Ok, a status report on what's going on

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Title: Ok, a status report on what's going on
Creator: Ron Jarrell, and a cast of... 104, including comments by Chris Carter
Date(s): December 6, 1995
Medium: online
Fandom: Babylon 5
External Links: Ok, a status report on what's going on; [1], comments include commentary by Chris Carter, post to rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5
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Ok, a status report on what's going on is a December 6, 1995 post on rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5 by Ron Jarrell, who was member of the fan group called Rangers. The Ranger's mission was to keep J. Michael Straczynski accessible to fans online, but to also filter the messages sent to him that fans posted on Usenet.

It is a massive discussion with 699 posts by 104 authors (one of them Chris Carter) on 28 pages.

Jarrell was an example of harnessing the unpaid labor of fans, as he appears to act as J. Michael Straczynski's online personal assistant.

Some Topics Discussed

  • access to TPTB
  • fan politics
  • freedom of information
  • disgruntlement
  • opinions on what constitutes a "good fan" and a "bad fan"
  • control

The Original Post

Many people have been wondering what's going on, is anyone doing anything, who can we kill, and why is there no discussion of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea here anymore, anyway? Ok, so maybe not that last one, but that's about the ONLY thing I haven't seen asked in either email or on the group.

First off, I'd like to convey from Joe Cochran thanks for all the messages that were sent to him offering suggestions, support, etc. He got FAR FAR too many to individually acknowledge.

I'm sorry this took so long to get up, but we wanted to actually HAVE a solution, and even hopefully get it *implemented* (which we did) before geting peoples hopes up.

Now, for the important news. No, Joe Straczynski hasn't completely left the group. It took a while before we could announce this because I had to have extensive talks with him, followed by quickly whipping up and putting into production new software for the Rangers to use to manage an all new style of feed for him.

Joe's participation in the group will be, however, significantly different than it was before. He will no longer be reading everything. Instead, he'll be getting the messages specifically directed at him, and only if those messages are questions or comments about the show, and not flames or personal attacks.

Now, that's not to say you can't write a negative message about an episode; if you think it didn't work, that's fine. But he's not going to see messages of the "So, Joe, are you still beating your wife?" style.

He may, as we do this, ask to see other types of messages, he may not. It'll also be entirely up to him whether he elects to ANSWER. Not that this is a change; Joe often ignored questions that he couldn't answer without giving away something he wanted to keep secret.

But if he DOES answer the question, the answer will be posted back here to the newsgroup, like they used to be. As a major bonus, however, since there's a much smaller target now, I've been able to do some "value added" processing. The correct subject will be matched up in the reply, *and* a References: header will be put in pointing at the original question. For those who aren't into the technical details, suffice it to say that your newsreader, if it was capable of keeping messages grouped together (called "threading") for messages that Joe didn't post, it'll not be able to also do it for Joe's message. No more of that "Damn, what question is he answering??" head scratching.

For those that aren't interested in reading this newsgroup just to get those answers, we'll also be regularly bundling them up into Q&A digests, and sending them on to the info group moderators.. (We'll see how many of them there are before we decide what frequency is required, daily, bi-daily, weekly, semi-monthly, every 125,000 micro-fortnights, etc.)

Now, what are the long term possibilities of wider participation in the newsgroup? Well, pretty much no chance, with the existing setup. You see, we've gotten to a point where there's just too many flamewars for it to be worth it, from his point of view, to read the group to extract the messages that are worth it. On GEnie, Compuserve, AOL, and other places he hangs out the forums are smaller, and more managed, and personal attacks and high tempers are handled.

The only equivelant on usenet that's remotely equivalent is a moderated newsgroup. Whether people WANT a moderated newsgroup is something that the members have to decide. And if so, whether we want to moderate THIS group, or create a new moderated group, and leave this one for people that want a more "anything goes" discussion.

Let me stress that the info group is NOT the appropriate place.

The key thing here is to NOT rush into this; we've already heard from more than one group that was about to just willy-nilly throw an RFD in for one or more groups, without bothering to talk to anyone, and with a snowballs chance on za'ha'dum of succeding. If people want to do this it has to be done RIGHT the first time; remember, if it gets voted down (and a badly written one will be shot down in flames) it'll be months before another can be attempted. If it gets passed, but is so screwed up in design as to be unusuable, we're, again, stuck with it for months.

The charter needs to be very carefully worded to explain exactly what the newsgroup is for, based on the CONTENT you want in the group, not the personalities.

And really, there's no rush, because there is already the conduit back in place for getting the questions to JMS, and getting the answers back.

So where do we go from here?

Well, if you want Joe to see your question, we're really appreciate if you'd use the old standard of putting "ATTN JMS" in the subject. We'll see those. If you forget, but ask Joe a question in a message, we MIGHT catch it, and forward it on, we might not. If you do, then we'll see it, and if it fits the criteria that Joe agreed to, we'll cheerfully pass it on; what happens to it after that is in the hands of the Great Maker, as the saying goes.

Next, people need to decide if they want to persue a moderated group. And if so, what kind. The Rangers are willing to help coordinate the disparate efforts currently under way to get everyone playing on the same station!

Remember, though, that creation of a moderated group doesn't guarantee that Joe will come back to it, it'd have to be the right KIND of moderated group!


Fan Comments

There are many, many, many.

One of the first ones was by Chris Carter:

Two problems: Only six people can adequately judge the effectiveness of your new scheme, five Rangers and JMS. Is there room for other opinions?

Also, since the Rangers have assumed the responsibility of filtering Joe's feed, Joe gets his messages in clumps every few days, rather than in a more steady, manageable feed. This would indicate to me that your past methods have been inefficient. What is there to lead me to believe that an new system will be an improvement, especially given that the new method may not only suffer from the same inefficiencies as the old, but will likely serve to distance Joe from users of this group by placing increased barriers (heavier filtering, another newsgroup) between him and the users here?

While this scheme is certainly good as a stopgap, I mislike it as the 'final solution.'