Thinking About Boards

May 2, 2006

Since the inception of VPchat I’ve refrained from putting up bulletin boards for our customers. My resistance was inspired by an early experience back in my Excite days. Boards were the second community product my Austin team implemented back in 1996.We used a flat-file solution at first, and the popularity of boards quickly made that unwieldy. We needed to change platforms. Along with a software upgrade, we redesigned the interface – moved from unthreaded to threaded discussions and changed the color scheme. We didn’t touch the existing posts or mess with the taxonomy.

Well. Apparently a few members of our loyal audience had different plans for the boards. This was my first experience with rabid users. My first exposure to wackos. The day I learned that customers do not like change. The day I received my first death threat. For real. I’m not sure how they found my name (I didn’t publish it) or our number (Excite had just acquired my company – we weren’t listed as Excite anywhere) but they did.

“Put it back the way it was, or I’ll see to it you don’t live to see tomorrow.” Click. He didn’t even have the nerve to stay on the line to hear my stunned silence. I didn’t call the police, but rather laughed it off as a nutjob with too much time on his hands. It creeped me out, though. I worried that he could find my unlisted personal information too. I quickly learned that such over-the-top outrage over minutia is commonplace. Soon it became an ordinary, often entertaining part of the job.

My aversion to boards was cemented in the early days of VPchat. There were 3rd party boards out there, run by fans and foes, and they inevitably filled up with hateful posts. It was only a handful of people who were the most vocal, of course. They posted under a variety of nicknames, artificially inflating their numbers, making the vitriol seem pervasive among our chatters. A great deal of the hate was directed my way and I admit I took much of it very personally.

The idea of putting boards up to accompany our chat service used to seem like a bad idea, but I’m over it. Let the people speak. It’s all about communication, right? And IMO, more communication is always better. VPchat is a community, after all. I hope it doesn’t get too ugly.

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