And, I hope, to the community that coalesces around it.
The board is the direct descendant of the FundAlarm forum, which flourished from 1996 through April, 2011. Like FundAlarm, we have resisted the call to create bunches of sub-forums. Mostly there are Fund Discussions and Off-Topic Discussions, which range from market calls to book recommendations. If you want to read only the fund-relevant stuff, click on the category called Fund Discussions and set that as your bookmark for MFO.
Unlike FundAlarm, we have traditionally been lightly moderated. Our only code of conduct is to encourage "civility and good humor." The "rules" were never more complex because (a) the two of us responsible for MFO's day-to-day operation both have more-than-full-time jobs as college administrators and teachers and we don't really look forward to spending our couple free hours in the evening policing behavior and (b) it's not been necessary. About 98% of the time, folks are thoughtful and respectful, even when sparring. Our key tool for monitoring conversations is the "flag" button that sits atop every post, just under the poster's name. If you flag a discussion, Chip - MFO's co-founder and technical director - gets a notice and she checks it out as soon as she's home from work. If the issue is murky, she hands it over to me to sort through.
If a discussion gets flagged, I'll try to reach out to the poster with an appeal to be a bit more careful. If the same poster gets flagged repeatedly, I move them into a "moderation queue" which means that their posts don't appear in public until one of us reviews them. (That's a pain in the butt.) Getting banned is incredibly rare; we've banned six posters (three of whom appear to have been the same person, posting, praising themselves and sniping at others) out of the 2997 people who have registered for the board.
A fair number of folks have recently migrated in this direction from the Morningstar boards. Welcome! If you've got questions, concerns or suggestions, feel free to message me or send at email to David at Mutual Fund Observer dot com. To send a private message to any member of the board, click on their name to go to their profile page. On that page, you'll see a button called "message" across from their name. Click that and you can reach them directly and privately. There is also a "leave a note on their wall" option which is sort of built into the Vanilla software. In general, don't. It's not private and it appears on a page that most members rarely visit.
Communication is a tricky business. The reason is simple: our words carry only about 10% of the meaning of our messages. The rest of the meaning is created by our relationship with the person we're speaking to (imagine the reception of "you're such a dope" by 10 random people in your life; some would laugh, some would poke you back, a few might blush ... and several would report you to the authorities), by our non-verbal behaviors (from "saying it with a smile" to tone of voice), by our shared physical environments ("I'm so hot" reads differently if you've said it at the end of a five mile run on a summer's day than in a nightclub) and our cultures (the f-word is one word in 10 for some cultures and, hence, no big deal; for others, it's a deadly affront). Here's the problem: on a discussion board, that all-important 90% is missing. We're stuck with just our string of incomplete, easily misunderstood words. Please choose them wisely and gently.
Whether you're one of MFO's longest-tenure members (Old_Joe wears Badge #9) or one of its newest (Perrywinkle - howdy! - weights in at #2997), remember just a handful of rules for keeping the community healthy and engaged:
1. remember that for every active poster, there are 20 other people who read the board without signing into it. As a result, what you say is heard by folks you've never met and who have no way of knowing that you're just being you. Write with the unseen, anxious bystanders in mind.
2. remember that you have almost certainly misunderstood the comment you're responding to. All of us hear imperfectly, impute motives incorrectly, jump to (what seem to us to be perfectly logical) conclusions. So perhaps a good starting point in any response is to double-check that you understand the question and the concerns that lie behind it. If you're interested in details, click on the Resources tab above and download Miscommunication in the Workplace. It's a field guide that I wrote nearly a decade ago and am still trying to update.
3. remember that your comment is almost certainly going to be misunderstood. Everyone else suffers from the same human frailty that you do. Take a moment to reread your note, perhaps clarifying or softening it, before hitting "post discussion."
4. remember that your respondents might be tired, headachy and dealing with an impossible situation at work, but they're almost certainly not trying to be hurtful. It just sounds that way. Take a deep breath and try to de-escalate an exchange gone awry.
5. failing all else, hit "flag" rather than sniping back. We'll do our best to help.
In the weeks ahead, we're going to work to train Chip's son, David, to serve as a moderator here. David already does a lot of invaluable work under-the-hood here, from updating old profiles to formatting each month's issue for the web. We're grateful for his willingness to help keep the MFO community vibrant, open and engaged.
With profound gratitude to you all,