Exploring and Building
Virtual Worlds on the Internet
7) Netiquette and Community Hosting
Your Guide to the Netiquette and Community Hosting
- Introducing Netiquette and Community Hosting
- Lingo used in Virtual Communities
- Miss Manners Guide to social dos and donts in virtual communities
- Netiquette Tips from the Virtual World Experts
- Excerpts from The WELL Host Manual: Building Community Online
- Words to the Wise from Wendy Sue Noah: CyberYenta
- Caz's guide to Netiquette
Introducing Netiquette and Community Hosting
ìThe same social mores that exist in the real world persist in cyberspace! That all the pathologies present in the real world are present in cyberspace by virtue of the fact that we are the agents of the pathologies! And when I say "we," I mean the part of us that can squeeze through the keyhole into cyberspace. That's the very interesting point, that cyberspace, I call it the mirror of the third eye, because boy does it show us what you really are! Because if you look in there, and you see dragons and demons and devils, then I know what you are full of, because what you are doing is you are seeing yourself.
Mark Pesce, Florence Italy, June 1996
"Avatars are not supposed to die. Not supposed to fall apart The Graveyard Daemons will take the avatar to the Pyre, an eternal underground bonfire beneath the center of The Black Sun, and burn it. As soon as the flames consume the avatar, it will vanish from the Metaverse, and then its owner will be able to sign on as usual, creating a new avatar to run around in. But, hopefully, he will be more cautious and polite next time."
-Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, pages 102-103.
These quotations should give you a few things to think about as you set out into the social scene in virtual worlds, either to be part of the party or host your own communities. This appendix will present a glossary of virtual world lingo and plenty of wise words on the dos and donts in the worlds social scene.
Lingo used in Virtual Communities
Emoticons :) and Social Acronyms (what does LOL mean?)
This section will give you a guide to the bewildering array of emoticons and other social acronyms used in virtual worlds. Acronyms can be used to abbreviate when possible, but messages filled with acronyms can be confusing and annoying to the reader, so don't overuse them.
Emoticons and Emoties
The following tables list some of the common ways in which you can use simple text to express deeper emotions and more flamboyant speech in your daily conversations on the digital street.
Emoticon Characters What it means ;-) winking :-) happy (smiling) :-D very happy (laughing) :-] silly grin :-( sad (:-( very unhappy :-C shocked :-O shocked even more :-/ uncommitted :-| no reaction or scowling @>-->-- A rose, for you :'-( Crying :-} Wry >:-( Grimacing
Table: Emoticons for Social Occasions (View Sideways)
Emotie What it means smile smirk or grin very big grin
Table: a few basic Emoties
Social Acronyms are shorthand expressions for longer phrases. This are used extensively in text chat worlds and the list keeps growing every day. The following are some of the more common social acronyms.
Shorthand phrase What it means LOL, lol Laughs out loud (lol = softer laugh) ROFL Rolls on Floor Laughing IMHO In my humble opinion IMNSHO In my not-so-humble opinion Grrrrrr Grrrrrr BRB Be right back AFK Away From Keyboard k OK Av Avatar hehehehehehehe hee hee hee hee hee WYSIWYG What you see is what you get! (pronounced wizziwig) nice 2cu Nice to see you RW or RL Real World or Real Life c u See you cu 8er See you later
Table : General purpose Shorthands
Flirtatious Social Acroynms
Shorthand phrase What it means ILY I Love You LAFS Love at first sight LDR Long distance relationship LJBF Let's just be friends LO Love (or lust) object LTR Long term relationship MOTOS Member of the opposite sex MOTSS Member of the same sex NG Nice guy PDA Public demonstration of affection RI Romantic interest SNAG Sensitive new-age guy TL&EH True love and eternal happiness SO Significant other (X)SO (Ex) significant other
Table : Flirtatious Shorthands
Adding Emphasis beyond Emoticons
Note, in addition to emoticons, to add emphasis to what you are saying, you could SHOUT IN ALL CAPs or use *Asterisks* and _underscore characters_ to emphasize words or phrases. It is a good idea not to overuse these conventions, however.
Miss Manners Guide to social dos and donts in virtual communities
The following tips are just a few items to keep in mind as you make your way through the social matrix of virtual communities. Later sections will give you more detail on proper netiquette (Internet etiquette).
Ignoring someone and Establishing your Persona
Every once in a while, you might find yourself being abused (probably verbally) inside a virtual world. You might have become identifiable in a world and a target for avabuse. Solutions to this problem are to re-enter the world with a different nickname and avatar. Some worlds allow you to ignore the conversation of a particular person (you will not see anything they type, and their avatar may even disappear). If that person knows they have been ignored, they may move on, or become more offensive. The use of ignoring is controversial and should be used with care.
Many people choose different names and personas in each world, which we would hope does not give them a multiple personality disorder! I recommend that you consider using the same nickname in all the virtual worlds you inhabit. This will help people recognize you and establish more of a distinguished presence.
Another way to establish your persona in a world is to set up your profile. In their profiles, users have the opportunity to express their true selves or their fantasy selves. So, don't believe everything at face value, just like in the real world.
And remember, if you are ignoring someone you consider abusive, they can still find out about you through your profile. You may not want to put your home address and phone number in your profile for this reason.
All text chat environments have problems when there are many distinct conversations going on at once. These distinct conversations are often called "threads". On top of all this, there can be delays of up to ten seconds before what you type gets to the other people. It is like everyone in mission control trying to talk to a group of astronauts on the moon through one radio link confusing!
With threads, sometimes your conversations can get "out of synch". For example, you can ask a question and be asked a question and answer the other person's question and get the answer to your question all out of order. The first rule of chat netiquette is be patient and if you are uncertain, ask again. I have seen people take great offense when they have misinterpreted something out of order. Here is a good embarrassing example I experienced recently:
Me: "Are you a veteran here"
Other person: "Yes, is the world running slowly today?"
