The Crossposting Penumbra

So, when I am dealing with contentious comment threads, I will occasionally have to deem a particular conversation on the thread as something derail-y or not germane to the actual topic of the thread, and tell people to move on from it, or (more bluntly) that if I see any more comments on the subject, I’ll Mallet them. This is inevitably followed by a couple more posts where someone comments further, immediately followed by “oh, crap, didn’t see the warning, I must have cross-posted.” This happens often often that I sometimes (not always, but sometimes) wonder if people write up a post on a subject I don’t want, and then use the “oh, crap, cross-posted” follow-up as a talisman against being Malleted.

So I’ve decided to make a more-or-less official policy on the subject. It is as follows:

1. If I declare a subject off-limits in a discussion thread, the five minutes immediately following the posting of the warning will constitute the official “crosspost penumbra.”

2. During the “crosspost penumbra,” I may or may not decide to Mallet a comment on the subject I just declared off-limits, on an entirely subjective basis (i.e., whether or not I think a good point is raised, whether or not I’m irritated, whether or not I have gas and it’s making me cranky, etc). I’ll likely err on the side of “genuine crosspost,” but I reserve the right not to.

3. After the “crosspost penumbra” anything on the subject I declared off limits will get Malleted regardless; immediately if I’m around, later if not (as will all the followups to the now-deleted comment that might get posted).

In either case, if I Mallet a comment for being late on a topic I closed, that doesn’t mean the person who left the comment can’t otherwise post on the thread; they can feel free to post something more on topic (exception, of course: If I also say that the commenter is off the thread).

I think this is a reasonable and easy-to-understand policy that will make my life simpler. Consider it in effect as of this very second. Also, as a general guideline, if you’re commenting in a contentious thread, it’s not a bad idea before responding to do a quick refresh to see if I’ve labeled something off-topic. Thanks.

37 Comments on “The Crossposting Penumbra”

  1. John, I hope you don’t mind, but as my website grows and turns into more of a community, I expect contentiousness to occur. With that in mind, I fully intend to implement close variations of your comment policies (with attributions).

    I believe that a well moderated community is a civil one, and with that in mind I have been scouring the nets these many years for ideas that (now that I’m doing this gig more or less full time) I am working on implementing.

    By the way, enjoy your vacation next month. It’s well deserved. I’ll be happy if I see posts from you, but if not I will endeavor to persevere.

  2. Hm, the one time I did that I totally got malleted, though you said it was ok and not to worry. Rather than thinking of it as protection, I thought perhaps I’d drawn attention. A poor talisman. (And I did it because I’m totes a rules follower and hate to accidentally break a rule.)

  3. I don’t think my comment was quite in the “innocent vs guilty” zone, but it’s your blog.

    Are you intending to elide references to the editor’s name as well, since they derail the post from your original intent?

  4. Phoenician:

    I’m not sure when it was I gave you the authority to determine what’s a derail here and what is not. I’m pretty sure, in fact, I did not.

  5. I think this is the best argument for a threaded commenting system; it facilitates “kill this, and everything that’s a reply to this”.

  6. @Scalzi: Nicely done. I spent most of the last ten years as the moderator for a friend’s message board, and given the circumstances I don’t think I could have come up with something better than that.

    This is one of the few places where I comment, and one of the small majority where I use my real name in doing so. This is not an accident, given the moderation policies.

  7. Maureen O’Danu,

    If you want to see a lot of good info on moderating, I’d recommend giving a look: Teresa Nielsen Hayden has done more thinking about moderation than most, and Jim Macdonald put together a list of some of her opinions and forums on the subject. The news item that caused him to collect her stuff in one place involved problems with the lack of strong moderation and since the third comment was one John Scalzi saying “This is where you guys and I get to be smug for a moment, right?” I suspect our host might agree.

  8. I do not approve of your use of “Cross Posting” to refer to asynchronous submission artifacts. I submit the Wikipedia entry for a proper definition.

