One thing that seems to be missing from the Net is an online discussion forum for nuclear weapons activists. That’s a shame because, unlike social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, forums are great for in depth conversations on serious subjects like nuclear weapons, and the knowledge explosion which gave birth to them.
In this article I’ll attempt to share what I’ve learned from using forums almost daily for over 20 years and coding my own forum software. Let’s talk about what a forum for nuclear weapons activists might look like.
Let’s start with the most important decision any forum makes, the choice of publishing model.
The “Water Cooler” Publishing Model
The vast majority of forums use what I call the “water cooler” publishing model, in that they are similar to a random chit-chat gathering around the water cooler at work.
In the water cooler publishing model, almost anybody can join and say almost anything, a feature which has both pros and cons.
PRO: On the plus side, the water cooler model can be celebrated for it’s democratic inclusiveness, as literally anybody is welcome so long as they follow some basic common sense rules.
CON: On the negative side, such open inclusiveness is a recipe for low quality content. What always happens is that the most interesting posters get bored and wander off, leaving the forum to be increasingly dominated by the less interesting posters, a process of content degradation which tends to feed on itself and accelerate over time.
At this point in Net history there’s probably not much point in creating yet another “water cooler” type forum as there are already so many and the audience on any topic is thus typically very fragmented.
So let’s talk about a less commmon alternative publishing model which does give a new forum a chance to be unique.
The “Magazine” Publishing Model
The “magazine” publishing model is much like a typical print magazine. Everyone is free to submit an article to the forum editors (typically called “mods”), but only the articles which meet some standard set by the editors are published.
The Invitation Only Publishing Model
Another version of the “magazine” publishing model is an invitation only forum. In this case forum membership is limited to those writers the editors find interesting. Because the writers are pre-selected based on their past performance, the writers can typically be allowed to post whatever they wish with little intervention by the editors.
Quantity Or Quality?
In summary, the “water cooler” publishing model prioritizes quantity of content over quality, while the “magazine” and “invitation only” publishing models prioritize quality of content over quantity.
A key principle is, whatever you publish on a forum you’ll get more of. If you publish junk content, you’ll attract people who enjoy junk. If you publish high quality content, you’ll attract high quality posters. If you try to do both, you’ll wind up with mostly junk.
Nuclear Weapons Forums
There would seem to be two different audiences for a nuclear weapons forum, the general public, and committed activists.
It would likely be a mistake to try to create a single forum to serve both the general public and activists and experts. What’s almost sure to happen in that case is that the activists and experts will quickly become bored by the less informed discussion and will thus bail on the forum, resulting in what in reality would then become a general public forum.
Academics and other highly knowledgable people in particular simply aren’t going to invest their time in any forum that contains lots of posts such as “Wow, nukes are like awesome bad dude, like really!!!” In fact, such experts have probably bailed on forums in general years ago, and thus will require extra persuasion that a new forum really is a higher quality enterprise than what they’ve seen before.
The remedy here is to be clear from the start what audience a forum is going to serve, and then choose the publishing model most appropriate for that audience.
The “water cooler” model seems the most appropriate publishing model for a general public forum on nuclear weapons, while the “invitation only” publishing model is probably a better choice for the activists and experts.
A Forum For Activists And Experts
The most pressing need at the moment seems to be a forum for the activists and experts, so let’s focus on that for the rest of this article. Let’s start by giving some thought to how such a forum might be organized.
There are many different kinds of organization a forum for nuclear weapons activists might have, and it’s not my intent to argue for a “one true way”. The following ideas might be a place to start a conversation on organization.
What I see so far in the nuclear activist community is that each of the activist groups seems very focused on their own projects. As example, few to none of the activist sites seem to link to any other activist site.
So, with that in mind I would organize a forum for activists around the activist groups. Each major section of the forum would be named after an activist group, like this…
Arms Control Association
Back From The Brink
Beyond The Bomb
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
I would give each organization editorial control over it’s own section of the forum. This gives each group a sense of control and a stake in the success of the forum, and helps them continue to do what they’re doing on their websites, talk about their own projects.
All the group sections would be displayed on the main page of the forum so that it’s easy for any reader to travel from one group section to another to meet new folks and learn what they are working on.
If it were me, I’d go the extra mile and send out snail mail invitations to the desired members as most folks these days seem to pay quite limited attention to incoming emails, tweets and Twitter messages etc.
Digital communications are very easy to send, and also very easy to delete. Everybody is overwhelmed with data so it may take an extra effort to connect with busy activists.
Problems And Obstacles
A key problem arises from the fact that most forums on the Net use the “almost anybody can say anything water cooler” publishing model, and so naturally that’s what new visitors will expect to find. Some readers will be offended that they can’t immediately join an invitation only forum. Cries of “elitism!” and “freedom of speech!!” may populate the editor’s inbox.
Another challenge is that the members such a forum would most like to attract will likely have a dim view of forums in general, due to the low quality content that typically dominates the forum realm. If true experts are to attend and participate the editing team is going to have to go the extra mile in persuading such experts that this forum really is different than what they’ve seen before, and worth their time.
The above is the gist of what I’ve learned from thinking about forums to a, um, ridiculously nerdy degree for over 20 years.
None of what I’ve shared here is a “one true way”, but some of the general principles discussed here are worth considering before diving in to setting up a new forum.
I would set up a new activist forum myself, but at this early point in my activist career I’m not well known enough to be successful in inviting nuclear activists and experts who have spent years serving the cause. So I’m hoping a better known team will set up a forum for nuclear weapons activists, and I can support that effort.
Nuclear weapons deserve more than Twitter, don’t they? Yes, I think they do.