Other person: "Am I boring you?"
Other person: "I am sorry about that.. goodbye!"
The Desire for Privacy
If an area is just too full of people to be able to converse, or if you want a private conversation, you have several options:
- Suggest to your conversation partner that you move to another, less crowded chat room or area
- Set up a private chat with the person if the virtual world supports a whisper, ESP or telegram system
- Ignore other people's conversation, leaving only the people you wish to hear. Note that using the Ignore feature can be misinterpreted, as people who may want to talk to you will get no answer and might deduce that you have ignored them!
- Set up a friends or buddy list (if the world supports it) and carry on chat with people you invite into the group.
Remember that no conversation on-line is truly private. You never know if someone is lurking and listening!
Be careful how you break off a conversation. It is always advisable to say goodbye, or give a reason why you have to go or say "brb" (be right back) rather than leaving some hanging.
Netiquette Tips from the Virtual World Experts
This section contains words of wisdom from Netiquette experts in various virtual world environments. You will find that most of these tips are generally applicable to any virtual world. We will look at AlphaWorld Etiquette from Dataman, Worldschat Pro Social Guide, Palace Community Standards, and Netiquette in Black Sun Passport Worlds.
AlphaWorld Etiquette from Dataman
The most important thing to remember in AlphaWorld (and other Active Worlds) is that this is not a video game! This is a shared reality. The emphasis here is on shared. Because this reality is shared, and because a lot of people take virtual reality as seriously as the "real world," it makes sense to act in AlphaWorld the way you act anywhere else. The rights and privacy of others should be respected. There are certainly differences between AlphaWorld and "non-virtual reality," some of which we'll discuss below... but we should generally aim to make virtual reality simulate the "non-virtual," at least to a point. This is not sage wisdom, it is just a first attempt to lay out some guidelines for behavior.
Speaking With Others
Not everyone can or will talk. Just as anywhere else, not everyone is willing to talk to you in AlphaWorld. To complicate things, since you can't see anyone's real body, you don't even know if they are physically present at the computer. They may have gone off to satisfy a call of nature, or they may have had to answer the phone...or they may be busy in any number of other ways. Perhaps they have switched to another window to answer incoming mail and AlphaWorld is not visible to them at the moment. In any case, don't be offended if someone won't talk to you. They might not even be present!
If you leave the computer, leave the scene.
Conversely, it does make sense that if you have to leave AlphaWorld mentally for some reason, you should make that fact obvious. If you are talking to a group of people, You might just say "BRB (be right back) answering phone." Even if you're not engaged in a conversation, if you're going to be away for a while, think about flying straight up a bit so that you're somewhat removed from any social scene.
Profanity is unacceptable.
This seems pretty self-explanatory.
Watch out for "text overlay."
At present, it is difficult to speak in groups. This is because of the way text is rendered for conversation-if two people speak at once and they are near each other, the text may "overlay" on the screen so that no one can read either person's message.
If you see a group of people in a circle conversing, most likely they are in "third person" view. Try not to barge in and disrupt the circle, overlaying the text of people in the group. They may have taken a while to get to the right positions for a group conversation.
The rest of the rules for civilized social behavior as far as conversation goes are pretty much the ones you should already know from life in general. Rude behavior is pretty much the same everywhere, let's avoid it if possible.
Active Worlds Building Etiquette
Where and How to Build
Eventually we'll probably have zoning rules in AlphaWorld, and some way for a person to lay claim to a piece of land so others can't trash it. For now, it's up to us to respect the rights of others and keep the world reasonable.
The more densely you build, the harder it is for the scene to render.
If you have a high-end machine, keep in mind that some folks who come to visit or just walk by may have more trouble rendering things efficiently than you do. If you build densely and/or use animated objects such as waterfalls, TVs, and flames, this may cause people with lower-end machines to choke up in the area. Sound can also tremendously slow down some people. This is especially important when building near Ground Zero, or a heavily-used roadway. Try to keep dense building, sounds, and animation to a minimum, at least where others are likely to get bogged down by them.
AlphaWorld as a world rather than some kind of personal game:
Don't try to build a house (or anything else) in someone else's yard. In the "real" world, if you put junk in someone else's yard they at least have the option of picking it up and throwing it away. Currently, nobody in AlphaWorld can delete objects belonging to others, no matter here they are! Please don't leave flames, mailboxes, newsstands, or anything in any area other than your own.
Worlds Chat Pro Social Guide
Worlds Chat was the first 3D Internet avatar world, and much of the social etiquette developed there spread to other worlds.
Social etiquette in digital space: it isn't any different there!
Before you start addressing someone check the chat box to see if that person is not already deep in conversation with someone else. Rules of social etiquette and politeness apply here as they do in the real world. Remember, treat others as you would have them treat you. You must be extra careful not to offend because you know even less about the people you are talking to, their opinions, culture, or even language.
English is not the only language of Humanity!
If you encounter someone using a language other than English, respect them. If you know that language, or even just a few words, it would be polite to use their language. Do not assume automatically that they know English. Nine out of ten people on the planet do not speak English as their first language. English is the lingua franca in computers and on the Internet, but why not let virtual worlds be enriched by many cultures and languages of humanity? I have encountered Koreans chatting by keying in versions of Korean characters using the western alphabet. This was tedious, but seemed to serve them (they could not use their own Chinese-style pictographic characters). Instead they used made up English words that sounded like Korean characters. This is completely indecipherable except to experts in the technique, so I just left them in peace. I have yet to see Navajo spoken in there, but any day now ?
