This piece was originally written about the newsgroup alt.toys.transformers, but much of the advice is useful in any online community, be it a newsgroup, a web-based bulletin board, IRC or what have you.

    Okay, so alt.toys.transformers seems to be descending into a morass of flames, off-topic posts and general stupidity. Nothing you do seems to help, in fact it just seems to get worse. What can you do to fix this state of affairs?
    Do nothing.
    And by that I don't mean leave a.t.t to the jackals, abandoning ship. I mean to *actively* do nothing about the noise. Decisively and purposefully do nothing.
    This can be a lot harder than it looks, mind you. Some people spend their entire lives devoted to trying to perfectly do nothing...it's just not in our basic nature to do nothing. We see something which offends us, either personally or in general principle, and we're impelled to act. It is in letting go of this desire that we may achieve equanimity, to use the term tossed about in the Bhagavad Gita. In other words, not getting worked up over things.
    One of the reasons I still read a.t.t (and a bunch of other groups) after all these years when others have given up in disgust is that I've learned to (usually) avoid flamewars and I aggressively ignore a great deal of what looks to be noise. It helps that I use a newsreader suited to this task (trn) and can get the thread subjects before having to read the articles. Oh, I'm not perfect, I still get drawn into things I should avoid, but even imperfect equanimity goes a long way towards keeping my sanity intact and my .newsrc full.
    Here's a few things I've found helpful in seeking net.nirvana, as it were.

  1. Recognize that you won't convince everyone.

        No matter how airtight your argument is, there will always be people who either find flaws, disagree with your premises or are just plain contrary. A lot of discussions turn into flamewars because one side or the other won't stop until everyone admits they're right, and once the reasonable arguments have been rehashed to death, all that's left are personal attacks and other noise. It's okay to clarify if you think someone misunderstood what you were trying to say, but once you've stated your position clearly, shut up on that topic. If your arguments are solid and your premises sound, you will convince those who can be convinced...don't sweat those who won't be convinced.

  2. Don't take disagreement personally.

        "You're wrong" is not the same as "you're stupid." Heck, you may even *be* wrong, and the poster is pointing out a valid flaw in your post. Now, this is not to say that I'm advocating a sort of relativism, where everyone can be right and everyone's entitled to an opinion (well, they are, but they're entitled to incorrect opinions too). Just don't take a correction as an insult unless it's blatantly obvious (like, "You're such a pustulating sore for thinking THAT!"). Again, as above, if you think the person is disagreeing with something you didn't say, clarify what it was you did say. But don't expect to convince him.

  3. Don't take insults personally, either.

        Okay, so you've been called a pustulating sore for saying you like Wheelie. This is the hard part...blow it off. Ignore the insult and the insulter. If there's valid points buried in the insult, you may want to respond to them, just edit out the name-calling. If necessary, paraphrase instead of directly quoting. But by NO MEANS should you insult the person back, because that turns what could have been an interesting discussion into a pointless name-calling fight. And while some people can be quite entertaining in their name-calling, it's generally not worth the time it takes to skim the post.
        Mind you, sometimes you may attract someone who has made it their life's goal to get a rise out of you, and it can be very hard to ignore them when they follow up to every post of yours with invective and foul language. But this is pretty rare, and you're still better off ignoring them, because the more reaction they get from you, the more entertainment they get out of bothering you, and they longer they'll stay.

  4. Take "Meta" issues to private email.

        Someone posts off-topic, and it offends your sensibilities. Fine, tell them they shouldn't do that, but do it by email, not in public. Few things start protracted flamewars more efficiently than public discussion of on-topic versus off-topic. The FAQs and other guides which get posted periodically should be enough public discussion of these matters.
        And remember, it's virtually impossible to stop someone from making their first off-topic post. Be firm but polite in explaining things to them and they'll be less likely to make their second off-topic post. Blast them, and they'll blast back.

  5. Stay above the fray.

        No matter what you do or don't do, flamewars will happen. A newbie is born every second, and tends to post before reading any of the instructions. When you see a flamewar start, just step back and let it burn out on its own, don't add fuel of your own...even telling someone to stop flaming will make a flamewar last longer. You'll feel better for not getting all riled up by reading the flames, and your reputation can only improve if you don't contribute to the flamewars. Well, at least your reputation among the non-flamers.
        Remember, "He who lies down with dogs gets up with fleas." That pithy epigram means that there's always unpleasant side-effects from getting in the middle of a bad situation, even if you go with the best intentions.

    Of course, the flip side of the coin is that you should contribute positively to a.t.t. After all, if you remove the noise and there's no signal underneath it, you haven't gotten much done.

    Dave Van Domelen, "He who lies down with penguins gets up with snow in his skivvies...."

Dave's Philosophical Natterings
Dave's Online Nest