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Re: [ga] Message from the Chair - List Rules

At 11:44 PM 2/6/2000 +0100, Roberto Gaetano wrote:
>The difference of opinion is about where to draw the line.

This is a very frustrating thread to read and a painful topic to discuss.

As well it should be.

Roberto and Harald have done an excellent job of trying to design a 
mechanism that balances painful tradeoffs.  There are a number of 
quite-separate issues to consider.

What follows is longer and more pedantic than I would like, but I believe 
this topic needs a comprehensive review:

Previous actions

         Except in terms of establishing a history of problems with certain 
posters, discussion of the pros or cons about previous list operation needs 
to be entirely separated from the current/new policy and operation.  To 
that end, I'll not discuss the past here. The rest of the history might be 
worthy of extensive discussion, but separately from the question of the 
current policy and its implementation.

The Problem

         Internet development has been done with open, unfiltered mailing 
lists.  If a recipient did not like a pattern of participation, they were 
free to filter notes.  This scheme is quite appealing to anyone believing 
in individual responsibility and loathing institutional intervention.  It 
also worked just fine... until recently.

         The Net is much larger, now, and the "dynamic variance" of 
participant behavior is vastly wider.  We regularly get people whose 
problematic behavior cannot be trained away.  We regularly get people who 
clearly suffer serious psychological disturbances of various sorts.  For 
some lists, these people provide a stream of input that has the same effect 
as mounting an explicit denial of service attack.

         The problem is exacerbated by a lack of consistent or helpful 
response to the disruptive posters.  Shunning is the only recourse that has 
any chance of being effective, and for some not even that will 
work.  However many participants suffer from too-good a heart and a hope 
that the unfortunate souls can be salvaged.  Hence they respond to 
them.  Responding encourages the disrupters and responding takes additional 
mailing list bandwidth.  So the dynamic  variance does not just add 
participants who are unable to be constructive participants, it adds more 
people who are unable to learn how to deal with the disrupters.

         The result is a general exodus of interested participants who are 
not willing to deal with the extremely low percentage of meaningful content 
and frequently high bandwidth consumption.  This dramatically distorts the 
makeup of the participation list.

Basic Mechanisms

         Having everyone receive all mail -- the 'do nothing' alternative 
-- causes the deprivation of service attack to succeed, pure and simple.  A 
point that is often missed is that all that noise does result in many 
people leaving the list, because the signal to noise ratio is so poor.

         Individual filtering by recipients is an emotionally appealing 
mechanism, because it leaves the choice to fix the problem up to each 
participant.  Alas, it is a solution that does not scale up with the 
Internet.  It has two problems that have become major in the current 
environment: One is that it continues to permit list pollution and 
distraction.  The second is that it isn't effective when those "triggering" 
the distractions get responses.  (Person A is a nut case, so you filter 
them.  Person B is often constructive but does not choose to filter Person 
B, so you now start receiving messages fro Person B that respond to Person 
A.)  So some participants try to have serious discussion and others just 
add noise, with no real control mechanisms over the ratio.

         List-based filtering moves the problem upstream.  If it is done 
properly -- yes, a big if -- the signal to noise ratio should get (much) 
better.  Having a parallel, unfiltered distribution list which is part of 
the archive makes sure that a) those feeling the need to read the noise 
can, and b) the public record is complete.

Default list

         Having the filtered list as secondary, with those wishing 
filtering required to take special action, means that the noise-makers 
predominate.  The burden to fix this is placed on each individual 
participant, which is almost the same as asking them to do the filtering; 
and we have already seen that that does not work.

         So for any meaningful effect, the default must be the filtered 
list, with those wishing unfiltered being the ones required to take special 

The process

         Defining the filtering process, posting notices about it, etc. can 
and should be done in an open and documented manner.  Having a 
pseudo-judicial appeal process should not be done, since it eliminates the 
benefit of the filtering.  That is it delays implementation of the filter.

         The only way the filtering can work is by choosing a person to be 
keeper of the filters. They need to be accountable for their choices, but 
after the fact, not before.

Freedom of Speech

         The offended cry that filtering violates freedom of speech ignores 
the fact that that freedom is not absolute.  Certainly not in the U.S. Even 
better is the apparent lack of awareness that "freedom of speech" has 
extremely varied interpretations around the world, as does "democracy".

         Consequently, absolutist, non-negotiable positions on this topic 
suggest that the holder of the position is more interested in an abstract 
concept than in having the working group progress.

         Making progress requires making compromise and looking for a 
reasonable balance among competing and difficult goals, constraints and 


Dave Crocker  <dcrocker@brandenburg.com>
Brandenburg Consulting  <www.brandenburg.com>
Tel: +1.408.246.8253,  Fax: +1.408.273.6464
675 Spruce Drive,  Sunnyvale, CA 94086 USA

Gong Xi Fa Cai   /  Selamat Tahun Baru Cina

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