In Worlds Chat you will bump into walls. However, you will pass through other avatars. This was a practical design decision made by the builders of Worlds Chat, but it poses some interesting social challenges. One obvious rule of avatar body language is, don't block someone else's view if they are trying to have a conversation. A general rule of thumb says that it is OK to pass through someone's avatar, if you do it by accident (and apologize), or do it quickly and don't linger in another's space. In other virtual worlds (such as Onlive Traveler), avatar bodies make contact and bump each other some distance, which provides for some interesting social dynamics.
Muting someone: when you just cannot stand it anymore
If you have just lost patience with someone, you can click on their avatar and select Mute. This means that you will not see any text they enter. Use Mute only in extreme cases, as ignoring someone in this way is a form of rudeness in the real world. The muted person will still be able to see what you say, unless they choose to mute you in return. A muted person will not know that they have been muted, however.
In Worlds Chat you are anonymous, that is, no-one knows who you really are or knows your e-mail address. Anonymity can make obnoxious users less responsible or shy users more outgoing. This is a big issue for people who make and use virtual worlds.
Big type and good chatiquette
If you are having trouble reading the chat or are using a demo of Worlds Chat, you might want to select Options and Font to change to bigger characters. If you are really studying the chat, you will notice that it is not just all gibberish, but has its own conventions and structure, for example:
- People use abbreviations such as, "i could show u." The use of lowercase letters can be a real time-saver, although it can be considered bad manners to type someone's name without capitalizing the first letter.
- People type in UPPERCASE when they want emphasis; this is called SHOUTING, and can be considered rude if overused.
- People use special symbols, such as LOL, which means Laughing Out Loud. These symbols come from the pure text chat and MUD environments, and can be cryptic. See the glossary at the back of this book for a guide to these expressions. The use of emoticons (special combinations of characters like : ) to mean a smile, or ; ) to mean a wink) is very common and a good practice. The glossary lists commonly used emoticons.
- People say proper good-byes. This can be a problem in cyberspace because sometimes conversation is broken off without a good-bye. You can be talking with someone and suddenly they teleport out of your sight. Sometimes someone's avatar stays in front of you but they stop talking, this could be due to problems they are having with their software or connection, or maybe they just had to step away for a second or two (nature does call, occasionally). In this situation, just ask if they are still there and wait a little while to see if they answer.
What to do About Those Nasty Avapunks
Worlds Chat, like any open social setting, on the Internet or in real life, can fall prey to people with bad intentions. You can encounter people who use coarse or offensive language, or SHOUT (typing in uppercase), but they are almost always the exception. How best to handle these avapunks? It is a good rule of thumb to ask them politely to stop, walk away if they don't, and if they follow, take it as a game, try to lose them in the hallways of Worlds Chat. If they keep after you, and it really bothers you, exit Worlds Chat and come back in later. Chances are you will not see the same abuser more than once.
Community to the rescue
I have seen time and time again how the community of avatars responds to stop what they see as unacceptable behavior. Avatars will crowd around a misbehaving member and ask that person to stop what they are doing.
In the early days of Worlds Chat, in May 1995, I was in the hub when there was an avatar which was simply not moving and communicating. People gathered their avatars around her, some saying, "I think she's a bot," (a robot) while others disagreed. In truth, this person could have been away from her computer or perhaps Worlds Chat had crashed and left her avatar hanging. Suddenly an aggressive avatar rushed over and started to pass back and forth through the disabled avatar. In Worlds Chat, you can pass through other people's avatars. This is not considered rude if you do it by accident or quickly, making sure you are not blocking a conversation. However, this kind of avatar abuse (also called avabuse or avattack) was different. Seeing this, the other users became very defensive, saying, "Hey you, you can't do that, that avatar belongs to a person, stop!" It was a fascinating insight if an object is associated with, or somehow embodies a person in our minds, we treat it differently.
Don't worry, no one can kill your avatar, and you cannot be excluded from Worlds Chat by anyone (no, this is not Doom).
Harassment in Worlds Chat (or when chat turns ugly)
Terry-NZ recently contributed this piece on harassment in Worlds Chat. You can find it at Sting's Place on the Web at http://sting.yrams.nl/harass.html. I have modified it slightly for length and accuracy to the current version of Worlds Chat.
As those of us who live there (well, spend most of our waking hours there) know, Worlds Chat is great place to socialize. Chatting can take many forms, ranging from humorous social banter to deep philosophical discussions. Intimate relationships can even develop, from a one-night stand of cybersex (wow!), to more serious and long-standing affairs.
Being an anonymous forum, Worlds Chat provides an opportunity to take on an alter-ego, and perhaps try things which the constraints of the real world would not allow. However, like the real world, there are certain patterns of behavior which are clearly anti-social and unacceptable. While such activities are uncommon at present, occasionally a small minority can inflict its ugly brand of humor on other users. It's possible that if these forms of behavior become common in chat, then many people may simply stop visiting. In a worst-case scenario Worlds Chat could become like some of the darker areas of the world's major cities...a hostile environment, visited only by roaming gangs of cyberpunks.
Cyberspace is often thought of as an equalizer, giving the powerful and the weak an equal voice. You can give 'em as much as you get, so to speak. Some virtual worlds, like chat rooms, have moderators, who can identify those users they feel are not meeting the community standards. Moderators can identify those users by their e-mail addresses or registration numbers and throw them off the chat channels. Worlds Chat is unmoderated, containing none of these mechanisms, so here it is all up to the community.
From time to time, any of us may experience an unpleasant time in Worlds Chat for a number of reasons. It could occur if you reject a proposal for cybersex (especially if you are female), and the proposer takes exception to the refusal. It could occur if you have won an argument, or if you've asked someone to stop acting like a jerk. It could happen simply because you are female (or at least have a female avatar).
Forms of harassment
Harassment seems to take three forms. These are listed in order of increasing seriousness.
Aggressive, obscene whispers, perhaps combined with the continual presence of the offender's avatar...usually right in front of your face! As you can't kick them in the you know where, the best policy may be to ignore them until they go away. They will soon tire of the game.
2. Shutting down your system
This can occur if the offender whispers many single letters or words to you repeatedly, in rapid succession. It certainly prevents you from talking to others, and if you have a minimum system (8MB), may even shut you down completely. A very vicious form of this can involve two people, where one sends the whispers while the other publicly denigrates you. Of course, you are unable to refute what is being said.
The best solution is to use the mute function to turn off the words from the offender, or whisper to your friends about what happened and let the offenders have it publicly before they can shut you up again. Hopefully, your friends will support you with this.
3. Logging on at a later date as you impersonation
This can be one of the most vindictive and malicious acts. Here, the offender takes your name and avatar, and visits people you know, gossiping and generally causing trouble. Often it's obvious to your friends that it's definitely not you, but sometimes the offender can be very subtle. They may even accuse their victim of harassment just to watch the fun. Having your own custom avatar may not be any guarantee of security either. It should be easy enough to take a screen dump of someone's avatar, and construct an identical one, which the offender then could use. Some may go to such lengths to pay you back for a perceived humiliation.
Reducing the risk
Nothing can be done to stop people from masquerading as you if they want to, but there are some ways to lessen the risk.
- If you have had an unsavory experience with someone, don't tell a new stranger too much about yourself until you get to know them reasonably well. It may be the offender collecting information to use against you later.
- If you think you might be talking to someone masquerading as a friend, test them with a few questions based on what you know about the other person. For example, if you know your friend has no kids you could say, "How's the baby?" If you get the reply "fine thanks," then you're talking to an impostor!
- Whisper any personal details to people. Don't make them public, you don't know who might be listening.
- If you know someone has been deliberately impersonating you, tell your friends, and put it on Sting's message board or any other public mail list or newsgroup about Worlds Chat.
Of course, people may use your avatar and name quite innocently especially, if the latter is common. Having a public female avatar with the a common name like Rebecca for example, is hardly going to be unique.
Worlds Chat Inc. is a free, anonymous, unmoderated venue. This is both its strength and weakness. It means we must all be responsible for moderating our own behavior and any anti-social behavior in others. In this way, we'll all enjoy the party!
Palace Community Standards
We are reproducing the Palace Community Standards courtesy of the good folks at the Palace. It's a great guide to how to behave and still have fun in the Palace (and in life).
After the interface explanations and IPTSCRAE examples are over, after you've become confident in your use of the Client software, and after all the tricks have been taught, there are still several important topics which cannot be brushed aside, all of which come down to the way people treat each other in The Palace.
As a new breed of endeavor somewhere between concrete art and abstract science, it is certain that the school of Virtual Environment Design still has a long way to go before it reaches anything approaching maturity. Unfortunately, the same can be said for a lot of people, even out here on the electronic frontier. It takes all kinds, right? Anyway, in your travels through the various worlds of The Palace it is not unreasonable to assume that you'll run into a few troublemakers. These people enjoy pushing others for a reaction, and their antics tend toward garden-variety spoofing and gutter-variety profanity. Alone or in small groups, these cyber-brats often hop from Room to Room, looking for new people to offend.
If you find yourself in such a situation, there are a number of things you can do to make it stop (and/or keep it from happening again), as you will see below. But because you do have real recourse to real solutions, you need to ask yourself whether this represents truly offensive behavior (i.e., such as most people would find offensive), or whether this person is simply making momentary use of a Palace feature in a unusually "creative" way. Sometimes that line can be hard to draw; even harder when your own emotions get into the equation.
It is important not to react in kind when confronted with rude or obnoxious behavior; nothing encourages it more. Rather, you should seek at first to distance yourself from the offending person. There's a lot of room out there, and plenty nicer people to hang out with. You can always sign off and come back later; disconnection is the better part of virtual valor. If the person persists in bothering you, open your Log (under File Menu)-it may help later to have a record of their exact words.
Of course, you can always call for divine intervention... At the Palace Mansion and in most Palace Sites, the Wizards and Gods are creative and dedicated people; they create virtual worlds in order to share enjoyable experiences with others like yourself, not to sink to the lowest levels of human behavior. And since they all want their Sites to be popular, it's in their interest to make sure people feel comfortable during their visit. Within their own Sites, Wizards and Gods are all-powerful; able to create and destroy Rooms, distribute and revoke passwords, and temporarily "Kill" or indefinitely "Ban" specific individuals (or entire Domains). If you feel that a certain individual is acting in such a way as to ruin the experience for others, let the local deities know about it. That might be all you need to do.
The Palace is not the first graphic multi-user domain ever created, but it is probably the least strict. Many powers possessed by the average Palace Member-painting, spoofing, nickname-changing, etc.-would be withheld for Wizards and Gods only on MUDs of other varieties. The way we decide to handle these powers determines to a great degree what kind of community we are. These powers have been given to all of us as a design decision on the part of The Palace, Inc., but it is important to remember that it's all software; should certain powers prove unmanageable or harmful, they may be crippled or removed entirely from subsequent versions.
In a way, the Palace can be seen as a massive, progressive social experiment in which we are all participating. For this reason, we invite you to participate in the "Community Standards" Discussion Group at: http://www.thepalace.com/discussion-groups.html
Please post your experiences, insights and suggestions for the benefit of all Palace Users.
Netiquette in Black Sun Passport Worlds
Here are some guidelines from the good folks at Black Sun about building a civil cybersociety.
If Someone Is Bothering You
If someone is offending you in any way, you have the option of ignoring them. This means you will. no longer see their avatar or any of the text they may write. To do this, highlight the offending party's name on the list of people and click on the Mute button. Use Mute as a last resort. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be if someone suddenly refused to acknowledge that you even existed!
Lurk before you leap
One of the few times virtual voyeurism is O.K. and actually encouraged. Listen in on what others are chatting about to get a general sense of how the regulars act. Once you understand a little of the lingo and tempo and topcs, go ahead and participate.
In real life, it can be daunting to go up to a group of people you don't know and say "Hi," but in avatar cyberspace that's the best way to get started. You'll find that the people are happy to greet you (even if you are a "newbie") and show you around.
Remember the human element
This is the Internet's (and life's) Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Imagine how you'd feel if you were in the other person's shoes. Stand up for yourself, but try not to hurt people's feelings. Don't forget that there is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person on the other side of that computer screen communicating through their keyboard, just as you are.
Think before you speak
Avatar cyberspace is a community, and like every community it has members of all ages, including minors. With this in mind, please try to refrain from obscene or offensive language. If you wouldn't say it in front of your mom, boss, or child, don't say it here. One of the joys of the Internet is that you can express yourself freely, explore strange new worlds, and boldly go where you've never gone before, but this should not be at the expense of the other community members' sensibilities.
Be careful when using sarcasm and humor
When you communicate electronically, often all you see is text on a computer screen. You don't have the opportunity to use facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice to communicate your meaning; words are all you've got, so be as clear as possible.
General Communication Tips
DON'T SHOUT! Typing in all capitals is the equivalent of yelling, so typing in mixed case is a softer touch.
Excerpts from The WELL Host Manual: Building Community Online
The WELL is one of the earliest and most successful virtual communities. In Appendix A of this book you can read more about The WELL. The following excerpts of The WELL Host Manual were writtne by John Hoag and revised by Gail Ann Williams, both of The WELL staff. These excerpts provide key insight into how to run a conference, which is The WELL's term for a themed discussion area in a text-supported virtual environment. Many of these principles are valuable for hosting events and discussions in avatar-based virtual communities. These excerpts are reproduced here with kind permission of The WELL.
What Exactly Does a Host Do?
The duties of a host fall within three broad categories:
- taking care of the technical aspects of the conference;
- stimulating participation;
- dealing with people.
The technical aspects of the conference are the simplest. The creative aspects of hosting are the most fun, the most work, and the most difficult to describe. A good host wants his or her conference to be an interesting place to visit. Whether that can best be achieved by active participation in the conference's topics or by simply staying out of the way is a decision only the host can make, depending on the style and mood of the conference. In most cases, shifting between active participation, and backing off to let the guests run with a conversation or provide support to one another, is the best ongoing strategy.
Some hosts do considerable research and present thought-provoking materials on a regular basis for participants to discuss. Other hosts let the conference milieu generate discussion material for itself. Some of the most successful low-key hosts keep lists of topic ideas in case their conference goes for a week or so with no new topics. In an older, larger conference, this is easily done by keeping lists of concepts that were discussed in old topics when those topics are retired and killed, and re-starting those conversations with the current participants. Many topics are timeless, and can be discussed again and again by newcomers who'd like to have a chance to describe their experiences. The nature of a conference will determine the proper role of its host. Some conferences are fairly self-sustaining while others need regular infusions of hostly enthusiasm, expertise or control.
Bear in mind that it's not merely interest in a particular subject or the opportunity to interact that draws people to a conference, but the quality of that interaction, the scope and setting of it, what kinds of topics are available, how they are introduced, and the tone which is set for the conference by its host.
The final broad category concerned with hosting is dealing with people. Over the years, a number of general rules of thumb have been noted which hosts may wish to consider when dealing with the marvelous, and sometimes troublesome, human species online. We'll take a look at some of them now.
Welcoming New Participants
Many hosts like to help people feel more at home in their conferences by welcoming them after their first arrival, either in email or in a topic set aside just for people to introduce themselves. On the other hand, some hosts feel that a welcome in email is too intrusive unless the visitor has actually posted something. And an "Introductions" topic is not appropriate for every conference.
One thing a host can be fairly sure of, however, is that nobody likes to go into a conference for the first time, post a response, then have it sit there without ever being acknowledged.
At the very least, as host, you will want to keep an eye out for postings by folks who have never responded in your conference before, and acknowledge their participation. Even a simple "Hello! Looking forward to learning more about your experiences..." or "Nice to see you here!" can mean the difference between someone feeling snubbed, and feeling like a welcomed participant in the conference. If a newcomer posts, "Hi, I'm a published expert on Foo," he or she may be waiting to be invited to open a topic about Foo, or about how to publish a book on Foo, feeling it is presumptuous to barge in. New users are frequently shy, or polite, and may be waiting for suggestions and cues on how to best participate in your conference.
Special Conference Rules
Some conference designs proceed upon special rules of one sort or another as part of their initial concept. If you have such rules in mind for your conference, think them through very carefully. Then think them through again!
Whatever rule you make, someone will eventually question it -- even if it is "no rules at all". The most casual glance at human history shows that humans love making, and arguing over, rules. Such argumentation can quickly get to the point where the main subject matter of a conference or topic is completely obscured in favor of heated arguments over rules, and it can be very destructive to the spirit of a conference. If the rules of a conference are in dispute, the best places to discuss them are in email, in the Hosts Conference, or in a special topic devoted to discussing your conference's guidelines.
