I, my ever-helpful co-admins, and several members have all noticed that UMSF has begun to get a little bit 'noisy' recently. Its #1 quality is often cited as being the signal-to-noise ratio, and in the last few months, this has suffered to a certain extent. This post is an attempt to explain how and why I think it's happened, and the rules that we are now putting in place and some action that we are taking/will take to attempt to return UMSF to the prior level of discourse.
UMSF started life, as some of you will know, as a much smaller, MER-specific forum, and over time grew to include Cassini, and then essentially everything it covers today. Relaunching as UMSF just over 12 months ago saw the beginning of a more popular forum, and as more people have begun posting, the quality of discussion has, to an extent, suffered. For more than a year, I've been expecting it - it's part of a forum's growth pattern and is often the point at which a forum is made or broken. UMSF has always done well by having an informal, silent but understood agreement between its members which up until the 500-or-so membership level worked beautifully, but as more people have joined, has broken down considerably. As a result these rules are now going to have to be formalised and enforced - forcefully and rapidly. Some of them may alienate some members, some may be seen as an attempt to 'censor' or 'silence' certain trains of thought and, to be brutally honest, in some cases that is not altogether untrue. UMSF exists for the discussion of UMSF...that's the reality of it. If you want to talk about something else, go elsewhere.
1. Acceptable Subject Matter
- 1.1 The clue is in the name of the forum. If what you are posting is not related either to Unmanned Spaceflight, or a directly related matter, it may be deleted without notice.
- 1.2 Politics - the discussion of policy is acceptable, the distribution of money within agencies is a valid and reasonable subject - however this is different to political debate. Discussion of politicians, political parties, various topics of the moment (Iraq, Terrorism) are all very much off topic and posts that include them will be removed.
- 1.3 Astrobiology - Discussion relating to biological instrumentation past or proposed is acceptable. i.e. Viking instrumentation yes - Martian Meteorites - no. This may meet objection, but again - there are other places for this sort of discussion, take it there.
- 1.4 Manned Spaceflight - changes will soon be made to the Manned Spaceflight forum - bottom line, it's fundamentally off topic to this forum, and in combination with 1.2 it is one of the primary sources of arguments and 'ranting'. Most people agree that Shuttle/ISS is a monetary hog - we do NOT need to see it mentioned every other post. This forum does not exist as a platform to be anti-manned spaceflight (despite the title) - do not use it as one.
- 1.5 Conspiracy theories and pseudo-science are totally unacceptable.
- 1.6 Other guidelines may be added as and when they become necessary.
2. Acceptable Behaviour
- 2.1 Every post must remain respectful of the opinion of others, even if contrary to your own.
- 2.2 Posts should make a contribution. Think - does what I am about to post add anything to the discussion. If the answer is no - should you really be posting it?
- 2.3 Before asking a question or starting a thread for which there might be something similar already in existence, have a brief look for a similar thread, or use the forum search tool to search for it first.
- 2.4 Don't rant. If you have a point to make...make it and move on. Do not litter your every post making the same point again and again. If you want somewhere to vent - get yourself a blog. (P.S., this place is a forum or discussion group - NOT a blog...sorry, just a personal rant there, I wont mention it again...see )
- 2.5 Arguments. If an argument between two people begins, take it to email or private message - we don't want to see your fights in the forum.
3. Posting etiquette
- 3.1 Formatting - do not use excessive formatting. It looks messy and childish. Use it only when it is necessary to make your message clear (such as my MRO MOI time line thread).
- 3.2 Images - do not post an image 'in line' (i.e. one that will load when someone views that thread) if it is more than 100kb. This is to maintain the sanity of those who still use slower connections.
- 3.3 Attached images - do not attach an image to a thread that is freely viewable on a server elsewhere - simply link to it.
- 3.4 Scientific papers are always a useful and valuable resource, but many forum members are not fortunate enough to have subscription access to the various bodies that manage them. If you post a link to a paper which will require a log in, say so in the post (i.e. http://dngsdgsadgdsg/asdgdsa.pdf (requires login) ) - to save people without access finding out the hard way. Only post links to papers directly relevant to a discussion and that fit the rules of section 1
- 3.5 Quoting. If you're replying to a post - you don't need to quote it in full, or indeed at all if it's the first reply to that post. It simply litters threads and makes them harder to scroll through. Also, avoid quoting images, it causes the same problem.
That's all for now - but they will evolve and change with time as the need arises - they are a sensible start however. These rules wont be exercised retroactively - what has been posted is done. These rules apply from now and will be enforced without warning.
I've had a struggle with my own conscience about this entire issue - how to address the problem without seeming to be a censor or overly draconian. But at the end of the day, to maintain the high quality this place enjoys, rules are now clearly required. If you object to them, if you find them contrary to your own standards, then perhaps UMSF is not the place for you and you should consider joining other discussion forums instead.
A few members (two) will be getting temporary suspensions with a request to either post within these new guidelines, or leave. A further two have or are about to have a repeated request to change their posting behaviour or, again, leave (they may or may not elect to respond to this thread, but they can't magically remove the damage that they have done over the past few months). This course of action will be deployed more rapidly in the future to maintain standards.
No one here could question my admiration of MER PI Steve Squyres, and last April he was kind enough to send me a brief note about UMSF which made me very very proud of what the place had become - "Both the discourse and the image work are at an impressively high level," he said.
We all need to think a little before pressing 'post new topic' or 'post reply' to make sure that Steve's kind words remain true and UMSF maintains its healthy reputation, high quality of content, and good-natured debate and discussion.
I hope none of this upsets the long-standing, well-respected members of UMSF, the people who are the foundation upon which the reputation and content of this place stand. I often find myself in awe of some people's contributions, and it is because of the content which so often amazes me that I must take this action to keep its home a happy one.
In closing, I wish to thank my co-admins, whose input into making this change in policy has been so valuable, for their ever-helpful opinions and support - Guys, I couldnt do it without you. They are the 'directors' of this place, and I am forever grateful for their help and advice. However, we need people at a step below that - moderators - to help deploy these new rules. If you are a member of more than 6 months, with several hundred posts to your name and might be able to take on the task of looking after a little bit of UMSF, let me know. It's a thankless job, but you get two perks - access to the Administrators forum (the 'board room' for the directors), and if you would like one, an @unmannedspaceflight.com email address.
This has been a big long post, and well done for getting to the end of it - and I hope that it will begin a refocus of UMSF to give it the big long future it deserves.