Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reflecting on Five Years

I'm coming up on five years being a moderator for r/Fitness and I've been thinking about it. These are some of the thoughts.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's a little weird to think that something that's been part of my life for that long came out of having a job that didn't give me enough work and left me with nothing better to do than tell several hundred people a day to read the Wiki. That's why I was invited to do it. Nothing more than that I spent about 9 hours a day for a month copying and pasting a link to the FAQ because my manager, while being a pretty good engineer, was absolutely terrible at being a manager and had no idea how to balance my team's workload. Everybody either had way too much work or nowhere near enough.

Almost of the other mods from that time have moved on. Svunt, phrakture, Mogwoggle all stepped down. MetaBoob is still with us but only pokes a head in occasionally, I assume for the same reason as the others - life is more important and Reddit is tiring. It's mostly just me and eric_twinge from that era, which seems like forever ago. I think we're both tired, too, but we're also really stubborn.

ZBGBs and I have talked a few times about life being more important, and I think about that sometimes. Not sometimes, all the time. I question if the time I put into Fittit is "worth it" at least once a week. The answer is usually "yes". Sometimes "meh". I think it will only become "No" if I start giving away time with my family to Fittit. So far that hasn't happened and I intend to keep it that way. But if the day ever comes where I find myself choosing Reddit over my family, that's the day I'm gone until I fix my broken priorities.

I'm a software engineer. I've spent the last several years doing everything I possibly can think of to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to keep Fittit tidy. I've built and rebuilt so many moderation tools in that time that I can barely keep track of them all sometimes. When I first came on board as a mod, I was so green to everything that I was going into my comment history to copy/paste removal comments into threads when I shut them down, until somebody told me about a moderator browser extension. There was a joke at the very first job I ever had, before I was a real programmer and was still dabbling - "Give <Spengler> a task you don't like. He'll hate it so much he'll write a program to do it better." And I'm gonna toot my own horn here - What I built for r/Fitness blows that extension out of the water. It is better in nearly every possible way for most of what we do. All of that is to say - I value what I'm doing on Fittit enough that I'm using the skills that feed my family to make it effortless so I can keep doing it for free.

Moderating, yes, is a thing I do entirely for free! It's weird to me that so many people don't seem to know it, but I don't work for Reddit. I'm just a volunteer, wading through a lake of human feces trying to find the gold nuggets for other people to use in my spare time. This is a good thing. If I worked for Reddit, I'd have to answer to Reddit, and let me be clear - fuck Reddit. Reddit doesn't care about anything that I care about. I don't want to answer to people to whom I am disposable.

On occasion, people question what I do care about. Clearly, the only reason I would be a Reddit mod for this long is because I'm a fat small dicked ugly incel virgin roid raging meathead idiot loserchad with no sense of humor living in my mom's basement who doesn't lift and the only way I can feel powerful enough in my otherwise worthless, lonely, miserable, sexless life is to click a button that prevents a large group of dummies from seeing lazy questions asked by a smaller group of dummies and preventing completely disposable accounts from being able to make comments on a small corner of a small website on the internet. Right? No other possible reason. It's because I'm sad and pathetic.

Describing the first fitness forum (if you can even call it that) I ever participated in is very easy - poop emojis. Because it was /fit/ on 4chan. That was a huge influence on what I do (or try to do) with Fittit. Because it's a shithole, and only garbagepersons hang out there. Maybe it's better now. I haven't been back. But I doubt it. The reason for this, I've decided through many years of consideration, is that it's a place where nobody cares about anything because they think irreverence is power and there is nobody telling the children to stop shitting under the dining table they have to eat off of. Everything that made /fit/ a burning trash heap when I was there stemmed from those two problems - Shitgolems are everywhere, and the adults are on vacation.  So one of my guiding lights for all of the last five years has been that r/Fitness should never become /fit/. Because you can't get good fitness advice from a place where you could get blasted in the face by dicks and asses, or stupid photoshopped frogchild memes, at any moment, and you definitely can't get it from a place where so few people who know what the fuck they're talking about congregate that one person can tell another, " SS is a great routine, ignore the champion powerlifting coach who told you it sounded dumb and gave you a program he used successfully" without being shouted down. That's a real thing that I watched happen.

Since starting as a mod, I've taken a lot of shots in the dark - shotgun blasts with a wide spray hoping to hit a target I wasn't even sure was there. It was when I was introduced to the concept of Help Vampires that I started to get a more clear direction to move in. I realized that one of most core sources of my experience on /fit/ was that nobody knowledgeable wanted to be there, surrounded mostly by idiots playing advice telephone that they had to fight with every time they tried to share actually good information, surrounded by the same 15-30 questions, nobody ever telling these people to fuck off. So I told them to fuck off.

Rule #0 was ultimately my idea. If your question can be answered by the FAQ, by searching past threads, or just by using Google - fuck your question and fuck you. Try harder. Almost half of all threads that we remove are removed because they are directly answered by one of those three things. Imagine having to try searching for a dozen different variations of what you're looking for across a dozen different search engines and sometimes still not finding what you need - because that's the internet I used as a teenager. Today you can pop over to Google, type the dumbest version of your question imaginable, and Google knows what you want - and people still want other human beings to tell them shit like "What exercises hit the biceps" and "What foods are high in protein".

