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Monday, March 13, 2006

MoveOn's Self-Inflicted Lobotomy: Alienated Members

I didn't intend to do a third article on MoveOn's ActionForum but when poking though the forum I saw the stream of negative comments buried 10,000 posts back, I decided to bring them to light. If you're new to this series it may be helpful to start with article 1 or article 2.

It is my contention that MoveOn's ActionForum amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy.... not just because they are trying to cram all 3.3 MILLION MoveOn members into ONE forum. The forum is dysfunctional because it endlessly churns out goals yet refuses to harness the talent of the membership to devise action plans. There's a rating system but it has so many defects it's worthless. It is my further contention that whenever there are problems at the forum those who run it seem pathologically incapable of rethinking their own dysfunctional forum model. They just further sabotage more features. The last straw was to start screening posts in what was touted to be a user-moderated forum.

The lobotomy analogy is fitting in another way. The forum is also dysfunctional that it pits those who have low expectations of what a good forum can offer and who love to game the rating system against those who believe in e-democracy and have experience in traditional forums that offer features like issue-specific forums, a reply function, an in-house message service, and a search function to find keywords or one's own posts.

How many just leave ActionForum in disgust or been banned for insisting MoveOn provide a decent forum? We may never know for sure. But this may provide a clue. I scanned the first 1000 of the top-rated posts. The top voted-on post in the current Great Goals forum has about 20,200 votes showing that there have been at least that many unique active membership accounts. Predictably it's a very old post, from the first day that forum was created back in November 2004. The highest rated post I've found from the last year was posted last December has some 5350 votes. Have 15,000 members left? Some may come back if MoveOn sends another email urging members to post at the forum. But it would not surprise me so many left since because there's little to hold anyone's interest. Between January and August 2005 there were numerous OTHER FORUMS dealing with these issues:

* What is your top question for DNC Chair Candidates?
* Help Choose A Name for MoveOn's New Organizing Campaign.
* Suggest a slogan for Operation Democracy, our new campaign.
* Tell us what you want Operation Democracy to do.
* Suggest a slogan for an anti-Rove campaign.

While I've certainly given the dysfunctionality of the forum plenty of thought, I think it's important to see what other members have said. I took a sample month, in this case November 2005, and looked for all the posts that criticized the forum. Including myself posts were made by 18 MoveOn members. I’ve edited the comments to get to the point and removed their town names from their sigs.

So since it's the nature of the ActionForum to forever shove posts down into MoveOn Oblivion, here are their words. Note: some complain of 3000 posts to rate, others 13000. They are simply referring to either the top-rate list or the main forum:

This survey
When I came here I had no idea there were so many questions. Hey this is the computer age, why not find a program to consolidate like questions. I responded to over 200, and am sure there many more worthy of votes, but this is unreal, and one
of the ways the NeoCons will retain power, is they know how to use the press and marketing. Get up to speed Move-On!

- Pat Hacker, Designer (November 04, 2005)

too many questions
The excessive length and repetitive nature of this forum reflect a problem with too much information. People are tired of being asked to respond to so many issues. Get organized, prioritize! The republicans do it. If we don't get our
act together we will never achieve our goals.

- Anne Berkeley, retired (November 04, 2005)

We need a Supreme Court forum ASAP.... a suggestion that I've repeatedly made here starting last July. Just how does MoveOn intend to fight the Right's takeover of the federal judiciary when it has at its disposal a mechanism to efficiently brainstorm and provide input from its membership, yet MoveOn deliberately sabotages, it?
According to MoveOn claims the rating system is to allow the best ideas to float to the top. Where's the evidence?
With only one active forum here it has become a dumping ground for all issues. Since MoveOn doesn't allow for traditional threads to discuss a topic, the forum is full of disjointed responses to posts. With so much congestion no one has the time to go though all the posts to even rate them... so the rating system is becomes meaningless... and those that make it to the top have more visibility so they get read and voted on more. In the mean time the vote from a single right-wing troll doom a good post to obscurity.
In the past MoveOn has seen fit to create forums on topics as trivial as finding slogans
While says these forums support replies... it's clear that's not true.
Yet MoveOn has had forums that allowed for ratings AND discussion...
We have every right to ask why MoveOn is not now providing us with more forums and the option to have simple discussions we expect from every other web forum.
Otherwise this forum is a waste of time and provides only the illusion of member input.

ulTRAX, researcher (November 04, 2005)

Forum Change
This forum is good, but it needs a bit more organization. It needs folders for topics that keep being reiterated. For example, election reform, health care, Iraq, all need groupings. I also agree with another user who said that a discussion type board might be a better format. I agree with portions of some statements, but not all. It would be great to be able to refine some of the ideas presented here through dialogue instead of statements.

- Melissa Angel, teacher (November 06, 2005)

MoveON Objectives
Convert MoveOn's Forum to facilitate communication between MoveOn members. That should be the number one objective to aid in the strengthening of this organization.

