Since the last post was generated by my participation in an on-line discussion group, and since these groups constitute a big part of my activity in the Civil War world, I thought I would follow that up with some additional thoughts about them.
By way of background, I’ve been involved in the Internet since 1996. My wife has a degree in computer science, and was intrigued by the nascent World Wide Web immediately upon its launch. We got our first dial-up account in 1996, and one of the very first things that I did was to subscribe to the Gettysburg Discussion Group, which was one of the very first of its sort. The GDG is owned by three brothers named Bob, Dennis, and Jack Lawrence, and the Lawrences have always pretty much set the gold standard for on-line discussion groups. Discussions there are normally quite cordial, and there are very few flame wars. The Brothers Lawrence do a fine job of keeping folks in line with firm but diplomatic moderation, and while my participation in the group ebbs and flows with my level of immersion in writing, I’ve been a member for most of the last ten years, although I did take a break for a time. At one time, when I was less busy and more active in the group, I was actually an elected trustee, which was a great honor. Dennis and Jack came to hear my talk to the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable last March, which was a nice surprise.
The biggest problem with the GDG is that its focus is, by definition, quite narrow. It means that the same topics get hashed over and over and over again, until they become ad nauseum. As one very good example, I’ve never found Pickett’s Charge the slightest bit interesting, nor do I care to discuss it or be involved in discussions of it. But, it comes up again and again. Or then there was one member who pretty much monopolized things for a while with inane postings about some ancestor of hers that fought there irrespective of whether anybody gave a damn. I very nearly left over that one.
At the same time, I’ve made lifetime friendships as a result. I can genuinely say that some of the people I’ve met there are some of the very best people I will ever have the honor of calling my friends. Several of them are now my business partners in Ironclad. One of them insisted, quite vigorously, that Susan and I stay with him and his wife when we last visited the L. A. area a few years back. Another friend, whom I first met through the GDG, and who lives in North Carolina, has become like a member of our family, and Susan and I value that relationship a great deal. We look forward to visiting with this person at least once per year a great deal. I met Dave Powell through the GDG. Dave and I have a lot in common, and we’ve become friends. Ironclad will be publishing one of Dave’s books, and Dave’s been a big help with research over the years. As a general rule, until I got overloaded with doing conferences and had to cut back, I ALWAYS enjoyed the GDG musters in Gettysburg, in part due to the fellowship with other people afflicted with this Civil War illness of ours.
In the interest of expanding things a bit, and to replace the Antietam Discussion Group, which imploded a few years back due to the lunacy of the group’s owner, Teej Smith and I started the Civil War Discussion Group, which follows the same format as the GDG, but which doesn’t have the restrictions of a single battle. That group has about 100 stalwart members, one of whom was Brian Pohanka. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal, and we’ve had a couple of terrific musters–one at Chancellorsville and another last May on Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. I’ve tried to pattern my moderation after the way that the Lawrences moderate the GDG.
I then was enlisted to participate in a forum board group, from which I was inexplicably and unfairly excommunicated by the owner, perhaps because I refused to permit myself to be abused by other members of the group. I’ve never been given a satisfactory or sensible explanation of this by the group owner, and have given up on the idea of receiving one. In truth, I’m not all that upset about it–that particular forum has become the place where bizarre theories about the Battle of Gettysburg are espoused, and the person who espouses them is placed up on a pedestal. My thoughts on these bizarre new interpretations of the battle are well known and need not be repeated here. However, it was through this particular group that I met J. D. Petruzzi and Mike Nugent, and it is responsible for a number of what appear to be lifelong friendships that have grown into business relationships, too.
So, I went along with the formation of a competing new group that turned out to be nothing more than a con job by a master con man. Unfortunately, I put my imprimatur on this con man’s efforts, to my eternal embarrassment and dismay. Once I became aware of the magnitude of the fraud being perpetrated by him, I made the site disappear immediately, and his house of cards came crashing down. From the ashes of that group arose a successor that Susan and I started, the on-line forums version of the Civil War Discussion Group, which now has more than 300 members and is something of which I am quite proud.
I’ve also joined a couple of other e-mail discussion groups, including the one where I did the neo-Confederate bashing the other day.
My point in raising all of this is that, while one ends up kissing a lot of frogs along the way, my experiences with on-line discussion groups have generally been very positive, and they’ve led to some terrific long-term relationships. They also, in a very direct way, led to this blog, as Harry Smeltzer, who is a long-time CWDG member, turned me on to Dimitri Rotov’s blog, which, in turn, inspired me to do this. Thanks, Harry.Scridb filter