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The State of the Framers List

This has been a difficult post for me to write.  Please bear
with me for a while...

Most of you have known me as a dedicated member of the Framers
list for many, many years, about 10 years IIRC, starting when 
it was on uunet.  Some of you are people with whom I've had 
lengthy off-list correspondence; some of you are Omni mif2rtf
customers; and some of you are known to me only by your many
helpful posts to Framers in the past.  What unites us all,
though, is our concern for the health and well-being of the
Framers community as a whole.

This is a special community to me.  We help each other, freely
sharing our time and expertise, openly debating the many issues
around FrameMaker from our often quite-different perspectives.
We do so with kindness, almost always without flaming, and with
respect for what we may learn from one another.  And, now and
then, with humor.  We may go off-topic, but we always return a
bit better for the journey.  Above all, we are a participatory
democracy; we have no "leaders" (though we certainly have our
elder statespeople) and need no policing, as we have no crime.
That is our strength, and it has given us a quality of life,
on the list, that we could well wish the larger societies in 
which we work and live to emulate.

Now, today, I see before us the greatest challenge to the life
of our community, as we have known it, that we have ever faced.
It is an insidious challenge, but no less deadly for that.

Over the years, I've seen at least three list administators
come, and go.  Thay have always been volunteers who undertook
the minutiae of list management for no reward other than the
satisfaction of a job well done.  Never did one see himself
as the "owner" of the list, with any authority whatsoever over
the *content* of our conversations.  Until now.

Brad Anderson has been different from the start.  He wanted
the list as a base for his business, and offered to provide
improved amenities in exchange for the good will he would
receive from Framers for hosting the listserv.  It seemed
little enough to ask, but it made me nervous; what if the
needs of the community conflicted with those of his business?
At the time, though, his glowing promises made that seem a
petty concern, and so I was silent.

When Phong announced the transfer, he pointedly said that
since explaining the reason for passing it on was not a
"requirement", he was not going to reveal it.  That made
me nervous again; did Brad *buy* the list?  We will never
know, because neither Brad nor Phong will say...  Although
I was worried about the possibility of undue influence, 
since all was not being done openly, again I was silent.

As time went on and the amenities failed to appear as had
been promised, I felt a bit concerned.  But there was no
agreed timetable, so the out-of-date FAQ, the broken list
archive, the bad links throughout the Web site, were each
excusable for a while.  When I was asked to pay $500 for a
product listing in what was represented as an "impartial"
roster of Frame-related products, I declined on principle,
as I felt it was a misleading business practice... but 
again, I was silent.

Last December, I posted a news item about a problematic
practice by Microsoft involving contractors, including
to my knowledge several list members, with this caveat:
>Posted here because of its major importance to many 
>developers, including *web* developers, on this list...  
>It appears to include technical writers too, according 
>to the text of the law as quoted at the end.

Brad responded off list (and this is his entire message):
>Do NOT post messages like this to the Framers list 
>again.  List list is for FrameMaker topics only.
>Brad Anderson
>list owner/operator

I was taken aback by the sheer incivility (as other list 
members had written and thanked me for the heads-up), and
also by the "owner" claim.  I considered pointing out to
him that censorship of content has *never* been a role of
the Framers list administrator.  But I shrugged it off;
it was easier to be silent.

In late August and early September, the list was having no
end of technical trouble; the list software was obviously
at fault.  I was unable to post myself until I resubbed
with a new name and address, something many members can't
do as easily as I can (having my own domain).  I wrote to
Brad several times, and never got an answer or any help.
But I didn't complain; he had just threatened, on Aug 18:
>If there are those of you that do continue to post these 
>types of "complaints" to the list, I will start a list of 
>email addresses (and add those individuals) that will be 
>restricted from posting to the list.

So despite the gross mismanagement and abuse of the whole
community happening right in front of me... I was silent.

Around Aug 29/30, Brad and Dan Emory engaged in a debate on
the merits of FrameMaker DB-integration products.  Brad did
not win.  I learned independently that Brad had a financial
interest in the success of the product he was advocating,
an interest he had not revealed to the list.  This is not
ethical.  But I wasn't free to identify my source, so yet
again, I was silent.

On Sep 11, Brad told the list that:
>Dan has temporarily had his posting priveleges suspended.
The reasons given were an absurdist mixture of lies and
distortions, and Brad himself violated established rules
of Netiquette by reposting a private message from Dan.
I was shocked; I have not always agreed with Dan's views,
but I certainly support his -- and everyone else's --
right to have them heard.  Brad went way, way past any
possible justification... and there seemed reason to 
believe that it was primarily intended to keep Dan from 
raising questions about Brad's new product, just the sort
of abuse I had feared at the outset.  But... it was only
"suspended", not "revoked", Brad would get over it, why
start a flame war... so I was silent.  As were almost
all of you...

On Sep 29, yesterday, Brad responded to the criticism of
his action by Bill Briggs, David Spreadbury, Bj0rn Smalbro,
and Lynda Simons with:
>... If they fail to still abide by the rules, their posting 
>privileges will be suspended. ... This is not up for debate.
>... The rules have been set.
while adding a brand-new rule for silencing critics:
>Do not post messages for other people, including those that 
>have their posting privileges suspended.
and clarifying that Dan was *permanently* exiled:
>Dan ... has now had posting privileges revoked.

Then Thomas Regner chimed in:
>For those of you making noises about "freedom of speech"
>on this or any other private forum... bunk.
>In a democracy, you elect who runs things for you.  On the
>Internet, you don't elect anyone.  Any list owner has the
>ultimate say over what will be posted and what will not be

But Brad is not the list owner in that sense; Framers is a
community that existed before Brad, and hopefully will yet
survive his malfeasance and bullying tactics intact...  And
yes, we *do* believe in freedom of speech here, which just
happens to be part of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, a treaty that has not been suspended in Cyberspace.
But we only get to keep freedom of speech if we are willing
to stand up and *speak* when it is being abridged, to speak
our truth to those who would immorally abuse the power they
were granted by the community to manage a *technical* task.

And so I cannot remain silent any more.

I have, therefore, made available to my community another
alternative to submitting to this abuse of authority.  I
have set up a majordomo list, called "Free Framers", for
all of us to share and run as a community.  I am donating
the listserv, and my own services to manage it; in fact,
the cost is *very* small, under $180 per year.  I am also
donating Web space.  My business will *not* benefit from
this; I guarantee that!  Nor will I be the manager of the
Web site; I'd like to ask for other volunteers for that.
We have plenty of bright, talented members who would do
that job far better than I... and I want the "power" to
be spread around, as in truth it is.

I would like to invite all of you to join.  Our first
order of business is to discuss and resolve, as a group,
how we want to run the list.  What rules *do* we want?
What *limits* do we want to place, to prevent another
disaster like Brad Anderson from befalling us?  I do not 
have any pat answers, but I do have a deep and abiding 
trust in the Framers community to come up, collectively, 
with good ones.  I trust our list democracy.

Several of you have already joined the new list.  If you
have not, please send a message to majordomo@omsys.com
with "subscribe framers" without the quotes in the body
of the message.  I am looking forward to continuing our
conversation there.  

Thank you for coming with me on this journey.  It has
not been an easy one... but I think it will lead to a
better future for us all, and for all of the Framers.
Together we will make it so.

Jeremy H. Griffith                        jeremy@omsys.com 
VP, Software Development             http://www.omsys.com/
Omni Systems, Inc.             California and Vermont, USA               

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