Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just say no to Yahoo!

If you want to discuss a specific aspect or product related to ham radio, the chances are there is a Yahoo! group about it. In fact, for certain subjects there are likely to be several, due to some people's habit of starting a group before looking to see if one already existed for that topic.

Why are Yahoo! groups so popular with the ham fraternity? I hate them! First of all, I hate Yahoo! as a company, for reasons that I won't go into. Second of all, Yahoo! groups are essentially mailing lists, a technology from the early days of the internet before search engines and forums were invented. When my mail client shows I have new messages, I tend to interrupt what I'm doing to see who has replied to me. I don't want to be disturbed by someone's contribution to a thread I haven't participated in and may not even be interested in. Consequently I read Yahoo! groups on the web. And compared to 21st century forum software, Google Groups or the free forum platform Nabble, Yahoo!'s web interface is slow, cumbersome and just plain sucks.

The third, and really major reason why I deplore the use of Yahoo! for ham radio discussion groups is that they tend to be moderated by despotic paranoid individuals who make them private and then apply their own idiosyncratic rules as to what is or is not admissable. The problem with making them private is you have to join to see what is being said, because none of the content can be found using Google (or Yahoo! Search, for that matter) which would add to the openly available knowledge on that subject. Personally I like to see what the tone of a forum is before subscribing. But often I just have a casual interest in what is being said about a particular transceiver or whatever and have no desire to join and participate.

It wouldn't be so bad if joining was simply a matter of clicking a few buttons and you're in. But the despotic paranoids who run some of these groups make you jump through hoops before they'll even accept you. You have to wait until a moderator reads your request to join, and if he doesn't think your reasons are convincing enough he won't admit you.

One Yahoo! group - about magnetic loops, if I recall correctly - had some rule to keep out "lurkers" that you were expected to post 4 times in a fortnight after joining. The group didn't like what I posted as I was raising concerns about RF exposure levels from magnetic loops, so I was kicked out. Another group, recently started to discuss an as yet unavailable new transceiver, includes the following condition: "Application for membership waives any "free speech" rights, and implies that the applicant is willing to submit to the rules set by the group moderators and owners." I'm afraid I find that unacceptable.

Can't we make more use of open discussion platforms like Google Groups or Nabble for specialized ham radio forums, and do moderators need to act like Stalin?
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