So. I've been a fairly frequent user of KGS over the last several years, going back to before the creation of separate English Game and Chat Rooms. The other night, though, tensions flared up and I am putting myself on a temporary strike (though not without leaving what was probably a boot-worthy comment anyway). Without getting into the details of that, I would like to present my argument as to why the ECR has failed, and why the current admin policy is bizarre and unrealistic.
Put briefly: Noone uses the ECR, however many people have it in their list. I can't remember the last time I saw more than one game in there, whereas I could for some other, much smaller rooms. As for the room's supposed primary purpose - diverting off-topic chat from the EGR:
There is only ever conversation in the ECR immediately after an admin has demanded that a conversation be moved away from the EGR;
It only ever lasts a few minutes.
So. Why is this?
I submit that it is ridiculous to expect to control general off-topic chat on an internet forum. It's going to be front and center in any subdivision that doesn't have an explicit topic set (and no, the EGR does not have one; people come to KGS to play go, not to talk about it), and overall, the "random" chat will dominate. Always.
On Gamedev.net, for example, there are about three times as many posts in "The Lounge" (general) as in "General Programming" (even when you try to make the on-topic stuff "general" it doesn't work!) or "For Beginners". (I could give other examples, but I would prefer not to reveal too much of my personal browsing habits.)
So, what happens when you ask people to move their discussions away from "the main room" into an area where noone is ever normally talking? Predictably, there is considerable resistance to the idea. Conversation has great inertia.
Why is it that we might attempt to divert the conversation from the main room? Explanations I've heard include:
- To get trolls out of the way. Useless; trolls will be trolls (when they actually are; but keep reading), and anyway, censoring people is trivial.
- So that actual requests for help stand out, or so that new users can see helpful responses amid the clutter. This, however, is merely a cover for a deep failing in how the administration works on KGS. Over the past three years I've come to the conclusion that this is a process problem and not a people problem. That is evident from the fact that the admins that people never complain about are the ones that keep their fool mouths shut. :)
What's wrong with the process? Simply, it's far, far too difficult to get a hold of an admin when you need one. You don't have any tools to communicate with them beyond what you have to communicate with normal users. Plus, you don't, initially, even know who they are. You have to find out that the silver and gold stars in the user list indicate admins, and then pick them out, decide arbitrarily which one you want to talk to, and then summon up the courage for a one-on-one with a complete stranger.
This is a ridiculous burden to place upon a new user. There needs to be a system (also available to experienced users, to deal with major conflicts) to "call" an admin, similar to calling a flight attendant on an airplane. It needs to be prominent and intuitive. It's no problem to ban people who abuse the feature, of course; and it should be designed in a way that doesn't annoy the admins - perhaps they just get a "waiting-for-help users" panel, from which they can select users to mark as "acknowledged"/"investigating"/"resolved" (so that the admin can figure out who will take care of what).
- So that people speaking other languages can be attended to more quickly, and/or won't be confused by a flurry of off-topic English discussion. Well, they should have been placed in a language-specific room to begin with.
- So that the conversation can be kept on topic, namely, go. Absolutely ridiculous. People who actually want to talk about go, kibitz on dan games. :) But more to the point, again, random chat will always be more on the minds of the masses, even when they have been joined by a common purpose.
As anyone who has developed some competence at go knows, struggling against the inevitable is often counter-productive, even directly self-injurious. I would like to highlight two ways in which the current policies and room set up tend to increase the amount of trolling that occurs:
1) Users troll by challenging the policy.
2) Admins troll by challenging users to challenge the policy.
You may think that sounds bizarre, but it is my perception of what is going on. See, the administration is set the task of defining "trolling", and the definition in use is quite broad. In normal internet use, the term is considered synonymous with flame-baiting; but on KGS, the definition seems to hover somewhere between "anything-baiting" and just plain being "off-topic" (yet again, why is the topic assumed? It's not the English Discussion Room nor the English Theory Room; it's the English Game Room!).
Of course, this will always be a subjective definition, and any rule that requires subjective interpretation is a giant invitation to anyone who is naturally inclined towards trolling. But by defining things so broadly, the administration effectively trolls the so-called "vocal minority", the people who don't like the policies and are often viewed as trolls (if occasionally heroic ones). Consider: a troll is someone who deliberately says things to provoke a reaction from their target, knowing that an extended, "off-topic" conversation will ensue. Does not such a conversation ensue any time the topic of "policy" is brought up in the EGR? Is it not evident to the admins who will react, and how, to various decrees about what is or is not appropriate as a topic of conversation?
Interesting, that last bit. Conversations occur on a regular basis in which people complain about not being able to talk about whatever in the EGR, or where they are asked to move. When was the last time you saw someone complain about conversation in the EGR bothering them? When was the last time an ordinary user suggested taking something to the ECR, who was not simply brown-nosing?