Not Everyone Has Read What You Have

I saw this on a mailing list recently, and it bothered the fuck out of me. Edited to, well, not detract from my damned point to be quite honest:

>>> Original poster wrote:
>>> A question for you more experienced people: [Question that was recently discussed]
>> Reply wrote:
>> Didn’t we just have this conversation recently? [A curt summation of some points]
> Useless Reply wrote:
> Yes. Yes, we did. [End of message]

Way to be a cockbite to the poster, guys.

Yes, you had that conversation recently. Did the original poster? Maybe they just joined the mailing list/forum/whatever. Maybe their lives were busy enough to where they didn’t notice the thread before. I sure as hell didn’t–as far as I’m concerned, that was the first time in a bit this conversation happened. Or, and this might be a shock to you all, sometimes people ask questions in different ways because their brains are wired differently.

Your experiences in a community are not universal.

Your context in a community is not universal.

Your history, both distant and recent, is not universal.

Your brain’s wiring & information processing is very much not universal.

Stop acting like it is. Stop shaming people for not sharing your brain. Stop being cockbites.

Here’s how the reply should have happened:

>> Original poster wrote:
>> A question for you more experienced people: [Question that was recently discussed]
> Reply wrote:
> Hey! We recently tackled this. You should check out the discussion here [link], but in short here’s the answer:

It’s interactions like these that turn people off of communities and hobbies. I almost said “it’s people like these…” but that’s unfair–nice people have off-days, and I don’t have the experiences, context, history or brain wiring that those people have to know if this is something they regularly do.

Oh, and if your reply is to just dog-pile on someone, like Useless Reply did above, just walk away. You Don’t Need That Third Taco.

Still, bad interaction. Bad form. I feel bad for the original poster because it was just an innocent question from someone who lacked mastery of a topic that could have been treated with a little more respect. After all, each and every one of us started out lacking mastery of the things we love today.

A final point: politeness in replies is like putting a little english on the shot that’s your point–it helps you get the point across.[1]

– Ryan

[1] Maybe not the best metaphor, but I do like the phrase “put a little english on it.”


17 Responses to Not Everyone Has Read What You Have

  1. Ezra says:

    Is it helpful for somebody to supply the reference link, even without the summary?

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Maybe. If it’s a short thread, but less so. Still, if it was done with politeness, it wouldn’t be much harm in that.

      But if it’s a long thread, then that’s about as toxic. Especially if it’s filled with debate that one has to follow before discovering the conclusion. In which case, include a summary.

      Both of those can be explained in a reply:

      “Hey, we talk a little bit about it here: [link]. It’s short and should give you what you need.”

      “We debated this a couple weeks ago over here: [link]. It’s a long thread, but you can see the conclusion here: [link].”

      And in general, if you don’t have the time to fish for links, don’t bother replying. Let someone who has the time properly help someone.

      – Ryan

    • Ezra says:

      Makes sense. I will adjust my behavior accordingly.

  2. Spot on.

    Something I would add to this is do not have a new members accounts have a status of “n00b” or “Newbie”. Call them a “New Member”. When I join a forum and I see that it immediately gives the impression to me that “Hmm. I’m already looked down upon. I’m just a n00b in their eyes. I might have more experience with real world situations than all of the other members combined, but my willingness to join this community is already rewarded with a title of disrespect.”

    I run a forum (http://www.YouMeetInATavern.com) and I ask my moderators to treat people like customers. You wouldn’t tell a customer at a restaurant “We just went over the specials a minute ago.” You just answer the question again, because that is what brings value to the customer experience. Forums, mailing lists, and other communities need to bring value to the member’s experience. Otherwise, why be a part of the community?

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Interesting observation there. I have to wonder what the consequences, positive & negative, would be if you had a noob-like title but it was a generous and nice one. Like, say, between 1 & 50 posts you had “I want to learn” and after 50 it could be “I’ve been here a bit.” (Or time-based, or whatever.)

      Additionally, your “title” could be an option. You only have the first one at 1-50, but after that, you could select the other. Or, you know, not. That way, the status isn’t forced on you.

      I don’t know if either of those ideas are good, but maybe food for thought.


      – Ryan

  3. I hate to be devil’s advocate here, Ryan. But what if you are looking for a standard of discourse being set at a certain level.

    For example, there is a blog called The Border House Blog. Easy to google if you are interested, but they are a progressive feminist/gender/sexuality blog and they have a discussion policy that basically says they are going to talk about things at a certain level that presumes a level of terminology and knowledge that the casual reader may not have. But it is not their responsibility to explain that to you because they don’t want to spend all their time explaining things when you could just invest the time to look it up yourself. They may explain something to you if you ask nicely, but you cannot use your ignorance as a weapon to derail debates. If you don’t know what they are talking about, that isn’t their problem.

    Now the reason they have this policy is because the kind of discussions they have are subject to near constant derailing. And they want to prevent the “I’m so ignorant of how I am oppressing you, please explain” bullshit that occurs in those discussions.

    So my question to you, Ryan, is can there be a space like that in RPGs where you have an assumed standard of theory and knowledge that people just have to step up and learn in order to take part in the discussion?

    For clarification, I am not defending the person you are talking about. I’m just talking in general terms here.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      So my question to you, Ryan, is can there be a space like that in RPGs where you have an assumed standard of theory and knowledge that people just have to step up and learn in order to take part in the discussion?

      Yes — either explicitly stated or implicit in the topic. For instance, the Fate mailing list has the implicit standard of “you know what Fate is and are willing to read at least the SRD.” If someone comes there asking for basics like “What are Fudge dice?” that’s grounds for directing one to said standard.

      I used to run a forum called Cultures of Play (which is from where my “forums require toxicity to thrive in the long term and also fuck toxicity” attitude emerged). I had a few rules, the Rule Zero was “Don’t be an asshole” with some explanation of what that meant and what would happen to asshole posts. So, there was a standard of discourse there as well.

      My statement doesn’t change, so I don’t think you’re actually playing devil’s advocate at all. I’m talking about “sometimes people aren’t aware they’re asking about something you just talked, so don’t be a cockbite” and you’re talking about “sometimes people aren’t aware of the base level of theory/discourse.”

      You can guess what five words I would append to that statement. When that happens, politely point people* to the foundational material, be it a post or explanation or links or whatever.

      If people in said community are polite about the redirect and briefly explain what’s up (and I’m talking like a sentence here), they you’ve got a welcoming community. If people in general are assholes about it, then you’ll have a community full of folks who understand the theory for a bit, before they drift off and others who found said forum unwelcoming don’t replace them.

      Also, if you can’t briefly explain in a sentence, then I would challenge that you don’t actually understand what you’re pointing to. Seen people point to shit they don’t actually get often on forums in order to score social capital with other posters. (Also, the social capital games are another reason I loathe forum environments. Not that that doesn’t exist elsewhere.)

      Another option is to ignore the ignorant comment. But understand, and this is key: when you’re explaining to one person commenting, you’re also helping an uncountable number of people merely lurking. You aren’t educating one person, but many. If that is not a worthwhile endeavor for you, just ignore the comment. (Because if you’re an asshole, you’re also an asshole to an uncountable number of people, not just that one person.)

      Now, if the response to that friendly redirect is cockbitey in return, fuck ’em. But that’s dealing with asshole newbies, which is beyond the scope of this post. I’m talking about people with full context in a given moment being a cockbite to those not.

      Does any of that answer what you’re talking about? I’m not sure if it does.

      I hate to be devil’s advocate here

      Side note: that’s some damned fascinating language. Do you really? Not an aggressive challenge, but I find times when people claim that to be really damned interesting. It’s nearly an idiomatic phrase. But, total side note. Fascinated Ryan is fascinated.

      – Ryan

      * Yay alliteration!

    • I use the phrase to mean “I don’t want to dump in your pool. I just want to point out an alternate concept”. I don’t mean it literally.

