April 04, 2008

A wandering mind (almost-random thoughts from an aging brain)

In my last blog entry (imagine, two in one week!) I referred to my years as an editor in the Open Directory Project. Over that time many people have asked me what I found so absorbing about it, and it's difficult to answer that without rambling on a bit. So I've learned to reply with a simple explanation and then see if they want to know more. Depending on where I think their interest lies, I might mention the immense variety of previously unknown subjects about which one can learn while editing. For those who value orderliness, there is an undeniable appeal in categorising websites so that they can easily be found by web surfers. For gregarious types, there is the opportunity to be part of a huge worldwide community.
For me, and fortunately for many others as well, one of the most satisfying roles is answering questions from newer editors (called "newbies") and helping them understand the often confusing way such a large and complicated structure works.

I can see now that my comments in the last entry could be ambiguous for those unaware of my own record in the directory, so I'll provide a little further explanation. I have always been a strong advocate of a "mentoring" system where newbies receive personalised assistance while they settle in and find their feet, and I have frequently expressed the hope that more experienced editors would take on this rewarding and supportive role.
But this was the first time I had actually looked for evidence that it is not just a friendly way to welcome people, but in fact essential to the ongoing health of any volunteer organisation. So on finding that proof I couldn't resist posting about it, even though I am no longer doing it myself. Which brings me to my third "random" thought.

Naturally, people have wondered why I resigned. Quite simply, I realised I was spending far too much of my time on just one of the activities I enjoy, and I felt I needed to regain some balance. It is too easy to over-commit yourself to something you feel passionate about, and by the time I left I was spending several hours each day answering questions from editors and helping them understand the directory's policies and guidelines. Time-consuming, certainly, but necessary for precisely the reasons already stated.

The trouble is that I have always had difficulty with moderation, being an all-or-nothing person at everything I do, so I left because I finally realised I was leaving too many other things undone in favour of the ODP. Fortunately, there are many wonderful editors who are equally passionate about editor retention, and I have no doubt that all "my" newbies have been gathered under someone else's wing by now. I wish them, and their mentors, all the very best.

Incidentally, one of the other ways I spend my time is in slowly completing a post-graduate course in Forensic Medicine (by distance learning through Monash University in Melbourne). Last year's subject was "Medical Evidence", covering such topics as "hearsay evidence" and "burden of proof", both very important concepts in relation to serious accusations, of course. Making unsubstantiated claims about another person is something we see every day, and it sells a lot of magazines! But we all need reminding that negative comments should never be based on rumour, innuendo, or mischievous misinformation. This is the basis of the famous Triple Filter Test attributed to Socrates, a copy of which was sent out this week to all members of the Volunteer Bushfire Brigade to which I belong.

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