Fixing Broken Windows

broken-windows As we dip our toes in further to the social media waters, it brings to mind a great article I stumbled upon earlier this year, written by Jason Kottke, that deals with the broken windows theory of social behavior and its relation to online socialization. Kottke does a wonderful job of using quotes from older articles to explain the theory itself, then goes on to present his own thoughts on the theory’s relevance to our online experiences. It’s well worth a read.

In essence, what that “broken windows” theory states is that if a neighborhood building has one broken window chances are that, in relatively short order, the other windows will get broken out. This theory holds true regardless of the socio-economic structure of the neighborhood – rich or poor, suburb or urban. The explanation for the theory is simple: a broken window that remains broken is a sign that no one cares – therefore, breaking more windows costs nothing.

Kottke posits that the “broken windows” in the online community take the form of forum spam and trolling and un-moderated blog replies and forum posts. As he says, “[when] forums, message boards, and blog comment threads with more than a handful of participants are unmoderated, bad behavior follows.” This bad behavior, in turn, leads to more and more badness until the forum loses its relevance, its attendance, and its position of authority (or enjoyment). He also tries to infer that a site’s appearance may play a part as well, that a badly used template or poor design of a site leads to trouble. However, I think that’s a bit far-fetched. Theoretically it works, sure, but still a well-moderated forum can limit the bad posts even if the site looks horrible.

So, why write about this you ask? Well, first of all we have a fairly popular forum ourselves. People come to it looking for assistance, for answers, and for information on our company and our expertise. If we fail to adequately monitor what is said there, much less what we say ourselves, then we, too, can lose our attendance and our relevance.

Of course, I don’t intend people to take an iron fist when it comes to policing what is going on in our forum – we’ve done that in the past and while it keeps the forum “clean” and free from negativity, it can also lead to a too “antiseptic” feeling. Having some dissension in the forum is a good thing – it shows we don’t simply deny that we have faults or that we hide things from the public. However, if someone calls us out we should respond in kind; maybe not a full out verbal assault but with logic, with reason, and with just enough force to let people know we’re serious.

Plus, we’re NOT perfect. Sorry to slap people into reality here, but there is no Tooth Fairy, we DID walk on the moon, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and CrystalTech does make mistakes. The key is to be human about it and admit it. Apologize, present a plan of attack for fixing the issue and move along and get it done. This is what drives us, this is what puts us in at the head table and this is what we’re known for: transparency. Granted, there’s a fig leaf or two, but our windows are open, not broken.

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