Friday, 24 June 2011

Self-centred old farts

Recently, I was moved enough to comment on my facebook that I don't like self-centred old farts. An old friend, Jimmy, then asked what was bugging me! Well, a lot bugs me nowadays. But the instance that I was referring to on facebook referred to the old farters on the OFA Penang mailing list.

Yes, the Old Frees' Association in Penang has a mailing list which was set up not so long ago. I've got well meaning friends who prefer to call us the Old Fuckers Association and now they would also probably call us the Old Farters Association. Doesn't matter to me that they are so jealous of our wonderful acronyms.

However, all these are only mentioned in passing as a "by the way." My original grouse was with the old farters who populate themselves in ANY mailing list (for short, I'm going to refer to this as a mailist from now on).

During my time with, I was one of the administrators of the HR Forum mailists that the company had set up for the human resource communities in Malaysia and the Philippines. These two forums were separately administered and had proven quite popular with the members and participants. And before that, I had already been running mailists mainly for the public chess-malaysia and the private oldfrees7072 groups.

But there were always inherent problems with mailists - all practical problems faced by mailist administrators anywhere - and I'd like to share some of them.

1) People joining mailists for no other reason than to spam the members. My only solution is to ban such people from the mailist. Or, right from the very start, keep the new member's mailist account moderated until he can prove to be a responsible member. The drawback is that when membership increases a lot, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of who's new and who's not. Moreover, I would prefer to take a hands-off approach and not moderate anyone's message. Being responsible for my own actions is bad enough, I shouldn't be responsible for other people's actions too.

2) People talking off the subject, often touching on sensitive issues and provoking flame wars. This needs a deft hand from the administrator to douse the flames as soon as they appear. The problem is that no administrator can afford to spend all his time observing his mailists for wrongdoings. There's life outside the mailists, okay?

3) Members attaching confidential or copyrighted material with their email message. This is also a sticky problem for the administrator. First of all, how would the administrator know that the attachment is confidential or copyright? Second, once the message is sent, it remains sent. There's no feasible way to recall any message. Third, I've long suspected that a mailist host can be held responsible for the wrongdoing as the material has passed through the host server.

4) A well-meaning member who offers to send material directly to other people who could contact him privately but sooner or later, it just takes a kiasu member (he must want everything, see?) who, instead of writing directly to the original member, posts his "please send me a copy" follow-up to the entire mailist. His stupid action is then repeated by other kiasu members and eventually, everyone on the mailist gets inundated with thier "me, too" requests. Seems that there are many people who simply cannot follow simple instructions.

5) And the last big danger is a nightmare to any administrator. When you go on leave, do you set an "out of office" message to reply to in-coming emails? Many people do. However, such messages can be set erroneously to reply automatically to every in-coming email instead of stopping once it's detected that the next in-coming email is from the same source. Because of this mistake, the "out of office" message gets into a never-ending loop and every member's mailbox soon gets flooded with hundreds of messages from this one person before the administrator can ever be alerted to this happening. When I was with, I had to have my friend and co-administrator, Ted, go into the system and kill off the member's idiocy.

The main consequence of all these mailist problems is that there are self-centred old farters who are so full of their own self importance that they'll take any opportunity to scream "take me off the mailing list" directly through the mailist itself and, yes, the message gets distributed again to everyone. So, the rest gets the same idea to scream "unsubscribe me, unsubscribe me" and pretty soon, the administrator is up to his neck trying to overcome the looming threat of a soon-to-be empty mailist. It's not pretty, I tell you!

And recently, this started to happen to the OFA Penang mailist. Someone had erroneously looped his "out of office" reply and two or three old farters demanded to be removed from the mailist. Now, as an old retired mailist administrator myself, even though I was not involved with the OFA Penang mailist administration and will never want to be, thank goodness, I couldn't afford to see this happen and I immediately sent a message imploring some tolerance for the first-time offender and besides, nobody would lose more than the old farts themselves who would be left out of further useful exchanges through the mailist. I believe common sense eventually prevailed.

So you see, Jimmy, that was what's bugging me the other day. I do admit that I'm an Old Fucker and now an Old Fart but never will I be a self-centred one.

No comments: