I wrote this while still maintaining the Mayapur Discussions website which in the meantime I decided not to continue — mainly because of the lack of interest in the community, and because at the present time the all-inclusive approach of Mayapur Forum serves all concerned better.
Mayapur Discussions has been around since the old PAMHO days and when Mayapur Forum shifted to Google-groups, very soon one for discussions was created too.
Earlier the difference was that topics leading to discussions were handled in the discussions group, but slowly that distinction got blurred. Mayapur Forum always had more members than discussions, so everyone wants the topics close to their hearts to appear on forum, not discussions.
Ananda Tirtha prabhu, the owner & manager of the Mayapur Forum Google-group, understands this and tries to be as accommodating as he can. It's always a struggle trying to please as many as possible -- because pleasing all can't be done. Some get annoyed seeing mostly taxi shares and ads for days, while others don't understand why they should read all those quotes that make a lot of sense to yet another group.
Mayapur Forum tries to be everything: a message board to facilitate sharing taxis, announcements of temple and other functions, buying & selling household items, announcing ekadasi and other tithis. Throw in the occasional uplifting quote and (at least the beginning) of discussions of topics that are importat to our community.
And there you have it, our present Mayapur Forum, trying to maintain a balance between all those interests and concerns. Naturally some would prefer more focus on one, others on the other group of topics; that can't be avoided. Or can it?
Web-based Forum to the Rescue
For a long time we have been thinking about using a web-based forum instead of the present Google-groups. Attempts have been made but until now none were successful.
Web forums allow to sort posts into different categories and topics, giving members the choice to read what interests them and even subscribe to those topics by email. Problems start with mail-in facility, i.e., allowing members to reply to these emails and have those replies appear on the web forum, in the right place.
The discussions forum I recently started does that very well; you can use it as a mailing-list replacement, dealing with it only via email. But it got other problems: to have strict moderation in some but not other categories is not yet possible.
Official ISKCON Mayapur Channel
Mayapur Forum is the official communication channel, sanctioned by our administration and therefore under their ultimate control. Membership is strictly regulated and all posts have to be moderated before being published.
That is exactly what many devotees here want: a protected environment where things that shouldn't be said can't be said...ever. This leaves room for interpretation of course: what one finds offensive may be perfectly acceptible to another. And again it's up to Ananda Tirtha to find a balance that everyone, including the admin, can live with.
But there are others, myself included, who think that in a casual conversation we don't have to behave as if we were in the presence of Lord Brahma, receiving instructions from the assembled sages. Things can get a little heated at times and when a misunderstanding is resolved all shake hands, or whatevr the online equivalent is, and say they are sorry.
Moreover, not many of us are perfect vaisnavas (yet); not we, the community, nor those who have the job of managing the ISKCON Mayapur project, which includes us. I do not propose something like parliamentary democrazy to manage ISKCON or it's projects; but a channel outside of the approved government one should be available to discuss and even question government decisions.
This has to be done in a respectful and constructive way of course and even on Mayapur Discussions this will be enforced. But on Mayapur Forum such topics are not appreciated by the admin and therefore rarely seen.
I believe that such a channel should exist, but also that it is perfectly fine if devotees think they want nothing to do with it. Doing one's service and managing one's personal affairs without worrying what happens all around is perfectly fine, perhaps even the best way to deal with things.
But this does not work for everyone, depending on our mindset and nature. Some, like myself, will always try to understand why things are what they are and what could or even should be done differently to improve them. At the same time I am painfully aware that I often get things wrong, make mistakes in thought or even action. For me it is important to have an opportunity to chew things out, get others' opinion and input to arrive at a better understanding myself. And that's what Mayapur Discussions is for.
This raises the question though how Mayapur Forum and Discussions should relate to each other and interact, if at all. I'm going to write about this in another post; this one is getting too long already...
Interaction between Forum and Discussions
For a short time I have been importing posts from Mayapur Forum into Discussions. That looked nice, but led to problems:
- If a post appears on both Forum and Discussions, where should I reply? Forum posts would automatically appear on discussions but not the other way around --> confusion;
- Not all posts from forum would be imported, so members replying to a post on the original forum would receive error messages from the new one, saying that that post did not exist --> more confusion;
Automatically adding posts from the original forum to discussions would only make sense if everything, including the moderated Mayapur Forum, would eventually be transfered to the new site. And that's not possible or desirable:
- The admin would not agree to their official channel being hosted in an environment they don't control; where next to the official channel, administration decisions and actions can be questioned;
- I do not want Mayapur Discussions to be under the purview of the admin. It's supposed to be an extra-parliamentary channel so to say; not against the admin, not at all. But the administration and those administered by them naturally have different points of view and different procedures to deal with them.
The two have to be separate; there is no other way. I've heard the argument that this would divide the community, but I don't think that's true. Almost all members on the new site are members of Mayapur Forum and only some are interested in discussing things that do not affect their daily life and service.
There will always be some who want to think and talk about things, find out how and why things are done in a certain way, and perhaps even find a way to do them better. Discussions is for those of us.
For posts that are meant to reach the whole community, like taxi shares, offers to sell things, and announcements, Mayapur Forum is the place to go. But if things need to be discussed further, different aspects or possible implications, that should go to Discussions. If a conclusion is reached about a question or problem, that can be posted back to Mayapur Forum.
And then there are topics not everyone on Forum would appreciate or be interested in: political development in Bengal, India, or the world at large, scientific or technological developments, discussion about the best operating systems or android devices, whatever. All these things would better be discussed on the new site where those who are interested or knowledgeable about them should join.