IFTF is pleased to announce that we are now in the process of adopting the IF community forum at intfiction.org.

I should say: the forum moderator team are pleased to announce this, in collaboration with IFTF! They already posted the news last weekend.

The forum is a long-standing center of IF community discussion. It’s been continuously active since August of 2006. Mike Snyder, who has hosted the server since the early days, is now stepping down as maintainer. Our very great thanks to Mike for the years, effort, and financial support he’s put into the system!

So now the forum will pass into the IFTF domain. It’s important to make clear what this means.

  • IFTF now has a IntFiction Forum Committee. If you look at that page, you’ll see five people listed as moderators, led by Dannii Willis. These are the same people who have been moderating the forum for the past few years.
  • You’ll also see my name and Chris Klimas on the committee. We are not forum moderators, and we will not be directly involved in moderation decisions or policy. We’re there to advise and to act as liaisons between the mods and IFTF.
  • IFTF will own the intfiction.org domain, run the server, and pay for hosting costs. (Supported by your donations, of course.)
  • The mod team will continue to maintain the software and deal with the day-to-day work of running the forum. As their post notes, they are considering switching from phpBB to Discourse. That was their decision, and they’re making all the decisions about how the new server will be organized.
  • The committee chooses its own members (as long as there’s at least one board liaison). So the committee, including both moderators and board liaisons, decides who gets to be a moderator.
  • IFTF will provide oversight, stability, and support as needed. Since the server itself is run by IFTF, it is protected by IFTF’s status as a registered nonprofit with legal resources and so on. The forum also gains the benefit of being operated by an organization, rather than one volunteer’s web hosting account.
  • The IFTF board has the ability to overrule the mod team. However, we intend to use that authority only for emergency situations. For example, if the mod team breaks down and is unable to make decisions; or if the moderators make decisions which put the forum in legal jeopardy.
  • The mod team has the ability and authority to run the forum software — banning or editing messages if necessary, and so on. The IFTF board liaisons do not have that authority.
  • To be clear: I set up the Linode instance, so I have root access to the machine, so in theory I have absolute power. However, I would not use that power unless the mods request it or if it’s required for emergency server maintenance.
  • The forum has a code of conduct, and IFTF has terms of service. (Including a privacy policy.) All will apply. They should be compatible (we’re checking with our lawyer to make sure).
  • Beyond the guidelines of the COC and TOS documents, IFTF’s policy is to not dictate the shape of forum discussion. Think of this as editorial independence. The forum will be an IFTF project, but the “owners” do not decide what’s on-topic for the forum, or how topics are organized, or what counts as interactive fiction. The moderators decide that. They should not need IFTF’s input unless they’re seriously deadlocked.

This last point is subtle. We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about who “owns” the new forum. But not the way you might think! I came into the discussion assuming that the mod team would be the “real owners”; they came in assuming that IFTF would be. It’s been a bit of a “you first” “no you first” situation.

My (personal) conclusion is that “ownership” is a terrible way to approach community resources in the first place. That’s why I’ve avoided the word in most of the above discussion. (Except for the domain; there’s a clear notion of who owns a given domain name.) Spelling out our explicit areas of responsibility is much more useful.

Ultimately, this is a joint project on behalf of the IF community. It exists because the mod team approached us and we saw that we could help. If it turns out that we can’t work together, the solution is not for the “owner” to force a decision on the “subordinate”; the solution would be to amicably separate.

Why am I going on at such length? I could have just said “IFTF is taking over the forum, yay, party hats for all.” Why all this introspection?

The forum is the first IFTF project which has really had to grapple with this question. After all, when IFTF adopted IFComp, the Comp was run by Jason McIntosh — IFTF’s president. When the IF Archive came on board, I was the director. When Twine got IFTF support, the association was managed by Chris Klimas, Twine’s creator, who is also on the IFTF board. It was taken for granted that each project would continue to operate within IFTF with the same values and vision as it started with.

The forum is IFTF’s first outside project, in that sense. Some of us board members have participated in the forum — I’m an active poster — but we didn’t build it. It’s important that IFTF be able to support the forum without changing what the forum is.

Look at it this way: IFTF now operates a bunch of IF community resources. (Most of the resources I thought of as crucial in the 1990s… although of course IF is a far bigger pond today.) This centralization is a strength; we have nonprofit status and a shared donation stream. But it could also become a problem. Any observer of centralized social networks knows how sour they can go.

IFTF has authority over the resources that it operates. This is necessary for a bunch of reasons, including simple legal liability and the kinds of emergencies I described earlier. However, we want each of these projects to continue thriving in its own way, according to its own values. For the forum, that means a policy of editorial independence.

The problem is not centralization, but dominion. If IFTF were consolidating power — if it were even perceived as consolidating power — it would lose the community’s trust. So we have to be careful to avoid that.

Even dictating the definition of “interactive fiction”, across all our services, would be a fatal mistake. We’re not the people who decide that. You are.

So yes: party hats for all. This is a good move. The moderators now have the opportunity to update the forum. We think you’ll like the upgrades. But at heart, we trust, the forum will remain the community center it has always been.

Newer post: IFTF at Providence Geeks on Feb. 20

Older post: Accessibility testing underway, and a call for more blind testers