There are, however, ways to avoid some of the more common rule-pitfalls. If you feel your conference needs a special rule, take care to consider its fairness before implementing it and try to imagine how it might be circumvented. Words are a malleable medium, and they can be made to say things by inference, innuendo, and ambiguity which are very hard to pinpoint. Suppose you had a conference in which you wanted everyone to be nice to each other, and you made a rule saying just that. You might have a difficult time enforcing it because language can be made to imply something unkind even while saying something ostensibly respectful. Excessive niceness, through hyperbole, can even convey an insult. However, calmly asking people to clarify whether an insult was actually meant is often a useful way to deal with this argumentative approach to expressing dissent or testing the rules.
By the same token, knock-down-drag-out arguments, especially those involving personal insults, are non-productive and can easily get to the point of dominating the interaction in discussions which might otherwise be, though perhaps controversial, potentially fruitful. Hosts can do a lot to keep the tone in their conferences positive by making general ground rules which encourage courteous argumentation, and with reminders, when necessary, to "attack the idea, not the person" and to "take personal disputes to email, please."
If a rule is inherent in, or indispensable to, the basic design or operation of your conference, be consistent in enforcing it. Avoid, like the plague, situations in which a rule applies to one person or group, and not to another. If your conference has a hard and fast rule, apply it always, not just when you feel like it. And most of all, abide by the rule yourself.
The following are excerpted from the Kerr Report, a report on Moderating Online Conferences produced by Elaine B. Kerr of the Computerized Conferencing and Communications Center at New Jersey Institute of Technology in February 1984. Emphasis added by WELL conferencing staff:
- Imposing too much structure early in the group's electronic life can be a mistake. Begin with a minimal amount of structure and allow the group process to evolve over time. Sanctioning people for entering items in the wrong conference or introducing topics that do not conform to the structure does not help them become comfortable communicating in this medium.
- Although complete control over the process is possible,* it is seldom desirable. While the general rule is to retain control over the meeting, in some conferences the leader is properly only a coordinator.
- Don't let the group lose sight of its objectives. Don't allow the more verbal members to dominate the group. Encourage the members to talk to each other rather than just to you as the leader, and not to lecture to a vague audience. React to the comments of others and encourage them to do the same. There is a need for explicit agreement and disagreement in this medium, since and non verbal cues (such as smiles and frowns) are absent.
- Use private messages (email or sends) as reminders, perhaps pointing to specific items about which you would like feedback, and for positive reinforcement, especially of early entries. Messages should be a regular supplement to the more public comments.
- Reinforce participation by thank you notes, to both individuals and the group. Compliment and praise.
- Stress the informality of this communications medium. Let people know that perfect grammar and typing are much less important than making their meaning clear.
- Gently correct the "Misinformed".
WELL staffers smile and shake their heads in disagreement with the idea that complete control of anything is possible, especially online where users have access to email to carry on subtext to the conference dialog. The point that the degree of control will vary depending on the purpose of the gathering is an important one, however.
To Solo-Host Or Co-Host?
Solo hosting gives the host relative freedom over the specifics of the conference without ongoing need of regular consultation and agreement for one's actions. Conferences hosted by a single individual sometimes, though not always, have a more coherent sense of direction or guidelines. And the potential for disagreements as to how the conference should be run is obviated.
Co-hosting is a good way to get a small or lackluster conference going again, since the hosts can talk with one another. The experienced host can pass along what he or she has learned to a newer host, or two new hosts can offer one another support and feedback whiles learning. It's a way to team an expert in a subject matter with an expert in using this medium. And it can be a rewarding and entertaining experience, especially if you and your co-host share a common vision of what you'd like the conference to be, if you communicate well, and if both of you are willing to put equal effort into the undertaking, or come to an agreement about who will take major responsibility.
It can come in very handy when one of you needs to be absent from the WELL for a vacation or due to some other circumstance, or if the conference requires more work than one person can handle and you need to split up the chores. If you are careful to be clear on when you may act without checking in with one another, and when a hostly huddle to figure out the next move is required, a good co-hosting team can be a genuine pleasure.
How Much Time Does it Take?
The amount of time it takes to host a conference depends largely on how many postings the conference gets. A large, busy conference can take an hour or more each day simply to keep abreast of, and more to maintain. A small, relaxed conference with just a few new posts a day is hardly any work at all. The type of conference makes a difference, as well. Some conferences, by nature, need nearly constant supervision or stimulation, while others can sail along for days at a time without need of any hostly attention beyond simple reading of topics. Your style as host has a big effect on the time you put into it, also. A very active and involved host may spend hours not only online, but offline, as well, preparing materials for the conference. If you want to focus on one subject area, and lighten your hosting load in a high volume conference, you may be able to split hosting duties with a co-host.
Conferences which lend themselves to heated argumentation take much more time to host than relatively placid, happy conferences. Conferences which offer software libraries can require considerable time in organizing, virus-checking and maintaining those libraries.
So, you see, there's no one answer to "How much time does it take?" It all depends.
Final Hosting Guidelines
We'd like to leave you with a great list of ideals to keep in mind as you construct your own approach to hosting. Best of luck in your hosting endeavors.
Principles of Cyberspace Innkeeping by John Coate, Copyright 1993, used by permission
- The currency is human attention. Work with it. Discourage abuse of it.
- You are in the relationship business.
- Welcome newcomers. Help them find their place.
- Show by example.
- Strive to influence and persuade.
- Have a big fuse. Never let the bottom drop out.
- Use a light touch. Don't be authoritarian.
- Affirm people. Encourage them to open up.
- Expect Ferment. Allow some tumbling.
- Leave room in the rules for some judgment calls.
- Think "tolerance."
- Encourage personal and professional overlap.
- Don't give in to tyranny by individual or group.
- Encourage face to face encounters.
- Help it be "woman-friendly."
- It isn't just you: let the people shape it.
- Be part of the community.
