if they want the message to go to
> the list. If your message doesn't add value to a technical
> writing-related discussion, think twice before posting:
> * Consider sending the message off-list to the person
> you're responding to

> * Consider posting the material as a blog or a story
> reference on the TECHWR-L Web site:

> * Consider asking whether the message is appropriate
> before posting. Contact us at admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com

All good options that are subject to a wide range of
interpretation - like in the previous section where I
pointed out _my_ interpretation that the key phrase was
"nothing more than". Others would have read your
paragraph with different emphasis and would therefore
be reading this other stuff differently, too.

Unlike the people who tired of it in the first ten
minutes, I've seen new angles and clarifications introduced
to the various arms of the "Pet Peeves" hydra. So, I
haven't lost interest. Therefore, I haven't bothered to
apply any e-mail filtering to the subject keyword nor
to the names of any participants.

But I'm getting really tired of that XML thread...
Hey, that was a joke.
At least half the list will never need to know about the
XML stuff. Could it be that they are ignoring/skipping/filtering
messages that have XML in the title? Looks like they must have
the skillz to filter "Peeve" or "PC bunch".

> Above all, please be considerate of others' time. Through
> this list, help other technical communicators do their jobs
> more easily; don't make this list one more obstacle to
> doing their jobs.

Except for the moderators, who might sometimes feel the need
to read every last message, it is not a time issue for anybody
who bothers to learn the basics of their mail-reader program.

I agree that it's simple netiquette to not post one-liners
(well, unless they're really good one-liners but it's always
safer to not be your own judge of your own wit) and me-toos.
To me, it's only irritating if the poster neglects to edit
what they're agreeing with. There's no need to abuse that
many electrons to repeat what we've all seen. It definitely
IS an imposition to have to wade through tons of auto-quoted
text just to get to a six-word reply.
If you agree with something just say "I agree with <quick
summary>". It's useful to us to know that some people
or many people agree with a point (that's related at
least tenuously to techwriting). We just don't need you
to leave all ten thousand words of the previous thread
in your "me too".

Yet, that same ton of quoted text is not offensive if it's
liberally interspersed with thoughtful (or even witty) replies.
That's called discussion.

The foot of authority can be brought down on the truly
offensive behavior if the authority chooses to wear the
stilletos, or it can be brought down on everybody who's
in the room at the time, if the authority selects the
jackboots instead of the precision-stomping footwear.

I don't suggest that the list go un-moderated.
I do suggest that moderators AND the people who /w/h/i/n/e/
er... /p/e/s/t/e/r/ ... er... appeal to them might be
as specific as possible about describing and about crushing
offending behavior. In other words, tar with a narrow brush.

If it's something you are interested in, 160 messages is
not too much.
If it started appropriate and some of its offshoots became
inappropriate, complain about the _specific_ offshoots
(again, that narrow brush). Simply moaning that a thread
has gone on too long for your taste is ... inappropriate.
It reveals that you are either not competent to operate your
mail reader or that you are too lazy to do so.
Moaning that one branch of the thread has lost all of
its apropos points and hasn't had a fresh thought in two
days... well, that's different.
Moaning that people are failing to rename a thread when it
takes a significantly new direction... well that's another
good one that conveys specific information and has a
reasonably defined target.

Aren't we technical writers supposed to get to the heart of
matters and convey precise thoughts in easy-to-grasp fashion?
We could do that when complaining. Then the moderators would
know where to apply the spike heel... and not the lugged,
all-terrain Vibram stomper.

My take, suitably delayed by moderation. :-)

Kevin McLauchlan (who has been a member via various accounts since sometime
in the '90s)

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