Tales of a Sir Thanel the Newb: Getting involved in the online community

Within a few days of going to my first LEGO Users Group (LUG) meeting, I decided to get involved in several of the online venues where adult LEGO fans get together to show off their creations, talk LEGO and learn about the hobby from each other. It was quite an education. Here are a few tips that might be useful for newer users of any online LEGO forum, but especially those that host pictures. These may also serve as good reminders for veteran users.

My sigfigs will be there to walk you through it. Or the sigfigs are a transparent device to add some graphic interest to an otherwise text-heavy post. Whatever.

Sir Thanel’s 13 Edicts

Thanel Yeoman sigfig

  1. Lurk. Spend some time exploring, looking around, and learning the etiquette before deciding on which online community to join. Especially before starting to make comments.
  2. Read and think before writing. Read titles, descriptions, captions and other comments before leaving your own. It may have already been covered. On Flickr, for example, each photoset has a description of the entire set, which might give you the background or story, while each picture might have less information. The answer may already be waiting for you. Even if you really WANT to say something, if it would be repetitive, don’t do it.
  3. Limit the number of comments and questions. Try to keep it to your 1 or 2 most important. Otherwise the builder might become tired of responding. Most veterans are happy to answer honest questions and are online specifically to promote the adult hobby, so they appreciate curiosity about their creations, but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming. One of the most common questions is “Instructions please?” (with varied spelling) The answer is usually “No.” Most builders had a challenging enough time building it in the first place, much less meticulously documenting each step. Some do it for fun, but they advertise the service. Part of the fun as an adult is figuring out how to do it yourself.
  4. When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me. Be careful about including assumptions in your questions or comments. “I didn’t know LEGO made a Smurf sets!” would reveal your ignorance, because, well, LEGO hasn’t done a Smurf theme and it isn’t a set. Whereas a more general “Where did that curved head piece come from?” or “Smurfs!” about the same Smurf creation would hopefully give the creator an opportunity to explain how it was built with standard pieces, or about the custom accessories they used.
  5. Be specific. Instead of a very general “How did you do that?” or “Where did you get that?”, try to describe in detail and as specifically as possible what you’re asking, like “How did you connect ___ with ___?” This especially applies to sites that don’t allow a person to leave notes ON the picture.
  6. Keep it on topic. Make comments about the picture or topic in discussion, rather than about yourself or your own crazy agenda. Avoid leaving comments like “I did this AGES ago!” with a link to your creations, or otherwise shamelessly promoting yourself. It’s a little rude. Likewise, if you think a discussion is pointless, what’s the point of making a comment saying so?
  7. Thanel bailiff sigfig

  8. Follow group guidelines. Various sites or groups have specific purposes or rules. Read them to see if the group is for you and what the expectations are. One of the most common violations on Flickr is people putting too many pictures in group photo pools. Limit the number to your one or two best, three max.
  9. Be gracious. If people leave constructive criticism of your creations or photos, accept the comments. If it’s just mean, screw ‘em! You can ignore them. On Flickr you can even block them from commenting on any of your stuff in the future. It’s not worth starting flame wars. If there’s a discussion thread you find annoying, don’t visit or leave comments, it only serves to keep it alive and rewards the most common denominators.
  10. Don’t pester people to trade or sell to you. Most online LEGO communities are not for buying, trading or selling. There are specialized sites or subsections of larger sites for those kinds of activities. If a particular builder or user is interested in trading, they will usually have it on their profile pages or a link to their website. Many of the LEGO specific forums have links to various places to buy or sell. The equivalent of calling your friends and telling them your dog had puppies and you’re looking for a good home for the puppies is OK. That’s usually done by either directing people to an eBay, craigslist or bricklink sale or very rarely by people posting something on one of their more close-knit sub-group, rather than trying to complete the transaction on a large forum for everyone to see.
  11. Remember the children. If you are under 13, you are too young for most adult forums, especially those hosted in the United States. It’s illegal here for adults and kiddies to play together online. Minors are ironically (and disturbingly) the most revealing about themselves online. Kids, don’t use your entire real names as your screen names. Don’t give your age or birthday. Don’t offer to give adults your address. Don’t post all that information on your profile for everyone to see. Very, very bad ideas. Parents, please talk to your kids about how everyone on the internet is a stranger. Remember the stranger talk? Have it.
  12. Bluemoose prohibition

  13. Give credit where credit is due. If someone inspired or helped you somehow, give them props. Recently I posted a poor quality photo and two different Flickr users took the photos and enhanced the quality, then re-posted them (Right: bluemoose‘s version), giving me proper credit as the initial photographer under their picture and also leaving a little note to let me know. They did the right thing, so instead of being mad, I was pleased that I could see more cool details.
  14. You have the option of being discrete. If you don’t want to publicly embarrass somebody about their spelling or don’t want to get into an online fight, try sending an e-mail. As an international community, this comes up quite a bit with attempts at bilingual communication. Sometimes people aren’t young or stupid, their language just has different (often more sensible) rules than in English. Flickr has an especially handy FlckrMail (FM) feature that allows quick private communication.
  15. Thanel knight sigfig

  16. Call for mommy. Most forums have moderators and administrators who are responsible for keeping things civil. If things seem to be getting out of hand, let them know. It’s in the interest of the whole online LEGO community to be the exception by playing well. Don’t assume that they’re monitoring everything either, this is just their hobby too and they have other things they need to be doing.

