RFD: sci.aeronautics moderation

From:         Robert Dorsett <rdd@rascal.ics.utexas.edu>
Date:         9 Jan 1993 13:27:18 -0500
Organization: ics.utexas.edu
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This is a proposal to change the status of sci.aeronautics to that of a
moderated group.

History 
-------

Sci.aeronautics was created in mid-1989.  It was chartered to serve as a
discussion-group on aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, and human
factors.  The term "aeronautics," which is somewhat archaic, was
explicity chosen to give it a broad, "technological" feel, rather than
a specific disciplinary one.  It was created before the sci.engr
hierarchy was established.

Sci.aeronautics was created with sci.military in mind.  Sci.military
was one of the first "high-quality," non-comp groups.  With the
detailed professional and amateur knowledge there, and the discussions,
which often went into much more detail on fighter aerodynamics than
ever existed on rec.aviation, it was reasonable to assume that the time
was ripe for a dedicated aero group.

There was concern during that RFD that the group should be moderated,
in order to control noise.  After much debate, the group was offered as
unmoderated.  During the first year and a half sci.aeronautics worked
out very well.


The Problem 
-----------

During the original RFD, Eugene Miya made a comment that he'd support
the group, but that it would be a failure, for the simple reason that
few professional aero types would post in public.  There are many
reasons for this, ranging from fears of giving other countries or
companies the slightest edge, to fears of professional embarassment.
But the point is, by and large, he's been RIGHT: only a few,
particularly outspoken people comment in public.  The rest are
"lurkers." Despite this handicap, in the first year, the group did 
well.

Since late 1990, however, the group has become increasingly "noisy."
Threads such as a 50-post burst this year, on whether George Bush
actually rode in an SR-71 during the 1980 Presidential campaign,
exemplify this.  Posts and questions have tended to be less specific,
and more "trivia-based."

All of this has been alienating long-time users, including many aero
professionals and students, who had early on been frequent
contributors.  During the discussion period for the rec.aviation
re-organization and the airliners sub-group, I received many comments
from people who said they had unsubscribed from sci.aero, because it
had simply become unreadable: a waste of their time.

Even in public, people occasionally post messages asking legitimate
questions or seeking to discuss issues, but prefacing their posts with
apologies if such posts are *inappropriate*, since so much of the regular
traffic is off-base.

In a sci group, I think we expect a certain standard.  "Naive"
questions have an honored place in the group, but when the entire group
becomes an "oracle," a Q&A session, which presupposes enough people
will be out there to play "oracle," (and I suspect there aren't),
something is lost.  It becomes a so-so information resource, rather
than a discussion-group, which was what it was originally intended to
be.

We don't need to be "professionals" to discuss this stuff seriously: but 
a certain "ambience" must be maintained, so as not to *discourage* people 
from taking the group seriously.  It was the lack of this "ambience," I
believe, which induced Geoff Peck to offer his *rec* theory group,
during the rec.aviation re-organization, this summer.


Possible Solutions 
------------------

How do we "fix" the problem?  Several options:

1.  The most simple, straightforward way is to get people to post more
seriously, try to get discussions started.  Very difficult to get this
to work.

2.  Issue "netiquette" style posts, including the group's charter, on a
frequent basis.  This could work, but these tend to rub people (including
myself) the wrong way: too dictatorial.

3.  Create a "theory" group within sci.aeronautics, which would be
moderated, and a "regular" group, which wouldn't.  The main problem I
have with this is charters: the current charter for sci.aero is quite
"theoretical" as it is, and it's difficult to envision a "misc"
category, "none of the above."  In my opinion, sub-groups should be
case studies (e.g., airliners), or specialties (CFD, GPS), based on the
charter.

4.  Do nothing.  Hope the recent "unevenness" is a temporary thing, and
go on with life.  The problem is, I (and others) have been waiting for
things to straighten out since at least the summer of 1991, and they
haven't.  The situation has gotten much worse since the Bush thread
this summer.

5.  Change the main group to a moderated status.  This is probably the
"best" way to deal with the problem: it ensures that completely
inappropriate posts get redirected to where they belong (e.g.,
fighter-tactics on sci.military, airliners on sci.aeronautics.airliners, 
general aviation flying questions to rec.aviation).  More importantly, 
though, it would cut down on repetition, and, hopefully, ensure that 
message-thread "morphism" be reflected by more appropriate Subject: 
headers.


Would moderation tend to eliminate all "naive" posts?  I don't think so,
with sci.aeronautics.airliners as a good example: Karl Swartz has been
rejecting about 20-25% of submissions, but the resulting group has been
a good balance of discussion, theory, and "nice to know" traffic.  

The key here is to maintain the relevance of all accepted posts, and to help 
maintain a high signal by eliminating repetitiousness or polemic. 


Is moderation desirable in sci.aero's case?  I think it is.  The purpose of
this RFD is to discuss whether to create a theory group, or attempt to
remove the main group, and replace it with a new, moderated group.

I'm open to suggestions.  But I would like to make clear that I'm not
necessarily seeking to create a "scholarly" group.  My intent is to
return it to at least its early form, where both "amateurs" and "pros"
alike seemed to take it a bit more seriously.  I would also emphasize
that it remains a popular group with many people, and that the changes
are not intended to alienate them: merely to involve more qualified people 
in the group, which will be for the benefit of all concerned.  The 
airliners group is a good example of what is possible: consider the 
explosion of relevant, informal posts from people with industry exper-
ience at Boeing and Honeywell: many of these were lurkers on sci.aero, 
but never participated.  There is a wealth of human experience out there:
with the right forum, I believe people are more likely to participate.


Mary Shafer has agreed to serve as moderator.  My role would be to serve as 
an "administrative" moderator; I could also serve as a backup moderator, if
needed.  If additional moderators should be necessary, to cope with traffic 
load, personal vacations, burn-out, machine problems, etc., they could be
added as needed.  



If, within 30 days, it is still felt that there is a need to change the 
group, and there's a consensus on which changes are necessary, I will 
issue a call-for-votes.

To minimize "procedural" bickering, this proposal will take the form of the
complete new newsgroup voting process, including a standard-length RFD
and CFV, and will be subject to the rules in David Lawrence's guidelines
(November 30th revision).  There are no univerally accepted rules on changing
a newsgroup's status, so this seems the best way to proceed.

Please direct ALL follow-ups to news.groups, as per creation guidelines.
-- 
Robert Dorsett
Internet: rdd@rascal.ics.utexas.edu
UUCP: ...cs.utexas.edu!rascal.ics.utexas.edu!rdd