But we’re not like that!

2010 February 12

You might have noticed — I’ve made the jump from recidivist guest blogger to regular this week. This transition is beside the point, but it is related to this post as my second guest article garnered a trackback that mused:

One point I didn’t see emphasized in her post is that the high turn off might make it difficult not just to rerecruit from the pool of the alienated, but also to recruit fresh people.

It is a good point.

As demonstrated by community projects such as Dreamwidth and Archive of Our Own, how you start out is really important to how your community will grow. If you start out with a particular contributor balance, you’ll probably remain that way.

Compare the Dreamwidth and AO3 developer communities to almost every other open source project ever, and you’ll notice the difference in social dynamic. This really isn’t accidental. For example, Dreamwidth has a diversity policy where it explicitly acknowledges shortcomings elsewhere, and pledges that it will actively endeavour to avoid them. And they stick to it.

Think of being a minority in such a community in terms of going to a sports game where the opponents to your favourite side are the ones with the home ground advantage. In a Red crowd, you would be one of very few one clad in Blue. It is going to be uncomfortable.

What would make it even more uncomfortable is if the law enforcement or government of Redville are known to do nothing about incidents that happen to Blue fans in their jurisdiction. If there is demonstrated history of Blue fans receiving responses such as “Grow a thicker skin!” or “Redville folk will be Redville folk! It’s all a joke! Get over it!” then they’re not going to feel like they have recourse. In fact, Blue fans who have never even been to Redville will likely opt to watch the game on TV back in Bluetown instead.

The news programs in Bluetown might discuss the situation, as news agencies tend to do for things relevant to their audience. One might expect Redville officials to backlash with “You shouldn’t talk about how our citizens abuse yours, because it will stop Bluetown folk from coming to our shops and giving us their money! It’s all your fault for talking about it!”.

How much cred does that sort of response really hold?

This is what happens when a community is unwelcoming or hostile to a group. It’s not their fault the community is like that to them. However, pretending the community was never like that is not going to cut it with those on the outside looking in. No matter how hard a community tries to cover it up, community fringe-riders are going to notice — and what they’re most likely to notice is the cover-up.

There are only so many times the “we’ve changed!” card can be played (No, fo’realz! We promise it’s not like last time we promised, really it’s not!). And to be quite frank; nobody is obliged to believe it.

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This post was written by melissa.

Melissa is a Linux and web geek who goes by the nick "elky" in IRC land and occasionally rants at geekosophical.net. She is currently in love with fountain pens. Because they are awesome. Just like her. Infatuation is subject to change. Melissa's awesomeness isn't.

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