On The Way To The Forums...
Written by Awportals.com
An opinion essay by Absolute Monarch concerning the social division on the AWForums.

[rimg]/media/imglib_awteen/2.jpg[/rimg]Over the past few days, I have begun to notice a striking anomaly. Despite the fact that (at best) the Active Worlds universe having a user count of about 200, the AW Forums has an active user count of about 60. There are, in fact, 89 users with over 100 posts, but I am disregarding a few who only visit the forums to post updates and news and do not actually contribute to discussions or enriching of the community.

Why is this the case? For any other online community, there is generally a strong positive correlation between active user count of the product and that of the official forums. Upon reflection, I find time and time again that one of the main reasons for such a discrepancy is that there is a strong stigma associated with the forums: they are often seen as immature and superfluous.

This perspective was brought to my attention in one of the posts on the forums. I would quote for you, but unfortunately that whole thread has been deleted. Regardless, the context of the thread was that it was slowly descending into a flame war between Queen RaMel o and several other members, myself included, and at one point or another, King RaMel o jumped into the fray and said, to paraphrase, “these forums are a joke anyway.”

This struck a chord with me. Is this actually the case? In my mind, it never occurred to me that such a perception of the AW forums could exist. Despite a few individuals who ruin the experience for others, the forums are generally filled with smart citizens.

I am sure you are well aware, but there is a divide in the citizenry of AW. On one side, there are the people who live in AWGate, lock themselves in their ivory towers of AWEC and AWHS, and who would never be caught dead without their trusty macros, affectionately known as the “Huggles” by the other side of the schism. On said side, there are the people who generally hang around AWTeen, or are generally seen around technological innovations around the universe. As I have been perceived to sit on this side of the spectrum, I am not aware if they have dubbed us any names, but I shall call this side the “Kids” as this seems to be the typical view of the Huggles. Now I generalize heavily when I split the two, I am sure many people sit somewhere between the two extremes.

[limg]/media/imglib_awgate/gz1.jpg[/limg]There seems to be pretty strong animosity between the two groups, as seen in an alarming tendency for members of the Huggles group to immediately dismiss anything said by a Kid, as would be evident (and if I had an undeleted forum thread to link to, I would) on the forums. Of course, I am biased in that I would be considered a Kid, so I cannot write objectively, and nor do I attempt to do so: it may very well be the case that Kids often dismiss the arguments of Huggles. But the broader picture here involves both parties being in the wrong, as I explain later.

But I digress. My point is that this divide can be seen in the forums. The majority of the aforementioned active forum users will most definitely fall into the category of Kids. The lack of any strong presence of the Huggles community is particularly clear when a Huggle posts a thread boasting Huggle morals and mentalities, and suddenly there is this strong stream of people, who are never active and are often making their first posts on the forums, voicing vehement support. One can just smell the vicious ctrl-c ctrl-p that has occurred to produce a mass amount of chain telegrams asking people to agree with the thread mindlessly.

And of those Huggles that are regular posters to the boards, they do see the forums as a joke. Forum etiquette is shoved aside for a stream of new threads containing personal jokes and obtuse references that are clearly intended for one person. And when questioned about this behaviour, Huggles tell Kids are told to “lighten up”. To us Kids, we have all established that there is such a thing as forum etiquette that applies not just the AW forums, but to any forum on the internet.

[rquote=Absolute Monarch]Forums are a great way of not only discussion of ideas and notification of the goings on of the universe, but also a great way to bring the community a lot closer together.[/rquote]Which reminds me, when I defined what a Kid was, I mentioned a tendency to be affiliated with innovative technologies. I chose this definition because it helps with my next point. When the AW forums were initially unveiled, I am very tempted to suggest the notion that those citizens that immediately jumped on board were Kids.

Naturally, this makes sense. Forums are a great way of not only discussion of ideas and notification of the goings on of the universe, but also a great way to bring the community a lot closer together. Kids, I venture to say, are almost all well versed in forum conduct and understand the purpose and nature of forums, and if they are not, they very quickly pick it up. Now, do not mistake this as an ode to the greatness of being a Kid, nor a condemnation of the mentality of the Huggles, as it is neither.

Such a face-paced and strong conglomeration of Kids has inadvertently created an environment that is very strongly biased to the Kids. In fact, seeing as most of us knew each other in one way or another before the advent of the forums, it was not so much establishing the forum community, but rather the forums became another medium to communicate with each other. Very quickly we were bringing in our own in-jokes and initiating new ones.

Huggles, who in my view, were slow in adoption of the forums. This would half be due to the fact that the existence of the forums was not well known and publicized (and still is not). But when a Huggle does find the forums, coupled with their lack of experience with forums in general ( and I mean general is the most non-offensive way possible), it becomes very hard for them to introduce themselves into the environment we create.

[lquote=Absolute Monarch]This would half be due to the fact that the existence of the forums was not well known and publicized (and still is not).[/lquote]My contention is that due to this inability to penetrate the walls of the AW forums, a stronger divide has been founded between Huggles and Kids. The Huggles view the forums as a playground for the Kids - which in many respects, it is - so when they do come, they come without any serious intent and merely poke around in jest. And this is responsible for why King RaMel o concludes that “the forums are just a joke anyway”.

I believe that view to be a stigma, and like all good stigmas, it is, at the very core, untrue. Forums are in fact a very good way of communication and community founding; they facilitate the discussion and refinement of ideas; and they allow a platform for people to get known throughout the community. It is a shame that such a great resource can be clouded by such strong misconceptions.

So what can be done?

This is an issue for the community as a whole, and so the situation can only be rectified by the community as a whole. That is, there are things that can and ought to be done by both Huggles and Kids.

Realize that opinions do vary. Inasmuch as that while Person A may disagree with Person B on Topic X, the two may agree with Topic Y. There is a alarming trend where two people disagree on Topic X, it is automatically assumed that topic Topic Y must be in disagreement as well. This view is simply ludicrous and merely lumps people into perceptual categories, defeating the concept of individuals. We need to embrace and celebrate the varying opinions on topics, this is what generates (what is normally) stimulating and well thought out discussion of ideas and concepts.

[rimg]/media/imglib_forums/forums.jpg[/rimg]The Kids need to realize that they have formed a very strong environment with very clearly defined boundaries. The simple mass number of jokes shared amongst the Kid community makes joining the forums standoffish to a Huggle. My suggestion is not the abolishment of these inter-personal references, but ensure that they are used appropriately and within moderation. Let us assume a Huggle makes a new thread, to instantly respond with a reference they will not understand does not help things. This does not refer simply to in-jokes between people on the forums, but applies also to people who post pictures with a caption like “THIS THREAD MAKES BABY JESUS CRY” or something to that effect, which may confuse and disorientate Huggles.

And the Huggles also have their own responsibilities. Give the forums a chance, for once. Do not be put off by the fact that a few people may have made you feel distanced because they referenced something outside your knowledge. Chances are this was not a deliberate attempt of alienation but rather just a norm. We are not expecting you to start using such idiosyncrasies, but simply learn what they are and what they represent: every day forum behaviour by some users. Similarly, you know what it is like to be clueless about a reference, do not come into the forums simply to post threads which contain in-jokes. Forums are not a place for person-to-person communication, instead it is person-to-community. Finally, forums are a place for discussion of ideas, do not make a post and abandon it and never return, reply to replies – that is the only way our ideas are refined and grow and develop.

While I do not believe that this divide between the Huggles and the Kids is the only reason the forums are not as bustling as the Active Worlds universe user count would suggest, I maintain that it is a major contributing factor to the discrepancy of forum-to-universe user count. Although I may have over polarized things a bit, I have only done so to best illustrate the differences of mentalities and how that develops environments which have become hostile and unpleasant for both groups to co-exist. The forums are a fantastic resource and ought to be a platform from which a strong Active Worlds community can be founded. This is particularly important in current times when user counts are low as they are. By presenting a united front, we facilitate the sharing and discussion of ideas, which will ultimately lead us to greater knowledge.

This article was provided to AWPortals by the Active Worlds Press Corps. Authored by Absolute Monarch.

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