Editor's Guide to the Fora
If the ODP is a community, the ODP fora are the glue which holds the community together, and, feedback and private chat aside, are the only way of communicating with our fellow editors. Yet many editors never visit the fora, or, if they do, are unsure how to best use them. Here are some tips on how to effectively use the fora.
Why Read the Fora?
To learn. To understand. To share points of view. To argue your case. To communicate. To propose. To brainstorm. And, sometimes, just for the pure interest of it.
Which Fora to Read?
For new editors, the aptly named New Editors Forum is an absolute gold mine of information, and is regularly patrolled by experienced editors willing to answer questions, no matter how small, and no matter how many times they've been asked before. A flame-free zone, this should be a regular stop on the route of any new (or even not so new editor). And once you feel you're no longer so new - stop by there anyway, and help out those who are!
All editors should try to read at least the forum of their own tree, and the General Forum, where important announcements are made, and where non-tree specific editing matters are discussed. If you have time, you will also find it interesting to keep up with the Bugs & Features Forum, the Ontology Forum, the ODP Culture Forum and even the Meta-Editors Forum (no, it's not for metas only, they have a private one for all the fascinating stuff...). And of course, the Penguin Cafe for light relief.
When, How and When Not to Post
Do try to contribute if you are specifically invited to a forum thread. You've been invited for a reason - so try to give your view, even if just to state that you agree with what has been proposed. There are few things more irritating than waiting on a discussion for ages because those involved have not stated a view one way or the other!
Also, feel free to post in any thread where you feel you can make a useful contribution, or wish to make a point which has not already been raised. Before you do post, however, make sure that you have read and understood the issues already raised. All are welcome to contribute to any thread, but posts which confuse or which sidetrack from the issue at hand are best avoided. Try also to avoid repeatedly replying to yourself - give others a chance to get a look in!
You will often see someone post in a thread just to say 'bump' or to use the 'bump' smiley. This means that they are posting just to refresh the thread; to get it back onto the screen after it has fallen out of the top 25. This can be done for important or interesting on-going threads, or for threads which never quite reached a conclusion. Be careful, however, of bumping up a very old thread - the information in it may be very out of date.
Don't start a new thread on the same topic as a current one - post in the current one instead. And it always helps to use a descriptive title to your thread rather than just, for instance, "Question".
There is no real mystery to good forum etiquette - common sense suggests that one should be polite, courteous and respectful. If you are initiating a thread to discuss matters which involve other editors, you should invite those editors to the thread. Do this by sending them feedback, giving them the URL of the thread and a brief comment on its contents. It's then polite to state in your post that you have invited the following editors: and name them.
Repeatedly editing your post once you have posted it is known by the (affectionate!) name of Kfandering, after one experienced editor who is apparently fond of so doing! In general - try not to! It's fine to edit a post for typos or a sentence of two which you forgot, but you should add a note to the bottom of the post saying that it has been edited. Another common reason for editing a post is to remove or to break up a URL which was too long, and was causing thread stretch on some editors' monitors. If you have substantial content to add, or wish to re-write your post entirely, it's probably better to do so in an completely new post rather than edit the original one.
It is very bad etiquette to quote someone else's email address within a post, unless you have explicit permission to do so. Likewise with email correspondence. And of course, personal abuse of any kind has no place in the fora. If in the heat of the moment you post something and then regret it, please do go back and edit out your comments, and be polite enough to say that you have edited your post to remove an impolite comment. If someone else is abusive towards you - stay calm. Doubtless they will be asked to edit their post, and if they do not, a senior editor may edit it for them. Being aggressive and/or abusive towards fellow editors is grounds for removal from ODP, so the golden rule, as in every day life, is to offer others the respect you hope they would offer to you. It's fine to disagree with someone - but it can and should be done politely.
It's polite to allow other editors a reasonable time in which to respond to your post. Not everyone logs in every day, and some editors may only read the fora at irregular intervals. They might even be on holiday, say. For minor points, you can probably take it that a week is long enough for discussion and response. For major discussion or reorganisations, you could be looking at as long as several months before a conclusion is reached.
It is impolite, and often very annoying, to lead a discussion off-topic. Sometimes it naturally happens that a thread branches into different areas, in which case the sensible thing to do is to start a new thread as a split-off from the original one, for discussion of the split-off topic. With the exception of general 'collection' threads, such as some of the country threads in the regional forum, it is difficult and inefficient to discuss different topics in the same thread.
Threads are usually closed when they reach roughly the 100 post mark, and a new continuation thread started. If you are involved in such a discussion, it can become difficult to keep track. One way of handling this is to regularly print a copy of the discussion, so that you can read it at your leisure. If you have printed copies of closed threads preceding the current one, you won't have to keep jumping back and forth.
If you have a lot to say, you might want to compose your post in a text-editor elsewhere, and just copy and paste it into the thread when you are ready.
When Things Get Heated
It's bound to happen sometime. ODP editors are often passionate about their editing areas, and discussions can take a heated turn often for little apparent reason other than bruised pride or imagined slights. Trading insults and sulking is the wrong way to handle this. The right way is to remain calm, and to remain polite. If you really feel that you can't reply without being rude or aggressive, then walk away from the discussion and come back in a couple of days time, when you feel calmer. Others may have intervened in the meantime, and even if they haven't, you will be able to respond in a more rational fashion.
Sometimes, change doesn't happen. There will be some threads where editors argue passionately about Plan A vs Plan B, and neither plan ever takes shape because agreement couldn't be reached. Accept this. The status quo will remain in those cases - and the discussion may even resurface several times before a conclusion is ever reached, if at all.
What Fora Are Not
No, they're not a kind of chat room. They're not for airing your suspicions about editorial abuse (contact a meta in private about that), and they're not for settling personal scores between editors (use editor mediation if you really have a problem with another editor). Penguin Cafe aside, they're also not usually places for non-editing topics.
Forum Search is notoriously patchy, but is still the most reliable way (apart from a long memory!) of finding threads on a particular topic. For quickest results, search one forum at a time, and search only thread titles not the whole threads. If you get no results, pick a few alternative keywords and try again. If you find yourself constantly wanting to refer to certain threads, why not add them in your bookmarks so that you have them to hand? Many editors have also built bookmark categories which reference useful threads on certain topics.
If you find that forum search is only bringing up old results, it could be that the forum index needs to be rebuilt. This happens from time to time. Post in the bugs and features forum, and either staff or a meta will do the necessary. The "Working DMOZ Search Facility" topic lists a long list of threads on the quirks of forum search.
Odds, Ends and Useful Links