- Holly, consultant (November 07, 2005)

good bye
I feel compelled to post a note explaining why I'm leaving you and "your" 3.3 million members. Previously I have supported you quite a bit because I have generally agreed with your stated purposes, but I have always been bothered by your closed system. "Democracy in Action"? 3.3 million "members" and no internal elections? You won't even post your financials, and I never even got a form-letter response to my queries -- both electronic and by paper mail to your offices, I might add. Signing your emails with just your first names only irritates me. You constantly write about "we" and "us" but near as I can tell your own organization is modelled on 14th century monarchies. No thanks. Where is your own accountability? This forum? I don't think so. You can pick and choose and do whatever you want with the millions of dollars that earnest people contribute. Well, I'm sorry Joan and Wes, but you've kept this thing too tightly held, and I can only really vote with my feet, which I will now do. I wish you well in general, because I still agree with most of your positions. But frankly I have to wonder if on balance you are hurting the progressive cause. You have become almost a self-parody, a favorite foil for the Right. Your reactions and positions have become 99% predictable. Everything is a crisis and an emergency now, and always to be solved by sending you yet more unaccounted-for money. When you asked me to contribute $500 to a "matching fund" (matching whom? myself?) that was the final insult.

It's been fun. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

- Richard Minner, Director of Engineering (November 08, 2005)

MoveOn: Is anybody listening?
Below is a copy of an inquiry I submitted to the link provided at the bottom of the Forum home page: To: Sent: Wed, 09 Nov 2005 16:12:52 -0500 Subject: Status of action forum Please tell me how the Forum is being used, as it states, to set MoveOn's agenda, when members' postings merely get pushed further and further back as new postings appear daily, making it impossible to track any given topic or its response? Many, many others obviously share my belief that the number one priority for the country right now is to address the issue of impeachment and/or war crimes prosecutions of Bush and his top echelon. Why has this been ignored by you, when the mood of the country has never been more receptive to addressing the war and related criminal policies of this government, and when your own members express growing frustration with your lack of responsiveness?

- Kathy Parsons, School employee (November 09, 2005)

Make MoveOn more accessible!
You're very good at sending out "Do This" messages, and that's fine--but this forum seems to be the only way to contact anybody at MoveOn, and it's damned near impossible to get any sort of response. CONVERSATIONS GO BOTH WAYS. The Forums are fine in a general way, but a person could spend all day searching through them. Is there any way to organize the Forum into categories, such as election reform, environment, Iraq, corporate special-interests, corruption... I realize all of these are affected by election reform, so I think that's the most critical issue if we're going to restore democracy to America ... but posting and commenting here feels like shouting down a well. This is the most awkward, user-unfriendly forum system I've seen anywhere. It doesn't feel like a 'conversation,' because there's never any response from MoveOn management, and the emails urging people to participate here seems more like a PR maneuver.

- Jan Lindner, human being (November 10, 2005)

Action Forum Rating Bias?

I don't see how the neutral, objective Action Forum Rating System keeps an issue that only got 17 votes as the Number One "Top Comments" on Action Forum. I also don't understand how a comment in "Recent Comments" that only got one vote is kept in
the top five "Recent Comments" inspite of other more "Recent Comments" getting higher ratings and more votes. I find it interesting that those two comments that are kept "in view" of Move On readers are probably issues that Move On leaders personally endorse. I am a Move On supporter, however, I have to wonder what is going on here!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 14, 2005)

re: Action Rating Forum Bias? - Reply to Timothy Hansen
Thanks for the reply and information. Today, I posted my first ever comment on Action Forum, "Draconian Mandatory-Minimum Sentencing Requirements". I guess I was totally dismayed to find that my comment rapidly went down the "Recent Comments" list
because, (1) a comment that was made before mine was somehow "reposted" in its entirity above my comment (even though it was an older "Recent Comment" - See "The Graham Amendment..."), and (2) comments that were not in the original listed order somehow appeared in the middle of an already established line order. I guess I was also frustrated because I thought I had an important issue/information to pass along to Move On members. To see it "buried" so quickly made me wonder why I even bothered. Is there a better way to bring up these kind of issues?

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 14, 2005)

The forum needs a SEARCH function to truly see what people consider the MOST important!
the basic idea of this forum is great. HOWEVER - if you REALLY want to know what's important to members - don't force people to read EVERY letter on EVERY subject just to FIND the letters that address the topics they agree are the MOST CRUCIAL! - let us search for topics we believe to be the most crucial and let us vote on them - or add our own. There are rare moments when I have the time to read a lot of other people's comments on a million issues. Sometimes it's enlightening. But most of the time it's just frustrating - and counter-productive. So people write their own letters that often end up reinventing the wheel over and over! If you've got the time to write a letter - great. If you've got the time to wade through what everyone else has written about a million different topics - great. But give the majority of people who don't have the time to wade through a million various topics a place to use their time more EFFICIENTLY - let us SEARCH for the topics we DO believe to be the most crucial. We can then vote on letters - or write our own. You don't even have to change the way you're doing it now - just ADD A SEARCH OPTION for the rest of US. THAT would tell you what people REALLY think is important!

- suzanne allison, Graphic Designer (November 15, 2005)

re: Bari - Action Forum Rating Bias? - Reaching Move On
Many thanks to Timothy L. Hansen for his comments, advice, explanations, input, etc. They are extremely welcome and helpful. However, I will still have to admit that I am still somewhat doubtful that the Action Forum is a good place for "concerned citizens" to "take action". Perhaps there is a better way to organize Action Forum into a more interactive media, with search engines, groupings, what not. I am not a "techie", but, I am sure some of you out there know how to really make this work. How about it folks, why don't you let Move On leaders know that we need a better, revamped, and more interactive Action Forum. Make your posting on this today!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)

More Interactive Action Forum? Take a Vote!
Please vote YES or NO, and please mark an "importance rating". Would you like to see a better designed and more interactive Action Forum with the ability to develop threads, replies, groupings, search capabilities, follow-up, etc? VOTE NOW!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)

I Give Up on Action Forum
Action Forum is just too time consuming and frustrating to use. I have made a honest and erstwhile attempt to participate in this forum. I feel like I am just spinning my wheels here. I have no choice but to search for other avenues for better ways to "advocate" and "fight for" for a better America. Good luck folks...

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)

In the past MoveOn has seen fit to create forums on topics as trivial as finding slogans:
So why isn't there a forum so MoveOn can get member feedback on protecting the Supreme Court?

ulTRAX, researcher (November 16, 2005)

NEXT FIVE!!!!!!!
When I hit next five, that's what I want. Not taken back in your archives to stuff written 6 months ago. And I shouldn't have to go through 120 posts to see the reactions of the post I wrote yesterday. We are interested in what we think is important, not what the monitor wants us to think is important.

- rjhangover, musician (November 21, 2005)

Forum for goals
I do not think this forum format works to set goals. I open up the forum and I see that there are 12,000 submissions for me to puruse. Dempocracy is great but direct democracy for more than 20 people is unworkable. You need a more focused discussion format.

- Steve Cohn, none (November 25, 2005)

13,000 Comments are Too Many
This forum is poorly organized and impossible to use effectively. I calculate it would take 54 8-hour days to read through all the comments. I urge to make the following upgrades to make it useful:
1) break postings down into topic areas
2) make the entire forum searchable
3) make individual topic areas searchable This would allow users to effectively support issues they are passionate about and decrease duplicate posts.
For all I know, there are already 100 posts on this topic, but I'm not going to spend 54 days looking for them.

- Thomas J. Willis, Merchant Seaman (November 27, 2005)

The forum has too many comments and is hard to use!
There are 13000 comments in this forum. How do expect your guests to find topics they are interested in, review them and comment on them? Also, several of the first comments are all on paper ballots and repeat ideas. You need a moderator for this forum to reduce and organize the number of comments.

- Bruce A. Ernst, Information Technology (November 28, 2005)

My suggestion is to index the The problem with this system is that when I go to this page, I only see one, maybe two ideas and they float to the bottom
quickly...out of sight, out of mind. How can we all get behind one idea when you have to do a million page clicks to find one that you support?? THIS FORUM NEEDS INDEXING!!!

- Joseph Dowdy, Entertainment & Technology (November 28, 2005)

Better organization of the Action Forum
With over 3000 comments, there needs to be some active knowldge management and categorization. The like comments need to be grouped together under specific headings ie; Election Reform would be the major category with sub-headings of Voting porocess, campaign finance reform, Redistricting. Without someone actively managing this knowledge base, only the items which float to the top get viewed - it is difficult to have time to view all 3000 items, so you tend to start at the beginning and only go part way through the items.

- Linda Stone, Retired Management consultant (November 28, 2005)

Forum Useful??? Not for Us
I guess that moveon will use a word scan program to find out what is coming up over and over... but I don't think it is helpful for a dialogue or communicating for us. I also do not think a word scanning program is the way to set priorities. Just one woman's opinion. :-)

- June Mohns, Property Manager (November 29, 2005)

This is simply a reiteration of a past comment, but needs to be heard by MoveOn, otherwise what is the point of this forum? An opportuinty to Search Subjects would be useful.

The forum has too many comments and is hard to use! There are 13000 comments in this forum. How do expect your guests to find topics they are interested in, review them and comment on them? Also, several of the first comments are all on paper ballots and repeat ideas. You need a moderator for this forum to reduce and organize the number of comments.

- Bruce A. Ernst, Information Technology (November 28, 2005)
Scores (13) 78% AGREE

- Sherril Smoger-Kessous, Speech Pathologist (November 30, 2005)

(updated 9-19-06)


Friday, March 10, 2006

ActionForum: MoveOn's Self-inflicted Lobotomy... a virtual debate

This article is written with the sincere hope MoveOn will rethink its dysfunctional ActionForum. Given that so many of the forum's features... even the reply function, have been disabled, this is a virtual debate with MoveOn's ActionForum Webmaster. I will respond to his words taken directly from his posts.... some have been nuked. I've included the date which each was posted. Since I keep finding new posts, this article may be revised a few times a day. This is a follow-up to my original critique of the ActionForum in the article below this one.

