A couple of weeks ago, I shared a wonderful conversation between online community pioneer Howard Rheingold and his daughter, Mamie Rheingold. If you haven’t watched it yet, definitely check it out.

Among the many great things that Mr. Rheingold said, this quote really jumped out at me:

“If you were a good FidoNet operator, you would have a lively community. You would let people fight it out among themselves, but if things got too heated, you would try to communicate with them backstage. You would do your best to work it out. If you couldn’t work it out, you threw people out. That [operator] has to work. So Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Boing Boing or me at Brainstorms – we passionately cared about our community, so we would talk with people. We would talk with people who were outcasts, and not every outcast is a troll. If you throw out your outcasts, you lose a lot of your creativity and verve.”

Back in 2008, I wrote about defending the crazy people. Of course, that isn’t flattering language (neither is outcast, really), and it’s not how I’d actually refer to people. Instead, it is about how others view them within the community. “Patrick, this person is crazy! They are ruining our discussions! Do something!”

Some community folks talk about having disagreement within your community and how disagreement is good and arguments are good because they keep people interested. That’s fine and all, but I don’t care about arguments or disagreement. I don’t want my members to argue or disagree (here’s the key) unless they want to do so. I don’t try to bait them into it for a bump in metrics or so that I can say activity is higher.

My goal is to provide a fair, consistent playing field on which to do so. My communities have plenty of disagreement. But I don’t manufacturer it or provoke it. It happens. My goal is to maintain the ground rules.

Part of maintaining those ground rules is to ensure that they apply fairly and evenly to all. Not just popular members. Not just to members who hold the popular, commonly held viewpoint. But to members who are unpopular and who hold a minority viewpoint. Those are the outcasts. And if you drive your outcasts away because of their viewpoints alone, as Mr. Rheingold said, you lose a lot of your creativity and your verve.