Dharma Trolls, E-sangha, and Open Buddha
I have a post from the early part of 2007 that gets regular traffic and comments here on my blog. It is concerned with e-Sangha, one of the larger (and one of the few successful) online forums for Buddhists, and the problems that I and others have had with it.
The problem with E-sangha is that it is pretty much the opposite of an open community. The comments on my original blog post by others confirm that a number of others feel that way as well. Rather than being transparent (and fair) in how it is run, it is dark and opaque. e-Sangha is run by a junta of moderators who are chosen by a means completely unknown to the members of the site. These moderators have complete dictatorial power over the site and wield it on a regular basis. Asking in the public forums about moderator actions is disallowed, as is questioning those actions. Users will often suddenly be suspended or their posts deleted. Whole threads of conversation will disappear (though not from the profiles of users, a little bug…) with no explanation. If anyone sticks their heads up long enough to question these things in public, they get told that you cannot question the moderators and often threatened with suspension for doing so. Not only is the site not a democracy but is run by an apparently self-appointed oligarchy responsible to no one but themselves.
In all fairness, I was censured twice there (for what I consider stupid reasons) because I questioned the objectivity and actions of a moderator in one of the forums. I’ve seen this kind of suspension happen a bit. Because of this and the general mood this evokes, I’ve avoided the place like the plague for the last while as much as possible but it is one of the few places to speak to Buddhists of all sorts. This forces many people to simply tolerate the way it is run and hope for the best.
For quite a while now, I’ve spoken to a few people about setting up some kind of alternative to E-sangha. After quite a bit of unpleasantness and politics on E-sangha this weekend, I’ve finally done it.
I’ve had Openbuddha.* (com, org, net) for a while now, always with the goal of setting up an open community site. With my community background in both previous jobs and my current work in the Mozilla space, where openness and transparency are goals, not horrors to be avoided, I’ve been wanting to create a new space. I’ve hoped to get more people that I know personally to sign up to help with it but, as always, everyone is busy.
Even with that, I’ve now bit the bullet. I set up a Drupal site on openbuddha.com, which I have creatively titled, “Open Buddha.” I want to invite anyone interested in Buddhism to go there. I hope to build a real online community there with site moderators drawn from the members, a published code of conduct for all members, and to have a generally open community.
On the site right now, most of the Drupal community functions are disabled except for discussion forums. I have a large series of empty forums set up (mirroring much of the forum structure of E-sangha) but I don’t have collaborative books, stories, or blogs turned on for users. If the site is used, I hope to begin making at least the first two available to some subset of trusted users during the next few weeks. I wanted to keep the complexity of the site as low as possible as it gets going and then gradually add more.