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Rules and Guidelines for All of My Email List Groups

Brief Introduction
I operate over thirty free public informational email list groups covering topics in a variety of fields, mostly related to health, alternative health, nutrition, scientific and technical topics, topics in the fields of fringe science, aka strange science, and the realms of mysticism and spirituality. A number of these list groups have rather large memberships, that is, over 200 members; several have well over 1,500 members apiece. Further, several of these groups are devoted to topics which tend to act as red flags to attract fanatics, fundamentalists, flamers and Internet trolls of all kinds; these kinds of posters and their behaviors demand firm management, as their antics can quickly destroy a list group.

I have operated and moderated email list groups and forums since the late 1990s, and I have learned a number of things during that period that have helped me to manage my list groups in ways that allow them to operate more smoothly and efficiently, and without the incredibly high level of noise, garbage and flaming that plagues most modern list groups and forums. As a result of these experiences, I have become rather famous for running my list groups with a very firm hand to keep the noise level down and to ensure coherent and sincere communications. And, in late 2007, after several rather powerful and educational experiences, I instituted for all of my list groups a set of even firmer rules than had been in place before that time. Why did I choose to take these steps toward even more explicit guidelines and even firmer enforcement at that time? The answer, in short, was, as I have already alluded above, to lower the noise level on my list groups and also to eliminate the many insincere and/or psychotic or emotionally-damaged posters and posts who/which are time-wasters. However, there is another set of inter-related reasons, and they are four-fold, as follows:
  • Feedback over the years from my more valued and sincere list group members who have consistently contributed to the list group in a positive fashion.
  • Feedback over the years from my list group moderators and from other list owners about problems commonly encountered in managing list groups, along with suggestions on how to manage them.
  • I had been receiving consistent, insistent and very persistent guidance from Holy Spirit over the previous 18 months to institute many of these rules, and I had been waffling for a while, and ignoring that advice, until late 2007.
  • For much of 2007, I had the privilege of belonging to a private invitation-only list group, open by invitation only to select owners of high-volume list groups at Yahoo Groups, MSN Groups and Google Groups, dedicated to an exploration of, and identification of, "best practices" in operating list groups, with the express purpose of coming up with methods of increasing signal-to-noise level and eliminating the most common "noisy" posts from flamers, psychotics, Internet trolls and drama queens. Over the nine or ten months of the list group's existence, we identified a number of best practices common to all the higher-quality list groups and to all the higher-quality posters across the web over the past 20 years. You will see most of these best practices reflected in the newer and firmer guidelines which I enacted for all of my list groups in late 2007. Likewise, we identified some common practices and signature behaviors of "problem posts" and "problem posters". These too are clearly addressed in the new and firmer guidelines which I implemented in late 2007 for my list groups.
Guidelines and Rules for All of My List Groups
And so, with no further ado, here are the guidelines for anyone wishing to send posts to any of my list groups. The purpose of these rules and guidelines is to lower the noise level and raise the signal-to-noise level on my list groups even beyond my earlier standards. These guidelines have also been incorporated into the Welcome message sent to each new member of each list group, and are also present in a "List Guidelines" file which may be found in the Files area at the Yahoo Groups home page of each of my list groups. Obviously, any posts submitted to any of my list groups which do not meet the guidelines will be rejected by moderators; any posters who become repeat offenders will be banned from the list group(s). Here, then, are the guidelines:
 
1) First, observe basic commonsense rules of list group behavior: be civil, be sincere, be coherent in your posts, no flaming, no trolling, and stay reasonably on topic; some reasonable "topic drift" into off-topic areas, is welcome and allowed, as it is useful and fun. Obviously, posters with a long track record of sending "good" posts to the list will be allowed more leeway in sending occasional (relevant) commercial posts or grossly off-topic posts than will any other list members. Some degree of good-natured humor is always welcome on my list groups, and, as an added benefit, extensive research along with my own personal experience shows that it helps to keep the fundamentalists and fanatics at bay; 99% of them are highly allergic to humor and light-heartedness.
 
2) All posts must be written coherently, be readable, and must make sense. In other words, we expect you to make reasonably good use of the English language when posting; your posts must make sense and exhibit at least reasonable clarity and coherence. This does not mean that my list moderators and I have become the "grammar police" or the "spelling police", for the goal is not perfection or rigidity, but rather "good enough" sanity, coherence and readability. So, yes, all of us occasionally send posts containing some typos, some misspellings, or a skipped word or even a half-sentence, and that is fine and normal, so long as your post is generally coherent, readable and makes sense.
 
3) You must sign your real first and last name in your signature at the end of each post. No, it is not acceptable to whine and claim that there is a "handle" already attached to your email address; anyone over five years old who has been on the Web for more than a year knows that the vast majority of those "handles" are entirely fictitious, and, in fact, numerous studies have shown that the majority of such handles even imply the wrong gender of the sender! Wow! Yes, signing a nickname as your first name is okay, provided that it is the name that you are known by in your life, i.e., "Lorrie" instead of "Loretta", or "Jimmy" instead of "James". The reason for this rule is obvious: one of the BIG things identified by our best practices list group was the fact that the vast majority of "good" posts sent to list groups, that is, posts sent by sincere writers which made sense and which contributed meaningfully to the list group, were signed by the poster with their real first and last name. Further, we discovered that the very best posts tended to be sent by posters who engaged in even fuller disclosure, and who disclosed -- as do I in all of my posts -- their phone number and their email address in their signature line. Conversely, we discovered that a hallmark signature of the many types of highly-damaged folks who sent undesirable posts to list groups was the fact that their posts were either unsigned or were signed with bizarre acronyms or self-assigned "handles". Here are some examples of types of handles and acronyms/abbreviations which do not constitute acceptable signatures to posts on my list groups:
SweetAngel, Bunker Bob, SurvialistSally, Big Jimmy, JMJ (i.e. bizarre initials), Frater Akarius of the Great White Brotherhood, Guru HHK, Killer, SuperRawDancerGirl, GrizzlyManMan, Sarawsati Namaste (i.e., a made-up yogic name used by a Westerner), Jane noneofyourbusiness, Super Eagle, yellowcoyote, Wild Bill Yokel and Archangel Michael. Further, if we ever uncover any evidence that a poster has been signing a fictitious name, instead of their real name to their posts, the poster will be immediately banned from all of my list groups. As anyone who is very web-savvy knows, it is not hard in most cases to discover if a person is using a pseudonym, as all activity on the web leaves inevitable digital traces which can and will be discovered and followed or traced by a diligent observer.
 
4) Posts will NOT be accepted in PGP-encrypted or otherwise-encrypted format, or from PGP (or other) encrypting mailing services such as Hushmail, Pretty PGP Mail, CryptoMail, CipherMail, MailGuard, SecretMail, HideMail, etc. Why? We found that an extremely high rate of bizarre and incoherent email comes from posters using such services, and also we have found that list group members and moderators alike usually find the very idea of people using such services to be way too grandiose, self-important and pretentious. We have also found that such posts/posters often seem, over time, to invite official inquiries from law enforcement agencies around the world, often with good reason. So, bottom line: if what you want to write to us is so secret and so important that you must send it via an encryption tool or service, then we do not want your post, and, rather, in that case, take your secret posts and go somewhere else other than my list groups -- in other words, take your posts somewhere where paranoids and drama queens are welcome!
 
5) Do NOT send a post which simply contains a bare link to a webpage; this is uncivil, cryptic and confusing. If you wish to send to us what you feel is a relevant link, then you must take the time to tell us about the linked article, and why you feel that it might be relevant to us, and tell us what your own response was to the article.
 
6) Do NOT send a post simply saying "thanks" or "I agree" in response to an earlier post. While it is fine to say "thanks" or "I agree", do not stop there; tell us why you are thanking the poster or why you agree, and add your own comments.
 
Lastly, a reminder: Any posts submitted which do not meet the guidelines will be rejected by moderators; any posters who become repeat offenders will be banned from the list group(s).

A Quick Note on Results
Since instituting the new rules and guidelines, I have received feedback from list members from all over the world thanking me for making the decision to implement the new rules, and telling me that they feel that the quality of discourse on my list groups, along with the signal-to-noise ratio, has improved even further as a result. Better, a number of persons who had been identified previously by my list moderators as "problem posters" became enraged at the new rules and resigned in a huff from the list groups to which they had belonged. To us, this was and is a highly desirable outcome!

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Aren't you afraid that these new rules will act to discourage some list members from posting, and will thus have the effect of reducing the number of posts on your list groups?

A. The reality is that I was deliberately hoping -- when introducing these new rules -- to reduce the number of posts on my list groups by eliminating the high-noise posts, including incoherent posts or posts full of nonsense. I do not run my list groups as a substitute for a popularity contest. I am here on earth to do what my heart and Holy Spirit ask me to, and conversely, I am not here on earth to try to gain the approval of others, nor, in a related vein, to try to win the approval or adulation of the members of my list groups. So, unlike some list owners and moderators who have what a clinical psychologist would call "boundary problems" and who are afraid to set boundaries for their list members due to fear of disapproval or rejection, I love setting boundaries (as I do in setting up firm rules for my list groups), and I do so with relish, fully expecting and anticipating that some folks may choose not to post as a result. The bottom line is that my goal in operating my list groups is not to win a popularity contest or to be able to claim that my list group has the greatest number of posts, but rather, to ensure sane, sincere, coherent and civil communication, with a very high signal-to-noise level.

Q. Aren't you afraid that these new rules may discourage troubled people, such as excessively shy people or people with anxiety disorders, from posting to your list groups?

A. Not at all! In fact, one of my reasons for instituting these new rules was to try to eliminate such folks, if they are unable to "be fully present", that is, if they feel unable or unwilling to sign their real name to posts or to take the trouble to ensure that their post is coherent before they send it. One of the things that our private best practices list group discovered, which will, of course, come as no surprise to a clinical psychologist, was the fact that some of the most disruptive persons on list groups -- in terms of hostile behavior that was classified as overly controlling, overly demanding, whiny, or passive-aggressive -- often turned out to be posters who repeatedly insisted that they deserved "special treatment" because they claimed that they were shy or had an anxiety disorder. So, I am more than happy if many of these persons choose not to send posts to my list groups in light of the new rules!

In Closing

Thanks! And, enjoy!
 
--Vinny









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