Any political organization is only as effective as the quality and implementation of its ideas. To insure a constant flow of quality ideas MoveOn teamed up with ActionForum to run an e-democracy forum that claims to specialize in
· Think Tanks
· Policy Formation
· Planning & Public Participation Processes
· Research and Development
· Corporate Decision Making

It is my contention that each time there's a problem at the forums, MoveOn's idea of a "fix" is to further sabotage its own e-democracy model. So much of its potential benefit has been deliberately destroyed that it amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy. The forum now denies the leadership access to the ideas, creativity, and cooperative potential of the membership.

As for why there is but ONE forum for all 3.3 MILLION MoveOn members:
TIM H. November 15, 2005:
Imagine you attend a public meeting, you walk into a large room and there, one by one, people are getting up and addressing the group about what is important to them. You listen, sometimes you clap and some times not. Some people you are bored with and some you find fascinating. Since so many people are giving speeches you can't possibly listen to all of them, but you discover that you can hear a repeat of those that the people clapped the loudest for without too much difficulty. It is exhausting, but you learn a lot about what the group as a whole thinks important by what they clap at. You also learn about yourself when your clapping doesn't match with the others. You begin to sense a community with the other participants.

RESPONSE: Nice cozy analogy but it falls apart under the most cursory examination. Town meetings come to an end. They do NOT ramble on for nearly 18 months with a slow trickle of people coming in to speak, listen, or applaud. People have their say but it's not just to hear themselves speak... there's a purpose behind it: to have input into an eventual policy vote. The current forum model is no town meeting. It is a dumping ground for all topics. It has no direction. It never breaks down into subcommittees to focus on a problem. It just churns out posts, few of which are read. There is no attempt to harness the talents of the membership to devise strategy and action plans. The rating system is dysfunctional since it has several built-in defects discussed at length in my last article. It can never work in the absence of guidelines nor can it meaningfully compare apples to aardvarks. Your insistence on just one forum also means the entire e-democracy decision making/policy development model you once championed can never work.

You wrote above It is exhausting, but you learn a lot about what the group as a whole thinks important by what they clap at. That is another gross misrepresentation of what goes on at the ActionForum. In reality the group as a whole is NOT at work rating posts. As I posted in the last article I found one post with 20199 votes proving that there are were once at least that many unique forum members. I did an average of the votes per post for one sample day, December 12, 2005. I did not include posts that benefited from the rating system's display bias 2 of which had several thousand votes. The average was 8.9 votes per post. That meant the average post may be rated by miniscule 0.00045% of members registered at the MoveOn forum. Your constant effort to put lipstick on a pig borders on scandalous.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
A structure of a forum is a balance of many competing interests. There are trade offs. Depending on your agenda, you may or may not be happy with the trade offs. The structure of the forum primarily supports people who are proposing ideas to MoveOn. Every comment is read at least twice by MoveOn, summaries are made, comments passed on.

RESPONSE: My agenda is simple: an organization like MoveOn is only as effective as the quality of its ideas. A killer idea implemented in a timely manner is worth its weight in gold. Since this forum is the ONLY forum MoveOn provides its members and it's MoveOn's PREFERRED method of receiving input members, I simply want to insure the forum DOES provide quality input on a timely basis. That's why it distresses me so to see that MoveOn continues to sabotage its own e-democracy model. It alienates many committed MoveOn members who have left in disgust. Now I think the REAL question here is since YOU were once a big supporter of the e-democracy model which you STILL BRAG ABOUT even while you refuse to implement it, what's YOUR agenda? Why insist on a format when you know members can never read all the posts? Worst... why continue with a model you admit is on overload. Four months ago you wrote this
TIM. H November 11, 2005:
MoveOn's forum is a large forum. This means that there are more comments than anyone person can, or would want to read. The description of ActionForum was written for a small forum where one would expect one to read all the comments. Since MoveOn has grown very large, its forum is large.

So you fully admit the forum does not permit members to read every post. So why does MoveOn REFUSE to fix the problem? Why run a forum in a manner that is so user-UNfriendly, that can't provide members easy access to the issues they care most about, and that has a worthless rating system? Why not just do what EVERY OTHER FORUM DOES: create numerous issue-specific forums and permit discussion. This would allow for an efficient concentration of people interested in a topic and permit synergy. Yes Tim... some believe there's a greater benefit to CONCENTRATING members interested in a topic as has been done at ActionForum in the past.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
There are people out there who don't like the fact that their comment doesn't get much traction. They blame the forum structure and write comments like ulTRAX's. They are angry. They scream "fix the forum" as if there is something wrong with it or that they would like it any better if it was changed.

RESPONSE: You wrongly assume that anyone who has a problem with the way you run the forum has petty motives. That's an insult to committed members who simply want to see MoveOn live up to its e-democracy promise... or see that MoveOn is getting QUALITY INPUT from its members. I could care less if my ideas get "traction" in the current forum since as a Progressive I already know my ideas don't appeal to most liberal Democrats. Without clear guidelines, with too many topics, and with the built-in biases the rating system comes up with winners and losers, but it's all meaningless. In fact I suspect the rating system has a perverse effect, training those who can tolerate your forum to write post that appeal to the lowest common dominator. One of the other reasons I find your forum an exercise in utter frustration is one can post what seem like common sense ideas and never know why there are some "disapproval" votes since you refuse to enable responses. BTW, you refused to ever answer the question whether those running the forum are voting.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
MoveOn could add replies, they have the software. But very few people will read the replies--and often there is very good information there. Also, the number of stupid on liners would go up, as would rants and flame wars. It is much better instead of writting a reply that one simply write a new comment addressing the issue.

