As probably most readers of CitizenWill know, I decided to stop posting on locally owned OrangePolitics (OP) for many reasons:

  • an escalating and stifling intolerance of valid though different viewpoints,
  • the site’s authors acting as surrogates for political allies who didn’t have the courage to engage the community directly in an honest, fact-based and open manner
  • and an unwillingness on my part to work hard in “building the brand” of a site that advertised one thing – engaging the wider community in an informative discussion of local “progressive” issues – and delivering another (what I said below the fold).

In many ways, my disappointment in OP comes from the narrowing of that initial promise – to engage the wider community – into a sometimes almost reflexively dismissive platform pushing a particular agenda.

I have no problem with OP’s owner pushing a particular agenda – that is what my site – CitizenWill.org – does. I do have a problem with any claim to being an open and transparent forum for community-wide discussion.

For all that, the site, its owner and commentators have sometimes broadened the discussion of local issues. On occasion, “leakage” – the coverage of particular issues by the local media – occurred because of those discussions. These basic contributions not only informed but stirred debate and even action.

But those wins don’t justify the failures. In November I said I hoped that the next generation – OrangePolitics 3.0 – would represent a change of course –

“Reform is in order and I truly hope that the promise of 2003 becomes the reality of 2008.”

Today, Ruby and company will meet to presumably chart out that new course for “OrangePolitics 3.0″ at a “Winter Happy Hour” ( 6:30pm, FUSE).

Following up on my previous comment, I suggest one topic of discussion be how to stick with a reality-based perspective.

Unfortunately, if this recent post by Ruby is any indication of 3.0′s direction, well, the new OP is already off to a poor start:

Here’s a preview of the new “Hall of Fame” function that makes a bunch of stats public on OP 3.0:

Top 10 commenters of all time:
Ruby Sinreich 1359 items
WillR 821 items
Dan Coleman 609 items
Tom Jensen 380 items
Mark Chilton 344 items
jehb 161 items
Mary Rabinowitz 154 items
johnk 125 items
ethan 50 items
admin 42 items

In my “farewell to OP” message, I mentioned the almost 3,000 comments/posts I made over the lifetime of OP. That estimate was based on a dump of the current OP website – showing roughly 2263 comments from 2003-2007 plus some notes I made in 2004 of missing comments from an early accidental purge of OP.

While I made a wide “guesstimate” of those early days, I’m comfortable with what OP currently reports – that I made thousands of comments.

In fact, based on my analysis of OP circa Nov. 5th, it appears I made :

  • 28 comments on stories posted in 2003
  • 178 comments on stories posted in 2004
  • 520 comments on stories posted in 2005
  • 876 comments on stories posted in 2006
  • 661 comments on stories posted in 2007 (slacking off?)

Or 2263 comments over 459 posts (threads of discussion). The particulars are listed below my “farewell”.

When someone contacted me about Ruby’s comment (a longtime OP lurker that thought there was an “undercount”) I notified Ruby of this striking discrepancy.

Why? Not because I felt any personal slight but because I thought Ruby would want to analyze the delta and fix her software. I’m sure an analysis of other commentators would show a similar miscount. Unfortunately, to date, there’s been no comment on those erroneous numbers.

Does it matter if my or any other posters contributions were off by a factor of two or more?

Not if this was just a software glitch but if this is an attempt to shape the past to forge the future, well, probably not the best start for a reformed OP. I’ll wait to see if the number of comments carried forward into 3.0 are reflective of the actual discussion carried out on OP over these last 4 years,

As I said before, I hope OP 3.0 sheds the mistakes of OP 2.0 and evolves into its initial promise – an open, honest, informative and inviting forum for discussion of local issues.

I’ll be on the sidelines encouraging the success of 3.0. Good luck folks! And do yourselves proud – try to hit one out if the ballpark.

What have I to contribute to OrangePolitics?

When I tote up all the comments, almost 3,000 (if you include the missing early months, roughly %10 of the total) and all the words, well over 350,000 on topics as diverse as “Who is Gregor Samsa?” to our Town’s waning progressiveness, the hundreds primary source materials links I’ve added and the seemingly thousands of hours over 4 years I’ve spent reading and writing on OrangePolitics, I see an effort to engage our online community in what I thought would evolve into a new Town Commons.

Surely that has worth?

Ruby said that OrangePolitics was conceived as a place for “dedicated activists” to engage in “local issues” and for the wider community to get “information they need to make informed decisions.”

In some ways, and in spite of a growing trend in shaping the discussion for reasons outside that charter, OrangePolitics has succeeded. For those successes, I congratulate Ruby and the wider OP community.

Thank you Ruby. Thank you active and lurking OP’rs.

Part of that success comes from folks that the owner of this site tolerates – barely.

Ownership, of course, is the key differential between what is and what could have been.

I poured my efforts into OrangePolitics, spent all that time, did all that research, took all the “slings and arrows” because I believe our community needed an open platform for debating, discussing and deciding on the key issues of the day.

I’ve fought for the right of folks that disagree with and, quite frankly, don’t like me, to post on OP because I think the best solutions come from the widest representation.

When Paul, Fred, Terri or any of a number of others got chastised by the “powers that be”, I rose to their defense. When OP became a forum for attacking my character over attacking my message – well, I tried to ignore that excess and steer the conversation back to what was relevant.

The value of the Town Commons is that no one person controls the space – in fact, it is a set of community standards and laws that manage its workings.

OrangePolitics is not a public square. Though I’ve lobbied Ruby for four years, it hasn’t evolved into a town commons. It has been and will probably always be Ruby’s private domain – a domain that is less welcoming, more and more invitation only.

I want to be clear on this: Ruby owns OrangePolitics. Ruby is free to ignore her own rules, to shape discussion however she sees fit, because she is the master of this domain.

And that is fine by me.

What isn’t fine is the continued representation that OrangePolitics is an open forum so “people like us can actually make a difference”. It is not.

It is a wholly-owned enterprise of folks that have become more inclined towards buttressing the establishment than in discussion or debate that will “rock the boat”.

How can I say that? Surely I’m the counter-example to that assertion. I’ve been given opportunities – even with this post – to present my opinions.

I’ve had my part in building Ruby’s “brand”, in developing the product that advances her career but I knew, as far as folks getting in “the boat”, well, the “us” Ruby referred to didn’t include me and many others in our community – not from the beginning, not now, pretty much not ever.

That was acceptable as long as I could participate in an open and honest forum. I imagine others felt similarly.

Unfortunately, my role here has become that of the “beard”. “Look how tolerant OP is, they even let folks like WillR post!”

Real change can’t spring from these faulty foundations and I can no longer serve as a “set piece”, an enabler, for folks that are not willing to alter course.

If there is one small legacy I leave to OP, one small lesson to be learned from my four years, it is passionate, honest and open engagement is fundamental to progress .

I don’t give up easily. I’m loathe to disengage from the local debate, even on a forum I’ve grown to distrust, but that is what I must do. There are other more productive forums to engage my energies.

Why the day before the election?

Though you could say I’m voting with my feet, this is about Citizen Will and not Candidate Will or even Councilmember Will.

And though the last few months of posts – starting with Tom’s bullying approach on my possible run until the latest chorus bashing the messenger over the message – underscored my concern, it wasn’t enough to drive me from OP’s folds.

Those trends were troublesome , even tiresome, but I’m a big guy, ready for the rough and tumble of challenging OP’s friends. They were not sufficient for me to cast my final vote of “no confidence”.

No, it was the steady accretion of issues over the last year, like the recent rejection of Terri’s, Fred’s and Mark’s concerns on grounds that the topic was “boring” or to divisive (I’ll little miss that refrain), the tumbling slant towards a particular power-base, a growing disingenuous by some guest authors that finally took its toll.

With a growing intolerance, the manipulation of the discussion, the use as a surrogate outlet for folks not willing to engage directly in debate, OP was losing what value it had for me as a forum for substantive multi-log.

The reason I’m leaving OP, then, is fairly simple. OP, at least as it’s currently constituted, is not a forum for progressive change in our community.

I’m not going away. I still have CitizenWill. I’ll still post on STP. And I’ll be looking for a new community forum – a forum that learns from OP’s mistakes, a forum that shows the potential to grow into that new Chapel Hill public commons.

Good luck OrangePolitics. Reform is in order and I truly hope that the promise of 2003 becomes the reality of 2008.

Four years, a handful of posts, thousands of comments, hundreds of thousands words and it has come to this, my last word on OP – farewell.

A quick analysis of my posting history: