So as a way to get a better understanding of that, I decided to start participating more heavily on non-political forums, specifically cycling and aquarium sites. Those are topics of which I am reasonable well-versed and passionate, but I have nowhere near the level of expertise I have in politics. They are topics that are complex, have plenty of controversy (SRAM vs Shimano vs Campy!), and where people can fight for their ideas with religious zeal, just like politics.
So having spent years lurking and learning and observing from afar, I started participating. I would enter, fearful of making a fool out of myself, worried about saying the wrong thing or stepping on the wrong toe. I engaged in controversial topics, no fluff. If I was going to get a feel for what it's like to be a newbie commenter, I had to avoid the kiddie pool. And so I did, and it was disorienting, and scary, and left me unmoored. Just like on Daily Kos, the initial attacks were fierce and merciless. I felt flustered. There was some ganging up, I felt isolated. Then some people came to my defense, and I felt grounded again, I had some merit and value. It gave me courage, and I responded with more confidence. Sometimes, with TOO much confidence. On one forum, I was warned and threatened with banning if I didn't stop with "personal attacks" (my knee jerk reaction: "Fuck you, who are you to judge me!"). That personal attack was nothing of the sort. Mild, in fact, by Daily Kos standards, but it was my reminder that every site has its culture and tolerances, and I had to abide by them.
And it ultimately left me wondering at how invested I had become in caring what random people on the internet thought about what I had to say. It's irrational, borderline stupid, but it was real.
2014 is a big year in the development of Daily Kos, and we're evolving the site dramatically, not just this year, but into 2015. We have finished a major staffing up of our development team and we've got big plans. But it's hard for me to work on improving the site experience if I don't remember what it's like to be a community member. My market research on those other sites is helping me rediscover what you guys experience on a daily basis. And hopefully, over the next few months, we can convert that to actionable improvements.
Though I must say, some of the things that would've made my life easier are already a Daily Kos reality: the Partners and Mentors group to welcome new users, and the automated warning and banning system, removing individual moderators from the equation and leaving site moderation to the broader community. That doesn't mean tweaks won't be warranted, and if you have ideas, I'm all ears.
Now ask me about whatever you want. I might even answer!