Hosting and Community Building Resources at The WELL
Resources open to the Internet include a complete host manual and extensive links which can be found at: http://www.well.com/confteam/> and essays on community building are located at a gopher site: gopher://gopher.well.com/
We invite you to share your community building experiences in the WELL's conferences. Ongoing resources for all WELL members include:
- The Virtual Communities Conference (shortcut: go vc)
- The Hosts' Conference (shortcut: go hosts)
Membership registration is available from the WELL home page at: http://www.well.com/.
Words to the Wise from Wendy Sue Noah: CyberYenta
Wendy Sue Noah, CyberYenta
The following two articles come courtesy of Wendy Sue Noah, who specializes in socialware. Wendy Sue is a renowned matchmaker of virtual worlds, formerly the Ambassador of Match.com, the largest Internet matchmaking service, and now a Content Producer / Marketing Specialist at WorldsAway/Fujitsu Software Corporation.
The first article was written primarily for women. However, it is relevant for any new virtual community user for personal safety measures to be aware of as you enter a whole new world!
First Article: Women and Safety with Online Communities
As the Outreach Coordinator of Match.Com, an on-line matchmaking service with over 130,000 members, I interacted closely with female members and their concerns about overall safety on the Internet. I am honored to have this opportunity to offer you some practical advice on security measures on the Internet, especially for women, and in particularly, in virtual worlds or in a virtual community. It is in these spaces that we feel safest, which is precisely why we should be protective of giving away too much information about yourself.
Just like in the real world (RW), there are many genuine and intelligent people on-line-folks who enjoy exploring the vast social network made available to us through the Internet. Many whom are hoping to make new friends with shared interests, to find romance, or to expand their business network(s). There are also users who are not as truthful, and who hide behind their email address in order to be or to achieve whatever it is that they set their minds to.
The Internet exceeds any prior communication medium with its capabilities to link users worldwide with the simple touch of a keyboard. This is exactly why we must be attentive to our on-line environment and protective of our personal identity. With the proper precautions, the Internet is an effective and stimulating arena for broadening your worldly horizons. Though (female) intuition is essential, why not take a few added measures to make your cyber-experience as safe and rewarding as possible?
As you would in the RW, allow time and physical space to disclose the true intentions of your new email penpal. When the time comes for a face to face meeting, be sensible and plan to meet at a safe public place, such as a cafe' or restaurant.
On the Internet, like in the RW, you choose your own scene. If a woman goes to a singles' bar, she is more likely to be "hit-on" than if she visits an art gallery. Similarly, if a woman enters a live chat area (IRC) titled "Hot and Horny", she is apt to encounter more unsolicited advances than if she chose a more secure cyber-environment, like WorldsAway's Dreamscape.
For example, services such as Match.Com have been developed to provide professionals with an anonymous, fun and interactive way to meet new correspondences, friendships and a potential partner. As well, you can find chat groups on a myriad of topics that fascinate you, and encounter people with similar interests. Same with USENET groups (my personal favorite is alt.cuddle, where users give you virtual hugs and real support). There is an open-ended universe through the Internet... of diverse places, distinctive faces, and virtual spaces to discover... so take it step-by-step and watch where you cyber-walk.
The most significant security factor, I believe, is to conceal any of your "personal" information until you are absolutely sure with whom you are dealing with, even in a professional situation. By offering your full name, for instance, you may license an inquisitive someone enough information to easily locate your home address or phone number, especially if this person is aware of your geographic locale. Also, you can gain leverage if your email acquaintance reveals any personal information first. Use it to seek out common points of reference.
Be aware and pay close attention to any discrepancies that may transpire during your virtual interaction. For example, if your email acquaintance reveals a dislike for sexist behavior, then later makes a sexist joke, slur or comment, you should (definitely) question their authenticity. Consistency is the key!
Also, be attentive to the fact that when and if you send a suggestive message to a new acquaintance, a friend, a colleague, or a client, it can be re-sent and posted anywhere and everywhere, and can become public news by the end of the day! So be sure to save your most intimate details or comments to face-to-face or telephone interactions.
As William Shakespeare has so wisely stated, "Love all, trust few." With these precautions in mind, explore the tremendous opportunities of cyberspace and have fun. The Internet is on our side, as it does not (yet) possess a cyber-ceiling, like the corporate world's glass-ceiling, and has unlimited first amendment rights, so let's use it to our creative, professional and social advantage!
The second article is an overview of the effect of community and virtual community in our daily lives, as well as a visionary perspective as to where all of this is going to lead us into the 21st Century.
Second Article: The Transformation of Community in Avatar-based virtual reality
Only a few generations ago, community had been an integral part of life for most of the population, whether through the alliance with their (extended) families or through their geographically convenient neighborhood, local church, exclusive clubs, support groups, etc. Though this still exists today, it has become more of a rarity, especially for the Baby Boomers and Gen X-er's.
First of all, let's give some parameters around what the word community means, especially since it's recently become a very loose buzzword. In the book, "Creating Community Anywhere", by Carolyn R. Shaffer and Kristen Anundsen, they define community as a dynamic whole that emerges when a group of people:
- participate in common practices;
- depend upon one another;
- make decisions together;
- identify themselves as part of something larger than their individual relationships;
- commit themselves for the long term to their own and the group's well-being.
Essentially, people today are fragmented and separated from their family, constantly searching for kinship and genuine connection. Today, almost one quarter of US households consist of people living alone! As well, it is customary for singles and families to have little or no contact with their physical neighbors.
Community is no longer a natural progression for many of us, though we all share a very basic need for that type of harmonious connection . What other forces hold people back, then, from developing a strong community within their city or town?
Time (or lack of) is a significant factor. There are the double-income families, the full-time employed single parents, and the single people who are concerned with basic needs, like financial security. As corporations downsize, the work load is more demanding than ever. Time has groomed itself as a concept that we cannot seem to grasp; one that is continuing to escape us somehow. It is a constant juggling act to balance work, family, social, and the spiritual aspects of our lives. Basically, we are all in a scramble to live a more balanced life within our own nucleus of our own ephemeral world. As self-centered as it may seem, it is true. Most of us are in a survival mode. To make ends meet means that we are doing OK. What about what really matters, like strengthening our minds and hearts through invaluable time with others who share similar interests and passions; time spent to build an indispensable community.
In the present day, therefore, it is not unusual for people to have lost a sense of inclusion and belonging, and as a result, drift into a vortex of loneliness and isolation. By ceasing to identify with like-minded individuals in a customary and enriching manner, social and personal ills are continuing to evolve at an extortionate rate, such as an imminent sense of national "spiritual homelessness", drug abuse, violence, depression, teen suicide, addiction, eco-deterioration, etc.
That is why there is a extraordinary need for reliable communities. Communities not only help to improve one's mental and physical health, but can also provide one with a sense of belonging that is bigger than the "self". That is where the proverb "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" rings true. Another example is the motto for the Business Partnership for Peace: " If you think you can't change the world by yourself, join some people who agree."
This brings us to the emergence of the conscious community which incorporates many of the social aspects and functionality of past ones, yet transcends to new levels by emphasizing the member's needs for personal expression, growth and transformation. It's more about a gathering of akin who may not be physical neighbors, or as we say in our cyber-lingo, the rise of communities-of-interest as opposed to communities-of-convenience.
So, where can we find a place (or space) where people are connecting with other kindred folks on a regular basis, without investing too much time and energy, while building upon a real authentic community? Follow me into the next millennium
We can now enter the medium where there are no physical boundaries - the virtual 3-dimensional (as well as 2-D and 21/2-D) worlds in which you beam in with a graphical embodiment of yourself called an avatar and explore a whole new realm. Imagine being able to form alliances with like-minded individuals, from all over the world, by the touch of a keyboard stroke? The possibilities have no limits. Welcome to virtual space!
Current virtual communities such as MOO's , MUD's (predominantly fantasy-driven), live chat, USENET
groups, etc., are just beginning to tantalize the social appetite for virtual gatherings. That is because they are solely text based, and is like reading an email in real time. Today, with avatar-based virtual worlds, we are not only communicating with each other through text, but through visuals and for some, through voice. As a very visual and oral culture, this adds an extraordinary element to the reality of virtual reality.
These virtual spaces can be embracing and immersive (as you will see for yourself!) and is currently allowing people to meet others from around the world who have similar backgrounds and passions, or who have important information to share with you, all while at the comforts of work or home, easily and accessibly. You don't have to get all dressed up with no place to go! It is a impeccable place for busy professionals to visit in order to develop a social life, build support networks, build community, and to expand their worldly horizons.
Caz's guide to Netiquette
Author of The Joy of Cybersex, Caz (find out about it at: http://www.omen.com.au/~cazp/book.htm).
The Joy of Cybersex, Carol Parker, Paperback: 198pp, Mandarin, ISBN 1263305696
An often astonishing and totally unblushing account of one woman's encounter with love, sex and romance on the Internet. If you have ever wondered what really goes on behind the brightly glowing monitors that are the gateway to a virtual world, you will find this true story absolutely compelling.
Come with me on a journey in Cyberspace; through the wonder of discovering a fascinating new world, the tragedy of chat addiction and marriage breakdown, the struggle to overcome the grip this world had on me and finally the joy of meeting my virtual lover in 'real life'.
The Joy of Cybersex also features:
- A comprehensive glossary and easy to follow explanations of how the Internet works.
- Transcripts of cybersex encounters.
- A guide to the most popular chat programs available.
- Advice and resources that can help beat chat addiction.
A lot has been written about how one should behave on the net, there are rules for newsgroups, Email, IRC and various other groups. As this book is about chatting here are a few essentials to get you started in a virtual world.
Your first time on any chat room can be a little daunting, especially if you land in a busy one or with a group of people who know each other very well. I recall my first time, I didn't say a word except a small "hi" (lowercase even!) and "wow" and "cool" I felt like a complete dork, but later I was to realize that if people are busy talking they are not likely to notice you anyway.
Don't panic. If you feel lost just sit back, relax for a bit and lurk. Listen and learn, there is no shame in sitting quietly at a party. So why not in a chat room? Whatever you do don't resort to being obnoxious just to get attention...
In Cyberspace no one knows you have halitosis so don't take it personally if people don't talk to you right away. A simple "Hi, I'm new" will usually be enough to check whether anyone in the room is interested in talking. If you get no response you can wait and try again or move on.
If no one in the room is talking they are probably involved in private conversations, please don't try to interrupt, if you receive no response to your first greeting, leave them in peace. I personally try to tell newcomers to a room that I am busy whispering with something by saying something like "sorry, we may be a bit boring, we are having a private talk".
One of the biggest mistakes people make when entering a chat program for the first time, especially the graphical ones, is to treat it like a video game. "Oh, it's just a game, these people are just on the computer", whilst this can be a useful attitude to have if you are offended by someone else's behavior (it helps take the sting out of it) Don't use it as an excuse to be offensive or insensitive yourself. You may see only words and/or pictures on a screen but they are being shared by real people with real feelings - just like you.
Don't be afraid to politely ask for help it can be one of the easiest ways to start a conversation but PLEASE read the help file if it is available. Try not to be put off by a negative response it may just be that you are the 50th person to enter the room and say "How do I register" and you caught someone at a bad time (Yes I'm guilty of that one too!).
Be patient. If you hang around often enough people will start to greet you just because they recognize your name, people you've only seen a few times will start greeting you like a long lost friend. Before you know it you have joined the community. Enjoy!