March 15, 2015

"Of forums and websites"

One particular model railway forum is celebrating its tenth birthday today, and I felt, having been passed a link to a thread on said forum, that some right of reply was needed today.

Over the ten year period of that model railway forum - whose name I will not give as I have no intention of adding to it in any constructive way in future - has seen lots of very positive, very welcome developments, in addition to some lovely moments of support and genuine help for others in need or distress.

I feel that the early and mid years of that forum were its best, forming a cohesive atmosphere where modellers and collectors alike were able to indulge in debates and discussions about modelling. It was a positive atmosphere and many positive things happened.

However, all of this positive energy came, not from one man (as has been intimated strongly) but from a large group of individuals, who, time and again put their own money into the coffers to keep that forum running and to support its creator in the original intention of making a decent forum for the discussion of and development of model railways.

To that, I have this to say to the current management.

You should not forget where you have come from, and the individuals which have helped you along the way: you should be humble, and respectful, and whatever you may think of people now, remember that every single modeller who shared their work with you helped get you where you are today.

You should be grateful for the help and support you have had, and the fact that people were willing to share their work freely with you, in the knowledge that they were genuinely helping others and not contributing directly to a corporate entity.

You should be grateful and be publicly grateful for the monetary support that many individuals - even those with not a lot of cash at the best of times - have donated directly to you in order to pay for the facility you now manage on behalf of a business.

You should also be mindful of the fact that labelling those - and all of those - who have left your forum as "crazies" and making asides such as this in your anniversary thread - does you no favours.

In fact, being the bigger man and paying tribute, not to the forum software you have used over the years, but to those who have helped you get where you are, would have put you up a few estimations in many people's views.

It might have gone some way to perhaps alleviating many of the complaints and concerns that have been put directly to the management and owners of said forum. In fact, dare I say an olive branch and some humility would have gone a long way to, if not healing wounds, then continuing down a path where mutual respect and civility could have been the order of the day.

In short, it would have been the right thing to do, and you would have reaped many benefits from it.

Now, for my part, I am one of those individuals who supported the forum in question in its early days through to its formative mid years before the takeover. Last year I was "moderated" for various reasons, one of which was for being, and I quote directly, "polite with intent".

Despite many attempts to assess what exactly that means, and what comments in question were "breaking rule 9", I was left with little to go on and understandably frustrated with the process and the manner in which moderating action had been taken.

After much discussion over a six week period with a senior member of the editorial team, I chose to walk away completely and have done so, save for tying up a few loose ends here and there where others had asked for my help or I felt I should do the right thing and say a few words.

I made several requests in my dialogue with that senior member (who I feel was doing an admirable job in light of the rock and hard place scenario he had been placed into, in my view unfairly by the other staff member), the details of which I was asked to not divulge publicly, so I will not.

I respect the confidentiality of that agreement though I understand and have been provided proof by others that this is not the case on the other side.

Doing the right thing is not just about looking at things all from your own point of view. Looking at both sides of the story and making a balanced, and if possible, as unbiased as possible decision based on the facts of the matter, is doing the right thing.

When you are the head of a forum, or a magazine, or a website, you have a duty of care to your consumers that you act in an appropriate fashion and with professional behaviour. If your customers have concerns and air these, in whatever fashion, it is for you to rise above it and present a professional air.

I do not have any regrets in walking away from that forum, and in fact my modelling has not suffered from it. In fact, by keeping to my blog and on Facebook, my modelling has improved in quality and in its breadth to the extent that I have a new layout taking shape with many new interesting models and projects to be run on it.

I am happiest being able to contribute in small ways elsewhere, not least MREmag whose three day publishing per week suits me down to the ground. I enjoy writing in to the letters page and debating with people there. It is good fun and a number of very useful posts have been made in response.

Far from sending the "crazies" away to another location of the inter web, I find that MREmag has a very active and very knowledgeable number of readers and contributors; and Phil Parker's calm editorial style puts it above a number of other sites. Long may it continue.

For those who may not have visited MREmag, please do so and enjoy reading it.

Until next time.

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