Saturday, July 19, 2014

My ideal mailing list administrator...

Hi all,

First off, like my friend Alex Hall, I've officially retired from the
BrailleNote list. After going through several spam sagas (crashing
Eloquence, curse words, attacks on members, etc.), I and Alex decided to
retire and hand our batons to the next generation of BrailleNote
enthusiasts. As of July 2014, I'm still on the list, answering questions,
offering opinion pieces and guiding our new admins on doing their job.

Now that I have one less list to manage, I have more time to concentrate on
my interests, including course preparations, NVDA development and what not.
At the same time, I've been thinking about the subject of this post: what is
my ideal list administrator like? In my view, an ideal list administrator
should be an approachable expert, a good communicator between groups, a good
representative of a list, be gentle when dealing with troublesome members
and willing to sacrifice, even it means stepping down from the leadership
position when needed.

First, a list administrator should be an expert, or knows about a product or
a service in a way that allows him or her to teach it to a new user. I
should add, an approachable expert that is willing to go to lengths to
explain a concept to a new user until the user has solid grasp of a concept,
even this means communicating offlist and in the middle of the night. It is
better to have at least one approachable expert on a list (a person that a
new user or the list can trust to provide answers in a friendly way) than a
group of experts who are doing their thing (it is not okay to ignore
requests from a new member, in my opinion).

In addition to being an expert, a list administrator should be a good
communicator. Many people have adjusted to Twitter talk - that is, shortened
writings which are often quite descriptive but does not convey their
thoughts completely. I don't mean that all Twitter users (including myself)
are bad at communicating their thoughts - we have a number of great
communicators using Twitter to convey their thoughts. In terms of mailing
lists, what I mean by great communicator is this: being polite and
professional, even to a troublemaker (after all, as long as a person is a
member of a mailing list, the person is part of a group, whether or not he
or she is a moderator or a member).

Being polite means being gentle to all, including troublesome members. In my
experience on various mailing lists, members put more confidence in a
moderator who is gentle and willing to settle the matter politely with a
troublemaker. First, the members in question would feel honored in that even
the list leader understands them, and is more likely to not trouble the list
(there are exceptions). Second, other members would see that even moderators
are vulnerable, thus putting their support behind the moderators as they
carry out their duties. Third, the administrators are discharging the most
important duty: peacemakers, for which the trouble is just one lesson for
them to learn as they gain experience.

In addition to being polite, ideal list administrators should remember that
they are some of the prominent representatives of the mailing lists (the
others are members), which demands professional conduct. A list without a
professional administrator (one who is a polite expert, friendly, offers
solutions to disputes and knows how to stop off-topic threads kindly) is a
doomed list (sorry for the word usage here). In contrast, more new users are
bound to join a list run by one or more professional administrators and
learn from the experts (the administrators and current members) and are more
likely to recommend the list to others. Thus my emphasis about admins being
list representatives: a person who looks at joining the list would not only
look at the content of the list, but also would take into account the
conduct of its leaders, hence my opinion that admins are good
representatives of a mailing list.

Lastly, an ideal administrator should be willing to sacrifice. This may
involve time (saying up some nights to resolve conflicts between members),
ambition (listening to the list members and follow their suggestions) and,
in some cases, leadership (stepping down from leadership position). In my
view, sacrifice defines true leaders, as they show what's best for the
group, allowing members to relate to them easily (after all, a mailing list
is created for a specific purpose).

In closing, I'd like to offer some advice to admins and members of mailing
* List members, please remember that you're one of the reasons why people
join mailing lists. As much as the reputation of the list depends on content
and leaders, your conduct also adds to the reputation of a mailing list.
More often than not, a prospective member would think about how members talk
to each other before joining the list.
* List admins, please remember to love and serve the members of your list -
show respect to troublesome members, be a good friend to those who are
struggling with understanding a product's concept, be gentle when moderating
someone and be an approachable and trustworthy expert.
* To members and admins of mailing lists (even to blindness mailing lists):
content is just one aspect of a mailing list. The crown jewel of any mailing
list is the people who are part of the mailing list. Please remember that
the reputation of the list depends not only on content, but also on people.


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