      Kind of like “no offense, but” means “I feel like I need to say something that if I just said with no preface, you would think I am a really big dick. However, now I only look like a quasi-dick hybrid”

  4. Jason says:

    The main problem with the theory is that when you point someone new to the fountainhead, they will not go, they will not read, and they will not comprehend, they will just post again. (Many? Most?) People who come to discussion forums (of any kind, including mailing lists) want a conversation, not information. They want interaction, not enlightenment. They want connection, not knowledge.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Treating people as though they’re cockbites before they give you the opportunity to prove that right or wrong is why people label you as a Alpha Cockbite, man. I say that with love Jason, because I have mad respect for you, but I’m also being earnest.

      Their predicted behavior (which is bullshit, because you don’t actually know what’s going on in their minds) doesn’t excuse one from being an preemptive asshole. And definitely doesn’t excuse the Useless Reply guy.

      – Ryan

    • JDCorley says:

      Sure, Useless guy is Useless. That’s not in doubt.

      But it’s not being a cockbite to refuse to go read page upon page of prior discussion before you have a discussion of your own, at a place you have come to in order to discuss things. This is why you can find anywhere between 3 and 20 “what’s the best superhero game” threads on the first few pages of rpg.net’s Tabletop Open discussion forum. Is it that the prior discussions are bad? No. Is it that they wouldn’t be useful to the n00b? No. It’s just not what they want. They want to have a discussion now, with the people who want to talk about it, now. If they’re all idiots because the Mastahs have gotten tired of the conversation, that’s what we call the Eternal September. It’s not anyone’s fault.

      It’s not wrong to prioritize connection over knowledge, it’s not assholery, it’s not cockbiting. It’s a matter of what goals people have in a conversation.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Ah, I get your meaning now. Sure, I can see that. “Hey, so, how about we share some opinions?”

      I didn’t quote the question, but it was a rules adjudication thing on the Fate mailing list. A “I don’t understand how X works” sort of thing, which has (I think) a different goal.

      Yes, goals with communication are important. It’s also important to keep in mind we don’t all have the same goal in a given moment in time.

      – Ryan

    • JDCorley says:

      Yeah. I would interpret that request more as a request for teaching than for information, in context.

  5. drnuncheon says:

    Oh hey, my post. The first reply, I mean, not the question.

    You know, it wasn’t my intention to be a jerk. In fact, I tried to give a couple of quick, useful thoughts that might, you know, help the asker out, as well as letting them know “hey, you might want to check your back email/the recent archives for this.”

    And maybe I didn’t word my answer in the Ryan Fucking Macklin From The Internet Approved Way, but at least I didn’t call the guy a cockbite. Thanks for the benefit of the doubt there.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      So, I hear it wasn’t your intent to be a jerk, but do you recognize that you were? When you accidentally hit someone, do you say “I’m sorry” to smooth things over or do you justify the fact that it was unintentional and thus not your fault? (To constrast: it was my intention to make an example so other people could understand their language choices. This has been bugging me for months, and your post along with Useless Cockbite was the one that broke it.)

      Regarding the second paragraph: You don’t own your message. Consider that in the future. Or, you know, don’t.

      Regarding the third: Argument ad hominem. That doesn’t fly here.

      Next time you want to start a conversation, don’t go bragging about how someone called you a cockbite on Twitter. That might be the first thing they read, *hours* before reading your reply on their blog. That cements you as being looking for negative attention. Lessons I hope you learn for the future. But if not, *shrug*. Other people have, and that’s what’s important.

      – Ryan

  6. drnuncheon says:

    I had a big response typed up, but before I put it out there, I want to get the answer to a question. Do you care how your post made me feel? Do you want to understand why I responded the way I did? Or would I be wasting my time with this?

  7. Brand Robins says:

    As JD points out, this is why forums are shit for building any kind of knowledge base, sustained discourse over time, or community of practice and knowledge.

    They’re great for building communities and phatic discourse, but terrible for what folks who really want to build bodies of knowledge always try to use them for…

    Wait, I just said this on the blog like two months ago didn’t I? Maybe I should go read my own links.