    Or you could just argue that the meanings of words are fluid and you can make them mean whatever you want them to. Drives me nuts when people do that.

  9. Trey, or you could understand that what is meant here is “our posts crossed.” As someone who spent my formative Internet years in Usenet newsgroups, I initially stumbled a bit at John’s use of the term here. But when I thought it through, I realized that it’s just a way of saying “our posts crossed,” as when someone says, “our e-mails crossed.” I get “our e-mails crossed” from friends relatively often when we were e-mailing each other at the same time, often about the same topic. I can’t think of a handy one- or two-word term for the phenomenon that John is talking about that could be used instead of “crossposting,” and having to use a whole phrase for it every time seems to interfere with clear, concise communication, whereas “crossposting” works just fine, IMO.

  10. Apologies. I’m not trying to be an asshole (I know those posts sounded like it).

    Cross posting means something very specific. I figured I’d point out what it means. I was trying to be cute about it, and just flailed horribly.

  11. “k) Anyone who doesn’t space after punctuation marks is insane, and can be deleted/banned on sight.”

    “Apologies. I’m not trying to be an asshole (I know those posts sounded like it).”
    Nope, you are being a boring pedant and ignoring that the english language often, if not always had more than one meaning for most of its words. (Rank the words by frequency and get back to me with the most common word with only one meaning.)

    Strangely enough, when a word does not exist to describe something new, either an existing word is co-opted to be used to have that new meaning or a new word is coined. I have always wondered what word should be used to describe “crossposting”, now I can use cross post.

    If you are uncertain how this process works, you could look up the word “troll.”

  12. Also, as a general guideline, if you’re commenting in a contentious thread, it’s not a bad idea before responding to do a quick refresh to see if I’ve labeled something off-topic.

    This advice just came in very handy in another post. Sorry to have created extra work for you, John.

    @ Peter & Trey

    My personal rule is not to argue with people who make their living stringing words together about how they use those words. I tend to presume they know the subject better than I do. Or in the case of my own confusion, phrase the comment it in the form of a polite and respectful question.

  13. My posts here have been very infrequent, and never on contentious subjects. However, in places where I do post (including on tricky subjects), the composition process frequently takes more than five minutes. I do a preview, a re-write, another preview, think of something else, check the spelling, go back and read the previous post, have another preview… you get the picture. Sometimes it easily takes 15 minutes. And I do occasionally find I’ve cross-posted.

    What I’m trying to say is, maybe five minutes is a tad harsh? Some people are just, um, slow. And pernickity. How about giving it ten?

  14. I appreciate John’s careful moderation–and he clearly has no problem with other folks criticizing/bashing his own work. Those never get malleted. It drives me nuts to go to the Washington Post or politico and see the sewage that is their comments section when they could, for a very small fee (for them) have a carefully controlled, intelligent, non-rage-filled section (the NY Times does this very well.)

    John: I specialize in plays/monologues in which inanimate objects are characters (my most-produced play is called “Sushi.”) If you ever want to record a monologue in the voice of the MALLET, I’d take a stab at whipping one up. From your yogurt piece, it’s clear you could this yourself anyway, but who knows–maybe you’re really busy and are thinking “MAN! I want a good mallet monologue, but I don’t want to freaking WRITE one, because WRITING is HARD AND BORING!”

  15. You are gentler than I would be. I wouldn’t give a grace period at all, since as you’ve made clear over and over, having a comment Malleted is not the same as being kicked off the thread.

    Also, suspicious soul that I am, I’d fear that such a policy, especially with the penumbra specified, would in effect encourage the unscrupulous to hurry up and get the last word.

    But of course that falls under the discretion you mention, and I more than suspect you will know the difference at once, and come a-Malleting as appropriate!

  16. Reading your books and your blog helps me improve my English a lot and I’m thankful for that, even though you probably didn’t intend it. You often send me to Merriam-Webster and today I learned what the word Penumbra means.

