23 January, 2009

In Mourning

No, nobody died. Except, as corny as this sounds, a little part of me.

Dan Simmons, one of my favourite authors, has closed down his forum until further notice...perhaps (probably?) permanently. 
So what, you say, having likely never been there, having never spent time in that community.
I'll tell you so what.
So that marks the end of hands-down, bar none, the most educational, erudite, entertaining and most of all civilized places I've ever found online.
Which is a right royal pisser, but what really ticks me off is that Dan has seen fit to close his place down because...well, here, let him explain it:

I'm posting this on both the General Topics and On Writing Well forums because it's come time for me to shut down the Dan Simmons Forums for a while, and I owe a deep and sincere apology to everyone here for allowing things to come to the point where that action is necessary.

As I expressed with sadness (and some inappropriate anger) on a specific forum thread last night, I feel that the general tone of the Dan Simmons Forum in recent days and weeks (perhaps months) has become somewhat extreme and rancid. A certain balance, and not just in civility, has been lost. There has been a sea change, and not for the better.

A writer's web site and forum should be a welcoming, informative, and tension-free place for readers and new guests to visit and express themselves on literary and other topics without rancor, browbeating, or an unpleasant tone in the air. I've failed at providing such a balanced and welcoming forum.

I blame this completely on myself. Years ago when I created this web site, I loved the idea of a writer's forum being an open house of ideas for readers and other guests invited in to a wide round table for discussion and refreshment. And then, unlike any sane or civilized host, I not only allowed discussions of politics, religion, abortion, Israel, war, peace, gay marriage, terrorism -- and anything else under the sun (just as I said on the welcome to the General Topics Forum) -- but I encouraged such hot-button discussions.

I then compounded the mistake by entering into the debates myself, sometimes vehemently.

This would be foolish beyond words when the guests at one's table are all old friends, but it's criminally foolish when the guests are a revolving round table of strangers, most of whom identify themselves only by screen names. One can't throw a masked ball for anyone who wishes to enter and then announce to the masked strangers that politics and religion will now be discussed.

For those whom I allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to speak and argue in extreme tones and whom I then slapped down, I apologize. For the vast majority of you who've browsed or participated in the forum discussions within the high standards of civility I asked for (but didn't always meet myself), I apologize again for allowing the general tone to deteriorate.

I'm going to suspend the forums while I think of how to improve this atmosphere. Perhaps it won't be possible without inhibiting free speech too much, but other writers have forums or question-and-answer pages which do not partake of extreme political arguments or dominance by a minority of posters with unbending opinions. Nor do they suffer from the inevitable personal attacks that ensue from such a mix. Perhaps the new Dan Simmons Forums, if there are any, might restrict participation to those willing to give their real names and also restrict discussion to literary topics, books and movies, and our very real shared quest for excellence in the On Writing Well forum. Or perhaps a writer's web site should avoid having forums altogether. I'll think about it.

I can't begin to explain to you just how much time and mental energy Mr. Simmons has invested into his forum over the years. He has led us in a literary scavenger hunt (I crapped out right early; I may have been an English major once, but I've been majoring in Half-Ass for years, since). He's engaged us in all manner of discussions and I'd testify that each of us has come out the better for it. Most of all, he's shared advice and anecdotes a-plenty on the craft of writing. With more than twenty published novels in a wide variety of genres, and numerous awards to boot, he has plenty to give.
The people on his forum constitute a community. Politically, they lean a fair bit right, but there are several lefties prominent among the denizens and all viewpoints are (respectfully) hashed out. I've been swatted down a couple of times, rather harshly at that, but I've always come back for more, recognizing that I learn most from those who disagree with me. 
It saddens me greatly that Dan has chosen this course, particularly since the "sea change" he refers to, from here, has been a very slight incoming tide in what remains an ocean of civility, at least compared to the rest of the Internet.
As of this writing, several people have offered to come forward and be forum moderators. I do hope that Mr. Simmons considers that proposal. For an author to be sole moderator of his own forum is all but unheard of. 

In the meantime, I'm a tad desolate.

5 comments:

Michael Francis said...

I wish he would have made it known somehow, before or during the registration process, that pseudonyms were discouraged. It's somewhat unusual to use ones real name on an internet discussion forum, but I wouldn't have had a problem with it.

Ken Breadner said...

There are a lot of things I wish he'd made known. My screen name is so close to my real name as to be almost transparent; I'm willing to be Ken Breadner anywhere online, too.
He needs a break from his forum, that's for sure. And if he ever comes back to it, let's hope he appoints a team of moderators to keep everything in check. I kind of thought shutting the whole thing down was a wee bit of an overreaction, myself. But hey, I'm not him, and we've all been lucky to share his site over the years.

Anonymous said...

Ken--As a daily reader of the Dan Simmons forum, I suspect that DS's novel-writing work is so emotionally demanding that it puts him in a state of heightened sensitivity which led to an over-reaction re a few forum posts.

I never noticed any egregious deviations from civility; only a few marginal cases that are certain to occur in any online forum. This could be easily remedied by a light-touch moderator or two.

Overall, the quality of posts on the DS forum is among the highest I've ever seen on the web. I especially appreciate the range of cultural/literary/political opinions, from JSuseri to ScottUSA. In fact, the quality is so high that I never registered because I thought my posts wouldn't live up to the high standard!

Thanks for posting DS's explanation above--he disabled even read-only forum access, so I couldn't read DS's own post about the shutdown.

As a registered user, can you read existing posts? If so, I might register just for read-only access to previous posts.

By the way: Can you explain the "we don't rent pigs" reference?

Thanks--
BillH

Ken Breadner said...

BillH--you'll be pleased to know that Alex3 has recreated the Simmons forum. It's got everything except, well, Dan Simmons. Most if not all the regulars are there. C'mon over.
"We don't rent pigs" is a line from LONESOME DOVE. The full line is "Well, we don't rent pigs. I figured it's better to say it right up front - 'cause a man that does like to rent pigs is - is hard to stop."
I always took that to be a friendly way of saying TROLLS NOT ALLOWED.

Nope, none of us can even long in to the old place anymore...

Anonymous said...

Ken--thanks for the info and link to the new DS Fans forum!

I'd never have found it--doesn't show up when I scroogle the obvious keywords.

I'll be reading the new forum regularly.

--BillH