As most of you could tell, my experiences are based almost exclusively on Flickr. The other contributors to TBB have been involved in the online community for years on a wide variety of sites such as MOCpages, Brickshelf and the numerous theme-based groups or specialized forum, which are mostly pre-Flickr. Some even helped the growth of Flickr as a LEGO fan hub. I, however, am new and selecting my web involvement based solely on personal taste.

Go forth and play well.

13 comments on “Tales of a Sir Thanel the Newb: Getting involved in the online community

  1. Thanel Post author

    Dr. X & buriedbybricks: Thanks.

    buriedbybricks: The sorting is at the point where I’ve actually been able to build. I have a few WIPs posted. Need to get a couple more containers, drawers and boxes, then fine-tune. I’ll actually do a story on that later as well.

  2. notenoughbricks

    Excellent guidelines Sir Thanel. Many good points expounded on by yourself. I compared my experience with what you described and thougt that I sort of did some of the same things. Before contributing to any discussions/photo galleries I tried to familiarize myself with the lay of the land. I found this not only to be helpful for helping me decide how to comment and who to comment to.

    Take an antrhopological approach and become an insider by 1st observing from the outside.

  3. Shannon Young

    Commonsense tips most reasonable adults would probably follow instinctively anyway. Unfortunately, my feeling is that those who would most benefit from this post would also be those least likely to read it.

  4. alldarker

    Excellent tips, although I’d have to agree with Shannon Young here: I’d say the members of Brother-Brick might be some of the most mature and adult members of any of the Lego communities, so the irony is that you really are preaching to the converted here.

  5. eti

    That’s some good advice here – but maybe not for ‘us’, indeed: I remember a Flickr friend saying ‘Lego doesn’t make that kind of sets over here’ about a MOC of mine, but he was not an AFOL and didn’t know there was anything like MOCs at all (I happily explained, of course).

    There’s a few points in the article I can’t really agree with. I do not object to children having accounts on Flickr, Youtube, etcetera – it is actually harmful to keep those communies away from children or vice versa. They will go there in secret and do stuff without their parents knowing. Now that’s scary.

    And when it comes to Lego, it’s a good thing to not block minors completely out of AFOL communities. Even worse is places that don’t want people under 18 to join. That is just to make sure everybody is in their dark ages before they even started. But of course kids should be expected to behave as adults on sites that are actually for grown-ups.

  6. Clefspeare

    Great article. I can totally relate to most of this, being rather new to the online community, and recently coming out of a dark age.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Thanel:
    Kids, don’t use your entire real names as your screen names. Don’t give your age or birthday. Don’t offer to give adults your address. Don’t post all that information on your profile for everyone to see. Very, very bad ideas.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    This is a really bad problem on MOCpages. There are kids that give every bit of information about themselves, everything from height, weight, hair color, E-mail address, location, and even blood type!

    Not that any of those newbs are actually gonna pay attention to this article…

  7. anon4527

    Rule 11 should give distinction between giving credit for photography help and LEGO “techniques”.

  8. Thanel Post author

    Too much to chew on to respond one by one, but a few general comments.

    I’m not quite sure how common common sense is. Consider potty training. As adults we think how we use a toilet and clean up after ourselves is common sense, the most basic of instincts. But anyone who has traveled, potty trained a child or had the dubious privilege of finding out how other people take a dump knows that it mostly has to do with socialization. Not saying the analogy is perfect, but I think saying something is “common sense” is a bit of a cop out and often used as an excuse to dismiss other people exceptionally idiotic, rather than being socialized in ways that are obnoxious to most people within that specific context.

    I agree that most TBB commenters are an exceptionally mature bunch, but I would direct your attention to the anniversary post, which subtly points out that readers outnumber commenters by over 1,000 to 1. This is aimed at the “silent majority” to steal a phrase from Dick Nixon.

    As far as 13 and under. It’s the law in the US. What I can say, is that most 11 and 12 year olds who have foolishly revealed their age online, my reaction is to suddenly understand their previous behavior. I don’t even notice the mature youngsters, because they don’t cry out their age and they behave well.

    @ anon4527: I agree there’s a subtle difference, but I’m not sure what you mean by the comment. Techniques belong to everyone? I’d say that any time someone has inspired you with a theme or a very specific technique, and you know what you’re doing is derivative, it’s the right thing to do to give some sort of props. That being said, I thinks it’s silly when people try to protect a technique as theirs.

  9. JD_Luse

    But even if there IS a silent majority, would the younger kids in that majority take the time to read – or even comprehend – all this text? If I were eleven years old, the first thing I would look for would be little wordage and a cool creation.

  10. Shannon Young

    JD hit on what I was trying to say. I know all too well that common sense is anything but. My point was that anyone thoughtful and mature enough to read the entire post is likely going to be the type to act in a responsible manner online already, and those who act like idiots online are going to be the type to pass it off with a “tl;dr.”

  11. Thanel Post author

    Yeah, most of these things don’t apply to most people, but I think most new or prospective users would find at least one of these useful. And though there is mention of the 13 and under crowd, this is primarily aimed at adults, and I’ve seen plenty of adults embarrass themselves by not doing these things, including me.

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