I run a blog, not an open forum, and I’m reminded once again why I prefer the former.
The Richard Dawkins site is revising their forum. This substantial change is causing a great deal of unwarranted anxiety — people are unhappy (which is fair enough) and complaining, and many are flocking to a new open forum, which is also just fine. They’re also complaining to me, which is odd. So I’ll say a few words.
First and foremost, it is not my site, and it is not your site. It is Richard Dawkins’ site. People have lost sight of the fact that Dawkins has his own views on how the site should function, and he has the right and even the obligation to try and shape it to his goals. If you don’t like it, fine, go somewhere else. I know, that sounds so cavalier, but that’s the reality of it all. Richard spends the money to keep it going. He’s the boss.
There has been a lot of vilification of Josh Timonen going on, which does not win my sympathy. Josh is a good guy, and he’s neck-deep in work for the RDF — not just the richarddawkins.net site, and not just the forum, which only represents about a quarter of the daily visits to the site overall. Yet the forum represents most of the drama and trouble in maintaining the whole business. If it’s not reflecting Dawkins’ vision, and if it’s a headache to maintain, you have to appreciate why they would think revising it would be a smart idea.
I’ve been active in forums on the web in the past, and I’ve also played a role as a moderator. It takes a lot of work to keep a forum afloat. Every one I know of follows one of two paths: a slow decline into quiet apathy, or a rapid growth in membership and activity which leads to an eventual implosion into chaos, acrimony, and drama as disparate interests try to tug the forum in different directions. The forums at richarddawkins.net should not have competing interests, but only one: that of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. I think the recent changes are intended, in part, to remind participants of that.
The forums are not going away, but they are going to change in character. That hurts if you have an attachment to the old forums, but this is reality, and reality is dynamic and change happens all the time. Adapt or die. Who knows, the new format may be even better than the old — try it!
You can always just come to Pharyngula and chat here. Or any of the other atheist sites on the net. The community is not going away and is not harmed by a change in one outlet for its expression, and if it is, then it’s not much of a community, now is it?
So, move on. Adapt. Express yourselves wherever. Check out the new RDF discussions when they emerge later. This is not a crisis, it’s a change.
One very weird thing about this whole contretemps is how people are treating Josh like some evil Rasputin. Josh and Richard are on very good terms, and Richard has clear opinions on how the site should be run — and there is no doubt about who is in charge.