Ultimately these questions are terrible, lazy, and rude. At some point somebody said "Sometimes people get tired of being used as a service", and nobody has ever said it better than that. People want to treat Fittit as a service, and to the extent that I can, I show them the door, because I believe with the highest level of conviction that if we didn't, Fittit would be a worse place in aggregate. Some individuals get mad and don't get what they want. Fuck 'em. I know that statistically, only 9% of people who have a thread removed contact us about it - only 9,100 people in the last two years. Fittit sees an average of 150k unique visitors a day and 2.5m per month. So it is with no hesitation that I say that these people being mad does not matter to me, because it cannot be allowed to matter.

Luckily, we have a small but high quality group of regular posters giving out good advice to hundreds of questions a day. Every single one of those people have said that they would have jumped ship a long time ago if we weren't as hard as we are on low effort questions. And that group has been growing over time for the same reason. These are the people whose opinions about how the community is run that I care about. I've learned to be judicious in whose feedback I listen to.

Even though I dismiss it now, in my first year or so, I used to take complaints a lot more seriously, until I started to notice a pattern - Nobody, zero people ever, has ever cared about integrity in moderation until something they didn't like happened. No matter how lofty someone talks about professionalism or consistency or transparency, they don't give a fuck about any of those things, they're just assbothered that their Cocoa Puffs were taken away. Nobody who goes to another sub and complains about being banned tells the truth. Nobody who complains about the content focus (looking at you, perennial "fittit should be called liftit" bitchers) contributes any content themselves. It's all personal for everybody who complains and no one is looking at larger pictures or long term goals in the way we are. Nobody cares about cleaning up, cultivating, growing a community as a resource. They just want their own personal needs served.

Besides it being personal, the reason I listen to the core group of regular, helpful people and not every Tom, Dick, and Harry is because of what I know about how people use and participate in r/Fitness. It's a drive-by forum. People dump a question, get an answer, and then leave. They aren't interested in being part of a community - they just want information or social connection. 79.5% of people only make a single post and 53.4% of people only make a single comment. Ever. 31.8% of people never even comment on their own post. We see more traffic in January because of the New Year's Resolutioner cycle than any other month of the year. All these things together paint a picture.

And more than anything, what those people want is to get bigger and stronger. This is something we've all always had a gut feeling about from observation, but the launch of the external Wiki proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. Nothing - nothing - gets more traffic than the Strength and Muscle Building Routines page. By miles. It makes up 25% of all traffic to the Wiki - the next closest is 6%. So yeah, maybe it should be called r/lifting. Or maybe people who wanna talk about other stuff should talk about that stuff on Fittit instead of the smaller, more niche subs if they don't like it. I'd prefer they just shut up instead of being harpies about it every couple of months, expecting the moderators to do something about hundreds of thousands of skinny dudes wanting nothing more than to get jacked.

Now, I want to be really clear here - Despite some dickery, some rudeness, some hard lines drawn in the sand, everything that we (and I especially) do with Fittit is because we genuinely, seriously, want to help people have access to good quality information that can help them achieve their fitness goals. The Wiki is something I have put more effort into than anything else in the entirety of the time I've been a moderator. I've rewritten it in whole and in part more times than I can count. I have a giant backlog of bookmarks of posts, articles, blogs - you name it - from smarter, stronger, more experienced people than I will ever be that I'm constantly looking to use to update what we're telling people. I want the Wiki to be huge, and I want it to be counted among the best fitness resources on the internet.

Not because I want to make money from it, or be a famous fitness dude, or anything like that. Because I remember what it's like to be tired of being a skinny teenager and not knowing what to do. In my day there was no such thing as Reddit, and I had to rely on advice from sources that could just as easily be dubious as they could be brilliant, and experimentation, and failing over and over and over to rule out what doesn't work so I can find out what does. Most people only see me as purplespengler - the mod who is a dick sometimes and bans dudes. It's rare that anybody sees enough of the inner workings to really get what I'm trying to accomplish, that I have to have a very long game plan, and that I can't be concerned with "helping" absolutely everyone with absolutely everything if I want Fittit to be the kind of resource I never had when I was young, that I would have killed to have.

Every day I'm reminded by some whiny baby that the victories I need to look for in helping people have to be at an individual level. These are people who try to doxx me, write weird, creepy poems about me, send me angry messages about how they hope my family gets raped and murdered by animals, spend money on a website to tell the world they think I suck... This happens all the time. Nobody told me I was signing up for a legion of sewagepeople to tell me how mad I've made them on a daily basis. But it hasn't affected me for years because I learned to take those people doing those things as confirmation that keeping them away from my community was the right choice. And yes, I do think of it as "my community" - in the way that my home is "mine", my family is "mine", my friends are "mine". Ultimately I care about it and want it to be as good as it can be, for what it is.

Do I have days where I question if putting up with shitheels like that, reading and removing hundreds of threads and comments a day, pouring hours into writing and organizing information that not enough people will read, is all worth it? Absolutely. But when I get a modmail that says "Thanks for making the Wiki, it has really, really helped me", or people give their own money to Reddit to express how much they thought one of these blog posts was useful to them, or I look and see that thousands of people a day are reading all that information, or the regulars I know from Fittit tell me how much better Fittit has been in the last few years, or somebody posts a progress thread that thanks the community - that tells me that these five years have definitely not been wasted.

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