RESPONSE: There you go again... because YOU think some might not read responses you feel justified eliminating them. It's really up to the two parties, the original poster and the responder, to decide the value of a conversation.... NOT YOU. Some responses might contribute to improving a killer idea that could be invaluable at a political tipping point. But you obviously don't believe in synergy or collective brainstorming. The reply function is a feature taken for granted at every other forum I've even been to... and I belong to about 40. Your idea of posting replies unconnected to the original post is also absurd... especially since by design anything posted in your forum is forever pushed down and there's no reason for anyone to even look for responses. And that's EXACTLY what happened today. While combing the forum for your posts, I stumbled across a post you wrote to me back on July 17, 2005. I never saw it until today.

And to add contradictions to absurdity last November 11th last year YOU recommend to someone complaining that they could not read all the posts:

No one expects you to read them all. That is why they are rated. Read the top 20 or so of the top comments, look at some of the recent comments, and if you have something compelling tell us what you think.

In essence you were aggravating a bias of the rating system by encouraging the rating of top listed posts which already have an advantage.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
We could divid the forum into topics, but then we wouldn't all be on the same page, and the forum would truly just be talking to the choir. The benefit would go down.

TIM H. March 1, 2006:
But there is a bigger problem with topics. People only look at what they think they are interested in. It is true for me. I never would have taken voting paper trail seriously, or peace building for that matter, if this forum us divided into topics. This is because I never would have looked at the topic, I never would have known there was something there. So dividing into topics won't make it so more people view a comment before it is buried, but it will make it so only the choir looks at the comment. Don't get me wrong, topics are good for somethings--like forums on antiques, sports, etc. MoveOn wants you to be able to address the whole group, not just those interested in a particular topic.

RESPONSE: You keep harping that having one forum means everyone's on "the same page"... yet there HAVE BEEN OTHER FORUMS HERE. There's McCain-Feingold forum you still give as an example on the Unique Features page. Below is a partial list of some discontinued forums I've found:

FORUM 263 started November 2003:

Help decide the slogan for the first Voter Fund T-Shirt
FORUM 265 started January 2004

What "great goals" would you choose for our nation?
FORUM 267 started Jan 2005:

What is your top question for DNC Chair Candidates?
FORUM 268 started Feb 2005:

Help Choose A Name for MoveOn's New Organizing Campaign
FORUM 269 started March 2005:

Suggest a slogan for Operation Democracy, our new campaign
FORUM 270 started May 2005:

Tell us what you want Operation Democracy to do.
FORUM 271 July to August 2, 2005:

This was the forum to find an anti-Rove slogan.

Curiously while you were directing members to post in the correct Rove Slogan forum you must have created, you were, just days before, defending the idea of NOT having other forums:
Tim H. July 19, 2005:
Get a search feature, divide up into multiple forums and loose the ability to pitch your ideas to a lot of new people. You then will only be able to talk to the choir--what good is that.

What good is it? It's the only SMART way to run the contest. You keep arguing against policies that MoveOn followed just a year ago. You were Webmaster then. YOU MUST HAVE CREATED THE ABOVE FORUMS. If not then I await your public condemnation of those who dared violate this precious "same page" philosophy.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
And yes, the information about the forum is dated. It is time to do version 3, but I don't see fundamental changes. I believe that MoveOn does need something more, in additon to the forum. I believe we should have an online thinktank so investigate some core issues. It is not top priority, 2006 election is. But it is important.

If you think there should be a think tank, why isn't there one? If election 2006 is so important... WHY ISN'T THERE AN ELECTION 2006 FORUM? Defeating Roberts and Alito was also important... yet MoveOn REFUSED to create special forums to discuss strategy. I think that refusal went a long way in insuring MoveOn's campaign to protect the federal judiciary was poorly thought out and ineffective. As for the software, it's so user-UNfriendly it doesn't even rise to the quality of kludge. GET RID OF IT!
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
There are metrics for judging a forum. By many of them ActionForum is tops. Our comments word count is very good, we have relatively few flame wars. Our content is diverse and we have a very large number of people posting. This is done with automatic posting with moderating after the fact. ActionForum works well.

RESPONSE: The only REAL metric that counts is if ActionForum is doing EVERYTHING IT CAN to insure an efficient method of providing the leadership with meaningful input from the membership on a timely basis. If the leadership wants guidance on specific issues, short-lived ad hoc forums should be created with clear questions for the membership to address. The site should be user-friendly, allowing a member to easily find a topic they are interested in. This REQUIRES that issue-specific forums. Such forums would encourage synergy in developing ideas. The site SHOULD provide members with a sense of community. There's no cooperative teamwork in the current forum nor is there ever any end-product as was the case in the forums listed above. By THESE standards ActionForum is an utter failure.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
We had replies for a few years on the great goals forum. We also took a very hands off approach to moderating. By Feb 2004 things had deteriorated to the point we had to take action. People, who weren't MoveOn members were coming on and posting stuff that wasn't appropriate. We disabled some types of links and we eliminated the replies function. We created tools to remove and block people and to just move comments. In my view it was a noble effort that failed because of a very small percentage of people. There was a good side, we learned more about community.

RESPONSE. How do other forums deal with such problems? Certainly they don't self-sabotage their own intent. Perhaps the real message here is the current FORUM is based on a defective design. Why doesn't MoveOn just do what all other forums do: GET REAL MODS! Why this seeming need to run the MoveOn forum on the cheap? Is MoveOn unwilling to put up funds to provide its members a REAL forum?
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
With time our understanding of how change comes about, what moves people evolved. I believe that repetition is very important, that hearing it over and over, from different sides, from different views, is the most effect way to move people. There is nothing wrong with redundant comments, they serve an important purpose.

RESPONSE: Since when can YOU claim some monopoly on how a forum will be valuable to the 3.3 MILLION members MoveOn claims to have? As for redundant comments, one would expect to see them in a forum filled with liberals/progressives. But what's the point of an endless stream of posts calling for impeachment, perhaps 10% of all posts, yet providing no place to discuss/develop impeachment strategy?
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
ActionForum cupports dialogue, not discussion. There is a difference. Discussion comes form percussion, hitting on something over and over--arguing. People who think discussion is important have the view that there are magic words that will somehow change the beliefs of people. If the right words could just be said, people will change. There is no indication that this is true for value based beliefs.

In reality your statement is a distinction without a difference. You sound like a hair-splitter trying to reconcile the ORIGINAL INTENT of these forums with what they have degenerated into. What we're talking about is simply the REPLY function.... something EVERY OTHER FORUM HAS.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
What works is hearing peoples stories, their beliefs. What also works is having people tell their stories. Change is slow, but happens. Many people on this forum have move me in a different direction, they moved me not through arguments, but through careful examination from many different sides.

RESPONSE: That's just YOUR opinion. Since when is this forum about YOUR needs? Wasn't the original intent to provide MoveOn with useful feedback from the membership? It's not that difficult to have a General Discussion forum AND issue-specific forums.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
There are many forums out there. There is probably not one structure that will fit everyone. Forums are self-selecting--unless moderators kick people off. If one doesn't like the forum they should simply self select somewhere else.

RESPONSE: Pray tell Tim... what is so difficult about providing forums to suit the needs of ALL MEMBERS?
TIM H. June 14, 2005
MoveOn wants to know what its members think, not what a self selected subgroup of its members think. MoveOn wants its members to be able to address the group as a whole, not just a subgroup.

Really? I believe the nature of the ActionForum is so polarizing it, in essence, is now selecting the members. Anyone who is used to traditional forums or believes in e-democracy will quickly get disgusted and leave... or banned for trying to reform the place. This raises a legitimate question whether those who remain or even thrive in this dysfunctional environment provide a representative cross section of the membership MoveOn claims it wants. I don't believe they can. So when you say we should just "trust" them to rate the posts that may help set the agenda for the organization.... my answer is no thanks!
TIM H. March 5, 2006:
Well, say we had ten groups, most of the comments would still end up in just 3 or 4 of the groups, so there would still be to many to read. There would be too many to read even if they were evenly divided. We trust the majority of our fellow members to rate the comments we can't get to. By dividing the task up amoung all of us, no one has to read all the comments. The top comments simply are the one the majority of us think most important."

The majority thinks the top posts are the most important? That's utter nonsense. You KNOW the rating system can rate higher a post approved by a mere 10 members than one approved by 10,000 members but has 1000 disapprovals. As for telling members that they should just "trust" others to represent them, that is an insult. MoveOn members have a RIGHT to have a forum that presents suggestions in a user-friendly manner... not a poorly designed and operated forum that tries to jam everyone into one forum because of some bizarre "we want members to be on the same page" theory.

In the end there's really NO reason for everyone to read everything. But those interested in a specific topic should be able to read/rate ALL the ideas dealing with that topic. Having numerous issue-specific forums would spread the post load making them easier to read/rate. Forums should not exist forever. They should be created to address issues that the leadership has to make a decision about or needs advice on. There was a recent letter about Bush/Katrina. Before it went out there should have been a forum created asking the membership how best to exploit this issue.

One last thought... I think it's clear you and MoveOn need to think about what this farce of a forum does to MoveOn's reputation.

(revised 3-12)


Thursday, March 02, 2006

STALAG 266: The Dark Side Of MoveOn.Org

This is part one of three articles on MoveOn. It is written with the sincere hope MoveOn will rethink its dysfunctional ActionForum.

I once has immense respect for MoveOn. It seemed to have its act together in the battles it chose to fight. MoveOn house meetings embraced and encouraged a spirit of equality and open expression. Which is why their on-line forum seems so shockingly out of character. Compared to other on-line political forums, its operation is so restrictive it deserves the designation of Stalag 266.

