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Mar 21, 2009

And another one gone, and another one gone....

As noted in my March 6th post (Another one bites the dust...), ProZ moderators are dropping about as fast as Seung-Hui Cho's victims at Virginia Tech and probably number about the same in the meantime, if not more. Some of the most competent and principled moderators that I know (1, 2) have called it quits, and promising new ones have found better things to do (such as 3). In some of the now unmoderated non-English forums, the ever-quoted "site rules" are weeks-old roadkill that even carrion are reluctant to touch as various misfits cheerfully serve up rounds of insults as they did in the good old days before the volunteer moderators did so much to clean up the collegial atmosphere.

I don't have the statistics at my disposal, but I have a definite subjective sense that forum activity has declined considerably since the bloodbath began. Some prominent users have declared their intention to withdraw from the site entirely, some are retreating behind pseudonyms out of disgust at the sex-oriented Google ads prominently displayed to site visitors who are not logged in, others are obviously keeping quiet and taking the real discussions to the back channels where threadlock doesn't threaten and the couch candidates don't disrupt the useful exchange of ideas. Attrition of good translators on the site is an old phenomenon; in any environment, people come and go, so the departure of one or a dozen good ones isn't necessarily unusual or catastrophic as much as the individuals and their contributions may be missed.

However, there does seem to be a general pattern emerging, which is part of the "growing pains" experienced by ProZ as a company as it adds staff to cope with a rapidly expanding user base. Some have suggested that the focus on revenue - from any source - is now so strong that the portals "mission" as a platform for translation professionals is really secondary: the three most critical concerns at ProZ are said by some to be traffic, traffic and traffic to maximize revenues from click-throughs on ads, user information sold - in some cases possibly in violation of European data protection and privacy laws or other regulations - etc. Maybe. Being an optimist, I'm inclined to take a less cynical view of the issues, but at the same time it appears to me that important concerns, some of them legal, are not being addressed in a way which inspires confidence among many of the site's users. It is to be expected that a growing business will face challenges and critical choices. That is clearly where ProZ is today. The choices that are made now may very well determine whether the portal continues to be one of the leading international communication platforms for translators or whether it gradually drifts into irrelevance as the less professional elements gain and retain the upper hand. Although I often disagree with developments on the site (or better said, find them trivial and irrelevant), I am very grateful for the contribution ProZ.com has made to my own business in this decade, and I hope that the management will think carefully, make the right choices and continue to prosper.

6 comments:

  1. OMG, that is really a bloodbath! I quit last year so there's no risk that Proz will lose me this time around. ;)

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  2. Thirty resignations yesterday evening, and counting...

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  3. This morning a friend wrote me to ask what happened to another highly esteemed colleague here in Berlin who has been a top-class moderator. I took a look at the list of "survivors" - all 48 of them. That name was missing. So let's see... [30/(48+30)]*100 = 38.5% attrition in just a few weeks. Not bad. As my friend put it, "Da hat sich ProZ ein klassisches Eigentor geschossen."

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  4. Almost 40%? That is really not bad. Sometimes a loss of members can have more positive effects than negative ones, if that is any comfort at all.

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  5. The worst thing (I fear) is not so much the loss of experienced and knowledgeable moderators, but why (presumably) they left and who will replace them.

    If people acted as moderators because they wanted to help other colleagues, and felt rewarded by being able to contribute to the development of the site (e.g., by providing their opinions on new features not yet ready for beta testing, etc.), now that such "insider" status has been taken away, the people who eventually will become the new moderators are those who are attracted by the power of policing discussions, erasing posts, banning posters and so on.

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  6. One moderator offered an interesting explanation of the reasons for his resignation, which can be read here.

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