  17. I will admit I’m bemused at offering moderation advice to our host.

    The issue is basically software, and I can believe that most of the cross post claims are true. You post the knock-it-off, but until someone refreshes the screen, they don’t see that. Then when they post, the screen refreshes, an they see it, and post the sorry.

    My gut feeling is that five minutes may be too short. Obviously, trial and error will prove it out, but I’d suggest a five minute comment umbra, when you assume it is surely a cross, and a ten minute penumbra where you’d give the benefit of the doubt unless your dealing with someone who always claims cross posting.

    It would be better if we all remembered to preview, then scroll back up and see if the Green Box Of Warning has been posted, but we don’t.

  18. I agree: “I think it’s better for everyone to read everything.” That stopped me from posting yesterday’s newspaper article about the Feds investigating the university administrations cover up of rape policy atrocities at Occidental College (where, as the story says, the campus is beautiful, Obama matriculated there, but the system protected known rapists). But I mentioned it because of the breadth of such scandals, far beyond the world of cons.

  19. It may help with crossposting if, when one is posting to a contentious topic, one opens the thread up in a second browser tab and refreshes it just before posting a reply.

    Going outside for a walk first would also help, of course. :P

  20. I was going to second that I can take more than five minutes to compose a post as well, but in the end it’s not a big deal. Getting malletted for missing the warning won’t kill me and might make me pay more attention going forward.

    It might not though. The internet makes me stupid sometimes.

  21. A thought to the ‘it can take me more than 5 minutes’ folks… you can compose your reply in something other than the comment box. On the Mac, Text Edit, on Windows Notepad. There are a ton of other things out there, but those come with the OS. Compose in them, hit refresh here and if John’s declared a topic off limits, oh well.

    Also, frankly, you can kind of tell after a while what will get the “we’re done with this one folks” comments from our host.

  22. I move that Mr. Scalzi declare a topic, any topic, as a derailment of this thread. Just so we can, y’know, test the new rules out.

  23. So by its very nature, discussion of topicality is off-topic. If the post in question is off-topic, it and discussion of its topicality will get the mallet. If the original post is topical, then the discussion itself is off-topic.

  24. Erik V. Olson says about what I might. Heck, I’ve sometimes left Livejournal posts open enough that the cookie times out when I try to reply! *coughs and shuffles feet; 24 hours isn’t a long time for a comment window, right? …right?*

    Is this blog-software/format/whatevertheheckyoucallit capable of having a limited-time edit/delete plug-in added, to allow posters to self-mallet when they realize there’s a “knock it off” after posting? (There would still be people who hit post and run out the door, or don’t scroll up enough to see the Mallet Sign, but some people might go “Augh! Crud!” and hit that “delete” button before you have to.)

  25. Are you intending to elide references to the editor’s name as well, since they derail the post from your original intent?

    I’m not sure when it was I gave you the authority to determine what’s a derail here and what is not. I’m pretty sure, in fact, I did not.

    Uh-huh. That’s what I thought.

  26. you actually read all of the posts on your site? Not sure how you get anything done.

  27. I can’t imagine why anyone would object to that. Oh, sure, if I spent half an hour concocting a brilliant reply in iambic pentameter to something that has been malleted then I might get a little annoyed if it, too, gets the mallet treatment, but (a) half a frigging hour? I need a life (b) your blog, your rules and (c) if my post were really that insightful and brilliant then I’m sure that you are perfectly capable of withholding the mallet and writing “AlanM makes a cogent and eloquent point here, but THIS IS THE LAST COMMENT ON THIS DAMN SUBJECT!” if you so choose (and, if you don’t, please see (a)).

  28. Suppose I so fear the Mallet that I respond to the thread by obtaining a hair cut that is very short in the front and sides but long in the back. That is, would my willingness to undergo The Mullet defeat The Mallet? Because, you know the Mullet is even scarier.