MoveOn is only as effective as the quality and implementation of their ideas. To that end the ORIGINAL idea behind these Action Forums is intriguing. Here is a 2001 proposal for an e-democracy policy development forum by the current Webmaster of ActionForum.

On MoveOn claims:

How does MY voice count?
At MoveOn, every member has a voice in choosing our shared direction. Using our ActionForum software, you can propose issue priorities and strategies. Others will see and respond to your suggestions, and the most strongly supported ideas will rise to the top. We adopt the issues that rise to the top as our campaign priorities. In 2000, for example, our members chose campaign finance reform and protection of the environment as our two top issues. In 2003, Iraq and media reform rose to the top. We'll also continue take the initiative to organize quick action on other timely issues as they arise.

What a crock! The Webmaster has admitted that a post with as little as 10 votes can rate higher than a post with 10,000 votes.

Yet I can see this model producing meaningful results under given certain conditions. One example was a short-lived forum from January 2005. Members were asked: "What is the most important question for us to ask each of the DNC Chair candidates and report back to the MoveOn membership?"

But now instead of providing an e-democracy forum to develop and vote on ideas, MoveOn continues to sabotage their own model. In the process they've sabotaged the hope of quality input from its membership. It amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy. The MoveOn forum is now a suffocating straightjacket that violates the very principles they once claimed were their strength. Yet ActionForum STILL BOASTS about those features it REFUSES TO ENABLE! Check these pages:




We see statements such as:
"ActionForums are structured to promote a productive dialogue by the rise of ideas with broad support. They make clear where agreement and disagreement lie. ActionForums support threads of comments and replies to comments ordered by the preference of the participants rather than chronologically. ActionForums are fair and non-partisan because they operate according to a content neutral set of rules, which are applied automatically

We’re told ActionForum: “Encourages Dialogue”, “Builds Communities”, “Enables Collaboration”, “Identifies Areas of Consensus”, Generates Reporting that gives the information you need to take an Action.


Until August 2005, MoveOn has had other several issue-specific forums on various topics, one to find a t-shirt slogan. Yet MoveOn REFUSES to offer forums on VITAL TOPICS like protecting the federal judiciary, reframing the Progressive message, election 2006, impeachment, developing a long-term vision, taming corporations, constitutional reform, free trade, etc.

MoveOn now only promotes but ONE forum... its National Great Goals forum. This last one started back in mid-November 2004. Predictably it's become a dumping for every topic a MoveOn member can think of... most have NOTHING do with goals. Even the most highly rated posts rarely have anything to do with goals. The forum now has over 40,000 posts.... most of them have just a handful of ratings.


The rating system was to let the best ideas rise to the top… and permit the members to “police” the forum since the good would drive down the bad. Yet what rises to the top are often bland, feel-good, statements that with nothing specific to object to and certainly can’t not provide MoveOn with any useful input. Since there are no useful guidelines to provide a common rating standard anything can rise to the top. Here’s one that was the #1 post on March 1st in MoveOn Land:

Re: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You - You forgot AIPAC
Liberty Pilgrim, you forgot to mention the most dangerous one of all, the one riding the multi-headed beast – AIPAC.
- Dan XXXX, Marketing (March 01, 2006; Canton, MI)

It wasn't even a "goal". It's a note to someone. It just briefly beat the odds in MoveOn's dysfunctional rating system. It was vague, and happened to be posted when 10 members were on-line to read/rate “important” it before it slipped into MoveOn oblivion.

The rating system has two components. The first is a simple agree/disagree choice. The second rates ideas on an importance scale of 1-5. A unanimous 10 “most important” votes is the magic number to get a post to the top-rated list. On November 14, 2005, the WebMaster explained it this way:

“Recent comment are just ordered by time. Last posted is top of the list. When (and if) a comment gets over ten importance ratings it will also show up in the top comments. So the a comment with over 10 importance ratings will then be in two places--the chronological list in recent comments, and in the top comments ordered by the average importance ratings.”

Since 10 is such a low number, votes can easily be skewed by right-wing trolls… or mods trying to kill any criticism of the forum. MoveOn claims
“This insures that when a comment is inserted it is relatively close to where most people think it should be.”
The Webmaster continued:
“Since it is an average that is used (total number of stars divided by number of people rating) the number of ratings isn't that important.”

The number of votes ISN’T IMPORTANT? Talk about an arbitrary rating system. It can give a post with the approval of a mere ten members a HIGHER rating than a post with the approval of 10,000 members but with 1000 giving it lower importance ratings. How can this EVER “make clear where agreement and disagreement lie.” as MoveOn claims? It can’t. The rating system provides only the ILLUSION of agreement.

The forum has another built-in bias. When one enters the forum, one first sees the top-rated list not the main forum. This gives the top-list posts an automatic advantage since they have more exposure and thus given more ratings. Some older posts may be read/rated THOUSANDS of times while the vast majority of posts are ignored, get a handful of ratings, then slip into MoveOn Oblivion. For example one post from December 19, 2005 was rated 4888 times on March 1, while the average number of votes for ALL OTHER POSTS written that day (minus one other that obviously also benefited from this bias) was less than NINE! In this example that's a 543x advantage. Was that post 543X better than those other ideas?

So what do the ratings mean if the vast majority of those posts are never rated by even the majority of the members? Scrolling though the top 500 rated posts one (#199155) had 20199 votes proving that there are were once at least that many unique active forum accounts. It comes as no surprise this post was made on the FIRST DAY the Great Goals forum opened… November 17, 2004. Given this membership, the average post from that sample date of December 19th 2005 was rated by a miniscule 0.00045% of those MoveOn members.

Because the ratings compare apples to aardvarks, there’s no logic to the results. Rather than restructure the forum to insure the integrity of the rating system, here’s MoveOn’s “solution”. The Webmaster wrote me last summer saying:
“Every comment is read at least twice. The forum is checked many times each day and some comments usually forwarded to the team each day. Two summaries are done each week for those comments that reflect more long term goals.”

But if the ActionForum had multiple forums… one of which specialized in long term goals, such time-consuming note-taking would not be required. There would be no questions whether the data were being filtered. ANYONE from MoveOn could just go to see what the top rated ideas were in each forum.

There is another more subtle bias. The very nature of the forum’s operation is so polarizing that many who believe in e-democracy or are used to wealth of features in traditional forums have just left in disgust or have been banned for instigating revolts. It is a legitimate question to ask if those who remain or even thrive in this dysfunctional environment provide a representative a cross section of the MoveOn membership? More on this in articles 2 and 3.


As a MoveOn member I found posting there to be an exercise in pure frustration. I'd post what I believed were common sense suggestions only to get some disapproval votes. I call in anonymous drive-by voting. I'd never know why anyone voted since direct responses to posts are prohibited in Stalag 266. With no reply function and no personal messaging system, the ONLY official option for members to communicate with each other is to further clog up the forum with off-topic notes addressed to others which may never be found, and are sure to soon be buried.

In a few old closed forums that have not yet been deleted the reply function is still active. Instead of being able to open a post and see an entire thread... one must peel back layer after layer to read all the replies. If that wasn’t bad enough, longer posts are themselves broken up into two pages. It is, by far, the worst forum software I’ve ever seen.

Posts are displayed in the forum but also each has their own URL. But one can only rate or withdraw posts in the forum itself... not on the post page. There’s no way to save a link to a post in the forum since they are forever driven down by new posts. It's impossible for someone to post a link to an old post to get votes. If one believes in an idea, they often repost their ideas over and over hoping to get traction. There's also no search function either for keywords or user posts... features most forums take for granted.

The webmaster reports the reply function has been disabled since February 2004 when there were problems with trolls. He's tried to tap dance around this issue by claiming the forum supports "dialog" not "discussion" when in reality the issue is merely the reply feature. Why MoveOn never recruited real mods as other forums have is beyond comprehension.

The forum database software treats each post separately. In those old forums were the reply function was enabled, threads fall apart once the forum is deleted. If one looks at the screenshot on the Unique Features page we see this post and some responses. That “discussion” is now gone. All that are left are posts scattered in the database.

Another problem many complain about is there are too many posts to be effectively rated. There were about 120 posts just for March 1st and 150 for March 2. The logical “fix” would be to create numerous issue-specific forums to spread the load out. Members could read/rate issues they were most interested in. Instead MoveOn has further reduced posting from 5 to 3 a day.

It seems MoveOn's ONLY approach in addressing any problem at the forum is to further sabotage its usefulness. If this is a resources issue, MoveOn better get its priorities straight and stop trying to run a forum for an organization of 3.3 MILLION on the cheap.


The ActionForum is also misnamed. The forum is currently geared for creating GOALS. NO FORUMS are provided for proposing ACTION PLANS. My belief is these forums could become an invaluable resource IF the site were more dynamic as once promised on For MoveOn to get effective and timely guidance from the membership, issue specific forums should be created at a moment's notice to allow the membership to brainstorm to fully exploit political opportunities.

Curiously the webmaster thinks this dysfunctional mess is preferable to permitting discussion in traditional threads in issue specific forums. He recently stated
“There are many forums out there. There is probably not one structure that will fit everyone.”

Yet this is the ONLY forum MoveOn provides its members. Members have no alternative but to fight to improve it.

The forum SHOULD be an absolute embarrassment to MoveOn which claims it represents "Democracy In Action". By refusing to either fix ActionForum or discontinue this farce, MoveOn has obviously given up on this forum producing any meaningful input. It also reveals much about how the leadership views the membership.

When I get cynical I tend to believe the MoveOn leadership likes it this way since if there are no specific action plans ever developed and recommended by the membership, the leadership can never be held accountable if they ignore those recommendations.

After some 9 months of agitating there with no results it's safe to say nothing will change. Yet MoveOn is too valuable not to fight to protect... even when its leadership is out to lunch. Please consider the above arguments and try to educate fellow MoveOn members at the forum. Equally important write MoveOn direct here

Feel free to post a link to these blog articles in whatever liberal-left political forums you visit:

(revised 3-25)